Police Buy Cheap Cellphone Trackers; Is Court Approval Required?


Local law-enforcement agencies are buying cellphone-tracking equipment that is cheaper and smaller than earlier systems, and it isn't clear whether court orders are needed to use the devices, the Wall Street Journal reports. The systems, which go by trade names such as “Jugular” and “Wolfhound,” are handheld and sometimes come with antennas so small they can be attached to clothing. The gadgets cost only a few thousand dollars each, which is far less than more sophisticated systems and well within the reach of many local agencies.

“It's extremely affordable and literally fits in your hand,” said Scott Schober of Berkeley Varitronics Systems Inc., which makes the Wolfhound and other cellphone and Wi-Fi detection systems. The use of the devices to help locate specific cellphones, like many new types of surveillance, is cloaked in secrecy. The Journal contacted dozens of state and local agencies that had public records indicating they had likely purchased this type of phone-locating equipment. Many said they couldn't provide information on the devices, including the legal procedures the department follows before using them. “We can't disclose any legal requirements associated with the use of this equipment,” said Elise Armacost of the Baltimore County Police, which purchased the devices. “Doing so may disclose how we use it, which, in turn, interferes with its public-safety purpose.”

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