Long billed as a groundbreaking tool to thwart terror plots or other major crimes, a suitcase-sized cell-site simulator was used by the Baltimore Police Department to nab a phone thief, catch a woman who sent “threatening and annoying” text messages, and someone who stole credit cards to pay two months' rent at a self-storage unit.
Surveillance records show that Baltimore police used stingray technology in 837 criminal cases identified by USA Today. In addition, Baltimore authorities routinely hid proof of stingray usage in court, with about a third of cases ending up in dismissal and only about a 50-percent conviction rate.
Maryland state law requires defense lawyers to be told about any use of electronic surveillance.
The Harris Corporation’s ‘Stingray’ is the most well-known brand of the controversial spying technology, used by the FBI, the Secret Service, the Drug Enforcement Agency and many state and local police agencies. By impersonating cell towers, the devices force phones in the area to broadcast information that can be used to identify and locate users. The devices are able to indiscriminately collect and intercept data from hundreds of phones at once, though they cannot capture contents of communications.