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Tucson Claims National Security for Cell-Phone Tracking Secrecy

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The city of Tucson says there’s a good reason why it doesn’t want to provide details of how it tracks cell phone users: national security. Arizona Public Radio’s Howard Fischer explains.

The city is fighting a public records request for information on its use of a device called a StingRay. In essence, it mimics a cell phone tower, meaning any cell phones nearby check in with it. That enables police to zero in on the one phone they want and track its location. Tucson has turned over some documents. But, city attorney Mike Rankin contends the release of even what are called the quick reference sheets for the device would “compromise sensitive law enforcement techniques and national security interests by making the technology available to criminals.”

Dan Pochoda of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the freelance writer seeking the documents, said he’s not going to drop the request simply because the city is claiming national security interests.

“The government has often attempted to deny what should be publicly available information using this blanket term of security or interference with some operation. And many courts have found that to be an improper to keep the information that should be going to the public from so doing,” Pochoda said.

But, Pochoda acknowledged that some government agencies have been more successful playing the “national security” card. The judge will not decide the issue for at least a month.

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