The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office is the latest law enforcement agency to use a StringRay phone tracker to spy on citizens.
With the use of a StingRay, law enforcement is not only able to track your cell phone, find your phone number, find your exact location, who you call, what websites you visit and your voicemails.
And in some cases with certain devices, they can alter your text messages without you knowing.
A StingRay is the size of a briefcase and is typically used in an unmarked police car parked nearby, acting as a cell tower before it sends your information to the actual cell tower.
It is capable of gathering information from thousands of cellphones at a time, but only after a warrant is issued.
Before a recent case against a 28-year-old Belle Glade man, it was not publicly known that the department owned a StingRay.
Dacoby Wooten is facing the death penalty for the 2015 murder of the mother of two of his children.
According to Palm Beach Post:
> This desire for secrecy runs so deep, according to documents made public across the country, that police have agreed on paper to hide information from judges, go without key evidence in criminal cases and even seek to drop charges against defendants altogether rather than talk about the stingray in court.
The department refused to admit or deny that they used or owned a StingRay since the deputies where acting as U.S. marshals in the two-day man hunt, which it claims made it a federal matter.
It took Circuit Court Judge Cheryl A. Caracuzzo, Wooten’s attorneys, and Palm Beach County court clerks three years for them to even find out about the warrants which was issued just two months before the start of the case.
According to Florida law, under Chapter 933, once search warrants are executed, they are supposed to be filed with the court but that was not the case in Wooten's case.
After they are filed, according to the law, a judge can then seal the warrant and bar it from public view.
Law enforcement officers claim they must remain secretive about their use of StingRay tracking devices because releasing information about it will only help the drug traffickers and terrorists.
Two cases come to mind where a StingRay was used.
In 2016, a New York judge deemed evidence obtained via a StingRay should be suppressed.
According to Fox News:
> “A United States District Judge in New York has ruled that the Drug Enforcement Agency’s use of a device that provided authorities with the location of a man’s cell phone— and thus his apartment— was an unreasonable search and that evidence they subsequently found could be suppressed, the first time ever such a ruling has been made at this level.”
Another case that did not have the same outcome comes from the Sarasota Police Department using a StingRay in 2014.
This case was just like Wooten's case where the officers were sworn-in as U.S. marshals.
Sarasota city officials first agreed to let the ACLU view the documents but hours before the appointment, U.S. marshals arrived, taking all the documents so city officials were unable to show any paperwork, according to Palm Beach Post.
What was not able to be removed though were emails and have since been posted online.
In an email from a DEA agent, it appears that they would be using Sarasota Police Department equipment during their investigation while working with the cellphone company.
Harris Corp is the first company to sell StingRays to law enforcement and can cost about $250,000.
According to a report from the ACLU, the following agencies also have StingRay capabilities as of March 2018:
- Albuquerque Police Department
- Alexandria Police Department
- Anaheim Police Department
- Anchorage Police Department
- Anne Arundel County I & II
- Baltimore County
- Boston Police Department
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
- California Department of Justice
- Charlotte Police Department I & II
- Chesterfield Police Department
- Chicago Police Department
- City of Miami Police Department
- Delaware State Police
- Drug Enforcement Administration
- Durham Police Department
- Erie County Sheriff
- Fairfax County Police Department
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE loans cell site simulators to local and county police departments throughout the state)
- Fort Worth Police Department
- Gilbert Police Department
- Gwinnett County Police
- Hartford County
- Hennepin County Sheriff
- Houston Police Department
- Howard County
- Illinois State Police
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement
- Indiana State Police
- Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department
- Internal Revenue Service
- Kansas City Police Department
- Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department
- Los Angeles Police Department
- Los Angeles Sheriff's Department
- Louisiana Attorney General
- Maricopa County Sheriff
- Memphis Police Department
- Miami-Dade Police Department
- Michigan State Police
- Milwaukee Police Department
- Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension
- Montgomery County
- National Security Agency
- New Hanover Sheriff's Department
- New York City Police Department
- New York State Police
- North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation
- Oakland County Sheriff
- Oakland Police Department
- Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs
- Pennsylvania State Police
- Phoenix Police Department
- Prince George's County
- Raleigh Police Department
- Rochester Police Department
- Sacramento County Sheriff
- San Bernadino County Sheriff
- San Diego Police Department
- San Diego Sheriff's Department
- San Francisco Police Department
- San Jose Police Department
- Scottsdale Police Department
- St. Louis Police Department
- Sunrise Police Department
- Tacoma Police Department
- Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
- Texas Department of Public Safety
- Tucson Police Department
- U.S. Army
- U.S. Marine Corps
- U.S. Marshals Service
- U.S. National Guard
- U.S. Navy
- U.S. Secret Service
- U.S. Special Operations Command
- Ventura County Sheriff
- Virginia State Police
- Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police Department
- Wilmington Police Department
- Wisconsin Department of Justice
The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office was not included in that list, so it's likely that many other law enforcement agencies using the device are also not on the list.