FBI Says All Public Records Requests For Stingray Documents Must Be Routed Through It

from the the-first-rule-of-Stingray-Club... dept

The FBI definitely does not want the nation’s law enforcement agencies to talk about their Stingray devices. Manufacturer Harris Corporation has aided and abetted this secrecy — first by misleading the FCC on the intended use of the devices (emergencies only) and then by claiming the FCC required law enforcement to sign non-disclosure agreements with the FBI, something the FCC has denied.

Other federal law enforcement agencies have also helped keep documentation on Stingray usage out of the public’s hands. Last year, the US Marshals stepped in to physically remove documents from the Sarasota (FL) police department to prevent them from being turned over to the ACLU in response to a FOIA request. The US Marshals Service has also ordered local law enforcement agencies to lie about their use of Stingray devices — not just in terms of FOIA requests but while presenting evidence in court.

Ars Technica has come across another document involving the FBI, Harris Corp. and lying. Originally obtained and published by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the memo (written by the FBI) states that any open records requests for Stingray-related documents must be routed through the FBI first [pdf link]:

In the event that the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension receives a request pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (5 USC 552) or an equivalent state or local law, the civil or criminal discovery process, or other judicial, legislative, or administrative process, to disclose information concerning the Harris Corporation [REDACTED] the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension will immediately notify the FBI of any such request telephonically and in writing in order to allow sufficient time for the FBI to seek to prevent disclosure through appropriate channels.

As Cyrus Farivar points out, similar memos have very likely been sent out to other local law enforcement agencies. There’s a lot more in the very restrictive agreement, most of it blacked out. The letter from the FBI opens by making the dubious claim that releasing this information would render the agency unable to “protect the public from terrorism and other criminal activities.” This is the normal language of secrecy and it has very little to do with the public’s protection and everything to do with withholding responsive documents. The capabilities and technology behind Stingray devices are already public knowledge. Criminals and terrorists are already aware that cell phones, while useful, are also little pocket narcs that generate tons of data easily obtained with little more than a subpoena — or actively obtained with these devices. The “method and means” can’t be further compromised. All the FBI is doing is burying information about legally-dubious devices in common usage.

The FBI has dropped several restrictions on this particular law enforcement agency, including:

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehensions will not distribute, disseminate, or otherwise disclose any information concerning the [redacted] to the public, including to any non-law enforcement individuals or agencies.

[…]

The MBCA will not distribute, disseminate, or otherwise disclose any information concerning [redacted] provided to it to any other law enforcement or government agency without the prior written approval of the FBI.

The FBI also states that it will intervene in court proceedings to keep this information secret.

A copy of any court order in any proceeding in which the MBCA is a party directing disclosure of information concerning the Harris Corporation [redacted] will immediately be provided to the FBI in order to allow sufficient time for the FBI to intervene to protect the equipment/technology and information from disclosure and potential compromise.

And who knows what the FBI is preventing here, but it would seem to be pretty expansive.


Not only is there very limited value in withholding this information, considering how much has been exposed despite these entities’ efforts, but there’s every indication that law enforcement agencies (with the FBI’s help) are sabotaging both accountability and the discovery process with these demands. Both are ethically unsound, and the latter borders on unconstitutional.

Filed Under: , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “FBI Says All Public Records Requests For Stingray Documents Must Be Routed Through It”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
55 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Reasonable justification

“If they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear. Oh wait…”
…”they” are government not public so they do have to hide something and have to fear if it is made public. Your reasoning obviously doesn’t apply to “them”, stupid citizen (no offence, Im the same).

sigalrm (profile) says:

Re: If ever we needed a whistleblower...

Even if a Harris insider with sufficient access to internal documentation to make a difference were to suddenly grow a conscious and leak the documents, you can be certain that that insider is going to be far more acutely aware than most just how much they have to lose in doing so, and just how difficult it would be for them to remain anonymous.

Most people don’t have the ability to rabbit to a safe haven like Edward Snowden did. This hypothetical Harris insider has to assume that, in the best case, they’ll end up in a similar legal situation to that of Chelsea Manning.

Also, consider: the Stingrays are the tech that’s understood to exist. Your hypothetical well-placed insider is quite likely to know about the next-gen, in-use tech that hasn’t leaked yet, and what its capabilities are. Factor that into the above, and the potential for leaks further diminishes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: If ever we needed a whistleblower...

One has to live in Russia or else might get killed and the other is in isolation aka prison. So a “whistleblower” has a strong incentive to not speak out if said whistleblower wants to keep living a normal live or in respect to the US constitution, a free live.
Hell, even in a foreign country the US president can get you if you speak up* against the US:
http://www.thenation.com/article/166757/why-president-obama-keeping-journalist-prison-yemen

*”speaking up” meaning mentioning the US using cluster bombs(which was banned internationaly but guess what, the US didnt sign it(google it)) against women and children and then getting caught denying it after the fact(wikileaks cables).

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 If ever we needed a whistleblower...

“So a “whistleblower” has a strong incentive to not speak out if said whistleblower wants to keep living a normal live or in respect to the US constitution, a free live. “

If you cannot speak your mind out of fear of official persecution, then you are not living a free life.

sigalrm (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 If ever we needed a whistleblower...

If you cannot speak your mind out of fear of official persecution, then you are not living a free life.

Bingo. The hypothetical leaker, in this case isn’t free – and they know it. But (s)he does have some degree of control over the size of the cell and the terms of the confinement.

Speak up, and they lose that.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: If ever we needed a whistleblower...

Yes, my mistake. I was thinking of the company itself. Personally, I am less interested in the technical details of Stingray, since we already have an extremely good idea of what it does, than I am in how various law enforcement agencies are using Stingray.

That’s where we need leakers. And lots of them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 If ever we needed a whistleblower...

“an extremely good idea” is one thing but it is far from having facts. An idea is something you can not prove but facts are something that is on file and can be proven. For example, some years ago people who had those “ideas” aka fantasies had to wear a tinfoil hat (guess you know what that means) according to the public point of view. But now those people aren’t as insane as the public thought they were.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 If ever we needed a whistleblower...

I am not so sure that we have guessed correctly how stingray works. It was designed for the army, and they would want to continue to listen to and track of phones of interest, even when they went out of range of the stingray device. I am beginning to wonder if stingray has a capability to reprogram the phones to establish persistent monitoring.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Wish that would be true. But since 2001 (the first drone killing someone who had the same height as Osama otherwise the USA gov dont know who it was, google john oliver drone strike(no, not john oliver did it)) I’m not so sure about that. And one of the latest things Obama approved which is the killing of a 13 year old boy* which might top it. But hell, he was within the range of a hellfire missle fired by a drone so he MUST have been a terrorist (by law!!!).

* https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/02/10/u-s-media-13-year-old-yemeni-boy-killed-u-s-drone/

Anonymous Coward says:

releasing this information would render the agency [FBI] unable to “protect the public from terrorism and other criminal activities.”

So by extension, since the information has not been released, the agency is both able and highly effective at protecting the public from terrorism and other criminal activities. Wait, didn’t the Boston marathon bombing happen on the FBI’s watch? And numerous regular crimes too?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s the same reason why the government fought so hard to keep the Torture Report secret, because releasing such information would create a tidal wave of terrorism sweeping across the country. It seems the only way to stop terrorism is to keep everything in the government secret. Even auditing the Federal Reserve will presumably unlesh terrorism — just don’t ask how.

sigalrm (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It’s the same reason why the government fought so hard to keep the Torture Report secret, because releasing such information would create a tidal wave of terrorism sweeping across the country.

Never confuse the stated reason with the actual reason (and, when it comes to the torture report, you’d be naive to assume there’s only one reason). It’s just as likely that the report contains an innocuous reference to another incident/program/memo/etc in those however many thousand pages that would make the torture report yesterday’s headline.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Good point: they can’t release anything because of their tangled web of deceit. I tend to think of these stonewalling moves as local–the FBI doesn’t want people to know about the Stingray program because the PR would be nasty. But, given the huge amount of unlawful spying etc. going on, every revealed document has the potential to expose previously unknown nefarity. The only option is to stonewall on everything.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: By choosing to torture, and by choosing to justify it in their minds

They changed the very nature of the United States of America, from a nation based on fundamentals of social equality, due process and guaranteed rights, to one in which the good of a privileged few, allegedly stewards of the state is held in higher esteem than the rights and well-being of the rest of us schlubs.

It was a step back into feudal dictatorship. But it is even worse, since there is still a pretense of equality and social empowerment. A king is at least bound by noblis oblige and awareness that his subjects will never ascend or be more than they are. Our pretense of empowerment means they can choose whatever evils they want and blame the people for consenting for it to be so (even though I’ve never had the opportunity to vote against a torture program).

Ours has gone from the great experiment of Democracy to the worst sort of nation. Our behavior is essentially that of state occupied by an alien enemy.

When someone in the administration chose to authorize torture, they retroactively justified the 9/11 attacks and all future efforts to bring the current US regime down. The US Government is the enemy not because we choose to oppose it, but because it already opposes all things that are not it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: To use the vernacular of the day...

Is it even legal to have a secret list of things government organizations aren’t allowed to do? That seems significantly more than bordering on unconsitutional. The only thing I can think of is that the next word is “disclose” and they don’t want to disclose that.

DogBreath says:

Re: Re: To use the vernacular of the day...

The way it seems to work is if you keep the secret list of things government organizations aren’t allowed to do, a secret, then it’s perfectly legal.

It’s only when that secret list things government organizations aren’t allowed to do becomes unsecret, that the real trouble begins.

I’ll let a former U.S. President explain how it works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYdJqSG3K6c

Anonymous Coward says:

Your Freedoms...

WILL be removed under the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.

Very Famous words by a very famous person. Sadly, no heed or deference has been give to these words. Every time the government asks to remove a liberty for protection the only response the public should give is this one.

“You are attempting to remove our freedoms under the guise of fighting a foreign enemy. We citizens clearly understand that your attempts to use our fears to justify these things are nothing other than the very underpinning of the terrorism you ‘claim’ to work against.”

Not only do we say no to your requests… we say HELL NO!!!

MarcAnthony (profile) says:

Lying in court

If the US Marshals Service has ordered LEOs to lie in court, aren’t they conspiring to commit a felony? Interfering in the court system and discovery process doesn’t just “border” on being unconstitutional; it’s the epitome of unconstitutionality and tears the right to redress grievances from the citizens.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Not 'What?', but 'How much?'

The reason for such secrecy is not that people might find out that Stingray towers exists, and the general methods they use, as both of those are already known.

No, what they want to keep secret at all costs is just how indiscriminately they are deploying them, how often, and how completely indifferent they are to any concerns like ‘right to privacy’, and ‘no snooping through people’s communications without a court order’.

It’s one thing for people to think that the Stingray towers are redirecting cell phone signals to catch criminals, but if people knew that it involved grabbing every call in a massive radius, often on little more than a hunch, and no court involvement, that might get some public attention.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Something never explained to me...

How can someone as a government employee sign a corporate NDA and have it legally stand? Isn’t that putting corporate policy above federal law?

How are those who signed these alleged NDAs not criminal in holding corporate policy as a higher standard than law?

I suspect the only way this has happened is because the DoJ does not hold itself accountable to the people, given it is the mechanism by which the people enforce accountability.

But the very existence of Stingray devices in Law Enforcement and NDAs associated with their use is a clear indicator that law enforcement has gone rogue.

This is nothing short of treason.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Something never explained to me...

How can someone as a government employee sign a corporate NDA and have it legally stand? Isn’t that putting corporate policy above federal law?

I suspect that just hasn’t been challenged in court yet, and they will do everything possible to keep that from happening.

This is nothing short of treason.

This would not meet the legal definition of the crime of treason in the US, but perhaps colloquially.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: And once again, if the rebels are looking for a clean sabotage target,

I always had the impression that most of the ground-based ones involved the sort of equipment that’d be stashed in a panel van with a small transmit/receive antenna. To keep them fairly nondescript when they’re deployed, I’d assume they’re not built like armored cars or accompanied by patrolling SWAT teams…

Not that I’m advocating carjacking here. Just saying that a modern day Robin Hood with a degree in electrical engineering would make an interesting, er, lead character for a TV show.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: My fantasy for such a show...

…is that the plucky sidekick would get ahold of the handheld version and work out a cheap, replicatable way to interfere with their functioning or even disable, or break them remotely.

I remember in the 80s being able to obtain a pair of sap gloves, which had reservoirs on the fingers that were filled with shot, so that they worked very much like (highly illegal) brass knuckles. These were not illegal because to criminalize them would mean the police would have to admit they existed in the first place. They may still be not-specifically-criminalized.

Originally, the manufacturer was supposed to only sell these gloves to the police. They didn’t adhere completely to this agreement.

And now it seems I forget why I brought it up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: My fantasy for such a show...

At the risk of making myself seem even more of a shady character after already having (not) suggested carjacking… they now have sap hats that you can get at any “tactical security gear” site. Plain black baseball caps with lead shot sewn into the back near the size adjuster.

Weird to know what cops and cop wannabes are buying these days. Is it weird to feel nostalgic for the innocent bygone days of the Anarchist Cookbook?

Anonymous Coward says:

It's out there

Here’s a link that might be of interest:
CLICK HERE
Scroll down to the Position Requirements Section and you will see the following (Copied in case they delete it):
Position Requirements:
•TSCM Agents must be military or civilian certified and know the Harris Corporation Suite of SW for Cell Phones, i.e., StingRay and KingFish.
•Must have a certificate of completion from the Interagency Training Center (ITC) which is the NSA/CSS operated national center for TSMC training.
•Military background a plus and must be able to hit the ground running.
•Due to OCONUS periodic requirements, a passport will be required.
•Possess strong technical written and verbal communication skills essential.
•Must be familiar with the following suites of TSCM equipment:
CACI SystemWare DART equipment
Transformational Security ATOM and AEON equipment
Research Electronics International TALON and OSCOR Blue Spectrum Analyzer equipment.
•Must have working knowledge and experience with:
Non-Linear Junction detectors
X-Ray devices
Radio frequencies
RF spectrum
TV, radio, Wi-Fi and cell phone analysis
HVAC and power systems
Telephone (hard wire)
Computer analysis a Plus

Just sayin’, looking for job anyone???

strawman (profile) says:

because part of the purpose of stingrays etc. is harassment

I believe that part of the reason they have moved to cockblock diiscovery is that these so-called tools like the Stingray etc. are actually used to harass people via signals manipulation.

These towers, and the cohort of other military grade weaponry-like the targeted deployment of the King Air 350 and its phot arrays and signals disruption capability; or the geo fencing of entire neighborhoods- are used in ways that make the constitution cringe.

For instance, a so-called passive Stingtay can be used aggressively, filtering individual phone numbers and then directing what amounts to brute force hacking and DDOS type attacks at the target number, forcing phones- and those who speak on them- out of commission.

Same with the King Air flyovers of target neighborhoods, using a ‘low and slow’ method of intercept, and also geo- fencing individuals or entire neighborhoods.

And lets not get started on how a drone can be used to terrify a person…

So of course the FBI wants to delay discovery- they dont want Jane Doe to know how they are using these toys of war to terrorize Americans here in America.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...