HBO's The Wire was lauded for its gritty, realistic portrayal of the drug war in Baltimore, but it seems law enforcement thought the show could be a bit too authentic at times. In a story about cellphone tracking technology, showrunner David Simon tells The Baltimore Sun that "At points, we were asked by law enforcement not to reveal certain vulnerabilities in our plotlines."
Simon, who was once a reporter for the very same paper, explains that the writers once intended to show that criminals using the walkie-talkie-esque, "push-to-talk" feature of Nextel phones could avoid surveillance and wiretaps. According to Simon, the technology "was actually impervious to any interception by law enforcement during a critical window of time."
"We were asked by law enforcement not to reveal certain vulnerabilities."
Law enforcement officials requested that the show not reveal the gap in surveillance technology out of fears that it would be exploited. Simon recalls co-creator Ed Burns saying at the time that "to highlight this vulnerability in our drama would have irresponsibly driven the communications of every criminal conspiracy into an impenetrable hole." The writers ultimately decided to go a different route.
But why are we learning about this now? Well, The Wire was back in the news this week after surprising revelations that a cell phone tracking technology called Stingray has been in extremely wide use by the Baltimore Police since 2007. The system, which can be transported in a car, can spoof a cell phone tower and obtain data from devices in the area. It can be used to pinpoint a device's location even if it lacks GPS, and officers can send a command for the phone to ring on demand. A similar system, called Triggerfish, was depicted in season three of The Wire back in 2004.