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Used a cell phone in NYC? The cops probably tracked you

Report on heavy stingray use could make NYPD blue

Police in New York City used stingray mobile phone trackers on more than one thousand occasions since 2008.

So says the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), which obtained records from NYPD detailing their use of the devices while investigating cases.

According to the NYCLU report, between 2008 and May of 2015 police used stingray hardware 1,016 times, and that permission to deploy the devices required a court order rather than a harder-to-obtain warrant.

The use of stingray devices by police has become a point of contention between law enforcement and groups who see the devices as a violation of personal privacy. Long used by the FBI, stingray devices impersonate legit cellphone towers to monitor nearby mobile phones and track their movements.

The NYCLU says its report shows police have been relying too heavily on stingray surveillance and, in the process, violating the privacy of citizens in the Big Apple.

"If carrying a cell phone means being exposed to military-grade surveillance equipment, then the privacy of nearly all New Yorkers is at risk," said NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman.

"Considering the NYPD's troubling history of surveilling innocent people, it must at the very least establish strict privacy policies and obtain warrants prior to using intrusive equipment like Stingrays that can track people's cell phones."

The NYCLU suggests that the NYPD should "at a minimum" change its policy to require officers to obtain a warrant prior to deploying a stingray device.

New York is not the only city facing scrutiny over its stingray policies. In Baltimore, civil liberties groups are grilling police for their heavy-handed use of stingrays when investigating crimes. The city has countered with the argument that if people don't want to be tracked, they should not turn on their mobile phones. ®

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