By Steven Tavares.
The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office’s proposed $113,000 upgrade for a surveillance device used to track cell phone calls and data, commonly known as a Stingray, was postponed for two weeks, Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty said Tuesday.
The agenda item would give approval to the sheriff’s office for the upgrade using a previously allocated $6.2 million federal Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) grant. The Board of Supervisors next meets Oct. 13.
Nevertheless, some residents urged the board to deny funding for the Stingray retrofit and an additional agenda item adding another $81,000 to the UASI grant.
The Stingray upgrade is needed since AT&T cell phones will soon no longer support the 2G infrastructure the surveillance device uses to mimic a cell tower. Law enforcement is then able to intercept calls and data through the Stingray during investigations. Privacy groups strongly oppose the use of Stingrays.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California said the Board of Supervisor’s process for approving the Stingray upgrade is rushed. “The request for this intrusive device should not be approved without greater public input and a thorough cost-benefit analysis,” said Linda Lye of the ACLU of Northern California.
Oakland activist Susan Harmon told the board, “This is the moment for you to take control over the sheriff,” she said, while urging the board to use its budgetary power over the sheriff and oppose the Stingray upgrade. “Accountability for the sheriff is the most important job you have and you don’t do it,” added Harmon.
Meanwhile, the board unanimously voted to approve the additional federal grant funding Tuesday. Haggerty, who is also board president, however, allowed the vote to occur in consent despite several public speakers awaiting a chance to address the item. Haggerty later apologized for the mistake.
Numerous groups also requested a chance to meet with supervisors before the Stingray discussion returns to the board next month.
Another activist, Devonte Jackson, possibly giving the board a preview of the discussion coming in two weeks said, “Local law enforcement does not need war weapons or surveillance technology in our communities.” Jackson is also a member of the Black Lives Matter movement. “A lot of the rationale the sheriff is using is that this is going to prevent terrorism and, again, it’s ridiculous to believe that there is terrorist activities going on.”