Senator Jerry Hill Introduces Bill To Enhance Transparency for the Use of Cell Phone Intercept Technology

February 27, 2015

News Release - Office of State Senator Jerry Hill

Senator Jerry Hill Introduces Bill To Enhance Transparency for
Use of Cell Phone Intercept Technology

SB 741 Requires Local Governments in California to Take Public Comment Before Adopting the Technology

SACRAMENTO – Senator Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo County/Santa Clara County, today introduced legislation that would require local governing bodies in California to take public comment before implementing cell phone intercept technology.

Law enforcement agencies use this technology -- commonly known by the brand name “Stingray” -- to determine who a person is calling, when that call is made, and where the call originated. In some cases, depending on the capabilities of the technology, it can also capture the content of a conversation. Under the right circumstances, cell phone intercept technology can be a useful tool to catch suspects.

But these portable devices, which mimic a cell phone tower and are usually the size of a suitcase, have raised concerns because they can scoop up cell phone data from so many people at once, whether they are suspects or not.

Current law does not guarantee public comment before this technology is adopted -- and local law enforcement agencies throughout the state have been doing so without providing an opportunity for community input or adopting publicly available policies governing its use.

According to the most recent data, at least 11 local governments in California have purchased the technology, including Alameda County, San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento County, Los Angeles and the County of Los Angeles, the City of San Diego and San Bernardino County. On Tuesday, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted to give the sheriff’s office approval to buy the cell phone-tracking tool for more than $500,000.

Senator Hill’s bill introduced today -- SB 741 -- would prevent local governments from authorizing cell phone intercept technology unless use of the technology is approved by a resolution or ordinance at a regularly scheduled public meeting at which community members are afforded an opportunity to comment on the proposed resolution or ordinance. The proposed resolution must include a privacy and usage policy pertaining to when the technology may be employed, how the data is to be used, and how the data will be protected from unauthorized disclosure and disposed of once it is no longer needed. If the resolution or ordinance is approved, the legislation requires the local agency to post the privacy and usage policy on its website.

The “Stingray” is not the only new surveillance technology that has been adopted by local governments in California without public notice and input.

Senator Hill has also introduced legislation -- SB 34 -- this year to regulate the use of automatic license plate readers. Used by law enforcement agencies on police vehicles and also by private companies, automatic license plate readers use a combination of high-speed cameras, software, and criminal databases to rapidly check the license plates of millions of Californians.

Like the bill that Senator Hill introduced today, SB 34 would similarly allow for public comment before implementing automatic license plate reader technology. It would also require a publicly available usage and privacy policy, among other provisions.

A recent survey found that out of the 57 local agencies in California that have approved the use of automatic license plate readers, only 8 provided an opportunity for public input and only 16 agencies have a publicly available policy.


Contact: Aurelio Rojas, 916-747-3199 cell, or Leslie Guevarra, 415-298-3404 cell