By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express
Durham police say they neither own nor have ever used a controversial device used by some police forces to locate cell phones.
Sgt. Bill Calder, a spokesperson for Durham police, tells The Oshawa Express in an emailed response that DRPS “do not have a Stingray device,” and that the major crime branch says it has not used one either.
Initially developed for use by the military and intelligence services, the StingRay, developed by the Florida-based Harris Corporation, and other similar devices work by mimicking a cell phone tower. While doing so, it will force cell phones to connect to it as it will give off a stronger signal than surrounding cell phone towers. This allows law enforcement to find and later track a specific cell phone.
Critics of the device say it can also intercept text messages and phone calls.
In April, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada announced that it would be launching an investigation into whether the RCMP uses such a device.
Earlier this month, Vancouver police admitted that they had used a StingRay during a 2007 investigation, utilizing the device with the assistance of the RCMP to try to find the cell phone of someone that had been abducted.
The admission came after the province’s privacy commissioner said it was looking at the possibility of an inquiry into the use of the device by police. Previously, the city’s police force said it could neither confirm nor deny whether it owned a StingRay or had used one in the past.
Edmonton police initially said it had such a device as well, with the force’s spokesperson telling Motherboard, a technology website owned by Vice Media, that Edmonton police owned one and had used it during investigations. However, a week later, Edmonton police backtracked, saying there was a miscommunication between the force’s spokesperson and the reporter from Motherboard.
While the use of these devices is relatively new to Canada, StingRays have garnered more use south of the border.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 66 agencies in 24 states, as well as the District of Columbia, either use or have access to StingRays.
Earlier this year, a federal judge in Manhattan struck down evidence gathered by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) using a StingRay as it had been gathered without a warrant. In that case, William Pauley, the judge presiding over the trial, ruled that the defendant’s rights had been violated when the DEA used a StringRay without a warrant to find his apartment, deeming it an unreasonable search.
“Absent a search warrant, the government may not turn a citizen’s cell phone into a tracking device,” Pauley wrote in his decision.