BUFFALO, N.Y. - State Assemblyman Sean Ryan says Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard should be required to apply for search warrants before using cell phone tracking devices.
Earlier this week, 2 On Your Side revealed that the county had spent $350,000 on a device that can act like a cell phone tower, forcing your phone to send it information like your exact location and your phone's unique serial number.
It also gets information about who you've called and who you've texted.
Howard has refused requests for an on camera interview about the devices but on Friday, the office of the Sheriff did release a statement (read the entire statement at the bottom of this page.)
Assemblyman Ryan wants Howard to speak publicly about the device's use.
"I'd really encourage the Sheriff to be forthcoming, to let the public know exactly why they purchased a $350,000 spy machine and what they're doing with the machine," said Ryan. "Are they collecting data from the general public, are they not collecting data from the general public? Only one person knows that, and that's the Sheriff."
Ryan says he's going to push for a new state law that would require any law enforcement agency which uses a tracking device to first obtain a search warrant.
"Certainly just like with the NSA, you can't do blanket surveillance on the population," said Ryan. "Think about it from the perspective of your land line telephone- the Sheriff can't tap your land line or call Verizon and say give me a list of all the numbers that someone has called or received calls from- you're not allowed to do that without a warrant. But this piece of equipment does the exact same thing in the cell world without a warrant.
Statement of Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard
Regarding Cellular Device Locating Capabilities
The Erie County Sheriff's Office owns and operates certain technologies with cellular device locating capabilities. The Sheriff's Office does not, nor ever has, owned or operated any technology that allows for the interception of cell phone calls or text messages. Any cellular device locating technology owned or utilized by the Sheriff's Office does not collect any data beyond that of the target phone. Utilization of this technology is only done so with appropriate judicial or legal authority or in instances when life is immediately at stake.
Cellular device locating technology utilized by this Office has resulted in the location of 5 missing persons, two suicidal individuals as well as 13 violent felonies in progress including one bank robbery, four murders and one abduction and rape. This technology was most recently used in the Town of Boston shootout where two Sheriff's vehicles were shot-up and two Officers nearly killed.
As the Sheriff of Erie County, I will use all legal and Constitutional means at my disposal to protect our residents and my Officers. An important part of protecting our community and the fine men and women of law enforcement, is not to disclose to those who would do us harm, the techniques we utilize to catch them.
John W. Greenan
Chief of Administrative Services
Erie County Sheriff's Office
10 Delaware Avenue
Buffalo, New York 14202