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Will Indiana State Police Spy on Cellphone Conversations?

After controversy linked to the recently-purchased "Stingray," Indiana Gov. Mike Pense has defended the device that intercepts wireless conversations at up to a mile radius.

Earlier this month, the Indiana State Police purchased a device called a “Stingray” that disguises itself as a cell tower and intercepts wireless conversations at up to a mile radius -- recording cell phone location, numbers called and other information, according to the Indianapolis Star

While the devices have been around for a while – a 2011 Wall Street Journal article, for example, gave details on how it works and why it is used by law enforcement – the news of its use in Indiana so soon after revelations of NSA spying created a furor, especially among privacy advocates.

And it didn’t help that Indiana State Police officials would not reveal information as to how it is being used, what kinds of data have already been collected, or even if the data is protected, according to the article.

Then on Dec. 18, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence weighed in, defending law enforcement’s use of the technology, saying in another article: "I believe this technology is in the interest of public safety, and I believe it has enhanced our ability to both protect and save lives. I was informed that in the limited number of cases where this technology has been used that it has only been used with strict judicial oversight."

Media reports on use of the device and other surveillance systems reveal that one-quarter of law-enforcement agencies have collected detailed cell-phone location and call data, and at least 25 police agencies own a Stingray, which costs as much as $400,000.

Meanwhile, several Indiana lawmakers are introducing legislation that would require warrants to intercept electronic communications.

Wayne E. Hanson served as a writer and editor with e.Republic from 1989 to 2013, having worked for several business units including Government Technology magazine, the Center for Digital Government, Governing, and Digital Communities. Hanson was a juror from 1999 to 2004 with the Stockholm Challenge and Global Junior Challenge competitions in information technology and education.