It’s like something out of a secret spy movie, a device that can track your cell phone, look at your personal information, all without you ever knowing.
But it’s real, and it’s being used by police across the country and here in Central Virginia. Now lawmakers are looking at cracking down on cell phone surveillance.
Once activated, devices like Stingray or Hailstorm can locate and search the personal information on a number of surrounding cell phones. You can be outside or inside your home, and currently police don’t need to have a search warrant to use it.
“This is another example of where the technology is getting ahead of our protections,” said Claire Guthrie-Gastanaga of the ACLU of Virginia.
Police departments across the country including Chesterfield County have the technology but many people have never even heard of it.
“Have you ever heard of a police stingray before?” 8News reporter Mark Tenia asked Richmond resident Meredith Lewanowicz.
“Not before, no,” she replied.
“I’ve heard of a stingray but did you say police sting ray?” questioned fellow Richmond resident John Dadzitis.
A bill making it’s way through the general assembly would require police get a search warrant before using a stingray or hailstorm. Chesterfield police say they don’t use the device without a court order or search warrant and that none of the information is stored, saying it’s used to find missing people and criminals.
“I guess it could be alarming, I feel like it sort of makes me paranoid,” Lewanowicz added.
“I have mixed emotions about that, obviously for terrorists, and the Jihadists or something, of course, yes, but at the same token that’s an infringement on your privacy so that’s a gray area to me,” Dadzitis said.
Guthrie-Gastanaga says privacy is just one concern.
“This technology can also pretend to be your phone, so they can take your number and communicate with people that you’ve communicated with or with people you haven’t and pretend to be you.”
She says even if a bill is passed, more needs to be done.
“Even if they have the warrant about the one person they’re still gathering data about a lot of people so we still have a lot more work to do here.”