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Stung by StingRay surveillance?

During the summer months, reports of stingray injuries suffered along California beaches aired on the evening news. Enticed by the warm water, these mild sea creatures caused injury when people accidently stepped on their sharp tails. Luckily, the threat to beachgoers does lessen as temperatures cool in the fall and winter months.

For California citizens, however, menace from another type of StingRay does not subside as the seasons shift. The StingRay surveillance device is a tool used by many police departments throughout the state. While law enforcement agencies argue that the technology the StingRay employs can be used to keep communities safe, the ACLU and other civil liberties groups believe the device enables police officers to gather information from law-abiding citizens without their knowledge.

Troubled? Here are some facts about the device and the legislation designed to maintain accountability for those using the StingRay:

1. What is it?

The StingRay surveillance device is a portable cellphone tracking tool that mimics transmissions sent out by cellphone towers. Any cellphone located within the radius of the device is tricked into providing data that allows the phone to be tracked. While the technology allows StingRay operators to pinpoint the location of a specific cellphone owner in a crowded place, it extends a wide net for data retrieval, gathering information from any of the phones within its target area. What this means is that officers may be able to track perpetrators quickly. They will also be able to collect data from phones located within proximity of the targeted phone.

2. Why should I be concerned?

The California Electronic Communications Privacy Act, passed by Governor Jerry Brown requires officers receive a warrant before they can use the surveillance tool during investigations. In addition, it mandates that police departments publish their StingRay usage policy online; however, many cities have been slow to share their policies with the public.

Advocacy groups have expressed concern over the lack of transparency regarding the length of time the data is held by police and the transfer of data to other law enforcement groups. Often cited is the fear that the device could be used to target political protesters without their knowledge of the surveillance. Such a situation unfolded in Chicago, resulting in a lawsuit filed against the Chicago Police Department by Freddy Martinez. His phone was targeted at a protest against National Security Agency surveillance.

So what is the takeaway from this controversy? Be aware that there are surveillance devices that are employed without your knowledge. Those who believe that their phone data has been seized illegally are entitled to meet with a criminal attorney to ensure that the appropriate procedures were followed to intercept information. Don't be stung by StingRay surveillance.

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1322 Morro Street
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401-4028

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