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By Dave Bryan

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A senior staff attorney for the ACLU says the Los Angeles Police Department has a mixed record when it comes to transparency about the kinds of surveillance used.

When dealing with drones and body cameras, the nonpartisan nonprofit organization said in a report released late Wednesday that the LAPD has been both cooperative and transparent, even going so far as to pledge that drones won’t be used by the department until the public has a chance to weigh in and the drones are approved by both the Police Commission and the FAA.

But the ACLU says the LAPD has not been as transparent when it comes to other forms of surveillance.

“Like video surveillance on public streets or license plate readers. LAPD has rolled those technologies out for years now without any public discussion and without clear policies on how they should be used or protections for privacy and civil liberties,” Peter Bibring, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU, told KCAL9’s Dave Bryan.

But what troubles some civil-liberties activists most is the StingRay, which can track cellphones in an area of up to 1 mile.

The ACLU says the StingRay is being used by more than 40 law enforcement agencies in 18 states but law enforcement agencies are not talking about it, including the Sacramento sheriff, who was asked about it by a television reporter.

The LAPD also has StingRays, but like other agencies that have them, it doesn’t discuss them citing a nondisclosure agreement that forbids them from discussing how it works.

First Amendment Coalition Executive Director Peter Scheer obtained documents showing the LAPD had acquired some devices as early as 2006 and is using it, he says, for more than tracking terrorists.

“Although they initially acquired this technology with the view to using it for counterterrorism operations, post 9-11, in fact they were using it for all kinds of criminal investigation,” he said. “Drug-related matters. Robberies.”

Scheer says the StingRay is an excellent law enforcement tool for tracking dangerous criminals through their cellphones.

“The StingRay device does do that, but it also does that for any cellphones that happened to be in the vicinity, including the hundreds and hundreds of people in the vicinity who are completely innocent and are not targets of any legitimate police investigation,” he said.

The LAPD says it hasn’t seen the ACLU report and cannot comment.

While the ACLU says it understands these devices can be a great aid to law enforcement, the group insists there must be public discussion and policies in place for how and when they can be used.

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