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Cellphone surveillance tech used by Sacramento County Sheriff!

Old Town Sacramento

Old Town Sacramento: There’s a new sheriff in town!

And you thought that the NSA and your telecommunications company were the only ones spying on your through your cellphone…. 😉

This week, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department acknowledged that it possesses and uses surveillance technology that allows detectives to collect location data from cellphones of investigative targets, possibly without a court order! The local use of so-called “Stingray technology” parallels a national debate over domestic surveillance. The technology is controversial, because it is not specific. According to the Sacramento Bee:

It also collects location data from nearby cellphones unrelated to an investigation, a possible violation of civil liberties, according to some critics. However, Sheriff Scott Jones said in a statement released first to The Sacramento Bee that such “collateral” data is not kept by investigators.

And we should believe this because…? 😉

This is the first time that Sheriff Jones had admitted that his agency uses the device since a series of stories by Sacramento’s KXTV Channel 10 in the spring. In a statement, Jones said that a confidentiality agreement with the federal government, from which the department received the technology, prevented the disclosure earlier. Jones said that he recently received authorization to do so.

The Sacramento Bee discusses the nature of the Stingray device:

Here’s what is known to experts. Stingray is the most well-known brand name in a family of devices more generally called “IMSI catchers,” devices that can identify, track and intercept real-time data from a cellphone according to its unique identifier, or “international mobile subscriber identity.” The device does so by “masquerading” as a tower that cellphones use to transmit data, according to a policy paper authored by Pell <Stephanie Pell, assistant professor and cyberethics fellow at the U.S. Military Academy’s Army Cyber Institute>, a former federal prosecutor, and Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union.

IMSI catchers have the capability to trap “metadata” – such as a phone’s location, and the numbers of other phones it has been communicating with. But some models also have the power to intercept “content data,” such as verbal communication or text messages. Pell said her research with Soghoian did not find any examples of law enforcement agencies using the device for the latter purpose, which would require a wiretap warrant.

Soghian commented:

You can buy (the devices) from China for $1,800,” he said. “So this idea that somehow this is a supersecret technology that nobody knows about – that fiction of secrecy helps law enforcement agencies to justify withholding (information) … and keep the public in the dark, and, in many cases, keeping legislators in the dark.”

-Bill at

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