ACLU accuses Sarasota Police of using phone tracker without warrant

  • 0

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The American Civil Liberties Union is crying foul over a piece of cell phone tracking technology that's being used by some law enforcement agencies.

A Florida judge ruled Monday that more information about the device should be released to the public.

It’s a device that goes out and plays an electronic version of Marco Polo; it imitates a cell phone tower and says ‘Marco’, and then all cell phones within a one mile area says ‘Polo’, and they start exchanging information,” says Michael Barfield, vice-president of the ACLU of Florida.

The device is called Stingray. The technology allows law enforcement to intercept calls and texts from cell phones of criminals and other individuals under investigation.

But there's an issue. "The problem is that it gets everyone’s information in that one and a half square mile area -- not just the person they're looking for," says Barfield.

Now the ACLU is filing an emergency motion in Florida court in response to alleged efforts by the Sarasota Police Department to maintain a secret program of using these devices in conjunction with the U.S. Marshall’s Service.

"Federal courts have routinely said this type of device requires a warrant. Unfortunately, here locally, law enforcement are not using a warrant when they use this device.”

In response to the allegations, ABC 7 received a statement from Deputy Chief Steve Moyer. "At this time, the Sarasota Police Department has a different opinion than that of the plaintiffs of this lawsuit. We will continue to work with our legal counsel on this matter."

The ACLU says they have information that the Sarasota Police Department customarily does not submit copies of Stingray applications and proposed orders for the use of devices in court.

Barfield and the ACLU say they have also learned the U.S. Marshall service has seized all hard copies of SPD's application and court orders. "Without a question, under the public record's law in Florida, if you're holding on to documents and you contend they belong to someone else or not a public record -- once a request is made, you can't get rid of them and play a shell game and say someone else has them."

And with the lawsuit, the ACLU is trying to obtain electronic copies of Stingray applications and proposed orders for the use of the devices.