” A judge in Charlotte, North Carolina, has unsealed a set of 529 court documents in hundreds of criminal cases detailing the use of a stingray, or cell-site simulator, by local police. This move, which took place earlier this week, marks a rare example of a court opening up a vast trove of applications made by police to a judge, who authorized each use of the powerful and potentially invasive device.
According to the Charlotte Observer, the records seem to suggest that judges likely did not fully understand what they were authorizing. Law enforcement agencies nationwide have taken extraordinary steps to preserve stingray secrecy. As recently as this week, prosecutors in a Baltimore robbery case dropped key evidence that stemmed from stingray use rather than fully disclose how the device was used.
The newspaper also reported on Friday that the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s office, which astonishingly had also never previously seen the applications filed by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD), will now review them and determine which records also need to be shared with defense attorneys. Criminals could potentially file new claims challenging their convictions on the grounds that not all evidence was disclosed to them at the time.
Relatively little is known about precisely how stingrays are used by law enforcement agencies nationwide, although more and more documents have surfaced showing how they’ve been purchased and used in limited instances. Last year, Ars reported on leaked documents showing the existence of a body-worn stingray. In 2010, security researcher Kristin Paget famously demonstrated a homemade device built for just $1,500.
Worse still, local cops have lied to courts (at the direction of the United States Marshals Service) about the use of such technology. Not only can stingrays be used to determine a phone’s location, but they can also intercept calls and text messages. While they do target specific phones, they also sweep up cell data of innocents nearby who have no idea that such data collection is taking place. “
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