DC cops caught using "stingray" cell phone tracking devices

A few weeks ago someone found that fake cellphone towers known as "stingrays" were very common in Washington DC, especially near government buildings. Now, vice.com has published a report that the Metropolitan Police Department is using them. The report states that in 2008, MPD began using the briefcase-size cell tower simulators they had originally obtained from an "anti-terror" grant years ago in ordinary "criminal" investigations. I strongly suspect that includes their illegal investigations of animal rights groups such as DARTT and of other activist groups such as Occupy DC.

Longtime readers of this site will recall the December 19, 2008 police ambush of Huntingdon Life Sciences protesters near the home of Janet Lambert of Invitrogetn, a supplier of chemicals and lab equipment to HLS. About 16 protesters marched from the Friendship Heights Metro all the way to 28th st down Military Road near Rock Creek Park. Initially the cops kept out of sight, but unmarked cars began following the protesters about halfway to the target. Despite the unsettling police behavior protesters continued to their objective, where an ambush by police and Ms Lambert's security guard husband erupted. At least 75 police officers were involved in that operation against a peaceful but spirited late-night residential protest.

After that ambush, there was much speculation within DARTT as to just how the cops managed to find protesters who were perhaps a half mile away from any other target and nowhere near their objective. From the beginning I blamed the common activist practice of leaving cellphones in operation while on a mission requiring stealth, and the current Stingray revelations make far more likely that suspicion. It was earlier that same year that MPD began using the Stingray devices in routine investigations, and with one it would have been trivial to simply track the cluster of activst phones moving down the road. If all participants had removed their phone batteries after everyone had reached the assembly point, the march would have "gone dark" and been impossible to track except in person once off main roads that bear surveillance cameras or traffic cameras with realtime capability.

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