SDPD Sued Over Cellular Tracking Tech
by Lyndsay Winkley, UT San Diego
SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Police Department is being sued by a civil rights organization demanding more information about how the department uses a controversial cellphone tracking technology, information the group says should be disclosed under the California Public Records Act.
For months, the department has been tight-lipped about whether or not it has or uses what are known as a Stingray, also known as International Mobile Subscriber Identity catcher. The tracking device masquerades as a cellphone tower, tricking nearby cellphones into connecting with it and giving law enforcement agencies access to information from the phones.
In its lawsuit, the First Amendment Coalition included a heavily redacted invoice provided by the department. It confirms the department has spent $33,000 on the possession or use of the technology, but the department has refused to provide more information to the coalition or to news organizations.
“Without having basic information about whether they even have the technology, let alone how they’re using it… how do we have that conversation about the merits of surveilling citizens,” said coalition Attorney Kelly Aviles.
The civil rights group, which promotes free speech, open and accountable government and public engagement in civic affairs, asserts that California law requires the department to provide such information as procedures governing the technology’s use, any warrants sought in connection with the device and training materials.
The department refused its requests, saying the information the coalition was requesting “would reveal security or intelligence information” and was exempt from disclosure, according to the lawsuit.