Internal Emails Show Harris Corp. Misled The FCC On Stingray Device Usage In Order To Receive Approval

from the support-group-for-Stingray-lies-now-includes-roughly-everybody dept

Harris Corporation’s Stingray cell tower spoofers are swiftly becoming synonymous with government lying. The FBI has specifically instructed law enforcement agencies to lie about the use of these products, which basically puts the agencies in the position of lying to courts when producing evidence or securing warrants.

Law enforcement agencies would probably lie anyway, even without the federal government’s nudge. Many chose to read the restrictive non-disclosure agreements Harris includes as meaning they should withhold this information from local courts — rather than simply seal the documents or redact them.

So, it comes as no surprise that the web of lies also includes lying to other federal agencies. The lies originate from Harris itself.

New documents obtained by the ACLU of Northern California appear to show the Florida-based Harris Corporation misleading the Federal Communications Commission while seeking authorization to sell its line of Stingray cell phone surveillance gear to state and local police. The documents raise the possibility that federal regulatory approval of the technology was based on bad information.

Harris says its devices are FCC-approved, but what it doesn’t specify is the very limited approval it has actually received. An email from a Harris representative to FCC employees [pdf link] contains the following paragraph.

Just want to make you aware of the question below we received regarding the application for the Sting Fish. I know many of these questions are generated automatically but it sounds as if there is some confusion about the purpose of the equipment authorization application. As you may recall, the purpose is only to provide state/local law enforcement officials with authority to utilize this equipment in emergency situations.

As the ACLU points out, Stingray (or “Sting Fish”) usage had long since surpassed the “emergency use only” restriction — if that ever existed at all. Routine investigations utilize these devices all the time. Just one of several examples: when the Tallahassee police department’s use of Stingrays came to light, the court noted that it had deployed the technology (without a warrant) more than 200 times, with less than 30% of the deployments being for department-labelled “emergencies.”

Law enforcement agencies are secretly acquiring and deploying these devices in violation of the limited FCC approval, and have been doing so for years — well ahead of this 2010 statement. And Harris is telling them that it’s OK. The ACLU has written a letter to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler [pdf link] asking him open an investigation into the use of Stingray devices. If Wheeler obliges, the FCC is going to face a united front of zipped lips. The FBI already locks the Dept. of Justice out of its investigations. There’s no chance it’s going to be more obliging of a tangentially-related federal agency.

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Companies: harris, harris corp.

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Comments on “Internal Emails Show Harris Corp. Misled The FCC On Stingray Device Usage In Order To Receive Approval”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Ultimatum time

The FBI already locks the Dept. of Justice out of its investigations. There’s no chance it’s going to be more obliging of a tangentially-related federal agency.

It would take some pretty hefty guts(so the chance of the FCC doing it is sadly almost zill), but if the deployment/use of the stingray towers requires FCC authorization to be legal, if the FBI refuses to cooperate(assuming Wheeler even bothers to investigate), the FCC should pull out the trump card: Cooperate, give us everything we’re asking for, or we’ll revoke the authorization, and hence legality, of the devices entirely.

If the FCC had the guts for something like that, were willing to stand their ground, and were willing to follow through with the threat, I get the feeling those involved might suddenly decide to start talking.

Anonymous Coward says:

anything that can be done, will be done if it gives information on the people to law enforcement. obviously, these towers need taking down because there’s no way to trust the police and others when they say that ‘from now on, we’ll only use them as meant’! there isn’t a single agency or operative in any of the security/law enforcement services that can be trusted any more. that is so worrying!!

John Cressman (profile) says:

I think...

I think 300+ years in prison for all executives of Harris seems appropriate for conspiracy to violate citizen rights. They knowingly and willingly sell and then cover up the sale and usage of these devices which only have one REAL purpose – to violate the Constitution and relieve citizens of their rights. Nevermind what they CLAIM the purpose is… it’s quite obvious that it’s NOT being used to that purpose.

It’s basically like supplying material support to terrorists… but in this case, the people inspiring terror are our own government.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Stingrays spoof a legitimate cell phone tower in order to trick nearby cellphones and other wireless devices into connecting to the fake tower instead of a nearby real one. When devices connect, stingrays can harvest MAC addresses and other unique identifiers and data, as well as location information. To prevent detection, the stingray relays the call itself to a real tower so the pickup is transparent to the caller.”

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Lying to a federal government official? Isn't that illegal?

My understanding is that if you aren’t under oath or otherwise making a sworn statement then it’s not illegal to lie even if you’re talking to a government official. However, defrauding people is illegal — and it seems to me that misrepresenting the legal status of the device in order to sell it would constitute fraud. (This might sound like splitting hairs, and it is to some degree, but it’s possible to engage in fraud without speaking a lie.)

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Lying to a federal government official? Isn't that illegal?

The question of lying to the police is an interesting one. IANAL, but from what I’ve read it works something like this: if you aren’t under oath, it’s not illegal to lie. However, if the police are conducting an investigation and you lie in an attempt to interfere with the investigation, you can be charged with obstruction.

Of course, it’s never a good idea to lie to the cops, even when it’s legal. Much better to just shut up and let your lawyer talk.

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