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Friday, November 7, 2014

WBTV: High-tech equipment used by CMPD can gather info on anyone with a cell phone

WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC XXX

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - It was March of 2012. Charlotte City Council was getting down to business at its regularly scheduled meeting. Buried deep inside the consent agenda was a request from Charlotte Mecklenburg Police. There was no debate, no discussion on item number 41, just a rubber stamp vote. CMPD got the okay to use a federal grant to spend $357,442.38 on "vehicular based and manned portable surveillance equipment."
The Democratic National Convention, with its security risks, was just a few months away. It seemed no one gave the buy a second thought, until earlier this year. Reports started trickling out of police departments around the country using high-tech surveillance equipment. It was being used as close at Wilmington and as far away as Sacramento, California. One thing became clear, those police departments using the equipment didn't want to talk about it.
In June, WBTV News put in a public records request with the city of Charlotte to learn more about the March 2012 vote. WBTV asked for invoices, contracts and policies of use for the equipment purchased. It would take three months of back and forth emails for the city to respond. WBTV received heavily redacted documents at the end of September. The invoices showed the purchase of equipment from Florida-based, Harris Corporation, but the specifics like model numbers and names were blacked out. Judy Emken, an attorney for CMPD, wrote in an email to WBTV, CMPD "has purchased from the Harris Corporation cell site simulator equipment."
The equipment is known as a "Stingray." It is a piece of electronics, no bigger than a suitcase.
"It's more powerful than anything else that we have seen," said Mike Meno with the North Carolina Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "With my cell phone they could find me in this room."