Santa Clara County Supervisors Approve Controversial “Stingray” Cell Phone Tracking Devices

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved spending $500,000 on controversial "Stingray" tracking devices, which the sheriff's office wants to track criminals and find missing people, but with civil liberties unions describe as "invasive" cell phone surveillance systems.

The sheriff wants the mobile triangular system to pinpoint the location of mobile phones on a cellular network to find people or acquire data on criminal activity, according to department spokesman, Sgt. Kurtis Stenderup in a previous interview.

The state's Homeland Security Grant Program has fully funded the $502,889 cost for the county's triangulation system. The system would be used in accordance with sheriff's office policy and could be deployed only after receiving a warrant signed by a magistrate except in life and death situations, officials said.

Even in instances of life and death emergencies, the sheriff's office would have to request a search warrant or court order to be signed by a magistrate after the fact.

Examples of when the system would be used include investigations into serious or violent felony crimes against people and searches for armed and dangerous criminals, for at-risk missing children and adults and victims of human trafficking.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union and other community groups say that the Stingray systems are "invasive," and send out signals to "trick cell phones in the area" into transmitting their locations and other information. Innocent people can also get caught up in the technology, the ACLU said.

"When used to track a suspect's cell phone, the ACLU website states, "they also gather information about the phones of countless bystanders who happen to be nearby."

NBC Bay Area's Kris Sanchez, Scott Budman and Lisa Fernandez, and Bay City News contributed to this report.

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