A Manhattan judge has decided against compelling the New York City Police Department to comply with a request for information about its “Stingray” cellphone tracking devices, reasoning that disclosure could empower criminals to better avoid capture.
Ruling from the bench on Wednesday, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Shlomo Hagler dismissed the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Article 78 proceeding, which it filed in 2016 after the NYPD did provide all the information that the NYCLU asked for through a Freedom of Information Law request about the department’s use of cell-site simulators, such as how many of the devices the department purchased and how much it paid for them.
The NYPD did release purchase agreements for the devices, but did not disclose prices and model numbers.
“It’s crystal clear that if this court were to disclose the names of the Stingray devices, that would provide the bad actors with the capabilities of the NYPD’s technology,” Hagler said while ruling to deny the NYCLU’s petition, according to a transcript of the proceedings. “They can then use that to evade detection.”
Assistant Corporation Counsels Neil Giovanatti and Thomas Roberts appeared for the city. Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department, said that Hagler “perfectly summarized” the NYPD’s position in the case.
NYCLU attorney Robert Hodgson said in an interview that the organization is considering if it will appeal the ruling. He said, though, that Hagler’s ruling is inconsistent with other courts’ jurisprudence, arguing that various law enforcement agencies at the federal, state and local levels—including the Erie County Sheriff’s Office and the New York State Police—have turned over the type of information that the NYCLU seeks from the NYPD.
“We think it’s disappointing that the court has allowed the NYPD to maintain its culture of secrecy and withhold what is really basic information about the surveillance tools they use across our communities,” Hodgson said.