Baltimore PD Has Deployed Stingray Devices Over 4,300 Times, Instructed By FBI To Withhold Info From Courts

from the 'to-sever-and-deflect' dept

Say what you will about the Baltimore PD and its cell tower spoofers (like… “It would rather let accused criminals go than violate its [bogus] non-disclosure agreement with the FBI…” or “It hides usage of these devices behind pen register/trap and trace warrants and then argues the two collection methods are really the same thing…”), but at least it’s making sure the hundreds of thousands of dollars it’s spent on the technology isn’t going to waste.

On Wednesday, Baltimore police Det. Emmanuel Cabreja said the department has deployed the device, called Hailstorm, and similar technology about 4,300 times since 2007.

As the AP notes, the number of deployments admitted to here is the largest ever made public. This doesn’t necessarily mean the rate of usage (more than once a day, on average) is out of the ordinary, however. Thanks to the very restrictive non-disclosure agreement the FBI forces law enforcement agencies to sign (while falsely claiming “the FCC made us do it!”), information on cell tower spoofers has very rarely been disclosed.

Det. Cabreja confirmed the ultra-restrictive terms of the FBI’s NDA, which forbids law enforcement agencies from producing any information on Stingray devices, no matter who’s asking for it.

Cabreja said under questioning from defense attorneys that he did not comply with a subpoena to bring the device to court because of a nondisclosure agreement between the Baltimore police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“Does it instruct you to withhold evidence from the state’s attorney and the circuit court of Baltimore city, even if upon order to produce?” asked defense attorney Joshua Insley.

“Yes,” Cabreja replied, saying he spoke with the FBI last week about the case.

There’s nothing quite like hearing confirmation that two law enforcement agencies worked together to withhold information from a party being prosecuted by directly violating a court order. But it gets even better. The Baltimore PD’s NDA was made public, and it shows the State’s Attorney’s office signing off on withholding Stingray information from judges and defendants, as well as agreeing to toss cases if exposure seems unavoidable. In contrast, the Erie County Sheriff’s Department’s agreement obtained by the NYCLU only contained signatures from law enforcement officials.


The courts — at least in Baltimore — seem to be tiring of this secrecy. Baltimore judge Barry Williams has previously questioned the Baltimore PD’s citation of its non-disclosure agreement with the FBI, with one memorably pointing out that the PD “doesn’t have a non-disclosure agreement with this court.” Unfortunately, if the Baltimore PD prioritizes its NDA over its obligation to obey court orders and turn over requested evidence, then it does actually have an NDA “with the court,” albeit one the court never agreed to. If the FBI says Stingray info isn’t going to be turned over — no matter who’s asking for it — that information will remain hidden, even if it means tossing criminal cases.

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Comments on “Baltimore PD Has Deployed Stingray Devices Over 4,300 Times, Instructed By FBI To Withhold Info From Courts”

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39 Comments
AricTheRed says:

It seems to me...

That some folks have been perpatrating some federal civil rights violations? and perhaps some federal obstruction of justice charges would be approriate?

If memory serves, the civil rights counts would carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, and each count of obstruction of justice carries a maximum of 20 years in prison, and there is a $250,000 maximum fine on all three?

Sounds about right to me.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: So, when stingrays cost more convictions then they assist.

When our defense attorneys get practiced at raising doubts as to the validity of dark-sourced evidence, so that Stingray use becomes the expectation that the prosecution has to disprove, we may see a change in policy about them.

Or, the telecoms could update their systems to be resistant to spoofing, even if that means revising 2G and Edge protocols so that they’re more secure.

What terrifies me is that somehow it’s accepted by the courts that an NDA trumps the will of the court. Why doesn’t Google’s privacy policy trump the will of the court?

Are our courts now corporate sponsored that we dare not displease our new insect overlords?

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

“Does it instruct you to withhold evidence from the state’s attorney and the circuit court of Baltimore city, even if upon order to produce?” asked defense attorney Joshua Insley.

“Yes,” Cabreja replied, saying he spoke with the FBI last week about the case.

This is the thing that mystifies me about all this.

An NDA is a contract. How can anyone–and particularly an expert whose professional specialty is the law–think that a contract between two specific parties can somehow trump a generally-applicable law? And more specifically, how can anyone think that a contract can trump obligations to a court, when a court’s authority is obviously greater by the simple fact that a court has the power to declare a contract unenforceable?

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Why are the precincts not defunded for failure to do their jobs?

Mostly because the common work-a-day schlubs still believe the beat officer is still there to serve and protect (and that without them street crime would be much worse).

Even though many precincts don’t even bother with actual street crime, but are 100% focused on revenue enhancement activities, and the occasional crime against institutions that perpetuate mass poverty.

But the people still believe the cops serve them, and our media still portrays common police (even in Gotham) as mostly doing the right thing.

Thrudd (profile) says:

NDA

Contempt of Court sounds about right but let’s lay the charges against the stingray device’s as well as any associated property like vans, black helicopters and the like. Oh oh oh, almost forgot, laying charges against the money’s held by any of the people or departments involved.
All of course goes into custody of the court for summary liquidation or destruction as proceeds of crime.

Groaker (profile) says:

I had wondered why there was such a push a year or two ago to make it a crime to violate contractual terms of service, when at most it is a civil issue.

Perjury, conspiracy, Constitutional violations,wiretap violations, abuse under color of law, obstruction and whatever in a knowing and malicious manner. Who is going to be charged, jailed, fired or even given a ten minute time out?

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: At the point that, when there is no legal recourse, people get lynched...

When the common people decide to engage in vigilante justice when the official government fails to provide oversight or penalize those responsible for malfeasance, then, and only then will we start seeing some actual transparency and oversight.

I’m not saying this is right. I’m saying this is what it will take.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Conspiracy

This shouldn’t be just about getting cases thrown out. What’s going on here is criminal. When the PDs agreed with the FBI to disregard court orders, that seems like a very blatant case of conspiracy to commit a crime. The agreement’s in writing, for heaven’s sakes! This should be an easy prosecution. (Oh wait, the prosecutors are probably participants in the agreements as well.)

That One Guy (profile) says:

"It wasn't a request"

The judge could solve this really quick, they’d just be willing to do their job.

Judge: You are ordered to provide X information.
Detective: I’m afraid the NDA I signed means I cannot do that, as it overrules the law and court system.
Judge: Let me rephrase my statement. You are ordered to provide X information, or you will be charged with contempt of court, for which you will then be sentenced to sit in a cell until you comply. In light of this, would you like to rephrase your statement in response, or shall I call for someone to take you to your cell?

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: "It wasn't a request"

I suspect that is exactly how it would go down if the detective wasn’t an agent of the DoJ.

Judge: You are ordered to provide X information.
Google: I’m afraid our privacy policy prevents us from doing that or even searching the database to find it.
Judge: Let me rephrase my statement. You are ordered to provide X information, or you will be charged with contempt of court

Anonymous Coward says:

There's a cost for this in blood

While the BPD was doing all this, and while cases against seriously violent people were being dismissed, there’s been a corresponding decrease in the effort applied to preventing street crime.

That has consequences. There have been 56 homicides in the first 99 days of 2015 in Baltimore. (And day 99 isn’t over yet.) The overall number of shootings and stabbings is considerably higher and some of the victims survived only because Maryland Shock Trauma is one of the best in the country.

Every minute and every dollar spent fiddling with these high-tech toys was a minute and a dollar that wasn’t spent doing the kind of hard work necessary to keep the streets safe. The bloodstained sidewalks are mute testimony to that.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: There's a cost for this in blood

Simple, though disgusting, probable reason: Setting up a Stingray device, and scooping up all the data you can grab, doesn’t put any cops in danger. Actually patrolling the streets, and either stopping or acting as a deterrent to street crime? That can actually put a cop at risk, and they didn’t sign up to put their safety on the line.

Padpaw (profile) says:

It is rather simple for them to justify it. Every American citizen that is not associated with the government or law enforcement is a criminal and will be treated as the enemy.

Doesn’t the war on terror make every person a terrorist according to nonsensical requirements of what makes a person a terrorist by the US government. Like having over 7 days of food congrats you are a terrorist to the DHS.

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