Typically, cops don’t like talking about IMSI catchers, the powerful surveillance technology used to monitor mobile phones en masse. In a recent case, the New York Police Department (NYPD) introduced a novel argument for keeping mum on the subject: Asked about the tools it uses, it argued that revealing the different models of IMSI catchers the force owned would make the devices more vulnerable to hacking.
Civil liberties activists are not convinced. Christopher Soghoian from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote in an affidavit as part of a petition against the NYPD’s decision not to share this information, “It would be a serious problem if the costly surveillance devices purchased by the NYPD without public competitive bidding are so woefully insecure that the only thing protecting them from hackers is the secrecy surrounding their model names.”
The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), an affiliate of the ACLU, has been trying to get access to information about the NYPD’s IMSI catchers under the Freedom of Information Law. These devices are also commonly referred to as “stingrays”, after a particularly popular model from Harris Corporation. Indeed, the NYCLU wants to know which models of IMSI catchers made by Harris the police department has.