As The News Tribune reported in August, the Tacoma Police Department has a device called a Stingray that experts say is capable of sweeping up cellphone data within its approximately half-mile range.
Tacoma Police admitted to owning the device after the newspaper’s report. It originally obtained the Stingray, also called a cell-site simulator, in 2008 and sought a upgrade of the equipment last year.
That upgrade, called a Hailstorm, required the city to sign a non-disclosure agreement with the FBI. Through a public records request, The News Tribune last week received a copy of the nondisclosure agreement, posted below.
The agreement was signed on Jan. 3, 2013, and is marked unclassified/law enforcement sensitive. It states that a local law enforcement agency must agree to non-disclosure as a condition of the Federal Communications Commission’s authorization granted to the equipment manufacturer, Harris Corp.
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Tacoma police cited the non-disclosure agreement when it insisted that the News Tribune submit questions regarding Stingray in writing. Those questions were sent to the FBI and some of the answers routed back to the Tribune.
In seeking the upgrade last year, the police department publicly called it a tool for the detection and recovery of improvised explosive devices. Police said last month that they have never used the equipment in that way.
Police officials said they do not keep or collect data from the device. They also said it is only deployed with a judge’s permission, which they say has happened 179 times from January 2009 through June this year.