Documents uncovered through a public records request reveal that a Wash. state police department has concealed its use of a Stringray cellphone surveillance device for the last 6 years.
The documents, uncovered by Phil Mocek of the Seattle Privacy Coalition and Center for Open Policing, detail the Tacoma Police Department’s 2008 purchase order. Partially funded by a DHS “port security” grant, the documents also included several invoices and contracts as well.
The device, which extracts countless cellphone user’s data by mimicking a cell tower, has caused alarm among civil liberties advocates in recent years.
“Warrantless surveillance presents great risk to our freedom,” Mocek told Infowars. “These devices are often used to spy on innocent people’s words, locations and associations.”
A subsequent investigation by the Tacoma News Tribune also revealed that the department signed a nondisclosure agreement with the FBI that kept the transaction secret from the public.
Incredibly, City Council members who approved the purchase were simply told that the device helped detect “IEDs.”
“I’ve got to find out what I voted on before I comment,” Councilman David Boe told the Tribune. “This is new information.”
Ronald Culpepper, a Pierce County Superior Court judge, was also left in the dark on the Stingrays purchase.
“If they use it wisely and within limits, that’s one thing,” Culpepper said. “I would certainly personally have some concerns about just sweeping up information from non-involved and innocent parties — and to do it with a whole neighborhood? That’s concerning.”
The Tacoma Police Department has thus far declined to comment on the revelation, saying the FBI agreement may limit what they can reveal about the publicly-purchased device.
“We need to find out how Tacoma PD are using their device,” Mocek said. “They should come clean with the Tacoma City Council and with the public.”
Tacoma joins several other police departments across the country that have actively worked to hide their use of cellphone tracking technology.
Just last June, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones became visibly irate after a local news group began questioning him over his department’s secret Stringray use.
Similarly, the department claimed it was not required to inform the public due to a non-disclosure agreement signed with the Stingray provider – a privately-owned company.
The Tallahassee Police Department also argued that a non-disclosure agreement prevented them from obtaining warrants before using a Stringray as many as 200 times since 2010.
Emails uncovered by the ACLU last June showed how the U.S. Marshals Service has gone as far as teaching police how to deceive judges when trying to acquire Stringrays. A similar records request by the ACLU even resulted in U.S. Marshals storming the Sarasota Police Department in Florida in order to seize Stingray documents before they reached the public.