The New York Civil Liberties Union today filed a brief in a lawsuit against the Erie County Sheriff’s Office for its continued refusal to disclose public information “stingrays,” devices that can track and record New Yorkers’ locations via their cell phones.

“The Erie County Sheriff has claimed military grade secrecy to prevent the release of information about how it uses stingrays against its own residents,” said NYCLU Staff Attorney Mariko Hirose, lead counsel on the case. “But this is not Iraq or Afghanistan – this is Buffalo. The public has a right to know how, when and why this technology is being deployed, they deserve the assurance that the proper safeguards and privacy protections are in place to govern its use.”

The NYCLU first filed a Freedom of Information request in June after local media reports revealed that the Sheriff’s Office was using mobile devices known as stingrays to pick up signals from all cell phones and wireless devices within a given area, collecting information on the comings and goings of people in the process.

Stingrays can collect information on all cell phones in a given area as well as precisely track particular phones, locating people within their own home, at a doctor’s office, at a political protest or in a church. Some stingrays and similar devices are even configured to record private conversations.

A hearing will be held on Thursday, Feb. 19 at 1:45 p.m. before Judge Patrick H. NeMoyer, Erie County Supreme Court. The NYCLU asks that the court order the Sheriff’s Office to release public information about how it uses stingrays.

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