Until now, New York City's police department hadn't disclosed any information about whether or not it used so-called Stingrays to monitor cell phone activity. In response to an NYCLU (NYCLU) request, the NYPD admitted that it used the devices over 1,000 times between 2008 and May 2015. What's more, NYPD doesn't have a written policy in place that guides how the tech should be used. As a refresher, Stingrays create a fake 2G cellular network that can be used to track the locations and monitor call or text activity in a certain area. Even when a specific mobile device is targeted, information from other phones in the area is still accessible.
The use of Stingrays has been a hot topic for a while now, especially when it comes to using them without a proper warrant. In this case, the NYPD says that, unless there's an emergency, it obtains a "pen register order" from a court to use the tech. Those are different from a search warrant, though, as law enforcement only has to prove relevance to an investigation rather than probable cause. In other words, the order doesn't protect privacy the way a regular search warrant does. Last year, the Department of Justice changed its policy to require a warrant before employing the cellphone-tracking unit.