FBI say Stingray is a “sensitive technique,” won’t discuss how it’s used

Police Deny Responsibility After Stingray Cell Phone Tracker Discovered in Idaho

Source: Mikael Thalen |

State and federal law enforcement groups throughout Idaho are remaining tight-lipped after a local mobile security advocate uncovered what appears to be an IMSI catcher, commonly referred to as a Stingray cell phone interceptor, operating in one of the state’s largest cities.

The local advocate, who discovered signs of the interceptor in Idaho Falls, was able to detect its specific indicators while using a CryptoPhone, a mobile device which warns users of possible cell interception.

Attempting to investigate, Idaho’s KTVB 7 News reached out to several law enforcement agencies in the Treasure Valley area in an effort to determine the device’s owner. Although no agency in the area would admit to owning a Stingray, one major police department in the state did.

“A spokesperson with the Boise Police Department says they use something like it when trying to track down suspects,” KTVB 7′s Tami Tremblay wrote. “A regional FBI agent would only tell us the Stingray is a sensitive technique so no one will discuss how it’s used.”

While no current information can tie such a device to any group other than the Boise Police, the refusal of agencies in Idaho Falls to comment could be tied to the Harris Corporation, the largest provider of IMSI catchers in the country. Despite clearly overstepping legal bounds, the Harris Corporation has required publicly run government agencies to sign non-disclosure agreements when obtaining Stingrays, allowing police to hide their activity from the public.

In an incident last June, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department claimed it was not obligated to inform the public of their secret Stingray use due to such an agreement after being confronted by a local news group.

Police in Tallahassee also argued that the public had no right to know and even claimed the agreement allowed them to use the device as many as 200 times in three years without a warrant.

The practice has even been picked up by the FBI, who issued a Stingray to police in Tacoma, Washington under the proviso that they never tell the public. Police went as far as telling City Council members who approved the purchase that the device was designed to detect “IEDs.” Documents from public records requests regarding the department’s Stingray use revealed that police were intercepting hundreds of innocent cell phone users’ data for crimes such as a “missing city laptop.”

In an effort to hide their activity, the U.S. Marshals Service even raided a Florida police department earlier this year in order to keep Stingray documents from reaching the public. It was later revealed that U.S. Marshals were actively teaching police how to deceive judges when trying to acquire Stingrays.