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Police phone-tracking contracts often kept secret

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WASHINGTON — Police across the nation may be intercepting phone calls or text messages to find suspects using a technology tool known as Stingray. But they refuse to release details on its use or heavily censo files when they do.

Police say Stingray, a suitcase-sized device that pretends it is a cell tower, is useful for catching criminals, but that is all they will say.

For example, they won’t disclose details about contracts with the device’s manufacturer, Harris Corp., insisting they are protecting both police tactics and commercial secrets. The secrecy — at times imposed by nondisclosure agreements — is pitting obligations under private contracts against government transparency laws.

Even in states with strong open records laws, little is known about police use of Stingray and rules governing it.

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