This spring, an appeals court ruled that Baltimore police systemically misused “stingray,” a powerful surveillance device that spoofs cell sites to track cellphones. Last week, the Department of Justice issued a damning report detailing Baltimore PD’s history of racial discrimination. As it turns out, those two issues aren’t just related; they’re intertwined.
That’s what a new FCC complaint, filed by the Center for Media Justice, ColorOfChange.org, and New America’s Open Technology Institute, alleges. The report goes further than just detailing Baltimore’s stingray indiscretions; it agues that the city’s use of cell site simulators disproportionately impacts minority communities, with serious repercussions.
Cell site simulators aren’t a new technology; Baltimore alone has used them since at least 2007. While they go by various brandnames, like Hailstorm and StingRay II, they’re more broadly known as “stingray” devices. The way they function is fairly straightforward: they mimic cell towers so that phones will connect to them and reveal their unique device ID. Once law enforcement has that, they can track the phone’s movements.
Civil liberties advocates have long been bothered by Stingrays, both for what they do and the manner in which they are deployed—which is to say, secretly, and without a warrant. (That Maryland appeals court opinion was the first to state that a probable cause warrant was necessary prior to cell site simulator use).
I think we know just enough about Baltimore’s use of cell site simulator technology to have a sense of what we don’t know about it. Attorney Laura Moy
Still, some information slips through. And the little that has indicates that Baltimore may have embraced stingray to a far greater extent than any other US city. In April of last year, a Baltimore detective testified that the Baltimore PD had used stingray …