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Hearing Tuesday to explore “military style” tracking devices used by Oakland County Sheriff’s Office


Later this morning a legislative oversight committee will discuss a new secretive cell phone tracking device the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department is using.

Not much is known about the device.

It can reportedly trick nearby cell phones into providing data to the police. It can be helpful in tracking people, like missing children and fugitives, but it’s not clear how much more information is collected and what the sheriff’s department does with it.

The Department of Homeland Security reportedly paid for the device, and that’s why its uses are still mostly secret, even to state lawmakers like Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills.

“Basically what the sheriff’s department has said is ‘We’re not doing anything wrong, trust us,'” McMillin said.

McMillin says he doesn’t have any reason to believe the sheriff’s department is doing anything wrong.

But in a time when the federal government has misled the public about mass surveillance, he’s got reasonable concerns to raise. Like what information the device tracks, from whom and when? How is the information stored? What happens if officers abuse it to, say, spy on their ex-girlfriend?

“But I also think it’s just important to make sure the public understands how they’re being surveilled and making sure that the citizens are comfortable with what is going on,” he said.

“I think law enforcement needs to be aggressively telling and informing and assuring the public that they’re not doing anything wrong; not to stonewall,” McMillin said.

It isn’t clear if an official with the department will attend the hearings. The department did not return requests for comment for this story.

McMillin says two people familiar with the technological device will testify at the legislative oversight committee hearing : a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union and a former judge from Texas who’s written opinions about the technology’s potential interference with the Fourth Amendment.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station'sAmplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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