Police surveillance equipment raises eyebrows

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Submitted: Fri, 06/20/2014 - 2:39am
Updated: Fri, 06/20/2014 - 4:54pm

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Harpoon, StingRay and Kingfish are all surveillance items purchased by the Wilmington Police Department.

What they do though, and how long they’ve been around, might surprise you.

“All in favor please indicate by saying I,” said Mayor Bill Saffo at an April 2008 meeting of Wilmington’s City Council. The resolution passed unanimously to buy surveillance equipment for The Wilmington police department.

The same equipment used in questionable surveillance programs around the country.

According to purchase orders, the department has in its possession equipment that could seemingly infringe on your 4th Amendment rights.

So what is it?

The company, Harris, bills itself as an international communications and information technology company specializing in government, defense, intelligence and public safety. It offers products like StingRay, which uses your cell phone signal to triangulate your phone’s location. That gives law enforcement crucial information when it comes to knowing your whereabouts. Harris also produces items like the Harpoon and Amberjack. Those systems boost the StingRay’s capability.

In 2012, Wilmington city council approved maintenance on some of these items.

“Helps in the surveillance of locating those people,” said WPD Deputy Chief Marshall Williamson, addressing the Wilmington City Council.

When questioned about why he was saying so little, he said, “It’s very good surveillance equipment to aid us in our endeavors of protecting the citizens of Wilmington.”

The use of the equipment has been challenged in court by civil liberties groups that say it violates privacy rights.

When we had questions about the equipment’s use in the Port City, we were given no answers by the police department or the FBI.

We asked New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David about this. He said he feels confident the equipment is being used legally and constitutionally. He went on to say, as far as he knows, it is only being used in conjunction with a court order.

That stands in contrast to reports of an agreement the police department would have signed to buy the equipment stating that no warrants would be retrieved in the course of using the equipment.

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7 Comments on "Police surveillance equipment raises eyebrows"

2015 years 8 months ago

What’s it like knowing you engage in the same spying on citizens the Soviets used to do?

2015 years 8 months ago

Any hacker with decent skills could get into this thing.
Who knows what kind of info they collect.. If its a cell tower then any location data, sms, mms, calls, emails, visited websites, entered information(ie debt/credit card info, SSN, things of that nature)
Its putting all of wilmingtons residents at risk.

2015 years 8 months ago

That’s why it is better to just have abortion illegal. Now we have these laws to try to protect the infant’s life. But this spying is flat out wrong, un-American, and Soviet like.

2015 years 8 months ago

Is railing against this.
So Thom you have a female defendant.
You’d protect her cell phone privacy but stick a vaginal wand in her in the hopes of stopping an abortion?
I am against abortion for religious reasons – but as a believer in an individuals rights I don’t see how the state can intervene in a persons privacy for one thing over another……


Eric Barnes
2015 years 8 months ago

So they sign an agreement stating they will violate your 4th amendment rights to just buy the equipment, but yet it will be used constitutionally. I wonder what a FOIA request for the use of this equipment wold reveal- it they would even release that information.

Guest Reply Redux
2015 years 8 months ago


Paul Feldman
2015 years 8 months ago

This equipment cannot legally be purchases by a state or local police department.

Look at the 1968 omnibus crime act .

Federal agencies are not bound by the laws.

1. Even if used by the Feds, ie a federal narcotics task force, you need a court order.

2. These machines can also listen into conversations, that is covered under title 3 wiretap lap which requires a court order.

Harris Corp knows this illegal , they were caught selling illegal equipment to state and local law enforcement in the 90s. The equipment they were selling was not FCC type accepted.

The Federal law clearly states that if law enforcement agencies use a non approved transmitter or receiving device to collect evidence that edpvidence CANNOT be used in a court of law.

Yes I am an expert on this with over 30 years experience.

For wilmington PD to use this this without a court order it is a felony