Mini Law School: Law of Surveillance, Stingray Technology

Each year, The Missouri Bar collaborates with law schools and legal professionals from across the state to deliver Mini Law School for the Public courses. During these sessions, attendees can hear in-depth discussions about various law-related topics. This Public Podcast Series is an opportunity to hear recordings from the 2015 sessions.

On Sept. 30, 2015, Megan Beesley, assistant public defender with the Missouri State Public Defender’s Office, led a forum on Stingrays – a controversial mechanical device used by police to track cell phones. As the first lawyer to figure out that police in St. Louis use them, Beesley’s inquiries about the devices blew what was until then a secret wide open.

“Police and prosecutors sign nondisclosure agreements with the FBI, and with people who make this technology, so they’re not allowed to talk about it,” Beesley said.

Stingrays were developed by the military, and their use by police without obtaining a search warrant has been disputed by defense attorneys throughout the U.S. With the devices – which can cost nearly half a million dollars – detectives can track cell phones, intercept data and pinpoint exactly where a suspect is.

Beesley was defending four men charged with robbery and noticed in depositions that St. Louis Police kept using the phrase, “using a proven law enforcement technique…” to track down the suspects. That’s when Beesley started asking questions. The case was eventually dismissed, and Beesley opened a Pandora’s box for legal arguments against law enforcement methods in the region.

Since then, the ACLU has become very involved in finding out who is using Stingrays. Beesley says Kansas City Police have been more forthcoming in talking about the technology than St. Louis Police have, but statewide, answers are ambiguous at best. According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, despite Sunshine Law requests, the FBI has refused to provide a list of police departments that use the technology.

Here, Beesley discusses Stingray technology and Fourth Amendment rights. Beesley admits that current law has not kept up with evolving technology, and that often the lines have been blurred when applying paper law to digital information.

Download the podcast or listen now:

Stay tuned as the entire series of podcasts is posted. Next week will feature a recording of Jerome Schlichter discussing class action lawsuits.

Interested in attending an in-person discussion? 2016 Mini Law School in St. Louis courses begin March 23. Click here for a full schedule of speakers and information on how to register.

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