An Inland Empire sheriff’s department has used a high-tech device for the past seven years that enables the agency to collect data on private cell phone calls in targeted areas.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department has been using the device, called an international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) locator, since 2006 and won approval to buy an updated model, at a cost of $429,613, in December 2012, county documents show.
Sold under the brand name of Stingray, the locator device is a suitcase-sized piece of hardware manufactured exclusively by Florida-based Harris Corp. Typically installed in a vehicle so it can be moved easily into any area, the device masquerades as a cell tower, tricking all nearby cell phones to hook up to it and feed data to law enforcement or other security personnel.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Inland Regional Narcotics Enforcement Team would use the wireless receiving system, as it is referred to in a Dec. 18, 2012, staff report, “to combat major narcotics and money laundering operations.”
“The system can also be used to locate suspects, victims, and for search/rescue operations. The new system provides dramatic increases in speed, accuracy, and data retrieval,” the report added.
That brief description is the only technical information on the device contained in the one-page staff report provided to the county Board of Supervisors before that December 2012 vote to approve the purchase. The report was Item 8...