The Spy in Your Pocket Project Is Ready to Get Started

Thanks to your help, we’re finalizing the game plan and raring to go!

Written by Shawn Musgrave
Edited by JPat Brown

MuckRock is thrilled to dive into “The Spy in Your Pocket” – your overwhelming support allowed us to beat our initial funding goal, and we’re now poised to investigate cell phone surveillance across the country!  

The timing couldn’t be better to dig into law enforcement practices around mobile device data. The Supreme Court colorfully determined in June that cell phones have become “such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.” While the Riley ruling applies specifically to searches of arrested suspects, Chief Justice Roberts opined more broadly that cell phones are “not just another technological convenience,” and that “substantial privacy interests are at stake when digital data is involved.”

As the Court acknowledged, the ruling will prompt police departments and prosecutors across the country to re-evaluate their procedures for cell phone monitoring and surveillance, and quickly. Law enforcement agencies will need to take stock of protocols used up to this point, as well as plot out any necessary changes to their detective manuals, training materials, and standard procedures.

In kind, as we finalize the project roadmap for “The Spy in Your Pocket,” we’re revising the document request language that we’ll be sending out to hundreds of police departments in line with the Supreme Court’s determination. In addition to invoices and contracts for cell phone monitoring devices like Stingrays, we’ll be asking each department for documents that reflect the Riley ruling’s impact. In this way, we’ll not only map how agencies have used cell phone data to date, but also how they will use it moving forward.  

In the next couple of weeks, we’ll be finalizing our request language and list of departments (there’s still time to help us determine which agencies will make the list). Check out Beacon Reader for updates, a map of all departments we’ll be querying, and results as soon they start to roll back in.  

We couldn’t have done it without your support. Thanks again!


Image via Flickr and is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0