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Sheriff's office sued over surveillance device

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Posted at 10:23 AM, Nov 19, 2014
and last updated 2015-11-14 10:23:55-05

The New York Civil Liberties Union is suing the Erie County Sheriff’s Office over its refusal to release documents showing how it uses cell phones to track and record the location of suspects.

The NYCLU filed a Freedom of Information request in June after media reports about the sheriff’s office using a device called a “stingray” to pick up signals from all cell phones and wireless devices in a given area and using that information to determine the comings and goings of people in that area.

John Curr III, director of the Western Regional Office, said, “This advanced surveillance technology raises serious concerns regarding the tracking of innocent people, and the public has a right to know how and when such invasive techniques will be employed.”

The NYCLU sought information from the sheriff’s office about the purchase of the device(s) and guidelines on how they are being used, as well as any court documents authorizing their use. Those requests were denied in full and the NYCLU says the sheriff’s office did not make a distinction on what documents it had but was refusing to give or which simply did not exist.

“The Sheriff’s Office has spent more than $350,000 since 2008 on this surveillance equipment – it is ridiculous for them to suggest they have no paperwork or records on the matter,” said NYCLU Staff Attorney Mariko Hirose. “The blanket denial of our entire request, without any explanation, only underscores their wholesale disregard for the right to privacy.”

The NYCLU filed an appeal to the sheriff’s office, citing the flaw in the original denial, and failed to hear back from the sheriff’s office. The organization then filed its lawsuit.