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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Is the Wilmington Police Department using spy gear to trick your cell phone into giving away private info?

That’s what the ACLU and New Hanover County’s Public Defender believe.

The device, called StingRay, lets police turn cell phones into tracking devices sending officers right to who they are looking for, but it might violate your rights.

In an e-mail sent to several attorneys in the area, Public Defender Jennifer Harjo says she was asked to investigate an allegation that the Wilmington Police Department is using StingRay surveillance equipment. She says basically no one knows when it’s being used.

“The public has a right to know when and how law enforcement and the government are conducting surveillance on them,” said Mike Meno, Communications Director for the ACLU of North Carolina.

Harjo’s e-mail says the makers of StingRay require police departments sign a contract saying they won’t seek a warrant to use the device. This has attorney and state senator Thom Goolsby fired up.

“We live in a world where all government agencies now want to have drones,” Goolsby said. “Apparently they all want to listen on to our telephone calls, and track us. This is ridiculous. This is not what our Constitution is all about.”

Goolsby says as a criminal defense attorney, he is concerned as to why he was not told about this technology.

“I have never seen any of this information listed in any discovery that I’ve received in the criminal cases that I handle,” he said. “I would have expected it to be there. I would have expected a warrant to be there.”

We asked Wilmington Police spokeswoman Linda Rawley about StingRay. She said the department has no comment, and referred us to the FBI. FBI spokeswoman Shelley Lynch said it’s because the technology is so sensitive and protected that the FBI will not let anyone, including local agencies, talk about it.

While WPD is not talking, documents are, including an invoice that was part of a November 2012 City Council agenda item for money to do maintenance on surveillance equipment. It shows an invoice to Harris Corporation to buy several pieces of equipment including the StingRay.

Harjo is out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Comment on this Story

  • Anti-flag

    No surprise, its been happening all over the nation for a while already, I’ve met only a few law enforcement officers in wilmington I would actually consider to be good moral people. Countless times I’ve been harassed and accused of countless crimes. (Keep in mind my record is clean) but because I am an 18 year old male with semi long hair and I ride a skateboard I’m instantly a menace to society? I’m jumping into peoples cars and stashing stolen good in the woods? The list goes on and on. Many of them get angry because I stand up for my rights now instead of letting them frisk me and harass me. A friend of mine was pulled over the other day. By a new Hanover county sheriff. When the officer got to the window his exact words were “I’m just doing a routine stop and I need to search your vehicle’ my friend replied, “no sir, and that is illegal. I do not consent to any of this. The officer then turns around somewhat yelling to the sky. He says “they know, why do all the kids know?” Well simple. Because at least some of us are law abiding citizens who only want to do good in society, and if you harrass us when we are being complient we will try to find a way to ruin you. Videos are the only option but Wilmington police tend to resort to very illegal tactics once their victim starts filming. I believe if they can have a camera on their dash for their safety. I can record them for MY safety. If not they’ll just cover each other and you will still end up with a criminal record. Don’t let this happen any longer. If this nation turns into a police state I WILL shed the blood of my own people gladly

  • guesty

    I don’t buy the story of your friend getting pulled over for no violation only to be asked to have his car searched.

  • Tin Foil Hat

    In addition to the tracking and collection of data from American citizens, the vast majority of which have done nothing to bring this on themselves, there’s the issue of why did they spend so much money for this equipment. The document mentioned http://wilmington.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=25&clip_id=3513&meta_id=116324 is for maintenance of the equipment. The original equipment looks to have been over $360,000 – to track and listen to cell calls. Oddly, the renewal includes $2,000 for IDEN, which is more commonly known as Nextel. Nextel no longer exists, so why pay for maintenance on something that has no function?

    Here’s pictures of, and descriptions of what these toys look like, and what they actually are capable of: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/09/meet-the-machines-that-steal-your-phones-data/

    Looks like Wilmington even got screwed on the price they paid…. http://publicintelligence.net/harris-corporation-amberjack-stingray-stingray-ii-kingfish-wireless-surveillance-products-price-list/

    So much for competitive bidding.

  • guest45

    You are obviously one of those that lives with your head in the sand, this is a very serious eaves dropping thing that is being put over on us, you are trusting your privacy to people that time after time that have proven they are no more trustworthy than the dealer on the street corner except for the fact they have a badge.
    There are no checks and balances in place that protect any citizen from undue harassment that anybody with a grudge wants to inflict, just look at what the IRS has done in the last 6 years, you need to move to Germany if you want this kind of invasion in your life!

  • Guestomfg

    Thom Goolsby is fired up. Who cares. Tell your “clients” to stop breaking the damn law and they wont have to worry about being tracked.

  • otherguest

    I would strongly beseech this writer, and the many, many others like him, to stop and THINK and reconsider his ridiculously illogical attitude.

    Just a brief review of human history will offer numerous cases where the people trusted their leaders with exercising good judgement on behalf of the people as a whole, only to find themselves victims of the undeniable dark side that is unleashed when too much unquestioned power is vested in a small group.

  • Guest2020

    So us law-abiding citizens should just roll over and let the government tread all over our rights? You should read 1984 and see what this kind of thing leads to.

  • Rusty

    “The public has a right to know when and how law enforcement and the government are conducting surveillance on them,” said Mike Meno, Communications Director for the ACLU of North Carolina.

    Whaaa? So every case over the last few hundred years should be thrown out if a detective tailed a suspect without prior consent of the suspect? I *hope* he meant that differently from the way the quote was taken; when and how LEO CAN do such and by what means should (and for the most part is) already defined.

  • Sharonto

    The public has a right to know when and how law enforcement and the government are conducting surveillance on them. Even when we install spy app like iKeyMonitor, we should use it under the law.

  • Who will watch the badge?

    Yes, you can be rest assured that the LeBlanc misbehaviors and the use of force episodes will never be a concern with Stingray. Clearly, any citizen watching the local and national news has seen that it is the police that are completely out of hand. Must be nice when a 13wk blet certification allows a person to have unlimited power and control over citizens. Things just like this cause the underground militias and antigovernment groups to seem very believable.

  • Beach Guy

    Is unconstitutional this needs to be investigated and all the facts be brought to light. Anyone that uses this equipment to illegally spy on citizens needs to be prosecuted.
    It is not about whether your a law breaker or not it is about our 4TH amendment rights guaranteed to us in the constitution.
    I am not saying don’t use it just get a warrant first.

  • Guest Reply Redux


  • chuckles1811

    I love reading the comments here!

  • Commonsensenotcommontoday

    Just remember, the government that can ignore your Fourth Amendment rights today can ignore your Second Amendment rights tomorrow, and your First Amendment rights the day after that.

  • tsk tsk

    I hope they can charge him with whatever they can.


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