Local Police Collecting Personal Cellphone Data Via “Tower Dumps”


The National Security Agency isn’t the only government agency secretly collecting data from people’s cellphones. Local police increasingly are scooping it up, too, reports USA Today. Armed with new technologies, including mobile devices that tap into cellphone data in real time, dozens of local and state police agencies are capturing information about thousands of cellphone users at a time, whether they are targets of an investigation or not.

Records from more than 125 police agencies in 33 states show that one in four law-enforcement agencies have used a tactic known as a “tower dump,” which gives police data about the identity, activity and location of any phone that connects to the targeted cellphone towers over a set span, usually an hour or two. A typical dump covers multiple towers, and wireless providers, and can net information from thousands of phones. At least 25 police departments own a Stingray, a suitcase-size device that costs as much as $400,000 and acts as a fake cell tower. The system, installed in a vehicle so it can be moved into any neighborhood, tricks nearby phones into connecting to it and feeding data to police. The federal government funds most of the purchases, via anti-terror grants.

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