A new report from USA Today claims that the dozens of police departments across the country are secretly tracking cellphones to solve routine crimes. For example Baltimore Police detectives searched for someone who smashed the back window of a parked car and made off with a cellphone by using stingray, a powerful government phone surveillance tool that’s capable of intercepting data from hundreds of people’s cellphones at one time.

The scribe says that it found police in Baltimore and other cities used stingray to track people who committed routine crimes and “frequently concealed” the fact from the suspects, their lawyers and even judges. Apparently they’ve transformed this tool for hunting terrorists and kidnappers into a staple for everyday policing.

Stingray systems are usually mounted in police vehicles, they act as cell towers which intercept data from connected cellphones and pass them on to real towers but only after data such as identification and telephone numbers, numbers dialled by connected cellphones and location of connected phones has been pulled. Stingray is unable to obtain the content of communications.

A previous investigation conducted by USA Today Media Network identified that 35 police departments from various cities in the country were using stingray for this purpose in 2013 and 2014, with the American Civil Liberties Union discovering 18 more. A police surveillance log obtained by the scribe shows that the system was used to catch everyone from killers to petty thieves and that the authorities obscured that surveillance when the suspects got to court.

Chris Allen, a spokesman for the FBI, said that the bureau doesn’t have the authority to tell police departments how they should use stingray systems, it has only asked them to keep the use confidential, making officers sign non-disclosure agreements which forbid them from revealing how the technology works.

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