City of Chicago Emergency Management Surveillance Vehicle, probably with a Stingray device (taken at a Haymarket Riot Demonstration).
Remember those quaint old days when the United States had a Bill of Rights? And civil liberties were commonly respected?1
Attorney Matt Topic of Loevy & Loevy filed a suit against the Chicago Police Department last week.
The Chicago Police Department was sued Friday to force release of evidence that the department has purchased equipment that allows them to covertly scan people’s cell phones for detecting telephone numbers dialed and texted, tracking their location, and cell phones’ unique device identification numbers.
Cell site simulators, also known as IMSI catchers or stingrays, masquerade as cellphone towers to obtain data secretly from nearby cellular user devices.
“Many believe that Chicago Police have already deployed this kind of technology at protests,” said Matt Topic of Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law, which represents Chicago resident Freddy Martinez in the suit. “Local police departments in other states have widely used the technology, and have kept it secret, even to the courts, and even when it has been used to obtain evidence in a criminal case.”
“If the Chicago Police aren’t running afoul of the Fourth Amendment, they should have nothing to hide,” said Mr. Martinez. “This information will allow the public to learn the extent to which Chicago Police have this technology, and once we have that, we’ll pursue more information about how it is being used and whether Chicago Police are routinely using it to violate the Constitution.”
Mr. Martinez filed a FOIA request with Chicago Police looking for records documenting the purchase of this equipment. “FOIA and the Illinois Constitution are clear that all records related to the use of public funds are subject to disclosure,” said Topic, “yet Chicago Police have stonewalled Mr. Martinez for months.”
(click here to continue reading CPD Sued to Force Release Proof of Cell Phone Spying | Blog | Loevy & Loevy.)
and as Mr. Martinez says:
“Should federal, state, or local law enforcement be allowed to trick your cell phone into sharing information like your location, the numbers your called or texted, or your unique device ID without your consent?” asked Martinez. “Should they be deploying this kind of technology in secret? We don’t think so.”
Copies of the suit, No. 2014CH09565, are available here: Freddie Martinez v. Chicago Police Department.
From the suit, some additional background material, some of which we’ve blogged about, some not.
The National Security Agency isn’t the only government entity secretly collecting data from people’s cellphones. Local police are increasingly scooping it up, too.
Armed with new technologies, including mobile devices that tap into cellphone data in real time, dozens of local and state police agencies are capturing information about thousands of cellphone users at a time, whether they are targets of an investigation or not, according to public records obtained by USA TODAY and Gannett newspapers and TV stations.
The records, from more than 125 police agencies in 33 states, reveal:
• About one in four law-enforcement agencies have used a tactic known as a “tower dump,” which gives police data about the identity, activity and location of any phone that connects to the targeted cellphone towers over a set span of time, usually an hour or two. A typical dump covers multiple towers, and wireless providers, and can net information from thousands of phones.
At least 25 police departments own a Stingray, a suitcase-size device that costs as much as $400,000 and acts as a fake cell tower. The system, typically installed in a vehicle so it can be moved into any neighborhood, tricks all nearby phones into connecting to it and feeding data to police. In some states, the devices are available to any local police department via state surveillance units. The federal government funds most of the purchases, via anti-terror grants.
Thirty-six more police agencies refused to say whether they’ve used either tactic. Most denied public records requests, arguing that criminals or terrorists could use the information to thwart important crime-fighting and surveillance techniques.
(click here to continue reading Cellphone data spying: It’s not just the NSA.)
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 (examples here and here).
Also known as “cell site simulators,” stingrays impersonate cell phone towers, prompting phones within range to reveal their precise locations and information about all of the calls and text messages they send and receive. When in use, stingrays sweep up information about innocent people and criminal suspects alike.
(click here to continue reading Police Hide Use of Cell Phone Tracker From Courts Because Manufacturer Asked | American Civil Liberties Union.)
A Florida judge has sided with the ACLU to order release of information about police use of “stingrays,” which are invasive surveillance devices that send out powerful signals to trick cell phones into transmitting their locations and identifying information. The Tallahassee judge’s pro-transparency decision stands in contrast to extreme secrecy surrounding stingray records in another Florida court, which is at the center of an emergency motion filed by the ACLU today.
The ACLU learned several months ago about a case where Tallahassee police used a stingray to track a phone to a suspect’s apartment without getting a warrant. Although the detective responsible for the tracking testified in court about using a stingray, in deference to the government’s demand for secrecy the court closed the hearing to the public and sealed the transcript.
The ACLU filed a motion asking the judge to unseal the transcript, citing the public’s First Amendment right of access to court proceedings. In response, the government tried to justify continued secrecy by invoking the federal Homeland Security Act and other federal laws. As the ACLU explained to the court, those laws have no bearing because this case involves state judicial records, and because the government has waived its ability to invoke broad secrecy arguments by already releasing significant information about its use of stingrays.
Late yesterday, the judge ordered unsealing of the entire transcript.
(click here to continue reading VICTORY: Judge Releases Information about Police Use of Stingray Cell Phone Trackers | American Civil Liberties Union.)
Local law enforcement agencies across the Bay Area have so-called stingray devices, a powerful cellphone surveillance tool, and more are planning to acquire the technology, according to public records recently obtained by Sacramento News10. The devices are highly intrusive and completely unregulated. Although the Wall Street Journal reported in 2011 that they were being used by the federal government, the News10 records reveal for the first time that these devices are also in widespread use by local authorities stretching from San José to Sacramento. The revelations are troubling. Once again, we see the proliferation of powerful new surveillance tools, but without any rules to constrain their use. The acquisition of these devices is shrouded in secrecy and driven by federal grant money, which undermines local democratic oversight. Their actual use by local law enforcement reflects the all too common phenomenon of mission creep: Although the justification for acquiring these devices is “fighting terrorism,” agencies seem to be using them for ordinary criminal law enforcement.
What’s a stingray and what are the Fourth Amendment implications? A stingray is a device that mimics a cell tower and thereby tricks all wireless devices on the same network into communicating with it. From a privacy perspective, this is worrying because it collects information about the devices and whereabouts of innocent third parties, not just the target of an investigation. In addition, it can pinpoint targets with extraordinary precision, meaning that individuals can be tracked even when they are inside their homes. Although some of the devices sold in this country are configured not to capture the content of communications, many offered for sale by surveillance vendors can be used for eavesdropping.
There is a real question as to whether stingrays can ever be used in a constitutional fashion. They are the electronic equivalent of dragnet “general searches” prohibited by the Fourth Amendment. But unfortunately, there are currently no statutes or regulations that specifically address how and under what circumstances stingrays can be used, and very little caselaw.
(click here to continue reading Breaking: Documents Reveal Unregulated Use of Stingrays in California | ACLU of Northern California.)
From the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
On Friday, EFF and the ACLU submitted an amicus brief in United States v. Rigmaiden, a closely-followed case that has enormous consequences for individuals’ Fourth Amendment rights in their home and on their cell phone. As the Wall Street Journal explained today, the technology at the heart of the case invades the privacy of countless innocent people that have never even been suspected of a crime.
Rigmaiden centers around a secretive device that federal law enforcement and local police have been using with increased frequency: an International Mobile Subscriber Identity locator, or “IMSI catcher.” These devices allows the government to electronically search large areas for a particular cell phone’s signal—sucking down data on potentially thousands of innocent people along the way—while attempting to avoid many of the traditional limitations set forth in the Constitution.
How Stingrays Work
The Stingray is a brand name of an IMSI catcher targeted and sold to law enforcement. A Stingray works by masquerading as a cell phone tower—to which your mobile phone sends signals to every 7 to 15 seconds whether you are on a call or not— and tricks your phone into connecting to it. As a result, the government can figure out who, when and to where you are calling, the precise location of every device within the range, and with some devices, even capture the content of your conversations.
(click here to continue reading Stingrays: The Biggest Technological Threat to Cell Phone Privacy You Don’t Know About | Electronic Frontier Foundation.)
From Chuck Sudo of The Chicagoist:
Occupy Chicago protesters believe the Chicago Police Department is using surveillance equipment to intercept and listen in on their cell phone conversations. An Occupy Chicago source told Gawker: I don’t really know what authority Chicago Police Department has to listen in to random people’s cell phone calls, especially since Occupy Chicago has been particularly non-violent. Has been in place for 3 days, and witnesses reported that the poleman installing the gear looked way too happy to be installing this equipment.
….The new equipment and what Occupy Chicago says is an increased presence in unmarked police cars could undo that. On the social media side of things, reports of increased police presence have taken on a life of their own, with supporters of the movement making interactions between the police and Occupy Chicago seem more serious than they are.
(click here to continue reading Is the Chicago Police Department Monitoring Occupy Chicago’s Cell Phone Conversations?: Chicagoist.)Footnotes:
- as long as you were a white property owner [↩]