Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney for the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, wrote on Monday this week that his organization has filed public records requests with nearly 30 police and sheriffs’ departments across the Sunshine State in hopes of having documents unsealed that would disclose how those agencies use certain surveillance tools to track down cell phones.Police agencies across the country are increasingly relying on specialized devices known as “stingrays” to conduct investigations, but the powerful tools aren’t discussed in public that much. Much to the ACLU’s surprise, however, officers in Florida have been using such tools without even the oversight or authorization of the court, raising new concerns about exactly how rampant this type of surveillance actually is.When implemented properly, a stingray can mimic the behavior of a cell phone tower like the ones managed by major telecommunication companies, tricking mobile devices into sending signals that could then be used to track down a handheld phone to a physical location within just a few feet.Privacy advocates aren’t pleased by these devices, though, since they allow law enforcement to suck up huge chunks of information about potentially thousands of innocent people at once. And according to the ACLU’s Wessler, Florida police have been playing with these gadgets just about completely unchecked.
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