Mayor Jim Strickland campaigned on promises of transparency. But now that he is in office, he refuses to talk about the issue he criticized then Mayor A C Wharton for not discussing: surveilling Memphians using Stingray.
"They will say anything, anything, anything they possibly can just to get you to trust them. They want your vote," said Aaron Harrington who lives in Memphis.
That was Harrington's reaction when we told him about Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland's new position on Stingray surveillance technology after taking office.
Tu Ngo, who also lives in Memphis, was less forgiving, "I think he's a hypocrite when I think about it"
Stingray is a secret system the Local I-Team first exposed. Memphis Police spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over at least the last five years to purchase a system designed to download personal data, track people through their cell phones, and even listen to calls.
During his campaign for Memphis Mayor, Strickland raised Stingray as an issue, specifically saying the government should be transparent and opposing Wharton for not answering questions .
A campaign flyer he distributed specifically refers to "Stingray" by name, saying Strickland "supports transparency in all areas of city government" and explicitly drawing a distinction between he and then Mayor Wharton.
When asked by the Local I-Team last September about Stingray, Strickland said, "I think government should be transparent in everything we do and if we are using a new way criminals we should be open about it."
The night Strickland was elected into office he said,"if we are using Stingray, we have got to be honest with people and let them know we are going through proper legal channels."
But, just last week, a spokesperson for the Strickland administration confirmed the use of the technology but went on to say.
"Revealing how the technology operates is proprietary . . . It could also jeopardize criminal investigations and compromise the safety of our officers. Therefore, we are not at liberty to elaborate. The use of Cell Site Simulators in no way alters how criminal cases are prosecuted."
The Local I-Team received a remarkably similar response from Memphis Police when Wharton was Mayor. At neither time did the Local I-Team request disclosures about technology specifics.
"Unfortunately the statement that the administration released is really nothing but an exercise in misdirection," said Nathan Wessler, a Fourth Amendment attorney for the ACLU. "We have plenty of information about how this system works. What we need are basic facts about the police departments policies and practices."
Those practices include whether police are disclosing the specific system when getting warrants from judges before they use Stingray, as well as how long and where police store the data which can include the suspect and anyone else in the nearby area.
New York City, Milwaukee, and Tallahassee are a few of the cities that have already released information about their frequency of use and use of the Stingray system, according to the ACLU.
This is the type of information the Strickland Administration refuses to release.
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