The New York Police Department (NYPD) has used stingrays without a written policy and following a practice of obtaining only lower-level court orders, rather than warrants, 1,016 times between 2008 and May of 2015.
The information was revealed in documents obtained by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) under Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests and is the first time the extent of the department's stingray use has been made public, the NYCLU said.
In a press release, NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said ““If carrying a cell phone means being exposed to military grade surveillance equipment, then the privacy of nearly all New Yorkers is at risk.”
Lieberman went on to say the NYPD “must at the very least establish strict privacy policies and obtain warrants prior to using intrusive equipment like Stingrays.”
In response to the NYCLU's allegations, an NYPD spokesperson told SCMagazine.com via email correspondence Friday that the department ensures it has established probable cause, consults with a district attorney and applies for a court order which must be approved by a judge before using the technology.
“In rare instances, the NYPD may use this technology in emergency situations while we seek judicial approval. This would be in instances where the life or safety of someone is at risk,” the NYPD spokesperson said.
The NYPD spokesperson also countered the NYCLU's claims that innocent citizens are at risk because of the device.
“It is not. What is at risk is the safety of New Yorkers, without the limited use of this technology to locate dangerous fugitives.”
In a separate case filed Feb. 11, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the Tacoma Police Department (TPD) on behalf of four Tacoma community leaders accusing the department of unlawfully withholding documents related to TPD's stingray use.