Maryland appeals court rules against BPD's secret cellphone tracker - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Mar. 4, 2016 12:17 pm

Maryland appeals court rules against BPD’s secret cellphone tracker

The ruling is a victory for anti-stingray privacy advocates.

The "stingray" device acts like a cellphone tower.

(Photo via Harris Corp.)

The second-highest court in Maryland handed a victory to privacy advocates in the dispute over the Baltimore Police Department’s use of a cellphone tracking device.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that the stingray violates the Fourth Amendment right to privacy.

The previous ruling by Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Kendra Ausby stated that evidence collected using the stingray in an attempted murder case against Kerron Andrews should not be used. The ruling added that BPD should not have used the stingray without a warrant. The Washington Times reports that the case is the first time an appellate court has thrown out evidence connected to a stingray, but adds that the ruling is likely to be challenged to a higher court.

Civil liberties groups like the ACLU have also argued that stingrays violate the Fourth Amendment. In a brief filed to the Court of Special Appeals, meanwhile, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh argued that turning on a cellphone was basically asking to be tracked.

The debate could soon move from the courtroom to the State House. A bill filed in the Maryland General Assembly by Del. Charles Sydnor (D-Baltimore), would create a court order specifically for stingrays. It is scheduled for a committee hearing on March 10. In the Andrews case, police were authorized to use the stingray through an order for a pen register device, which only records numbers from a phone line.

Police use the stingray, which simulates a cellphone tower, to locate suspects. The Harris Corp. device also sweeps up other cellphone data in the vicinity of a potential suspect, thus the privacy concerns.

BPD disclosed using the technology more than 4,300 times when a detective came clean about its use for the first time last year. The Baltimore Police Department’s model, called the Hailstorm, was approved for further upgrades and maintenance earlier this year.

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