Privacy fears as Midlands police forces use new 'Stingray' spy technology
Controversial 'stingray' spy technology is being used by four Midlands police forces, according to official documents.
The equipment intercepts mobile phone calls, text messages and data.
West Midlands, Staffordshire, West Mercia, and Warwickshire forces have all bought Covert Communications Data Capture equipment according to minutes of a meeting between two of the region's police and crime commissioners and senior officers.
The hardware, which is believed to cost around £160,000, resembles a large modem and tricks mobile phone handsets across several miles into connecting to it by impersonating cellphone towers.
It can be used to pinpoint phone owners' locations or intercept phone calls, text messages and other data held on the device.
The forces will not confirm or deny they own or use the devices for fear of compromising operations.
However, minutes of a meeting between West Mercia and Warwickshire Police state: "Both West Midlands and Staffordshire police have recently purchased and operated 4G-compatible CCDC equipment."
It adds: "The purchase of the devices for West Mercia and Warwickshire Police would allow the use of the equipment in support of regional operations, but more frequently in support of local high-risk investigations, reducing the impact of demand across the region for the same equipment being used in West Midlands and Staffordshire."
Civil liberties campaigners criticise the devices, which are also known as an International Mobile Subscriber Identity catchers, being used.
Matthew Rice, of Privacy International, said: "By their very nature, they operate indiscriminately, gathering information from all individuals in a particular area.
"This intrusion into the private lives of innocent individuals is deeply concerning."
Staffordshire Deputy Chief Constable Nick Baker, the country's lead officer for digital and technical surveillance, said: "There are a number of techniques to protect the public that, due to their covert nature, are not openly discussed. Strict operating procedures surrounding covert tactics and equipment are in place."
Staffordshire PCC Matthew Ellis said: "It is right that police have the tools to tackle the complex nature of crime today. Some tactics police use can be intrusive and it is crucial that there are robust safeguards."
West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson added: "We maintain close oversight of this important area of work."
West Midlands Police declined to comment.