B’more: Cellphone Tracking Used To Violate Rights Of 2K Defendants

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Photo credit: Reuters

A recent investigation by USA Today showed that police in Baltimore have been tracking cellphones during investigations but have failed to disclose the tracking to defendants and their attorneys. As a result, public defenders in Baltimore are expected to request that “a large number” of criminal convictions be thrown out.

Baltimore police have used cellphone trackers, commonly known as stingrays, to investigate crimes as minor as harassing phone calls, then concealed the surveillance from suspects and their lawyers. Maryland law generally requires that electronic surveillance be disclosed in court. […] Stingrays are suitcase-sized devices that allow the police to pinpoint a cellphone’s location to within a few yards by posing as a cell tower. In the process, they also can intercept information from the phones of nearly everyone else who happens to be nearby.
At least fifty-three police departments from Miami to Los Angeles own one of the cell trackers, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. But few have revealed when or how the devices are used, in part because they signed non-disclosure agreements with the FBI.

The tracking was monitored by police in Baltimore surveillance logs, which indicate that they used “stingrays to hunt everyone from killers to petty thieves, and usually did so without obtaining search warrants, and routinely sought to hide that surveillance from the people they arrested.”

Despite this clear violation of the law, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake “sees no problem with keeping the surveillance secret, as long as the police are using the trackers legally.”

But the mayor doesn’t seem to get it. Keeping the trackers secret is illegal in itself and should result in overturned convictions. Add this to the list of examples as yet another example of misconduct and overstepping by prosecutors and law enforcement. Without overturned convictions we can expect this to continue happening left and right. Tight regulations and close oversight are necessary to ensure that the state’s access to technology doesn’t result in defendants rights slipping away.