The Gilbert, Ariz., police department has a lot of explaining to do.
Apparently, the department used Homeland Security Department funds to purchase cell phone tracking equipment back in 2008. And now, it's being investigated by the ACLU.
Several surveillance experts have agreed that it seems the department purchased a gadget that's sometimes called a stingray, which lets users set up what amounts to a fake cellphone tower. Then, nearby cellphones are tricked into connecting with it. Even if the owner of the phone isn't making a call, the stingray can still track their physical location.
Although it can't record anything said on phone calls, the stingray can track the phone numbers dialed by nearby phones. Which, understandably, makes it a huge privacy concern.
Stingrays raise some very controversial issues, Catherine Crump, the lawyer who headed the ACLU project, told MSNBC.
"I think when law enforcement starts purchasing technology that allows them to track cellphones in that manner, it raises a whole host of questions about how that technology is being used that are even more serious when they track people through carriers," Crump said. "At least when a carrier is involved, there's a third party that may raise concerns if the request is of questionable legality. But when a law enforcement agency can do on its own surveillance, that raises even more serious questions about whether there is appropriate oversight."
The Supreme Court just decided that police can strip search pretty much anybody. So, maybe the use of stingrays is simply the next step.