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Police admit they are hacking people's phones

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People now have to worry about being hacked by criminals and by the police.

After days of questioning, the Tacoma Police Department admitted that the force is using a cell site simulator, also known as a "Stingray," to combat crime.

This Stingray is a piece of hardware made by the Harris Corporation. It tricks phones into connecting to it, like a cell phone tower, but then tracks all of the calls, text messages and data use of cell phones in a half-mile radius. And the public wouldn't know if their phones were one of the devices hacked in such a way.

According to the News Tribune, earlier in the week, the police would not admit they were using such a device. A spokeswoman received questions that were written down, and it was later revealed that those questions had to be checked against a nondisclosure agreement with the federal government.

The Tacoma Police Department stated that it doesn't store info about innocent people, but it wouldn't explain the methods to sift through data or where it is stored until it is sifted and the data pertaining to cases is separated out. They also said they get a warrant from a judge each time the Stingray is used. But the Superior Court presiding judge said that the applications for such warrants never indicated a Stingray was being used to get data rather than the usual request to cellphone providers for the data.

Besides the judge, the county prosecutor and the director of the public defenders' office did not know of the Stingray's use. The Tacoma City Council was also surprised to learn of the Stingray. The council hadn't approved of the use of a Stingray. Instead, it was provided by a federal grant in 2007.

In 2013, the police department need to upgrade the system, so it sought the $63,000 needed from the city council. The police chief told the city purchasing department that the equipment would be used to find improvised explosive devices. The police has admitted they have not used the Stingray to find explosives once.

The department's records showed that the Stingray was used 179 times since 2009, in order to find missing people or endangered individuals, or for suspects of homicide, rape, robbery, narcotics or kidnapping cases.

Tacoma is not the first city to have police departments use such technology. Police in Arizona, Maryland, Florida, North Carolina, Texas and California have purchased the devices made by Harris Corporation. And the corporation's NDA prevent public disclosure of their use.

Photo: Raymond Shobe 

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