US Marshals Service Withholds Publicly-Available Data From Its Stingray Device FOIA Response

from the open-[secrets] dept

Overclassification and abuse of FOIA exemptions is a given with most of our nation’s security/law enforcement agencies. Two agencies — the DHS and the FBI — both redacted publicly-available information on drone possession and usage. Why? Because no one will stop them. Public accountability isn’t something these agencies embrace. Their real love is secrecy, obfuscation and an allegiance to the eternal protection of “techniques and procedures,” even when the information has already been disseminated elsewhere.

MuckRock’s Phil Mocek recently received responsive documents from the US Marshals Service on its Stingray usage. The Marshals Service is notoriously secretive about the Stingrays in its law enforcement stable and is equally infamous for the thug-like tactics it has deployed to hide documents from public records requests.

So protective is it of this information that its response to Mocek jumped the secrecy shark. Hidden behind the numerous black redaction bars is information freely available on an official government website.

While it appears the USMS is not under any nondisclosure agreement with the device manufacturer, the agency has withheld a wide range of basic information under an exemption meant to protect law enforcement techniques. However, much of the redacted data is already available online via a federal accounting website…

Particular item names and descriptions are universally redacted throughout the documents. But released invoices and purchase orders indicate that USMS spending on cell site simulators and related services totaled nearly $10 million between September 2009 and April 2014.

As MuckRock’s Shawn Musgrave points out, this information deemed too sensitive to be released to a FOIA requester can be found at the General Services Administration’s website. The GSA handles a majority of government contracts and, as a government entity, is only allowed to display information deemed suitable for public consumption. The same information withheld by the US Marshals Service has been previously cleared for release on the GSA’s site.

An overabundance of caution by the US Marshals Service? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just accustomed to throwing plenty of black ink around when fielding FOIA requests. Either way, this withholding of publicly-available data suggests one thing: the USMS’s justification for blotting out this info doesn’t mean shit.

Extensive redactions throughout the document cache are made under a provision in the federal Freedom of Information Act — exemption (b)(7)(E), for the FOIA nerds — meant to protect law enforcement information.

Specifically, per the Justice Department’s own guidelines, this exemption covers information that “would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions”, or that “would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law.”

The trouble is, much of the information blacked out by USMS FOIA officers is already available online to the general public, and hardly qualifies as law enforcement information as defined in this provision.

It’s not that the US Marshals Service doesn’t understand the correct deployment of FOIA exemptions. It just doesn’t care. How a dollar amount can be both publicly-available through the GSA and a too-sensitive-for-the-public “technique or procedure” will never be explained by the wilfully opaque law enforcement agency. At best, it will suggest the redaction was an error. But more likely, it will be happy to stay quiet on the issue and allow the BS exemptions to speak for themselves.

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Comments on “US Marshals Service Withholds Publicly-Available Data From Its Stingray Device FOIA Response”

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Anonymous Coward says:

You're actually making this tactic work.

We know they’re up to no good, don’t really need details. So long as you run items on mere tactics instead of calling for heads to roll, that’s fine with government or corporate criminals: they’ve successfully diverted from the past crimes and are free to go on with whatever crimes they’re doing now.

So stop begging for documents and start demanding removal of the criminal’s actual devices.

jaack65 (profile) says:

Re: FOIA Ammendment

Why does the US Marshals Service care about the LAWS they are BOUND to obey? US Marshall’s Service of all government agencies should act even more secretive than Russian KGB or GRU. Stingray devices VIOLATE FCC law by interfering with vast areas of Cell Phone service when deploying the Harris Corp.’s Stingray device they acquired but deny having. Co-opting communications & illegal collection of cellular information of persons and corporations not under investigation by US Marshals Service are wholly illegal acts. The US Marshals Service flaunts the laws with tacit impunity of Department of Justice and the FCC. US Marshals Service shame all American law enforcement who do obey the laws they are charged to enforce on others and DO obey themselves.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

All this intense resistance can only mean one thing: The capabilities of the Stingray are far beyond what has been hinted and will create a firestorm if exposed.

The capability most likely being concealed is that Stingray permits recording of all voice calls, without a warrant.

Possible other capabilities: Take over any phone, turn on any phone microphone, download software onto any phone, more?

Make up your own. The point is: they are concealing something that will raise alarms with everyone. There’s no other reasonable explanation for this fight-to-the-death protection of the secrets of Stingray.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Maybe our tendency towards moral panics can work in our favor.

If someone with some credibility were to published a report of what stingray devices probably can do based on circumstantial evidence and reports of what can be done with non-stingray devices, we might be able to spark a moral panic towards them, and towards police who use them without warrants, since its already evident that they’re not only using these devices for non-emergency use, but are using them for personal reasons (as is typical of any institutionalized spying device, such as cameras on school-issued laptops in female student bedrooms).

Joe says:


IMSI catcher devices like Stingray (Harris corp) and from other companies such as PKI, Septier and others are capable of locating and tapping cell phones. The problem is that this technology is not only available to law enforcement. A hacker has even made one in 2010

The same is true for cell phone spying software. Anyone can buy this software. A google search for cell phone spyware gives numerous sellers of this software.

A cell phone can be stopped from tracking and tapping if it is placed in a Faraday Cage. A Faraday cage is a metal or conductive envelope that completely surrounds the electronic device and stops signals from going into or out of the cage.This can be accomplished by making a pouch out of a metallized ie conductive fabric. Search youtube for detracktor for a demonstration.

Anonymous Coward says:

search youtube- blackhat baseband exploitation

the info is public- you can put 2+2 together yourself.
It’s much worse then most people understand. No one with any credibility wants the kind of target publishing about this would place on them.

Saying cellphones are backdoored- is kinda like saying cars are killing machines. technically true..but semantics…

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