Washington DC Metro Police Also Have A Stingray And Have Been Using It To Do Normal Police Work
from the so-many-Stingrays,-so-few-terrorists-captured dept
The facts are in, thanks to Vice Media and Jason Leopold. Washington, DC police have a Stingray cell tower spoofer and have been using it for several years. The Metropolitan Police Department was an early adopter, but moving too fast cost it about five years of use.
Back in 2003, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in Washington, DC was awarded a $260,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to purchase surveillance technology called Stingray — a contraption the size of a suitcase that simulates a cell phone tower and intercepts mobile phone calls and text messages.
The rationale behind the DHS grant to MPD and other law enforcement agencies was to help them secure new anti-terrorism technology from private corporations. But the grant fell a little short, because the MPD couldn’t come up with the extra several thousands dollars it needed to train officers how to use and maintain Stingray — so the device sat unused in an “Electronic Surveillance Unit equipment vault” at the department for more than five years.
In 2008, the Stingray was revived and upgraded and has apparently been in use ever since. Of course, it’s no longer terrorism that justifies its usage, but rather good, old-fashioned drug dealing and other vanilla criminal activity, as one memo points out.
“The procurement of this equipment will increase the number of MPD arrests for fugitives, drug traffickers, and violent offenders (robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, Homicide), while reducing the time it takes to locate dangerous offenders that need to be removed from the streets of DC.”
No doubt the news that bad guys are being speedily apprehended will make up for all the dropped calls and blocked data experienced by public servants employed in the metro area. They’ll also be pleased to know that all sorts of unfiltered information about their phone calls, location, etc. was hoovered up along with the suspects’.
Not that this doesn’t affect the “little people,” who are just as likely to wonder why their cell phones aren’t picking up a signal and are just as likely to be irritated that the local PD is scooping up a bunch of unrelated data in its search for bad guys, but this now affects the “real people” of DC — policymakers and higher-ups whose complaints actually manage to find worthy ears quite frequently.
If the MPD is driving around DC with Stingray devices, it is likely capturing information about the locations and movements of members of Congress, cabinet members, federal law enforcement agents, and Homeland Security personnel, consular staff, and foreign dignitaries, and all of the other people who congregate in the District…. If cell phone calls of congressional staff, White House aides, or even members of Congress are being disconnected, dropped, or blocked by MPD Stingrays, that’s a particularly sensitive and troublesome problem.
Of course, this has been ongoing for half a decade now, and if no one’s complaining about it yet, it’s because it hasn’t been noticed or it’s because too many of those officials mentioned are more than willing to sacrifice their privacy (along with everyone else’s) for small gains in law enforcement efficiency — even more so if the spectre of international terrorism is raised (which it was, initially), despite everyone knowing that the real targets would be normal, no-panic-needed criminal activities (as is almost always the case).
Will these newly-freed documents prompt a bit more activity from the Beltway? Well, the cheery outlook says, “anything’s possible,” which is as much an admission of defeat as it is a rallying cry. The more realistic viewpoint sees that multiple documents have been uncovered over the past few years with little more than a few, very localized reactions being observed. It will probably take more than the off-chance of being swept up in a surveillance dragnet to convince those in charge to take a second look at law enforcement tools and capabilities. In fact, many of them helped agencies (via legislation) like the DHS and FBI sell the courts on the idea that nearly everything related to human communication in this day and age carries with it “no expectation of privacy.”