FOIA Suit Aims to End Secrecy About CPD Use of Controversial ‘Stringray’ Cell Phone Snooping Devices

Chicago, IL – A court is scheduled to hear oral arguments at 11 AM, Monday, Nov. 23rd in Room 2502 of the Daley Center about whether the Chicago Police Department (CPD) should be forced to reveal information about its use of controversial cell phone spying devices known as “stingrays.”

Stingray police spying equipment
Stingray police spying equipment
After the City stonewalled his FOIA requests, independent journalist and Chicago resident Freddy Martinez sued the CPD in September 2014 with the help of Attorney Matt Topic of Loevy & Loevy, the same firm which last Thursday helped force the impending release of video showing a CPD officer shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald sixteen times.

Stingrays are powerful surveillance equipment, typically hidden in mobile units, that act as fake cell phone towers, capturing data from anyone within several blocks or more. Analogous to the heated controversy over indiscriminate NSA spying with its vacuuming up of huge quantities of non-suspects’ information, key questions remain unanswered about how CPD is using these devices. Records already uncovered indicate that CPD is not obtaining warrants based on probable cause and has lax oversight over how officers are using these devices.

Stingrays can gather call routing information, electronic subscriber information and even the content of calls from a user. Black colored police trucks which activists suspect house the equipment have been fixtures at many protests over the past few years. Recent FOIA suits have forced revelations that the CPD has spied on a series of popular 1st Amendment protest movements, including black lives matter, Occupy Chicago, and anti-NATO summit organizers.

“In particular, the aim of my suit is to understand how, and under what circumstances Chicago Police are using these devices,” said Martinez. “Previously the CPD refused to acknowledge that it had even bought this equipment. This technology was originally designed by the US military to track down terrorists and now is being used in our backyards without any kind of meaningful oversight or constitutional analysis.”

“As with the Laquan McDonald police shooting video, CPD is trying to hide information about an important issue that warrants a robust public debate,” said Topic. “Many are concerned, given CPD’s long history of illegal surveillance of political groups, that CPD is using this equipment to build databases of information about political activists.”

A copy of the most recent plaintiff’s filing in this case, outlining the wider issues, can be found here.

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