People in Wilmington are speaking out after learning the Wilmington Police Department uses surveillance equipment called Stingray that can track people's movements via cell phone - even if you're not a suspect.
Most people understand the police have to keep certain investigative tools under wraps so they don't tip off the criminals, but we're learning that key players in the criminal justice system, like judges, defense attorneys, and state law makers are being kept in the dark about how this equipment is being used.
In Florida, officers applying for warrants have routinely told judges they obtained knowledge of a suspect's location from a "confidential source" rather than admitting they'd actually been tracking the suspects cell phone. Emails show US Marshals told police in Florida to conceal their techniques.
Advocates say if you are not doing anything wrong you have no need to worry about Stingray surveillance. But critics say this is a slippery slope and it's frightening to think what other surveillance the government could be doing on any of us.
Major players like Thom Goolsby, a criminal defense attorney and chair of the state's oversight committee for justice and public safety, have just learned that this is being used in the Cape Fear area.
Goolsby found the concept a potentially outrageous violation of the 4th Amendment, which gives citizens an expectation of privacy and guards against unreasonable searches and seizures without probable cause.
At this point, Wilmington Police are staying tight lipped about how the Stingray system is being used here, referring us to the FBI for comment. They did release a statement Tuesday about why they are so tight lipped about the technology though.
Location information is a vital component of law enforcement investigations at the federal, state and local levels. As a general matter, the Wilmington Police Department does not discuss specific techniques used by law enforcement to obtain location information, as they are considered investigative sensitive, the public release of which could harm law enforcement efforts at all levels by compromising future use of the technique. The Wilmington Police only collects and maintains information that has investigative value and relevance to a case, and such data is retained in accordance with controlling State Law. The Wilmington Police does not keep repositories of cell tower data for any purpose other than in connection with a specific investigation. The collection of cell tower records is only performed after required Wilmington Police approvals are received in the specific investigation, and only after the appropriate court order is obtained from a court. If the records obtained are deemed relevant, the specific records are made part of the investigative case file.
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