Do Police Department Stingrays Hinder 911 Calls?


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police-hat-160021_960_720 (1)As Inside Towers reported last week, Stingrays have been cited as violating privacy rights and have drawn the attention of the ACLU among others.  Additional groups are voicing their concern that widespread deployment of the devices may have counter-productive effects on the emergency management community as well.

A complaint, filed with the FCC claims the department’s ‘stingray’ operations are a violation of the Federal Communications Act as the use of such devices hinders legitimate cellular service, and possibly impedes 911 emergency calls during investigations. The complaint was filed by the Center for Media Justice, Color of Change and New America’s Open Technology Institute.

Since cell phones connect to the simulator, rather than the real network, messages and calls from innocent bystanders don’t get through, the report said.  

“Depending on the nature of an emergency, it may be urgently necessary for a caller to reach, for example, a parent or child, doctor, psychiatrist, school, hospital, poison control center, or suicide prevention hotline…. and even 911 calls, could be blocked,” according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online watchdog group.

Baltimore’s police department uses the cell site simulators during crime investigations and witness location operations. The EFF report said Stingrays “interfere with cell phone communications within as much as a 500 meter radius of the device.” The complaint states any legitimate wireless communication within this range is subject to interference. Instead of connecting to the actual network, cell phones would link to the simulator, and possibly not get through.

Police officials in Baltimore allegedly used Stingrays 4,300 times between 2007 and 2015.

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