LAPD Using Controversial Spy Tool to Listen to Cellphone Conversations of "Non-Suspects"

Police used a device intended to monitor terror suspects.

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The LAPD used a cell phone monitoring device designed for counterterror purposes in routine criminal investigations 21 times in just four months last year, LA Weekly reported.

Using federal funds the police department obtained the Stingray technology, which allows police to track mobile phones in real time, with the purported intention of using the device to monitor terror suspects. However, notes LA Weekly, the device was used in “13 percent of the 155 ‘cellular phone investigation cases’ that Los Angeles police conducted between June and September last year” — including for burglary, drug and murder investigations.

The device works by masquerading as a cell phone tower and tricks your phone into connecting to it. The authorities can then determine, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation reported, “who, when and to where you are calling, the precise location of every device within the range, and with some devices, even capture the content of your conversations.”

Stingrays raise particular issues when it comes to privacy, as the technology catches data from every cellphone in the area, including from phone users unrelted to the police investigation. These individuals would never know they are subject to police monitoring.


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Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email [email protected].