Boston City Councilors Discuss Police Use Of Secret Phone Tracking

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BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — In a Tuesday hearing, Boston City Councilors learned more about the secret phone tracking equipment that the Boston Police Department purchased using money that was outside the public budget.

Kade Crawford of the American Civil Liberties Union was one of the speakers during the hearing that said the BPD had bought and has been using a Sting Ray, a device that picks up signals from nearby cell phones and can provide information like someone's location, without the person knowing.

The reason the public had not known about the Sting Ray's utilization until recently was because the BPD bought the equipment using funds seized during criminal investigations, Crawford said. According to WBZ-TV, that equipment totaled to $627,000.

Some residents were concerned that their privacy may have been breached and that the acquisition of the Sting Ray was done in secret.

"That’s really invasive. It’s like, you’re not doing anything suspicious or anything, but you still have a right to your privacy,” Boston student Amanda Christodoulou told WBZ-TV.

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Other residents were less concerned about the technology, some cited the benefits of having the Sting Ray as a tool.

"Other countries and other entities have been tracking our phones for a while now, so I feel like the police is the least of our worries in tracking that,” said John Goolsby of Boston told WBZ-TV.

Chief of Boston Police Investigative Services Felipe Colon said that the Sting Ray helped track down a suspect that had threatened former Mayor Marty Walsh a few years ago, along with finding victims of human trafficking.

"In many of those instances, this technology saved lives. It averted harm, trauma to the community,” Colon said. Colon went on to say that the Boston Police keeps record of when the device is used, and that there have been no known misuses of it.

The ACLU members that were present in the hearing said there needed to be more discussion on the BPD's forfeiture acquisitions, the purchasing of equipment without the City Council's knowledge, and the use of the Sting Ray itself. A new law in Boston, the Surveillance Oversight Ordinance, requires police to receive approval from the City Council before buying any future detection equipment.

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