Revealed: California Police Departments Are Using Mass Surveillance Tool

New documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests reveal the widespread use of so-called stingray surveillance devices in California.  The outlet Sacramento News10 obtained the documents, which were highlighted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).


Local law enforcement agencies across the Bay Area are using these devices, which mimics cell phone towers by tricking wireless tools on the same network and making the tools communicate with the stingray device. These devices are used in a dragnet fashion, collecting data about innocent third parties not the subject of any investigation. Additionally, it can pinpoint investigation targets with extreme precision. In total, nine law enforcement agencies in the state are using stingrays or recently obtained grants to use them, according to News10.

“Terrorism is used as the primary justification for purchasing StingRay technology in every grant application obtained by News10,” reporters Michael Bott and Thom Jensen write.  “However, arrest records from Oakland and Los Angeles show that StingRays are being used for routine police work.”

In an analysis of the documents, the ACLU’s Linda Lye said the use of stingrays have troubling implications.  “The acquisition of these devices is shrouded in secrecy and driven by federal grant money, which undermines local democratic oversight,” writes Lye.  “There is a real question as to whether stingrays can ever be used in a constitutional fashion. They are the electronic equivalent of dragnet ‘general searches’ prohibited by the Fourth Amendment.”

The ACLU says it’s unclear whether stingrays can be used constitutionally. The group emphasizes that there needs to be transparency about how they can be used, like whether they are seeking court authorization to use them for investigations.

The police departments using stingrays are far from transparent, though. News10 was unsuccessful in getting any of the police agencies to comment in detail about their use of stingrays.

#story_page_ below_article

Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.