Stingray system fuels debate over police surveillance

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- As we first told you last night, the ACLU is suing the City of Sarasota, seeking information on the city's police department and the controversial Stingray surveillance system.

So what is the Stingray, and how does it work?

Like the barb on its namesake underwater creature, the Stingray surveillance program gives authorities a tool to defend. In this case, it's against bad guys.

Developed just a few years ago, the Stingray mimics a cell phone tower, allowing law enforcement to locate wanted criminals as long as they have a cell phone. Even if they aren’t on the phone, the Stingray can locate it.

“The Stingray program, I think, is an excellent program. If used properly, it can find violent felons on the run, locate them, and arrest them,” says private investigator Bill Warner.

He knows a little bit about surveillance. “I'm aware of how difficult it is to find somebody. And when they are using a throw away cell phone, that's all you got.”

As we reported Tuesday, Michael Barfield with the ACLU feels the Stingray should be thrown out, citing Constiutional issues, even going as far as filing a lawsuit against the City of Sarasota.

He says the Sarasota Police Department is using it.

If they are, Warner says Barfield should just butt out. “I don’t like him. I think he’s doing a terrible thing here, taking away a very important took to help fight crime.”

The Sarasota Police Department denies owning the Stingray, however that doesn’t mean they haven’t used it, says Barfield. He alleges the SPD borrowed it from the U.S. Marshals.