The Chicago Police Department was sued Friday to force release of evidence that the department has purchased equipment that allows them to covertly scan people’s cell phones for detecting telephone numbers dialed and texted, tracking their location, and cell phones’ unique device identification numbers.
Cell site simulators, also known as IMSI catchers or stingrays, masquerade as cellphone towers to obtain data secretly from nearby cellular user devices.
“Many believe that Chicago Police have already deployed this kind of technology at protests,” said Matt Topic of Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law, which represents Chicago resident Freddy Martinez in the suit. “Local police departments in other states have widely used the technology, and have kept it secret, even to the courts, and even when it has been used to obtain evidence in a criminal case.”
“If the Chicago Police aren’t running afoul of the Fourth Amendment, they should have nothing to hide,” said Mr. Martinez. “This information will allow the public to learn the extent to which Chicago Police have this technology, and once we have that, we’ll pursue more information about how it is being used and whether Chicago Police are routinely using it to violate the Constitution.”
Mr. Martinez filed a FOIA request with Chicago Police looking for records documenting the purchase of this equipment. “FOIA and the Illinois Constitution are clear that all records related to the use of public funds are subject to disclosure,” said Topic, “yet Chicago Police have stonewalled Mr. Martinez for months.”
Fed up with the lack of transparency on this important public issue, Mr. Martinez filed suit last Friday to force Chicago Police to produce these records. The ACLU and others are pursuing similar records in other states.
“Should federal, state, or local law enforcement be allowed to trick your cell phone into sharing information like your location, the numbers your called or texted, or your unique device ID without your consent?” asked Martinez. “Should they be deploying this kind of technology in secret? We don’t think so.”
Copies of the suit, No. 2014CH09565, are available here: Freddie Martinez v. Chicago Police Department.