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Story Highlights

  • State Police spent 9,704 between 2008 and 2014 on Stingray surveillance technology.
  • The technology allows police to scoop up data from cellphone transmissions.
  • The ACLU has raised concerns about how the technology is being used and whether warrants are required.

Delaware State Police can track a cellphone using a portable electronic gadget that once was the domain of secret agents and the military . Advanced models allow law enforcement to view location information, text messages, numbers called, emails and even stored photos.

It's not clear how state police are using the tools because, at the request of the FBI, they're doing everything possible to keep the surveillance secret.

The News Journal has learned through Freedom of Information Act requests that 9,704 has been paid to Melbourne, Florida-based Harris Corp. for hardware and training for technology called cell-site simulators, commonly known as Stingrays, between 2008 and 2014.

The boxy devices, which can be put into a briefcase and carried in a police vehicle, can covertly scoop up all cell phone information within a few miles, including phone data from people who aren’t the target of an investigation.

The controversial technology, originally developed to hunt down terrorists, works by tricking mobile phones to connect to it rather than the nearest tower –– without the knowledge of users. Stingrays allow police to comb through the collected data to extract a phone’s location, as well as eavesdrop on text messages, call histories and other transmitted material.

Law enforcement officials say the method is instrumental in investigating kidnappings, drug dealing and other crimes. But it’s not clear how state police sift through the cache to find pertinent results related to criminals, or how long data of innocent bystanders is kept by police agencies. Delaware authorities also will not discuss how the machines are being used, or for what kind of criminal cases.


ACLU prepared to go to court to learn more about Stingray, a cellphone surveillance technology used by the Delaware State Police to intercept the location of a phone, view calls lists and text messages from nearby cellphones.

The state Attorney General's Office says police must obtain a warrant to deploy the Stingray, but when The News Journal requested those court orders through a FOIA, state police said none existed.

While the very nature of police investigations is secretive, cell-site simulators have an extra layer of mystery as the state police signed an agreement with the FBI promising they would disclose virtually no information about the machines, and are directed to dismiss criminal cases if details about the tools are threatened to be released.

“The court doesn’t really know what they’re doing," said John Daniello, a Sussex County public defender. "They think they’re doing a standard cellphone search and not using this device.”

Daniello suspects police used a Harris-made mobile phone tracker against one of his clients in 2014 . When he raised questions about use of the technology, Daniello said, the prosecutor offered his client a far better deal for the drug and gun charges he faced.

“I ultimately came out with a more favorable plea offer and my client took it, and that was the end of it,” Daniello said.

Ryan Tack-Hooper, an attorney for the ACLU of Delaware, said a “shroud of secrecy” exists around Stingrays, which raises a concern that police could be using them for mass public surveillance rather than for targeting individual suspects.


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This animation explains how phone tracker technology, commonly known as stingray, is used by the police. USA TODAY

The ACLU isn’t opposed to using technology to find criminals, he said, but only when a warrant is used to make sure rights aren’t being violated. Other privacy rights advocates have said Stingray technology infringes on the Constitution’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizures.

“If police go through the proper channels then that’s fine,” he said, “it's no different from a wiretap.”

Stingrays being used in 23 states, ACLU says

The Delaware State Police is one of at least 60 law enforcement agencies nationwide equipped with Stingray, according to the ACLU, which has been studying the proliferation of the technology. Last week, the group released documents it obtained showing that the New York Police Department had used the device over 1,000 times since 2008.

The ACLU found 23 states have at least one machine in the Stingray family of products, which all have maritime-themed names such as King Fish, Triggerfish and Harpoon.


ACLU attorney Ryan Tack-Hooper voices concern over purchase and use of cellphone surveillance equipment by the Delaware State Police.

Harris is secretive about the equipment, but a photo submitted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the Stingray II shows a box with various switches, antenna connectors and computer input nodes. They can cost up to 0,000.

Harris, incorporated in Delaware and with roots in the printing industry, is by far the most recognized maker of cell-site simulators. The company, which has billion in annual revenue , also produces encrypted tablet computers for the military, radio communications systems for transportation agencies, and components for NASA satellites.


Cellphone data spying: It's not just the NSA

Last year, Harris generated .8 billion in revenue from communications products sold to various government agencies.

But few outside of law enforcement and Harris Corp. know exactly how many Stingrays are used throughout the country. Jim Burke, a spokesman for the company, declined an interview request by The News Journal.

An office building occupied by the communications technology company Harris Corp. in Reston, Virginia, is shown on Oct.11, 2014. Harris makes the Stingray, a device that can track and intercept data from mobile phones and other cellular devices. (Photo: TRIPPLAAR KRISTOFFER/SIPA)

The head of the Delaware State Police, Col. Nathaniel McQueen Jr., also would not talk about how the technology is used locally. Said department spokesman, Sgt. Richard Bratz: “We do not discuss certain tools or measures that are utilized to thoroughly and comprehensively conduct criminal investigations.”

The News Journal made multiple FOIA submissions to the state police about the use of Stingray, but received only one response that contained requested records.

One was a 10-page document with six Harris Corp. invoices between 2010 and 2014 sent to the Delaware State Police High Tech Crime Unit. The largest purchase, for 0,813, was for a “portable cellular tracking system,” software and equipment.

The invoices also show money being spent for upgrades and training every year. The agency redacted all information about what specific models were purchased.

The second document, a May 2012 letter to then-Delaware State Police Col. Robert Coupe from FBI Assistant Director Amy Hess, outlined the non-disclosure agreement –– noting that officers must keep information about Stingray devices out of the hands of “any non-law enforcement individuals or agencies.”

“All (Stingray) materials shall be marked ‘Law Enforcement Sensitive, For Official Use Only – Not to be Disclosed Outside of the Delaware State Police,” Hess said.


Delaware lawyers raise questions about Stingray

She said the curtain of secrecy extended even to court proceedings. If Stingray information has the potential to be leaked during a trial, Hess said, police should ensure that the case gets dismissed.

If a prosecuting attorney threatens to disclose Stingray details, she said, “the Delaware State Police will immediately notify the FBI in order to allow sufficient time for the FBI to intervene.”

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5 Ways to Text From Your Laptop

Share Tweet Share What's This? By Kyli Singh 2014-06-16 12:06:58 UTC

Image: Mashable

Misplace or break your phone? No cell signal? Have no fear: You can still text away with a computer via Wi-Fi .

Texting from a laptop has its perks — it's free of charge, typing is easier and faster, and best of all, you can look busy when you're not.

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