Cops Must Promise to Keep Secrets for FBI, FCC Phone Snooping Tech


Reezy MD, Foter

Cops around the country have been using a device called a surveillance device called a "StingRay" to locate and monitor cellphones. The tool is about suitcase-sized and casts a wide net into which countless people's metadata is caught. Not much else is known about them. That's exactly how cops want it, and that's how the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) want it, too, newly released documents confirm.

Some background: Unbeknownst to just about everybody (city council, county prosecutors, and superior judges included), the Tacoma, Washington Police Department (TPD) has for years been using the surveillance tool. Court cases have revealed that other local law enforcement agencies sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with Harris Corp., which produces StingRays, but federal agencies' involvement has been hazier

MuckRock, a site that focuses on freedom of information requests, got its hands on some paperwork, and highlights the fact that "the FBI received notification from Harris that TPD was interested in a StingRay, [which] reveals a surprising level of coordination between a private corporation and a federal law enforcement agency. The agreement… makes clear that completing the NDA is compulsory by order of the FCC" and FBI. Four out six pages that MuckRock received were completely censored, but "the document's opening paragraph cements details previously only guessed at.":

Documents released in August referred to a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) between Tacoma and the Justice Department, but the agreement itself was not released until last Friday. The Tacoma document provides key insight into the close cooperation among the FBI, Harris Corporation and the Federal Communications Commission to bar StingRay details from public release.  

Tacoma police chief Donald Ramsdell signed the NDA on January 3, 2013, along with special agent Laura Laughlin of the FBI's Seattle field office and four Tacoma officers authorized to operate the StingRay system.

The document indicates that every law enforcement agency that gets an FBI StingRay has to sign the same NDA the Tacoma cops signed. The American Civil Liberties Union, which has an ongoing StingRay case in Arizona, writes, "We have seen the FBI pressure local law enforcement agencies to withhold basic information about purchase and use of Stingrays before, but now we have greater insight into how it does so." And, luckily, an "FBI agent's declaration in the Arizona case quotes extensively from the nondisclosure agreement, thus filling in some of the text blacked out in the Tacoma document."

"It's not clear to me why the FCC would have an interest in requiring law enforcement agencies to sign NDA's with the FBI, unless they were concerned that the spread of this technology could harm users of American communications networks," suggests Alan Butler of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

The devices are problematic for a few reasons. Cops often justify that they use them for anti-terror activity, but don't actually, and since the agencies are bound to their NDAs, they use them without the approval of individual search warrant. As such, the Electronic Frontier Foundation describes StingRays as "an unconstitutional, all-you-can-eat data buffet." 

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  1. It’s not clear to me why the FCC would have an interest in requiring law enforcement agencies to sign NDA’s with the FBI, unless they were concerned that the spread of this technology could harm users of American communications networks.

    Doesn’t the spread of this technology to law enforcement harm users of American communications networks”?

  2. If the NSA can engage in criminal spying on anyone, anywhere, anytime they like, why not the cops? Its not like any of these people took oaths to uphold the law, foremostly the supreme law of the land..the constitution.

    1. The NSA doesn’t engage in criminal spying.

      1. Ah, you’re one of the statist-cock-sucking trolls then.

        1. You don’t understand. The Supreme Court said it was OK, and they have special powers that allow them to see those invisible exceptions written into the plain language of the Constitution that we mere mortals are unable to see. So obviously it’s not criminal. If it was then they would arrest themselves.

      2. Exactly. It is not criminal when the NSA is doing it.

  3. Anybody here remember the cop show, The Wire, from back in the days when cops had to get a warrant to wiretap citizens?

    Anybody here remember that the whole motive for the Watergate Burglaries, which is the American gold standard for corruption, revolved around wiretapping citizens?

    1. There’s no evidence they’re using these devices for wiretapping, just metadata collection.

        1. So? Don’t you remember the “metadata exception clause” of the Fourth Amendment?

          1. Must be there with the “no wiretapping clause” of the Fourth Amendment that SCOTUS ignored for the first 90 years after the invention of the telephone. Luckily the invisible ink finally developed and added “phone calls” to “houses, persons, papers, and effects”.

            1. Hmmm.. new shitbag, or old shitbag w/ new handle?

            2. That response is prima facie evidence of your status as a mental retard.

      1. 1. As we’ve already seen – you can get a whole lot of personalized info from metadata. Everything from location/movements to who you know and how well you kw them.

        2. A huge part of the POINT of Stingray is that it tricks phones to link to the device – this allows (at minimum) DFing a suspects location even if the phones GPS is disabled (or it doesn’t have one) and will provide a decently small CEP.

        3. Is there some information I’m missing that shows we should give the police the *benefit of the doubt* in he use of this tech. The very fact that they are taking hefty measures to hide its use throws up a big red flag – if you’ve got nothing to hide then there’s nothing to worry about, right citizen?

        Full Disclosure.: I’m not actually interested in any justification for the use of these machine (let alone for their *secret* use). It will be justified as ‘for terrorism’ when its really being used to track drug users/distributors. These things should not be crime in the first place and I’m not willing to give law enforcement more tools of oppression to help them *pretend* to eradicate (while actually helping make the ‘problems’ of use/distribution more widespread) the scourge’ of drugs.

        1. you can get a whole lot of personalized info from metadata. Everything from location/movements to who you know and how well you kw them.

          Not that simple. I probably call the people I know really well less than some others who I don’t. I’ve never called anyone from most of my meetup groups, but in many cases I meet them twice a week.

          And a cop on a street corner can ID your location just fine, is that unconstitutional too?

          1. I sincerely hope you aren’t as stupid as you sound. I take that back: if you aren’t that stupid then you must be doing it on purpose.
            There is no basis of comparison between an actual cop tailing a specific person at considerable expense and oversight (because of the expense), and tracking EVERYONE all of the time with trivial effort.
            You need to work on your talking points.

          2. Not that simple. I probably call the people I know really well less than some others who I don’t. I’ve never called anyone from most of my meetup groups, but in many cases I meet them twice a week.

            YA argument against collecting metadata.

          3. Not that simple.

            Actually – it *is* that simple.


          4. And a cop on a street corner can ID your location just fine, is that unconstitutional too?

            You know what? *Fuck* ‘constitutional’. Police only get the fucking powers *we* decide to give them and if they’re limited *further* than what the constitution allows then that’s all they get.

            Ask *anyone* what they need to do their job ‘properly’ and they’ll tell you *everything*.

            Its not up to the police to unilaterally decide what technique/technology is permissible. They want to use/do something, they can fucking ask permission. Not hide it in the hopes that by the time it leaks they can go ‘oh that’s *old news*, why you keep brining up old shit?’

  4. Here’s another thing they’ll do- it happened to me without a stingray.

    About 4 years ago I was Halloween partying in a Beaverdam, OH bar. Tiny place right off I-75 at a junction very heavy with trucks and farm boys. This bar has had some serious issues with fights and so on. THIS particular Halloween night I rolled up to this rather fun bar on a party bus full of drunken deviants. The bar was known for great bands and good times.. yada yada…. Anyhoo, we all piled off and rolled in drunk (high) and happy… bought drinks and lo and behold a cop was at the entrance of the dance area with a license scanner… so we’re all drunk and we get scanned…

    The party is super heavy. Lots of humping, moshing, drunken fucks falling everywhere, fucking crazy shit, goes on for hours… the fucking stuff I like…

    At 3 in the morning we leave… fill up four booths at the Waffle House next door and then head to my buddies house to group fuck or whatever else happened… continued…

    1. ONE month later I start getting texts on my phone from various numbers for Rx requests from meth to vicodine to everything else illicit drug. I realized what was happening and stopped the texting over time with an affirmative- I get drunk I don’t get into pharma (whatever)!

      I am convinced cops are tracing numbers from club scans looking for drug dealers/users and then setting them up with texts. I happened to be knowledgeable about their fucking games- but what about others who are simple drug users in the clubs thinking a random text is from no one special? And responding with affirmation to an illicit text from a cop nearby or in the nearest precinct or station? No stingray necessary.

      1. So you were drunk as a fish in the midst of hard partiers, and assume that the ensuing flood of texts offering drugs must have come from the cops. Doesn’t Occam say you probably just gave out your phone number to someone else at the party who has drug-spam connections?

        1. “Drunk as a fish?” And “Drug-spam connections?” Jesus, just fuck off, Dunphy.

          1. Not me, sorry

            Paranoid, ignorant, drunk and stupid are no way to go through life, son

            As if you had one

        2. Occam sucks my dick so hard it splooges LtWomack juices…

  5. Here, keep this secert, FUCK OFF.

  6. I see two ads over here. One is for “Dungeon Defenders” and the other for “Torchlight”. My interest is aroused.

    Anyone have any opinions on either of these?

    1. Torchlight is decent – though several years od now. It plays very similar to Diablo *2* (not 3), though I would recommend Path of Exile (its
      freeeeeeee, seriously – no scamming).

      Dungeon Defenders is a 4 player coop tower defense game. Haven’t played I but its supposed to be decent if you lie that sort of thing.

      1. How is Diablo 3, then? What about the expansion?

        1. D3 is a mediocre gameplay with a horrible, clich?d storyline. Its an amazing *downgrade* from D2.

          With that said, its not a *bad* game, just far from Blizzard’s previous standards. The seem to have forgotten what an APRG *is* in their rush to capitalize on inter-player trades.

          Thankfully they’ve dropped the market.

          I can’t speak for the expansion – I haven’t played since a month or two after release. Seriously though – POE is far better.

        2. I kept D3 for all of 4 days before I returned it. I could have saved time by just re-installing D2. Given the amount of time that passed since D2 and the advancing in gaming in that time I expected a lot more.

          1. If you are looking for a great fantasy themed game I recommend Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen if you haven’t played it yet. Lots of fun and the only game I’ve ever played where followers actually significantly added to the enjoyment of the gameplay.

          2. I don’t know; someone gave Diablo 2 a bad review on Metacritic:

            Anyone who can sit and play this game for hours suffers from a severe lack of intelligence. Let me clarify: Why spend money on this game when you can just walk over to the nearest wall and bang on it for a few hours. The effect is exactly the same. This game offers absolutely nothing to anyone with half a brain. Boo!

            1. Obviously means that D2 was one of the worst games evah! So bad it gave Ebola to West Africa.

            2. For it’s time I thought D2 was fine. I mean, there were games from 2000 I liked better, but it was pretty good overall. The problem for me w/ D3 is that it felt like I was transported back to 2000 with better graphics and a few new do-dads.

              1. *My* problem with it was that it seemed to be designed as a console game – and the recent port to the PS (along with the bells and whistles *that* got) tend to support that.

                The loot and skill mechanic were simplified (there are only a handful of builds *possible* in D3) with the explanation that ‘oh, we didn’t want the player to get frustrated because they made a flawed build that isn’t viable in end-game’. Ignoring that its fething 2010+ and for those where that’s important – there’s the internet – and for the rest of us, a good chunk of the fun is playing with skills.

                1. I definitely love playing with skills, and am enjoying what seems to be a growing trend of allowing more flexibility in applying and altering them in games. Borderlands has been awesome this way, for example. No need to spend another 40 hours to see what different choices would have been like, just pay a fine and poof here you go.

      2. I loved Dungeon Defenders until the developers fucked that great game up in 2011… just wait until AFTER the stupid Eternity thing…

        Wow…. You do realize AGawhatever that your fucking Chrome browser is placing ads that are relevant to your lifestyle because that bitch traces you?

    2. I would skip Torchlight and go for Torchlight 2, but only if you liked Diablo 2.

    1. Actually, I believe revenge porn should be regulated.

      That is, there should be a law that this is the only acceptable soundtrack for revenge porn

      1. All internet porn is regulated… by your mouse and keyboard.

  7. Actual tweets from a Mom’s Demand Action on Guns member.

    I don’t understand why you would be against expanding measures like background checks. Do u have something to hide?

    Someone else says:

    ‘If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.’ – Joseph Goebbels

    And the Mom’s Demand member responds:

    Mr. Goebbels’ words are wise words to live by.

    LO fucking L.

    1. Nice. And then surely this member would not object to her background being extensively checked so that she can “keep” her children.

  8. I’m still confused. I received a personalized copy of Reason Magazine back 2004 or so with an arrial photo of my supposed home.…..e-so-2004/

    The end of privacy. Lets Twitter, thumbs up or thumbs down?

    Wait…what was the question?

  9. I’d be OK with this if I was allowed to do it too. But that’s a pretty clear line to me. If I can’t legally do it, Police shouldn’t be able to do it without a warrant.

    1. I’d go further – If *I* (as a ‘regular citizen’) can’t get a warrant to do it, then neither can the police.

      I’m a big fan of the 3P – especially this one

      To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

      1. The problem with a night-watchman state is that about 50% of the adult population won’t put up with it.

        It doesn’t bother me to walk with my son, on the way to school, past the local curb-leaners. But his mom thinks otherwise.

        1. Then you haven’t trained the bitch well. :-p

          (This is why there are no female libertarians….)

  10. Just to give a little context to this there are three basic things you can do with this device:

    1. You can direction find a particular device (It’s that-away!) using known information.

    2. You can jam a device or devices that are within radio line of sight.

    3. You can gather network information from devices that are within radio line of sight.

    Things it cannot do:

    1. Intercept voice or data communications.

    2. Gather information from a device (contacts, photos etc.)

    3. Do any sort of dialing analysis

    That is not to say that there shouldn’t be judicial oversight or that it somehow evades the need for any sort of constitutional protections. I just think its important to have an understanding of what we are talking about here.

    1. *If* that’s all it can do – then there’s no reason to spend so much effort hiding it.

      If all it is, is a glorified DF se – well, we’ve been able to do that for long time, no secret to criminals.

      1. This is, in fact, the case. Different models will give you the capability to target different technologies, but they all function pretty much as the same with the same sort of effects. Although. with the device pictured you can usually only find the building the device is in.

        You will get little disagreement from me on the need for police transparency, it just seemed that the author and some of the commentariat were somewhat overstating the capabilities of these systems.

  11. Isn’t it awesome that I’m forced to pay my employees to hide things from me, and to assault my rights and my person?

    1. They’re not your employees – the serve the ‘People’ – note the upper case ‘p’ there. Not the people, The People.

      1. And we serve so damn well y0!



  12. Chilling stuff. TPD a good agency marred by the (ultimate murderous copocrat) David Brame incident. The ignorati incorrectly believing same to be a cop double standard thang, when in fact it was a copocrat double standard. A street cop never would have gotten the look the other way treatment that allowed that murderous scum to persist

    TPD does get eternal cool points for getting approval to carry 1911 cocked and locked Kimbers. A successful implementation despite concerns of the ignorati that cocked locked police carry would cause the public to be shocked and alahmed… Never happened

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