Vallejo pur­chases cell site sim­u­la­tor for po­lice

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - FRONT PAGE - By John Glid­den Contact re­porter John Glid­den at 707-553-6832.

The Vallejo City Coun­cil agreed Tuesday night to spend $766,018on a con­tro­ver­sial piece of equip­ment.

The Vallejo City Coun­cil agreed Tuesday night to spend $766,018 on a con­tro­ver­sial piece of equip­ment meant to track peo­ple through their cell phones.

Coun­cilors unan­i­mously ap­proved an agree­ment with KeyE Cor­po­ra­tion for the Vallejo Po­lice Department to use a cel­lu­lar site sim­u­la­tor, a de­vice which mas­quer­ades as a cell tower.

All cell phones ac­tively ping a cell tower al­low­ing the user to text, call, or use their data. When de­ployed, a sim­u­la­tor acts as a cell tower, di­vert­ing cell sig­nals to the sim­u­la­tor.

In a re­port to the coun­cil, po­lice staff said the sim­u­la­tor would only cap­ture in­ter­na­tional mo­bile sub­scriber iden­tity (IMSI) num­bers and not tele­phone num­bers. IMSI are unique 15-digit num­bers as­signed to a SIM card within a cell phone.

“This tech­nol­ogy, for a short-staffed po­lice department, is a force mul­ti­plier that will help us for crime re­duc­tion,” Vallejo Po­lice Chief Shawny Wil­liams said dur­ing the meet­ing.

Wil­liams said the department bor­rowed a sim­i­lar de­vice last fall which re­sulted in the ar­rest of four homi­cide sus­pects over two months.

He fur­ther said a search war­rant must be ob­tained from a judge be­fore the sim­u­la­tor can be used.

How­ever, a cit­i­zen’s group called Oak­land Pri­vacy, asked the coun­cil not to ap­prove buy­ing the sim­u­la­tor.

“Cell site sim­u­la­tors pose pro­found civil lib­er­ties is­sues. While we are not op­posed to us­ing the tech­nol­ogy in lim­ited cir­cum­stances, un­der war­rant, to lo­cate and ap­pre­hend those pos­ing a sig­nif­i­cant risk to the com­mu­nity, the po­ten­tial for abus­ing this pow­er­ful tool is high,” the group wrote in an email to coun­cilors. “Cell site sim­u­la­tors have the abil­ity to eaves­drop on calls and text mes­sages, lim­ited not by hard­ware but by soft­ware con­fig­u­ra­tion, which can eas­ily be mod­i­fied.”

The group also said that the Alameda County Dis­trict At­tor­ney, the Oak­land Po­lice Department and the Fre­mont Po­lice Department all shared one sim­u­la­tor, us­ing it a com­bined eight times in three years.

“The com­bined pop­u­la­tions of Oak­land and Fre­mont alone are more than five times that of the city of Vallejo: it seems a waste of tax­payer funds to pur­chase equip­ment which will likely be used so in­fre­quently,” they added in their let­ter.

The $766,018 con­tract in­cludes pur­chase of a ve­hi­cle for $120,000, in­stal­la­tion of the equip­ment in the ve­hi­cle, train­ing, soft­ware up­dates, and a three­year war­ranty.

Wil­liams said a us­age log along with an an­nual re­port will be cre­ated, which will be pub­licly avail­able on the city’s web­site.

Funds from the pur­chase will come from three dif­fer­ent sources: About $400,000 from the city’s gen­eral fund, $204,000 from various law en­force­ment grants, and $162,000 from as­set for­fei­ture.

jglid­den@timesher­al­don­line. com

@glid24 on Twitter

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