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Hearing Held on Sheriff's Cell Phone Surveillance

Buffalo, NY (WBEN) - The Erie County Legislature's Public Safety committee met Thursday to ask questions about some controversial cell phone surveillance equipment used by Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard's office.

The top question on everyone's mind, was can the devices owned by the Sheriff's Department be used to listen in to the conversations of innocent people?

"It's like the tuner on a television set or a radio," Howard said. "(The machine's) looking for a signal, so it hears all the signals, and then locks in on the one that it wants. It does not do anything with all the other signals, it doesn't save them, it doesn't store them. The answer is no."

Howard also said that any time the device is used it's subject to judicial review, but he refused to go in depth in many of his answers. "It's my hope that at some point in time some common sense would take over here and the realization would be the more time we spend educating the public to this device, the more time we're educating the criminal element on how to avoid it."

"There was not a lot of fact," said Legislator Patrick Burke about the Sheriff's answers in the hearing. "We're still left with no actual proof that this is being done appropriately. Normally I wouldn't mind, but when the Sheriff refused to even acknowledge the device's existence up until a week ago, that's where I think alarm bells started ringing."

Purchase and use of the device in question, essentially a higher level police scanner that can receive cell phone signals, was authorized by the county legislature in 2008, and was paid for with a grant from Homeland Security.

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In earlier statements the Sheriff's office has said they " don't own or operate any technology that allows for the interception of cell phone calls or text messages" and they say the device is only used to locate them."with the proper legal  or judicial authority- or when life is immediately at stake. "

But for several legislators and some civil rights activists that's not enough.

"I'll be listening very very closely to see what the Sheriffs' department tells them. I know I will be there myself as will be some of our counsel. From there we will see what we will learn, before we decide what we are going to do next," said John Curr, executive director of the Buffalo Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

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Topics : Law_CrimeTechnology_Internet
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People : Ed RathJohn CurrTim Howard
05/15/2014 8:16AM
Sheriff's Cell Phone Surveillance Hearing Today
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05/15/2014 8:58AM
Pretend he's a Democrat.
All of a sudden his eavesdropping is violating your rights, obedient WBEN listener. See how that works?
05/15/2014 4:07PM
lucky this news didn't come out before the election
He's lucky this news didn't come out before the election. He would have lost. A lot of his previous supporters are turning on him now.
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