Judge Tells ACLU It Can't Make The US Government Give Back The Stingray Records It Removed From A Florida Police Department

from the not-even-a-wrist-slap dept

The federal government doesn’t want local law enforcement agents turning over cell tower spoofer documents. It has spent a great deal of time behind the scenes advising the agencies to withhold information from requesters, citing “security” and the fear of disclosing “methods” in defense of its actions.

In Sarasota, FL, it took a more overt route, sending US Marshals to seize responsive Stingray documents from the local police department. This time, it claimed it had “deputized” a department detective, making him part of a regional task force. As such, the records now “belonged” to the US Marshals Service and could not be turned over to the ACLU.

The ACLU responded to by filing an emergency injunction seeking to prevent US Marshals from confiscating any more SPD documents, as well as asking it to find that local law enforcement violated Freedom of Information law by handing over requested documents to the federal government.

The judge has now ruled on this motion, and almost everything about it is bad. In his decision, Judge Charles Williams found that his court had no jurisdiction over the federal agency and dismissed the case. But other concerns went unaddressed.

When Sarasota Circuit Judge Charles E. Williams issued his order dismissing the lawsuit, there was nothing about this act by the federal government to essentially abscond with documents to prevent them from potentially becoming public. In fact, the judge did not hold an appropriate hearing on the evidence, even though [Michael] Barfield [ACLU of Florida] had wanted one to resolve key issues.

The ACLU is also “mystified” because Williams included in his latest order a statement that suggests the ACLU did not “challenge as a matter of fact to the representation of the United States government as to the status of Detective Jackson.”

Williams did order the government to turn over Stingray-related applications and orders that have already been filed under seal, but did not offer to lift that seal, meaning the ACLU will be returning to court to attempt to unseal the documents. But this doesn’t mean Sarasota’s Stingray documents will make their way into the public domain anytime soon.

[A]ccording to Barfield, the federal government “may not comply with the order. They did not seem to think the judge could order them to do anything and even implied they could “remove the case to federal court.”

Once again, we have to ask what’s in these documents. The federal government is obviously going above and beyond to ensure the information stays out of the public’s hands. Maybe it’s just the government’s collective paranoia over “means and methods” of surveillance. Or maybe it’s something more egregious, like the 200+ times Tallahassee (FL) police deployed Stingray devices without a warrant. Either way, it sends a strong signal to the constituents that the only real right they have is the right to be surveilled.

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Comments on “Judge Tells ACLU It Can't Make The US Government Give Back The Stingray Records It Removed From A Florida Police Department”

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Anonymous Coward says:

How much more...

corrupt can this government get before we all vote in a change?

How much longer before everyone has to vote with lead? I hope I am old and dead before that happens but my fears indicate I will be alive and well when someone decides to overthrow this government. I just hope they have the sense to keep to the Bill of Rights when they do.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: How much more...

Sad to say, it seems that most Americans just don’t care.

They prefer a little temporary safety to essential liberty – and will, of course, eventually, get what they deserve.

I wonder how much of this is a result of the general reduced acceptance of risk in Western societies – the same change that has caused helicopter parents, toddlers on 3-wheeled toys to wear helmets (max speed 1.5 mph), and the instant suspicion of any non-parental adult male caught talking to any child.

It seems that as life has gotten easier and and less risky, we’ve become even less willing to accept the tiny risks that remain (150 years ago something like 50% of infants didn’t live to adulthood).

And to escape those infinitesimal remaining risks, it seems most people are completely willing to give up their liberty and become slaves of Authority.

(Not that it will work, but it seems to make them feel better to think it might.)

I’m not big on conspiracy theories, but if I were, I’d be looking in the direction of CNN and similar 24-hour all-terror all-the-time channels…

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: How much more...

I’m not so sure about new immigrants.

Sure, they bring their culture with them, but over time (generations) they seem to adopt mainstream American culture.

I know plenty of people who think like I do whose ancestors (like mine) were neither in America nor in Britain or Northern Europe at the time of the Revolution.

Just a wild guess, but maybe 1st (or even 2nd) generation Americans don’t feel they’ve been around long enough to have the right to protest. But by the 3rd generation they’re fully acclimatized.

So perhaps patience is needed. (Which it is, even if I’m wrong about this.)

Happily we don’t (yet) have world government. Maybe things will get better elsewhere. As Franklin (again!) said, “Where liberty dwells, there is my country”.

bczrx (profile) says:

Re: How much more...

We voted for Change and Hope in 2008, didn’t we? I mean, this was supposed to be the era of Change, and of Hope, instead of the era of ‘business as usual in washington’: wasn’t it?

I seem to remember promises along those lines.

Wasn’t there a prize awarded for the hope that was beginning and the change in America’s politics?

Oh, wait: same story, different party?

I agree with you, anonymous, on some things.

It made me nervous 18 months ago when our leaders’ wife publicly stated that we needed to accept it was ok to give up some of our rights, as guaranteed under the constitution. She meant 2nd amendment [sandy hook era], but that is only 1 step from 1st amendment.

Once someone says it is ok to toss our rights away and the public goes along, a precedent is set and our common law based system allows that to become the founding of a new principle.

Oh wait: sorry. I’m being a downer for some. can’t let little things like the constitution or our legal system get in the way of feeling good.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: How much more...

Anyone that voted for Obama 1st time I call willfully ignorant. Anyone that voted for Obama the 2nd time I consider unpatriotic. And I lump Bush into that same boat. After DHS and the Patriot Act…

I saw straight through Obama the moment he finished his first big public speech. You can tell more about what people are about by the things they did NOT say about something than by the things they do say.

Reading between the lines is a skill that is practically lost on most Americans.

I don’t trust any news sources but I like to read them and get the real news because I know how.

Anonymous Coward says:


What about the patents on these rogue cell phone towers?

How hard is it to intercept calls?

If everybody can do it, wouldn’t CBS news be setting up an operation at Capitol Hill?

Is anybody here old enough to remember Hurrican Katrina?

cell phone towers hurricane katrina

3 minutes later – Presto

It even has a picture.

What’s up with this?

Hyth (profile) says:

Supremacy clause, anyone?

Why would the court have jurisdiction over this suit? The anger seems misdirected. I don’t see anything that would grant a state court jurisdiction over DOJ’s actions. Because Supremacy Clause.

A state court wouldn’t even have jurisdiction to adjudicate whether an individual was truly deputized as a federal marshall under US law. Once again, because Supremacy Clause. See also McCulloch v Maryland.

The real problem is DOJ–the judge’s hands seem tied. DOJ could easily have removed to federal court if the judge granted the ACLU’s motion and ACLU probably should have filed its TRO there in the first instance.

There is nothing scandalous or insidious about removing to federal court. Litigants do it frequently.

Either way, it’s hard to disagree with the Judge’s ruling on purely legal grounds.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m genuinely amazed this isn’t tampering with evidence. Now they can just grab any documents they feel they don’t want people seeing and just take them somewhere outside jurisdiction when a case or subpoena is brought up against them.

Then the judge can just raise his hands and say “NOT MY FAULT, SHOULD HAVE FOUND THE CORRECT JURISDICTION!”

Anonymous Coward says:

Complete guess on my part, but perhaps they are not wanting anyone to know that these police departments did not all suddenly get the idea to get stingrays by themselves… That it was a planned national rollout. Many PD’s seemed to get these things at around the same time.

The other thing I’m guessing they do not want revealed is where the data goes. The sudden involvement of the federal marshals hints that other federal resources are getting this data and retaining it indefinitely.

A national surveillance program that co-opts local cops across the country and returns the data to the Feds? You’d have to have an insane philosophy like ‘collect it all’… naaaaaahh!

Giles Byles (profile) says:

Someday they'll invent a scanning technology

“Once again, we have to ask what’s in these documents.”

Wouldn’t have to wonder what was in the documents if only somebody had made a scan & stored the digital result offsite.? Paper documents are dead tree pulp.? Did the Sarasota Police Dept. buy a scanner yet?? If not, nothing has been learned.? (Wouldn’t be surprising.)

Anonymous Coward says:

‘it sends a strong signal to the constituents that the only real right they have is the right to be surveilled’

should that not read ‘it sends a strong signal to the constituents that the only real right they have is the right to not complain when being surveilled, if they indeed actually find out they are being surveilled’

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