ACLU sues FBI over secret Stingray agreements with police

FBI Director Christopher Wray speaks at a news conference at the Department of Justice in Washington, Monday, November 8, 2021.

FBI Director Christopher Wray speaks at a news conference at the Department of Justice in Washington, Monday, November 8, 2021.
Photo: Andrew Harnick (AP)

ACLU lawyers are fighting to uncover more about the FBI’s role in helping local police get Powerful Mobile Phone Monitoring Devices Widely known as “stingrays”. The true scope of their use against Americans has remained, by design, a closely guarded secret for more than a decade. This is thanks to confidentiality requirements set by the federal government, which police departments and prosecutors have followed to the full.

in a Case This week in Manhattan federal court, the Civil Liberties Union accuses the FBI of violating the country’s Freedom of Information Act by refusing to even acknowledge Existence of any documents that contractually prevent the police from disclosing information about stingrays. If there is any doubt, these documents are already in place. I should know. I’m staring at several of them now.

Bertrand Russell once wrote that as human beings we must find, “in our purely private experiences, characteristics which show, or tend to show, that there are things in the world other than ourselves and our own experiences.” (Characteristically, these documents are still warm from my printer.) From Democritus, who was the first to postulate the existence of atoms, to Descartes, who believed in a god devoid of malice who would never deceive him into believing in that which is nothing, the questioning of what exists outside Ourselves, if anything, has been keeping philosophers awake at night for over two thousand years.

This is now over. These documents are certainly real. I touch them. with my hand.

These non-disclosure agreements, dozens of which have already been announced (intentionally or unintentionally)And It can be described as expressly prohibiting the police from discussing the use of stingrays in the broadest sense. that Agreement prepared by the office The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department in 2012, for example, forbids police from telling anyone they’ve got a stingray, including the public, the press, and “other law enforcement agencies.”

Photo of the article titled The FBI will neither confirm nor deny the existence of these documents you just printed

In plain English, the agreement directs police to try to convict people of crimes using data collected from these devices while concealing the existence of the devices themselves from judges, defendants, and juries. Finally, it maintains that the FBI reserves the right to request that any charges against the suspect be dropped if the case is likely to lead to the public knowing “any information” about the devices or their capabilities.

The FBI publicly acknowledged the existence of these agreements for Washington Post Since years. It is baffling that she is now refusing to do so again. Although, in 2015, a spokesperson for the agency told the newspaper that “non-disclosure agreements do not prevent the police from discussing the use of the equipment.” The agreements themselves run counter to this statement, and the FBI may now prefer silence rather than continuing to live a lie.

The Freedom of Information Act allows the FBI to withhold certain information from the public based on the idea That doing so would harm “law enforcement investigative or prosecution techniques and procedures,” the ACLU argues that the agreements themselves are not covered by this exemption.

here 26 of themEditing by Mike Katz-Lacapi at the Center for Human Rights and Privacy. I’m not a lawyer, but feel free to judge for yourself.

The American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday that it began its efforts to collect copies of non-disclosure agreements 11 months ago after Gizmodo discovered that the main company responsible for providing stingrays to law enforcement, the Harris Corporation, decided it would no longer sell them directly to local authorities. police. as Gizmodo mentionedPolice agencies are now turning to other manufacturers, including one in Canada whose patents relied heavily on engineers’ work abroad.

“The public lacks information about whether the FBI currently imposes requirements on state and local agencies’ purchase of cellular location simulation technology from these or other companies,” the ACLU complaint says.

In response to our request, the FBI issuedglomar responseThe ACLU said, “meaning they refused to confirm or deny the existence of any responsive records.” Glomar’s responses are only lawful in rare cases where disclosure of the presence (or absence of) required records would result in disclosure of information that is exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

“In this case, Glomar’s response didn’t come close to passing the sniff test,” the lawyers said, calling the agency’s refusal to “confirm or deny” if it even had records on confidentiality agreements “really ridiculous.”

“The fact that the FBI has continued to impose nondisclosure agreements and other terms on local police and policing is not a technical or covert law enforcement procedure,” they said. “It’s key information about whether the government is evading the foundational transparency requirements that we expect in a democratic society.”

The FBI declined to comment.

The use of stingrays – named after one of the most famous models IMSI catcher, a technology used to track cell phone locations by simulating legitimate cell phone towers – not controversial Exclusively because of secrecy surrounding. But it is a major factor. The authorities did their best to conceal their presence. Prosecutors have been known to drop cases against criminal suspects because officers would refuse to question them about the use of stingrays in court. United States Infantry once Notorious raid Florida Police Department to seize any documents related to stingrays; An attempt to prevent management from disclosing it under the state’s Public Records Act.

In an apparent attempt to confuse the judges who authorize their use, the US Department of Justice once circulating model For warranty apps that have misleadingly linked devices to other regularly used phone tracking technologies for more than half a century. The defendants went to court and were convicted of crimes without ambiguous understanding about how the police are collecting evidence against them. To disguise stingrays, the police have used a controversial law enforcement technique known as “parallel construction, “Seeking to establish, as a single wired reporter put it In 2018, “An alternate parallel story of how information was found.”

“For decades, law enforcement agencies across the country have used stingrays to locate and track people in all kinds of investigations, from local cops to Annapolis Attempt to find a man who caught 15 chicken wings from a delivery driver, to ICE to track illegal immigrants in New York And DetroitThe ACLU said. “But until a few years ago, the existence of this technology was shrouded in almost complete secrecy.”

We now know what’s real, even if, for now, the FBI is free to pretend otherwise.

Update, 3:30 p.m.: The FBI declined to comment after publication.

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