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    News Tribune: Documents: Tacoma police using surveillance device to sweep up cellphone data

    The News Tribune in Tacoma, Washington, reports on the Tacoma police’s use of “Stingray” technology, which simulates a cellphone tower so that nearby mobile devices will connect to it and reveal its location and other information:

    The Tacoma Police Department apparently has bought — and quietly used for six years — controversial surveillance equipment that can sweep up records of every cellphone call, text message and data transfer up to a half a mile away.

    You don’t have to be a criminal to be caught in this law enforcement snare. You just have to be near one and use a cellphone. […]

    News that the city was using the surveillance equipment surprised City Council members, who approved an update for a device last year, and prosecutors, defense attorneys and even judges, who in court deal with evidence gathered using the surveillance equipment.

    “If they use it wisely and within limits, that’s one thing,” said Ronald Culpepper, the presiding judge of Pierce County Superior Court, when informed of the device Tuesday. “I would certainly personally have some concerns about just sweeping up information from non-involved and innocent parties — and to do it with a whole neighborhood? That’s concerning.” […]

    For years, a growing number of local law enforcement agencies have used the surveillance devices to track a cell signal to deduce a subject’s location, who he communicates with, for how long and how often.

    Law enforcement investigators can use the technology to find drug dealers and violent criminals. Civil libertarians charge police also are secretly scooping up data from innocent people during these broad searches for suspects.

    No state or local law enforcement agency in Washington state has acknowledged possessing the required surveillance devices. Tacoma Police Department has not confirmed that it has a Stingray, but Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said Tuesday that the Police Department sometimes assists the sheriff’s office with the device.

    Documents — including purchase orders, invoices, contracts and even a police newsletter — further make the case that Tacoma officials will not.

    For more details, read the full story.

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