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Police surveillance equipment raises eyebrows

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — “Harpoon,””Stingray,” and “Kingfish” are all surveillance items purchased by the Wilmington Police Department.

What they do though, and how long they’ve been around, might surprise you.

“All in favor please indicate by saying I,” said Mayor Bill Saffo at an April 2008 meeting of Wilmington’s City Council. The resolution passed unanimously to buy surveillance equipment for The Wilmington police department.

The same equipment used in questionable surveillance programs around the country.

According to purchase orders, the department has in its possession equipment that could seemingly infringe on your 4th Amendment rights.

So, what is it?

The company, Harris, bills itself as an international communications and information technology company specializing in government, defense, intelligence, and public safety. It offers products like “Stingray,” which uses your cell phone signal to triangulate your phone’s location. That gives law enforcement crucial information when it comes to knowing your whereabouts. Harris also produces items like the “Harpoon” and “Amberjack.” Those systems boost the Stingray’s capability.

In 2012, Wilmington city council approved maintenance on some of these items.

“Helps in the surveillance of locating those people,” said WPD Deputy Chief Marshall Williamson, addressing the Wilmington City Council.

When questioned about why he was saying so little, he said, “It’s very good surveillance equipment to aid us in our endeavors of protecting the citizens of Wilmington.”

The use of the equipment has been challenged in court by civil liberties groups that say it violates privacy rights.

When we had questions about the equipment’s use in the Port City, we were given no answers by the police department or the F.B.I.

We asked New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David about this. He said he feels confident the equipment is being used legally and constitutionally. He went on to say, as far as he knows, it is only being used in conjunction with a court order.

That stands in contrast to reports of an agreement the police department would have signed to buy the equipment stating that no warrants would be retrieved in the course of using the equipment.


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