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Judge rules against Sheriff's Department over FOIL request

WBFO News file photo

The Erie County Sheriff's Department has been told it must release details on a device which can duplicate a cell phone tower and tell the Stingray where the phone owner is.

The Sheriff's Department's lawyers are reading the decision from State Supreme Court Justice Patrick NeMoyer who ruled yesterday information about the Stingray has to be released under the Freedom of Information Law. Both the department and the FBI opposed the FOIL request.   

It was revealed during the case that the county has spent $350,000 on the devices since they came into use in 2008.

New York Civil Liberties Union Legal Fellow Bobby Hodgson saID this is a major victory.

"We haven't seen the actual documents that are to be turned over, yet. But, the judge has written a very detailed and well-reasoned accounting of why it's very important that this particular information be made public and be turned over and not be kept secret. So, we're very pleased with the victory."

The devices are apparently in wide use on all levels of government, although there is no publicly-available data about how many there are and how often they are used and how they are used. In at least one case, prosecutors plea bargained rather than release information about the Stingrays.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.