Police maintain that cellphone data can help solve crimes, track fugitives or abducted children — or even foil a terror attack.
The National Security Agency (NSA) isn't the only government entity secretly collecting data from people's cellphones. Local police are increasingly scooping it up, too.
Armed with new technologies, including mobile devices (like Stingray) that tap into cellphone data in real time, capturing information about thousands of cellphone users at a time, whether they are targets of an investigation or not, according to public records obtained by USA TODAY and Gannett newspapers and TV stations.
The records, from more than 125 police agencies in 33 states, reveal:
- About one in four law-enforcement agencies have used a tactic known as a "tower dump," which gives police data about the identity, activity and location of any phone that connects to the targeted cellphone towers over a set span of time, usually an hour or two.
- A typical dump covers multiple towers, and wireless providers, and can gather information from thousands of phones.
Privacy advocates pose questions such as "Is data about people who are not police targets saved or shared with other government agencies?" and "What if a tower dump or Stingray swept up cell numbers and identities of people at a political protest?"