The NYPD has used cell-site simulators, commonly known as “stingrays,” more than 1,000 times since 2008, according to documents turned over to the New York Civil Liberties Union. The documents represent the first time the department has acknowledged that they use the devices.
The NYPD also disclosed that it does not get a warrant before using a Stingray, which sweep up massive amounts of data. Instead, the police obtain a “pen register order” from a court, more typically used to collect call data for a specific phone. Those orders do not require the police to establish probable cause. Additionally, the NYPD has no written policy guidelines on the use of Stingrays.
Stingrays work by imitating cell phone towers. They force all nearby phones to connect to them, revealing the owners’ locations. That means they collect data on potentially hundreds of people. They are small enough to fit in a suitcase, or be mounted on a plane.