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US Police Target Poor, Black Neighborhoods With Secret Stingray Surveillance

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A recent study has found that law enforcement’s Stingray surveillance of cell signals disproportionately targets poor, non-white neighborhoods.

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Researchers noted that the practice is especially prevalent in Baltimore, where an eye-opening 90 percent of warrantless surveillance technology occurred in low income, predominantly black neighborhoods.

In a massive project by CityLab, the outlet mapped police logs of Stingray operations in Baltimore, Milwaukee, and Tallahassee. They found that police use the warrantless surveillance operations significantly more in communities of color that have average incomes below the median for the area.

In August, the civil rights groups Center for Media Justice, Color of Change, and the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute filed a complaint with the FCC over Baltimore police using Stingray technology in a racially discriminatory way.

"It seems quite likely that the Baltimore Police Department makes the heaviest use of this technology of any police department in the country," Laura Moy, a visiting professor at Georgetown University's law school, who is representing the groups, told the Baltimore Sun.

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In Tallahassee, CityLab found that, though only 25 percent of the city’s population is accounted for in majority non-white Census block groups, 53 percent of Stingray use occurred in those areas, from 2007-2014. Additionally, 78 percent of Stingray use occurred in Census block groups where the median household income was below the city average.

Critics of the Stingray, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have long argued that its use violates the US Constitution, as well as pointing out that the bulk-data-vacuuming device is akin to “using a 1000-meter net to catch a butterfly.” When used, a Stingray indiscriminately collects data from every phone in the vicinity, regardless of a user’s relevance to the case.

Since the technology scoops up the information of anyone within a certain distance from the device, there is a lot of collateral information collected on innocent people, primarily those who live in poor minority neighborhoods.

“If you are in a certain neighborhood, you are going to encounter law enforcement a lot,” Matt Mitchell, a security researcher with the racial justice organization CryptoHarlem told CityLab. “So because of that, there are patterns that could be made between people and suspects who are not connected in any way. It’s making criminality viral.”

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