Police Commissioner Ray Martinez responded Wednesday evening to recent “unsubstantiated and reckless claims” circulating on social media – including Facebook and WhatsApp – that the V.I. Police Department is using a device commonly called “Sting Ray” to track cell phone conversations without someone’s knowledge.
The department does not use the “Sting Ray” device, which functions by tricking your phone into thinking that the surveillance device is a cell tower, Martinez said in a press release addressing the rumors. This results in your phone routing any traffic — such as text messages, web queries or phone calls — through the device.
“While the claimed ‘Sting Ray’ device may have been used by U.S. Military, Federal Law Enforcement Agencies and Police Departments throughout the mainland, I can emphatically and without any reservations state that the V.I. Police Department does not own, possess, nor use any such device,” Martinez said.
“The V.I. Police Department has a responsibility to enforce laws which, in turn, ensures the safety of the citizenry of the territory; however, it is our obligation to also follow laws and policies which do not infringe on the rights of the community,” Martinez continued.
“Furthermore, the device operates only on the 2G network, which no longer exists in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Additionally, the device’s reliance on 2G technology makes it less useful for law enforcement with every passing year as 4G and eventually 5G networks take over,” Martinez said.
Rumors about the Sting Ray device seem to have started a few days ago with the posting of an anonymous video on Facebook, attributed to “Concerned Citizens USVI,” alleging that the Bryan/Roach administration spent almost $1 million to purchase such devices from a mainland vendor for use by local law enforcement.
“Many would associate this with political propaganda, but we are here to tell you that this is 100 percent true,” a woman’s voice says on the video, released just days before Saturday’s primary election.
The video includes footage of an “interview” of unknown provenance about the Sting Ray device in general, and says, “Albert, we have the purchase orders,” but produces no evidence of such, nor that they are in use by the VIPD.