State police in New Jersey aren’t saying why they spent 50,000 on cell phone surveillance tech

Civil liberties groups contend the technology could violate the privacy of anyone with a mobile phone who passes by.

A records request reveals New Jersey State Police have invested more than $850,000 in surveillance technologies that monitor cell phone activity.

The request, submitted by an NBC affiliate in December 2016 and released over the weekend, shows the agency purchased the technology from the Harris Corp., a company known for its Stingray phone surveillance equipment. Stingrays have grown in popularity and become controversial in the last few years as police have used them imitate cell towers to monitor smart phone communications and data transmissions of nearby residents and suspected criminals.

The State Police redacted much throughout the documents, which totaled more than 100 pages. According to NBC, police said the redactions were to protect what the agency deemed sensitive information about the use of the technology.

The State Police did not return requests for comment in time for publication.


Jeanne LoCicero, the deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Jersey, said her group had made a similar records request and received documents with the same redactions. The documents, which consist mostly of redacted invoices, provide little clarity into the use and oversight of the technology.

LoCicero said Stingrays are highly invasive and represent a threat to residents’ privacy rights since the equipment, first developed for the military, enables a sweeping search of mobile phones and can monitor the activity of all nearby residents.

The New Jersey State Police are among many state and local law enforcement agencies across the country that are using the equipment. The technology can be found in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and other large cities. California is one of the few states that has passed legislation to ensure transparency, with Gov. Jerry Brown signing a bill in 2015 to that requires warrants for use of Stingrays and requires that police make Stingray purchase requests at public meetings that are attended by elected authorities, like city council meetings.

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