A Stingray is an international mobile subscriber identity catcher. Cell phones search for the nearest tower even when the phone is not in use. The Stingray sends out its own signals forcing all phones in the area to connect with it. Stingray then gathers and stores information giving authorities access to the intercepted data.
"It's very easy to abuse this technology," Attorney Ted Schmidt said.
Back in 2010, the Tucson Police Department made a hefty investment in digital surveillance equipment. But just four years later, the department said they stopped all use of Stingray.
"It can be very evasive and frankly I don't think we, the general public, know the scope of it's capabilities," Schmidt said.
The fact that TPD even had such equipment wasn't brought to light until the American Civil Liberties Union sued the department and the city for not responding to a public records request in relation to its use of the Stingray.
However Pima County Superior Court Judge Douglas Metcalf accepted the city's arguments that making all documents public would allow criminals to circumvent this technology, and ruled in favor of the police.
Darrell Hill says the ACLU is still unsatisfied with that ruling.
"Our belief is that because the Stingray is used in Tucson by a public agency all the records concerning their use of Stingray is a public record and we still hold that position," Hill said.
The News 4 Tucson Investigators submitted a freedom of information request to TPD for records concerning Stingray.
One of the documents we received was this purchase order showing the city spent over $400,000 dollars for a Stingray II and a Kingfish device, along with the necessary software.
We asked the Tucson Police Department, if they're no longer using it, what they did with the nearly half a million dollars worth of equipment paid for with taxpayer dollars. We are still waiting for their response.
"We as citizens of this country have a reasonable expectation of privacy in owning a cell phone," Schmidt said.
Even if TPD is no longer using these devices, many agencies across the country still are. Including several federal branches such as the IRS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Attorney Ted Schmidt says the government needs to set restrictions to better protect our 4th amendment rights.
"Do we reasonably expect that the government is going to at any time seek to identify, not only our location, but potentially information that we're conveying on our cell phones because we happen to be within a range of where they wanna use one of these devices?"