Lawsuit filed over CPD collecting cellphone data

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - A lawsuit against the city is requesting Chicago police to disclose how they use a certain type of technology that taps into your cell phone and collects the data it holds.

Law enforcement agencies have been using this technology for years. But now, we may find out how the Chicago Police Department is using what is commonly referred to as a ‘stingray.’

The device is somewhat small and mobile, and allows police to masquerade as a cell tower, locate your cell phone and with additional software, check your call log and intercept conversations.

"It has a chilling affect that the government might be listening to what we are saying or might be monitoring what protests we go to,” said lawyer Matt Topic.

Topic represents activist Freddy Martinez who sued the city more than a year ago about stingrays. That resulted in the city disclosing they spent more than $340,000 on cell-site simulators, software and training.

Topic says now they want to know how the city is using the technology and if they are watching civil rights movement groups, protesters or the general public.

"When are they using it, under what circumstances, what kinds of cases, how widespread is this, what happens to the data that gets collected," Topic said.

On Monday, a judge ruled CPD cannot withhold this information.

The department argues the information is protected under federal law and the manufacturer won't allow it to discuss details about the device.

One Loyola University Chicago criminal justice professor says there has to be a balance. 

“If it's used to track criminals with the establishment of probable cause and judicial approval, that's proper use. If it's used to surveil private citizens engaged in exercising their First Amendment rights, that's not acceptable,” said Art Lurigio.

"People may come down and say we are totally comfortable with the way that the police department is using this technology and we want them to continue doing it, but people can't have an informed debate if they don't have the information,” Topic said.

The city has to provide the court with the records by the end of the month. The judge will review them and will then decide if any of the records should be withheld.

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