Jane Yamamoto/Kenny Holmes
The American Civil Liberties Union is questioning California police departments on their alleged use of fake cellphone towers, which can track and record cellphone calls much in the same way the NSA has spied on phone records as part of U.S. anti-terrorism policy. Jane Yamamoto reports from Bel Air for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Friday, March 14, 2014.
Police in Southern California could be using a high-tech device known as "stingray" to track people's calls, according to an NBC4 report.
The device acts like a fake cell phone tower. It can track cell phone signals inside cars, homes and buildings.
USA Today confirmed that 25 police departments across the country are “using Stingrays or similar devices.” Because of non-disclosure agreements, The company that manufactures the device cannot provide additional information.
“It completely compromises privacy, so therefore it feels like unsafe to me,” one security expert told NBC4’s Jane Yamamoto.
According to documents obtained by Sacramento’s News10, some police departments in California have been using the devices for at least six years, with little or no disclosure.
Peter Bibring, a senior staff attorney from the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, says the organization had put in a request to the LAPD last year to find out if the department uses the stingray device. Bibring said the ACLU never got a response from the LAPD.
“If police agencies are using sting ray devices that are actually capable of tracking not just location but gathering the content of calls, hearing what’s said, that’s very troubling,” Bibring said. “We want to know if that's happening and what protections were put in place.”
The device is reportedly being using to handle crimes from burglaries to drug busts – and may have been used in cases in 2012 without the court’s knowledge, according to an NBC4 report.
“Police need a warrant to listen to the content of cellphone communications,” Bibring said.
NBC4 submitted a request to the LAPD Counter-Terrorism Unit. As of Friday, the request had been processed but no answer had been provided.