Charlotte police show more, “but this isn’t happening in every town in America.”
One of the largest local police departments in the American South has revised its surveillance applications to judges, making its judicial requests to use cell-site simulators much more explicit for the first time.
According to the Charlotte Observer, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) in North Carolina has “revised court papers that judges review before granting officers permission to track phones, in an effort to ‘improve the effectiveness of the process and provide greater transparency.’”
The CMPD did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment and a copy of the new applications.
These devices, commonly known as “stingrays,” can be used to determine a phone’s location, but they can also intercept calls and text messages. During the act of locating a phone, stingrays also sweep up information about nearby phones. Earlier this month, Ars reported on how the FBI is actively trying to “prevent disclosure” of how these devices are used in local jurisdictions across America.
The Observer added in its Sunday report:
The agency would not provide examples of the new documents, but said the applications more clearly describe investigative tactics, including cellphone tracking.
CMPD says it now includes definitions for each type of equipment officers deploy in its applications to judges. Documents also provide more information in each case about the legal grounds for an officer to make an arrest or search a property.
“Certainly the degree of transparency, this is very, very unique and it’s a pleasure to see,” Chris Soghoian, a privacy researcher at the American Civil Liberties Union and an expert on stingrays, told Ars. “It’s huge. It’s great that they’ve moved in this direction, but this isn’t happening in every town in America. In most parts of America, judges still don’t know what they’re being asked to authorize. In most parts of the country, police are keeping courts in the dark, in some cases intentionally. In most parts of the country, most courts don’t have enough information to do their job.”
Charlotte is one of the rare examples of local judges shedding some light on the process by which cops are allowed to use stingrays.
Last fall, a Charlotte judge 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.
The records, which Ars has obtained, seem to suggest that judges likely didn’t fully understand what they were authorizing. Law enforcement agencies nationwide have taken extraordinary steps to preserve stingray secrecy.
“Our office is reviewing each one of those to determine whether that information was turned over to defense attorneys,” Meghan Cooke, a spokeswoman for the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office, told Ars on Monday. “It’s expected to take several more weeks.”
Read more at: ArsTechnica.com