Police Secretly Track Cellphones without Warrants

Brad Heath, USA TODAY

9:42 p.m. EDT August 23, 2015

VIDEO – How Stingray Surveillance Operates 

BALTIMORE — The crime itself was ordinary: Someone smashed the back window of a parked car one evening and ran off with a cellphone. What was unusual was how the police hunted the thief.

Detectives did it by secretly using one of the government’s most powerful phone surveillance tools — capable of intercepting data from hundreds of people’s cellphones at a time — to track the phone, and with it their suspect, to the doorway of a public housing complex. They used it to search for a car thief, too. And a woman who made a string of harassing phone calls.

In one case after another, USA TODAY found police in Baltimore and other cities used the phone tracker, commonly known as a stingray, to locate the perpetrators of routine street crimes and frequently concealed that fact from the suspects, their lawyers and even judges. In the process, they quietly transformed a form of surveillance billed as a tool to hunt terrorists and kidnappers into a staple of everyday policing.

The suitcase-size tracking systems, which can cost as much as $400,000, allow the police to pinpoint a phone’s location within a few yards by posing as a cell tower. In the process, they can intercept information from the phones of nearly everyone else who happens to be nearby, including innocent bystanders. They do not intercept the content of any communications.

Dozens of police departments from Miami to Los Angeles own similar devices. A USA TODAY Media Network investigation identified more than 35 of them in 2013 and 2014, and the American Civil Liberties Union has found 18 more. When and how the police have used those devices is mostly a mystery, in part because the FBI swore them to secrecy.

Violent gun crime has dropped dramatically in the past two decades

Paul Overberg and Meghan Hoyer

December 3, 2013

usatoday.com

Violent gun crime has dropped dramatically in the past two decades, but the majority of Americans think it’s more of a problem now than ever, according to a Pew Research Center study released Tuesday.

According to the survey, done in March, 56% of Americans believe gun crime is worse today than it was 20 years ago. And 84% believe in recent years, gun crime has either gone up or stayed the same — when the reality is that it has dropped significantly.

The rate of non-fatal violent gun crime victimization dropped 75% in the past 20 years; The gun homicide rate dropped 49% in the same period, according to numbers Pew researchers obtained from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The public doesn’t get its feelings out of crime statistics,” said Alfred Blumstein, an urban systems professor at Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University. “The public gets its feelings from particularly notorious events, and what the press talks about.”

The recent attention on the massacre in Newtown, Conn., other mass shootings and even the spate of shootings in Chicago have fueled a perception that crime is up, even though in most cities it has dropped overall, he said.