NEW YORK, June 17 -- New York Civil Liberties Union issued the following news release:
The New York Civil Liberties Union today filed formal legal requests for information about the Erie County Sheriff's Office's use of mobile devices to track and record New Yorkers' locations. Recent media reports reveal that the Sheriff's Office is using mobile devices known as "stingrays" to pick up signals from all cell phones and wireless devices within a given area, collecting information on the comings and goings of totally innocent people in the process.
"Erie County needs to come clean about its use of stingrays," said John A. Curr III, director of the NYCLU's Western Regional Office. "This is advanced surveillance technology that can sweep up very private information, including information on innocent people."
Stingrays can collect information on all cell phones in a given area as well as precisely track particular phones, locating people within their own home, at a doctor's office, at a political protest or in a church. Some stingrays and similar devices are even configured to record private conversations.
Press reports reveal that the Sheriff's Office is not only actively using the device, but that it might be doing so without applying for a warrant based on probable cause of criminal activity. At an appearance before the County Legislature in May, the Erie County Sheriff refused to answer many of the questions about his office's use of the device.
"It is questionable whether stingrays can ever be used legally and without violating people's basic privacy rights," said NYCLU Staff Attorney Mariko Hirose. "Erie County residents have a right to know how law enforcement is tracking them, and the Sheriff's Office must be held accountable if it is collecting information on law-abiding people."
The NYCLU's Freedom of Information request specifically seeks information about records regarding the Sheriff's Office's acquisition of stingrays, including invoices, contracts, loan agreements and communications; policies and guidelines governing the use of stingrays; and any court applications for authorization to use stingrays or other cell site simulators. The NYCLU also requested the same information from State Police who are also reported to be using such devices.
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