FBI Hands Over 5000 Pages Of Stingray Info To MuckRock, Redacts Nearly All Of It

from the [NOTHING-TO-SEE-HERE] dept

MuckRock has obtained a whole stack of Stingray-related documents from the FBI. As is to be expected, there’s not much left unsaid by the agency, which is at least as protective of its own Stingray secrecy as it is with that of law enforcement agencies all over the US.

There’s nearly 5,000 pages of “material” here, most of which contains only some intriguing words and phrases surrounded by page after page of redactions.

Want to know [REDACTED]’s thoughts on the possible legal implications of Triggerfish? Just close your eyes and allow your imagination to run free.

Here’s a quick reference guide that allows FBI agents to quickly match up their chosen “technique” with the appropriate legal standard and process.

That’s not to say there’s nothing of interest left intact. A few pages explain the FBI’s legal rationale for IMSI catcher deployment — including the fact that the Patriot Act expanded the reach of pen register orders to include not just numbers dialed, but also the location of the phone itself. This allows the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to route around one of CALEA’s (Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act) few limitations related to pen register orders: that service providers not be required to hand over subscriber location info.

In passing CALEA in 1994, Congress required providers to isolate and provide to the government certain information relating to telephone communications. At the same time that it created these obligations, it created an exception: carriers shall not provide law enforcement with “any information that may disclose the physical location of the subscriber” in response to a pen/trap order… By its very terms, this prohibition applies only to information collected by a provider and not to information collected directly by law enforcement authorities. Thus, CALEA does not bar the use of pen/trap orders to authorize the use of cell phone tracking devices used to locate targeted cell phones.

But, for the most part, it’s 5000 pages of this:

And this (from a document titled “Stingray for Dummies”):

It’s not a complete loss, although it’s clear the documents suffer from over-redaction. The FBI clearly doesn’t want to discuss methods or technical details, but nothing in the multiple FOIA exemptions deployed justifies covering up its minimization procedures or where the device sits in terms of the Fourth Amendment.

“It does not seem credible to me that they can’t release more of those kinds of records,” [ACLU attorney Nate] Wessler told me. “Information about ongoing investigations, highly technical details of the devices, how they’re put together, those kinds of things, redact them, fair enough. Information about whether they have to get a warrant or not, how they purge or do not purge bystanders data. They’re clearly talking about those things.”

“There’s no conceivable reason why they shouldn’t tell the public what their Fourth Amendment rights are protecting when they use these,” he added. “The documents are not without value, but what the FBI has released is not adequate.”

If nothing else, the documents have given a small, narrow glimpse behind the FBI’s veil of secrecy — as well as some more insight into its Stingray-related legal maneuvering. The FBI has managed to turn a pen register order — something previously used to collect dialed numbers — into something that can be deployed to locate an individual, or at least their cellphone. Unsurprisingly, this legal theory traces back to the Patriot Act, one of the largest expansions of intelligence and law enforcement powers ever produced by the US government.

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Comments on “FBI Hands Over 5000 Pages Of Stingray Info To MuckRock, Redacts Nearly All Of It”

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Hans says:


I see they used the “Attorney/Client privileged” dodge to exclude the Cell Phone Location Quick Reference Guide on pages 10-11, so we can’t see what the criteria are for using this thing.

Isn’t great that a government employee, paid by us, can ask a government lawyer, also paid by us, under what conditions our Constitutional Rights can be violated, and we can’t know what those rules are? Kafka would have been proud.

It seems to me that if the government can claim to be a “client” for this purpose, and the government is also “the people”, then we the people are also the client and we have every right to see it.

Anonymous Coward says:

not that hard to figure out what stingrays are capable of.


I wish Tim and the other TD authors would spend a few hours with this playlist and take some serious notes- It would improve their reporting on these subjects by orders of magnitude. The info is out there, right in plain sight.

Bergman (profile) says:

I wonder...

How would the FBI react to being treated the same way when they issue a subpoena?

“We’re sorry, but we don’t have any documents responsive to the parameters of your subpoena, have a nice day.”

Somehow I suspect it would result in SWAT team deployments.

The FBI typically insists on whole documents, unredacted even when parts of it are not part of the subpoena. I wonder how they’d react to getting a partially redacted document?

Right. SWAT teams.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

The age of Obama

…is very much a natural progression from the age of Bush + the Post 9/11 era.

I’m pretty sure transparency in the age of Obama looks very much like transparency would in the age of Romney.

Though Obama can be blamed for acknowledging that opacity and overclassificaiton are problems, and promising to do something about it and then not.

I expect the next guy won’t even acknowledge it, no matter whether it’s Kang or Kodos.

TMLutas (profile) says:

FOIA is the wrong tool

The right tool is to catch them spoofing a cell phone tower, documenting it, and only then asking if law enforcement has done it. When they deny, file a criminal complaint and a national security complaint because if law enforcement didn’t do it, it was either criminals or spies.

Then when these complaints pile up without action, use them to defeat the DA that is ignoring them. It’s only when people start losing their job that this sort of thing will be handled properly and the weakest point is in the parts of the criminal justice system directly subject to the voter.

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