Tacoma, Wash., police have for years been quietly using controversial surveillance equipment that can collect records of all cellphone calls, text messages and data transfers within a half-mile radius, reports Al Jazeera America. The Stingray surveillance system, deployed by Tacoma police since 2009, is reportedly capable of indiscriminate data collection, which worries civil rights advocates.
The ACLU said it has identified at least 43 police departments in 18 states that use Stingray equipment. The group says police use of such the devices may violate the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment prohibitions against unreasonable searches and seizures. A Tacoma police official said officers use Stingray only with permission from a judge to locate suspects “in felony-level crimes…such as homicide, rape, robbery, kidnapping, and narcotics trafficking.” The department said the device has been used nearly 200 times since June. The Tacoma City Council approved buying an updated Stingray in March 2013 on the grounds that it would be used to find improvised explosive devices, although it has never been used for that purpose.