Ahh, our National Security State keeps chugging along, snatching us up in its tentacles…
Police across the country may be intercepting phone calls or text messages to find suspects using a technology tool known as Stingray. But they’re refusing to turn over details about its use or heavily censoring files when they do.
Police say Stingray, a suitcase-size device that pretends it’s a cell tower, is useful for catching criminals, but that’s about all they’ll say.
For example, they won’t disclose details about contracts with the device’s manufacturer, Harris Corp., insisting they are protecting both police tactics and commercial secrets. The secrecy – at times imposed by nondisclosure agreements signed by police – is pitting obligations under private contracts against government transparency laws.
Even in states with strong open records laws, including Florida and Arizona, little is known about police use of Stingray and any rules governing it.
A Stingray device tricks all cellphones in an area into electronically identifying themselves and transmitting data to police rather than the nearest phone company’s tower. Because documents about Stingrays are regularly censored, it’s not immediately clear what information the devices could capture, such as the contents of phone conversations and text messages, what they routinely do capture based on how they’re configured or how often they might be used.
(click here to continue reading POLICE KEEP QUIET ABOUT CELL-TRACKING TECHNOLOGY, BY JACK GILLUM, News from The Associated Press.)
Note that this works on everyone’s cellphones, regardless if you are a criminal suspect, or just a teenage girl texting your friends. Who needs warrants, right? The old United States that celebrated civil liberties as a constitution right has been superseded by 9-11 and the War on Terra.
ACLU Staff Attorney Nathan Freed Wessler writes:
It appears that at least one police department in Florida has failed to tell judges about its use of a cell phone tracking device because the department got the device on loan and promised the manufacturer to keep it all under wraps. But when police use invasive surveillance equipment to surreptitiously sweep up information about the locations and communications of large numbers of people, court oversight and public debate are essential. The devices, likely made by the Florida-based Harris Corporation, are called “stingrays,” and unfortunately this is not the first time the government has tried to hide their use.
So the ACLU and ACLU of Florida have teamed up to break through the veil of secrecy surrounding stingray use by law enforcement in the Sunshine State, last week filing a motion for public access to sealed records in state court, and submitting public records requests to nearly 30 police and sheriffs’ departments across Florida seeking information about their acquisition and use of stingrays.
As two judges noted during the oral argument, as of 2010 the Tallahassee Police Department had used stingrays a staggering 200 times without ever disclosing their use to a judge to get a warrant.
Potentially unconstitutional government surveillance on this scale should not remain hidden from the public just because a private corporation desires secrecy. And it certainly should not be concealed from judges. That’s why we have asked the Florida court that originally sealed the transcript to now make it available to the public. And that’s also why we have asked police departments throughout Florida to tell us whether they use stingrays, what rules they have in place to protect innocent third parties from unjustified invasions of privacy, and whether they obtain warrants from judges before deploying the devices.
Although secret stingray use has increasingly been exposed by the press (and by the ACLU), public details are still scant. Our new work in Florida is part of national efforts to understand how law enforcement is using these devices, and whether reforms are needed to protect our privacy from law enforcement overreach.
(click here to continue reading Police Hide Use of Cell Phone Tracker From Courts Because Manufacturer Asked | American Civil Liberties Union.)