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Investigation claims WPD uses spy gear to snoop on citizens

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Is the Wilmington Police Department using spy gear to trick your cell phone into giving away private info?

That’s what the ACLU and New Hanover County’s Public Defender believe.

The device, called StingRay, lets police turn cell phones into tracking devices sending officers right to who they are looking for, but it might violate your rights.

In an e-mail sent to several attorneys in the area, Public Defender Jennifer Harjo says she was asked to investigate an allegation that the Wilmington Police Department is using StingRay surveillance equipment. She says basically no one knows when it’s being used.

“The public has a right to know when and how law enforcement and the government are conducting surveillance on them,” said Mike Menlo, Communications Director for the ACLU of North Carolina.

Harjo’s e-mail says the makers of StingRay require police departments sign a contract saying they won’t seek a warrant to use the device. This has attorney and state senator Thom Goolsby fired up.

“We live in a world where all government agencies now want to have drones,” Goolsby said. “Apparently they all want to listen on to our telephone calls, and track us. This is ridiculous. This is not what our Constitution is all about.”

Goolsby says as a criminal defense attorney, he is concerned as to why he was not told about this technology.

“I have never seen any of this information listed in any discovery that I’ve received in the criminal cases that I handle,” he said. “I would have expected it to be there. I would have expected a warrant to be there.”

We asked Wilmington Police spokeswoman Linda Rawley about StingRay. She said the department has no comment, and referred us to the FBI. FBI spokeswoman Shelley Lynch said it’s because the technology is so sensitive and protected that the FBI will not let anyone, including local agencies, talk about it.

While WPD is not talking, documents are, including an invoice that was part of a November 2012 City Council agenda item for money to do maintenance on surveillance equipment. It shows an invoice to Harris Corporation to buy several pieces of equipment including the StingRay.

Harjo is out of town and could not be reached for comment.

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