The Stingray was used in Yuma to stop a probable murder-suicide. Back in October, 2013 a Yuma female resident and her minor children were kidnapped from a safe house. According to authorities she was sexually assaulted by her husband who left her in a motel room and ran away with their young children. After her spouse called from his cell phone and threatened to kill himself and their children, Gilbert police made a decision to assist another police station to prevent a tragedy and used the Stingray device to locate the husband by tracking his cell phone signal.
By using the Stingray technological innovation police officers located the husband and the kids in the Glove/Miami area. The husband had a gun, but surrendered peacefully.
Stingray is a manufacturer name for an International Mobile Subscriber Identity Tracking system. The manufacturer does not reveal the information on how the Stingray actually works, but it basically imitates a mobile phone tower system and causes phones to transmit a signal which police can later use to determine the serial number of the mobile device and the subscriber’s location.
However, rarely more questionable law enforcement tool has been created and used. Currently some people are concerned that massive tracking of mobile phones by police might violate the privacy of average citizens.
Ray, who is the Stingray expert, says that the device is only used by law enforcements in life-threatening situations like the one in Yuma. Ray also believes that the majority of Yuma residents would be okay with using the Stingray. A spokesman for Mesa police department Sgt. Tony Landato stated that he sees the Stingray as an investigative approach that is applied in urgent situations in order to save lives. Tony Landato also stressed out that the device could function as a useful tool in long-term investigations.
In Yuma case the police obtained an emergency 48-hour order from the phone provider in order to locate the husband. After 48 hours police officers need to obtain a search warrant if they want to keep tracking the cell phone. In most cases, search warrants are obtained.
Ray also addressed the privacy concerns arising from the use of the Stingray. Ray said that despite seeing serial numbers of all mobile devices used in the specific neighborhood, serial numbers that are irrelevant to the investigation are not being recorded. Moreover, police cannot access phone text messages, pictures, voice mails and etc.
The Stingray is not an interception tool, but simply a device used to determine a location of a person. Law enforcement officials are reluctant to talk about the Stingray, and some Valley agencies, such as the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, did not even acknowledge the device’s existence.
Phoenix law enforcements have had the technology that helps to track mobile phones since 2001. Currently all investigative bureaus in Phoenix can access the programs, however, the technology is mostly utilized by the bureaus that investigate drug related offenses. According to agency’s policies an order of the court is required to use the cell phone tracking device.
Phoenix police is allowed to share the obtained data with other law enforcement offices. All other police offices can store the information received via the use of the Stingray technology as evidence in a case file until the cases are dismissed or solved; no logs are kept about the use of the technology outside of criminal cases.
Ray said that phone records have been a major component of criminal investigations for a long time. Due to the abandonment of landline phones, it is important for police to keep up with technological innovations in order to catch criminals.
Ray also stresses out that it has been the misunderstanding around the Stingray and the most controversial technology does not include the Stingray, but the Tower Dump. The Tower Dump is used by police to obtain serial numbers of all phones that use a certain tower during the specific time when an investigated crime took place. As Ray says the Stingray is just one more device that police occasionally use.