FCC Complaint: Baltimore Police Phone Trackers Disrupt Calls

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A trio of civil rights groups have filed a complaint against the Baltimore Police Department for its use of cell phone tracking devices. Center for Media Justice, Color of Change and the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute are citing racial discrimination and the disruption of 911 calls when people are in need of help.

While “stingray” technology is known as a crucial tool for policing, it’s also been at the center of controversy.

“It is invasive, it does invade privacy,” said Laura Moy, acting director, Institute for Public Representation of Georgetown Law School.

A new complaint filed to the FCC unloads on the BPD and its use of cell phone tracking devices, saying they disrupt calls and emergency calls and chill the speech of protesters.

It even cites the recent D.O.J. report, saying the devices fall disproportionately on Baltimore’s black residents.

“The inference with phone network, including with 911 calls, occurs disproportionately with black communities,” said Moy.

Moy represents the groups who filed the complaint.

“It is a secretive device that really tracks people without their knowledge or consent,” she said.

Stingray technology has been highly criticized since 2011, when Baltimore police used cell phone data to help close the case in a string of armed robberies. Investigators obtained data from their witness providers to tie the duo to the crimes.

“Investigators want stream line information so they can locate these criminals quickly and bring them to justice,” said security expert Rob Weinhold, Fallston Group.

Weinhold says it is technology that can be pivotal to help put criminals behind bars.

“When you’re looking for an armed dangerous individual who is clearly a threat to others, every second, every hours counts,” he said.

Moy says the FCC is taking a hard look at the complaint, and they’re hoping to take swift action.

Just months ago, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that police do not need a search warrant to obtain cell tower location data in Maryland.

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