Ryan demands answers from Sheriff Howard about cell phone surveillance

May 9, 2014

Assemblyman Sean Ryan is calling on the Erie County Sheriff’s Office for answers regarding cell phone surveillance. The Sheriff’s department reportedly spent over $350,000 to purchase technology which allows them to obtain private data from mobile phones.

Ryan held a press conference in Niagara Square Friday to announce that he sent a letter to Sheriff Howard demanding the law enforcement agency be more forthcoming about their use of the technology. He's said he's asking the department to be more transparent about who they are collecting data from, what type of information is being collected, how often they’re collecting the data and who has access to the information once it’s obtained. 

New York State Assemblyman Sean Ryan.
Credit Ashley Hirtzel / WBFO News

"Law enforcement should have access to the most up to date, modern technology, but it must be done within the confines of the law. The Sheriff’s Department shouldn’t be allowed to go on a fishing expedition where they capture broad amount of cell phone data from the citizens of Erie County and then decide what to do with it. What they’re doing now is secretive and none of the information that they collect can be used within a court of law. So, it does make you question why are they even collecting this information,” said Ryan.

Ryan explains the device collects information from phones within close proximity violating the privacy of ordinary citizens.

“If you look at it from a land line perspective the Sheriff can’t go to Verizon and say: ‘I want to know every number that was called from this phone or received by this phone.’ Verizon would simply say: ‘We can provide that Sheriff once you give us a warrant.’ But, with this new piece of technology the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have to go to Verizon. They can mimic a cell phone tower themselves and get it without having to go to the provider,” said Ryan.

Ryan says the Sheriff’s Office has yet to acknowledge they even have access to the device or how it was purchased. The assemblyman says he’s pushing for legislation to mandate that warrants be obtained before police begin surveillance of criminal suspects. Similar laws are being enacted across the country regarding cell phone surveillance, most recently in Minnesota.