Privacy advocates question why one of the safest counties in Michigan needs the super-secretive Hailstorm device that is believed to be able to collect large amounts of cellphone data, including the locations of users, by masquerading as a cell tower, Joel Kurth and Lauren Abdel-Razzaq report in The Detroit News.
The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office is one of about two dozen forces nationwide — and the only one in Michigan — with the $170,000 machine. So little is known about Hailstorm that even national experts will only speculate about its capabilities. The technology from Florida-based defense contractor Harris Corp. is believed to be an upgrade of Stingray, a suitcase-sized contraption that is installed in cars and used to trick nearby phones into connecting with it and providing data to police.
The technology can track fugitives and find missing children, but privacy advocates said they worry because similar machines can collect data from innocent smartphone users.
Undersheriff Michael McCabe tells The News: “Hailstorm helps us capture fugitives from the law, people wanted for murder and rape” and can be used only with a search warrant. He said the federal Homeland Security Act bars him from discussing Hailstorm, but he elaborated at length about what it doesn’t do.
“It’s not a tool to spy on people, unequivocally,” McCabe says. “It does not record cellphone conversations. . . . Hailstorm does not capture personal information on anyone or store unintended target data. It does not take photos of anyone. It doesn’t take videos or fly in the sky. It’s a tool used for criminal investigations and it’s legal and lawful.”
Read a report on police spying by Kurth and Abdel-Razzaq in Thursday's Detroit News: Data Collection of Police Around State Raises Privacy Questions