"We aren't the CIA, NSA and FBI. We are a local law enforcement agency doing a damn good job of keeping the community safe," police argue. Photo: John Fingas

Police in Oakland County, Michigan, will soon use a Hailstorm device to track cell phone calls. The secret device is manufactured by Harris Corp., a Florida-based international telecommunications equipment company and military contractor.

“It’s all very secretive and information about (Stingray and Hailstorm) is tightly controlled, which makes it (difficult) to have a broad discussion about these tools,” Alan Butler, a lawyer for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told the Detroit News.

In 2011, use of the Stingray, considered the most widely used surveillance device by government to track cell phones, was questioned during an Arizona court case. The Department of Justice issued a memorandum at the time admitting use of the device constituted “a Fourth Amendment search and seizure.”

Police in Florida and California are using the Stingray to track cell phone calls. It is also used by the FBI, DEA, BATF, Secret Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. According to the ACLU, police in Florida have used the device at least 200 times without a search warrant.

Asked about Stingray by Arstechnica, the FBI characterized the tracking device as a “vital component” used as the agency “strives to protect our country and its people.”

Undersheriff Michael McCabe of the Oakland County police argued the $170,000 Hailstorm device will be used to “helps us capture fugitives from the law, people wanted for murder and rape.”

McCabe said the device, purchased with a Homeland Security grant, is “not a tool to spy on people, unequivocally.”

“We’re not spying on anyone,” McCabe said. “We’re not authorized to spy on anyone. We aren’t the CIA, NSA and FBI. We are a local law enforcement agency doing a damn good job of keeping the community safe.”

The Michigan newspaper filed a Freedom of Information Act request to find out more about the device, but the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office turned back the request.

It said information about the device is protected by anti-terror laws and includes “investigating records compiled for law enforcement purposes that would disclose law enforcement investigative techniques or procedures,” according to the newspaper.