Stingrays, also known as “cell site stimulators” or “ISMI catchers,” mimic cell phone towers and emit signals to trick cell phones in range into transmitting their locations and identifying information, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The protesters, who have been demonstrating in response to the recent lack of grand jury indictments of police officers who killed unarmed Black men, say they have proof that the police have been using Stingray ISMI catchers to listen in on their phone conversations and follow their movements.
Tension between demonstrators and police has been high since the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, in Ferguson, Mo. In Ferguson, police used full riot gear and crowd control gear like tear gas and bean bag ammunition to control protesters. The distrust between Blacks and law enforcement continued to grow as a New York City grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer for choking Eric Garner to death, even though the incident was captured on video.
The activists in Chicago base their claims off of a radio exchange between officers during a recent protest, they told WBBM radio.
In the radio exchange, the dispatcher asks if the Crime Prevention and Intervention Center (CPIC) is on the air for a mobile, and they confirmed. One officer identifies a female as a possible organizer, and that she’s been on her phone a lot. The officer asks if the CPIC has information on where the protesters are going. The CPIC tells the officer that they’re “keeping an eye on it” and they’d notify the officer if they hear anything. The officer says the protesters are “compliant” but is still concerned about how long the woman has been on the phone, according to a transcript of the exchange.
Some protesters noticed a City of Chicago Emergency Management SUV with what appears to be a radar device on the roof, following them, according to rt.com.
— Page May (@may20p) December 5, 2014
Forty-seven law enforcement agencies are known to use Stingray surveillance techniques, according to the ACLU. Illinois is one of six states where state and local police have cell site stimulators. The ACLU doesn’t know about use of cell site stimulators in 31 other states.