Militarization of Police

Officials Continue to Dodge Attempts to Disclose Use of Stingrays

The government doesn't want you to know how much it uses the mass surveillance devices.

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Elvert Barnes / Flickr

When three men were arrested for robbing a drug dealer in Tallahassee, Florida, in 2013, prosecutors seemed to have a slam dunk case. As The Washington Post reported, Tadrae McKenzie and his friends used BB guns to rob a drug dealer, taking $130 worth of marijuana and his cellphone. A few days later the local police tracked them down and charged them with possession as well as armed robbery with a deadly weapon.

During the trial, the defense raised questions about how the police were able to locate the suspects so quickly, but the police and prosecution refused to answer. The judge ordered them to disclose the information, but instead of complying, the prosecution offered the defendants a plea bargain. McKenzie and his friends could have spent anywhere from three to 30 years in jail for their crime. Instead, the three men received probation with no jail time. As Cato Institute policy analyst Adam Bates pointed out during a panel discussion yesterday, the reason for the discrepancy was that the police and prosecution were unwilling to admit they had used a surveillance tool called a "Stingray" to find the criminals.

Stingrays mimic the signal of a cellular tower and lure nearby mobile phones to connect to their fake network. Through this connection, law enforcement can track the cellphone's location and even download its content. The device allowed cops in Tallahassee to locate the three robbers with ease by tracking the drug dealer's stolen phone—but when faced with the necessity of acknowledging the technology's existence and explaining in court how it was used, the government's lawyers opted to drop the case rather than speak candidly.

"Through the use of nondisclosure agreements, a refusal to honor freedom of information requests, and deceit toward courts and the public, the full capabilities of these devices, the extent of their use by law enforcement, and the existence of policies to govern their use remain secret," Bates writes in a report on law enforcement use of Stingrays.

The report explains that nondisclosure agreements between local law enforcement and the FBI and Harris Corp. (the manufacturer of the devices) keep the public in the dark about these cellular surveillance devices: "The government plainly views sacrificing individual prosecutions, even for serious crimes, as an acceptable price for concealing the nature of stingray surveillance," Bates argues. "The FBI's nondisclosure agreement is clear: in exchange for permission to use stingray devices, state and local officials must surrender prosecutorial discretion to the federal government."

Advocates such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have tried to increase transparency about the government's use of Stingrays, with varying degrees of success. In 2014, the Florida chapter of the ACLU filed a freedom of information request and was granted access to documents about the Sarasota Police Department's use of the devices. Before the department could hand over the information, the U.S. Marshals intervened, raiding the department and seizing the requested documents.

The ACLU has been able to gather some data, though. It found that at least 23 states and the District of Columbia have law enforcement deploying Stingrays.

A House Oversight Committee report, published in December, found that in from fiscal year 2010 to fiscal year 2014, the Department of Justice (DOJ) spent more than $71 million to acquire and use cell-site simulators, and has 310 devices agency-wide. In the same span, the Department of Homeland Security spent more than $24 million for 124 devices for that agency. Since January 2006, the Treasury Department has spent more than $1.3 million and possess three devices.

The lack of transparency and accountability has led to much concern about civil liberties violations. U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R–Utah) is planning to introduce two bills to demand more congressional oversight of how the federal government use Stingrays. Reason reporter Eric Boehm provides a more in-depth look at the proposed legislation here.

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  1. Trump and his fascist pepe gang again taking away our civil liberties.

    1. How is Trump responsible for this, been going on for years.

      Maybe his guys will put an end to this and go after the louts stealing our liberties…

  2. Just start burning down police stations. This is likely the only solution at this point.

  3. Learn to love Big Brother. It’s easy. Just surrender yourself to his loving protective embrace.

    1. Surrender, ALL of ye Dorthies!!!

      Scienfoology Song? GAWD = Government Almighty’s Wrath Delivers

      Government loves me, This I know,
      For the Government tells me so,
      Little ones to GAWD belong,
      We are weak, but GAWD is strong!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      My Nannies tell me so!

      GAWD does love me, yes indeed,
      Keeps me safe, and gives me feed,
      Shelters me from bad drugs and weed,
      And gives me all that I might need!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      My Nannies tell me so!

      DEA, CIA, KGB,
      Our protectors, they will be,
      FBI, TSA, and FDA,
      With us, astride us, in every way!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      My Nannies tell me so!

      1. TL;DR;
        Dude, the first couple times, ok. This is getting to be a habit.

  4. Anyone who doesn’t believe in almost total transparency of police and federal agencies is a fascist.

    1. try the word “communist” or “tyrant”. Fascism, defined is government control of private means of production. Does not fit here, does it?

  5. OT: anyone else getting script errors?

    No wonder they’re looking to hire a new web developer. Hopefully whoever they hire actually knows what they’re doing for a change.

    1. All the time, sometimes I just have to close the tab and reenter the site entirely to get posting to work again. And it doesn’t work at all on my phone anymore.

  6. That “non-disclosure” bullshit is the worst – the Constitution guarantees your right to confront your accusers. Many (most?) places where the redlight camera crap has been challenged have subcontracted their “law enforcement” out to the camera company, which means it’s not actually a criminal law-enforcement matter but a civil matter where your Constitutional rights don’t apply. The flip-side to that is that they can’t actually prosecute you but merely send the ticket to a collection agency where, screw you, show me where I have a contractually-obligated debt. Keep challenging the stingray evidence and rejecting plea deals – if you want to make this a criminal matter there are rules and one of those rules is I get to see what evidence you have and how you obtained it.

    1. Honestly, if they had come forward my hope is that they would have thrown out the case. They should probably arrest some of the police responsible for it.

      Because you know that 99% of all the information they collect is from people who haven’t done shit. They’re just throwing a fishing net out there, illegally collecting all the data they can. Then claiming some victory when they catch a few criminals.

    2. McKenzie and his friends could have spent anywhere from three to 30 years in jail for their crime. Instead, the three men received probation with no jail time. As Cato Institute policy analyst Adam Bates pointed out during a panel discussion yesterday, the reason for the discrepancy was that the police and prosecution were unwilling to admit they had used a surveillance tool called a “Stingray” to find the criminals.

      This part enrages me almost beyond words. These motherfuckers would claim they need this technology to catch dangerous criminals, but they would rather let those same criminals walk free than open themselves up to the tiniest bit of transparency over it. Actively putting the public they claim to protect at risk to avoid oversight and accountability. Fuck them all.

      1. Which shows you exactly what they want these for. It has nothing to do with public safety, it has everything to do with being able to collect dirt on anyone at any time for any reason.

        Makes you wonder how many of those ‘leaks’ in the administration are from data collected by intelligence or defense agencies with their own agenda. How would we even know? Everything about it is so classified I honestly wonder if even the President has a clue.

        1. Protect yourself from this illegality:

          https://privacysos.org//

          there’s been plenty of reporting that references “reverse engineering” the evidence discovery to explain it via legal means, once obtained illegally by Stingray and the like. Remember, the ends justify the means kids 😉

    3. the trouble is, they don’t use the stingrays to gather foundational evidence but to surveil the suspects to find them. In this case, the crime was blatant. Locating the perps was the difficulty. Once located, their case could move forward on its own merits……

  7. From the headline I thought they were using old corvettes.

    1. SD-
      Obviously that isn’t the case because that would be cool.

      1. Crockett and Tubbs

  8. So if I get arrested, just ask if they used a Stingray and I can walk?

  9. The real criminal here is Harris for manufacturing the stingray devices, then marketing and partnering with state and local LEO’s and all of the other .GOV alphabet soup agencies for profit.

    1. Should we also blame Bushmaster for school shootings?

  10. A House Oversight Committee report, published in December, found that in from fiscal year 2010 to fiscal year 2014, the Department of Justice (DOJ) spent more than $71 million to acquire and use cell-site simulators, and has 310 devices agency-wide. In the same span, the Department of Homeland Security spent more than $24 million for 124 devices for that agency. Since January 2006, the Treasury Department has spent more than $1.3 million and possess three devices.

    None of your business!

  11. if terrorist cells ever start multiple operations in the US,having a tool like Stingray will enable authorities to stop them quicker,and save many lives. So I can see why they’re protecting their tool. As for “collecting data” or information on US citizens,get real. They’re not interested in you. they’re interested in spies and terrorists. and narcoterrorists.

    1. I think they just like playing with their tools. Polishing them, turning them on, powering them up, then letting them go.

    2. the tool itself is not bad….. using it without just cause IS bad. WHY could they not have got a warrant to use the tool to locate THIS phone and/or the perps who stole it?

      Like everything else FedGof get their grubby mitts into they take it for corruption and misuse it.

      I have no problem with the tool’s existence or use.. when approprate and in limited circumstances. WITH a warrant. In this case, they had a known stolen cell phone. Great… it has an unique number, get a warrant to use stingrays to locate THAT phone and track THOSE suspects. But leave everyone else alone.

    3. The part that got me was “can even download its content”.
      Does any cell tower have this capability?
      The phone manufacturers should be making that to be something not easily done, through an over-the-airwaves signal.
      Or was that just to put more of a scare into the pearl-clutchers?
      If the only use this device has, is to locate a particular cell-phone, then that is a risk one takes, having a device that constantly requires a signal be broadcast, letting the network now how one can be reached.
      No one needs to have a cell phone, nor to have it powered-up all the time.
      Being constantly available has to result in some loss of privacy.

  12. how can you blame Trump for corruption and disregard for our rights that has been ongoing for more than a decade?

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