The rumors of cell phone tracking in the US have been in the air for a while now but someone has finally confessed to it- the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. They are supposedly in possession of all the top notch surveillance systems that can track cell phones and these high tech devices are said to have been used in many instances.
The Stingray came under discussion with Sheriff Scott Jones who claimed to have used it for certain special cases. The technology has been acquired to check up on any felons or other criminal suspects. Even though the Sheriff didn’t mention the number of times the device was used but he did say that it was also used for locating any missing or kidnapped persons. The management of data that is acquired through these devices especially from people who are innocent, raised concerns but the department did not go into any details regarding the issue. It would have been wise if the department shared some its independent activities especially regarding the procurement and issuing of court orders but due to absence of any such knowledge, it makes many minds uneasy.
How does a “Stingray” work? One may ask. The answer to this question came in an elaborate story published by Kim Minugh from The Bee. It so happens that the Stingray is all trickery. It very conveniently misleads the cell phones in an area into thinking that a regular cell phone tower is present in the vicinity, thus responding to the Stingray signals and connecting to it. This way all the data can be acquired from the cell phones and provides the authority their detection. Since every phone has a unique identifier which can be detected and reached, so connection with the stingray is all that is needed.
Sheriff’s Department claims to have been using the Stingray only for identifying locations where as this portable device is notorious when it comes to collecting data like text messages, call history and verbal conversations. This was further stressed by Jones who said “The capability of this technology does NOT collect content such as voice, text, or data, and does not retain ANY data or other information from other than the target device”.
Jones could not provide elaborate or explanatory answers as the Sheriff’s Department and the federal agency that has provided the devices have entered in a confidentiality agreement. He could make a limited statement only if authorized. After much insistence Jones exclaimed his silence on the matter is crucial “because this technology – like many of our investigative techniques and capabilities – could be rendered ineffective if criminals and adversaries used such details to diminish or defeat the department’s lawful responsibilities.” To understand the statement, Sheriff is requesting a vote of trust from the people on the matter. He said, “Trust us. We’re not abusing this technology.” But when one’s privacy is in question, risks cannot be taken which is why the Sheriff’s word alone is not enough for the people.
The fact that the American people are being monitored by the National Security and by the local law enforcement agencies concerns privacy advocates which is a justifiable concern since this monitoring has been continuing under the radar for a long time. Back in June, the U.S Supreme Court passed a ruling, rightly so, that policemen are liable to gain warrants of the suspects identified through accessing of their cell phones, which was facilitated by the devices, before arresting them. However we would think of having a similar treatment even if we have no crime to be suspected off yet an innocent’s privacy is at stake.