The Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department has received permission to use a controversial high-tech cell phone tracker, known as a “Stingray” more than 500 times in the past five years. The information comes from court documents released for the first time late Thursday afternoon.
A “Stingray” is a device that simulates a cell phone tower. Phone numbers within its radius are collected up by the device whether the cell phone owner is a suspect in a crime, or not. It’s secrecy of use and collection of collateral information has concerned civil libertarians and defense attorneys.
CMPD has said the equipment does not collect data like text messages and does not allow officers to hear, or record conversations. The department also says it does not store information from people who are not part of their investigation.
“Non-disclosure agreements with the manufacturer and the FBI have kept it’s capabilities out of the public light”
CMPD has used the technology since 2006, most recently upgrading it with a more than $300,000 purchase in 2012. Non-disclosure agreements with the manufacturer and the FBI have kept it’s capabilities out of the public light.
Investigators have sought court orders, signed by local judges to use it, but those were put under seal and never assigned to a case. From 2006 to 2010 the orders weren’t even kept at the courthouse. They were stored in CMPD’s investigative files and are not open to public record’s requests. A recommendation from the North Carolina School of Government led to a change and the orders being stored at the county clerk’s office.
WBTV and our news partners at the Charlotte Observer filed a motion asking the court to unseal the orders stored at the courthouse. Superior Court Judge Richard Boner signed the request and the documents were released.