FBI Says It Has No Idea Why Law Enforcement Agencies Are Following The Terms Of Its Stingray Non-Disclosure Agreements

from the geez,-all-these-law-enforcers-take-our-agreement-so-LITERALLY dept

The FBI doesn’t want to talk about its Stingray devices. It definitely doesn’t want local law enforcement agencies talking about them. It forces any agency seeking to acquire one to sign a very restrictive non-disclosure agreement that stipulates — among other things — that as little information as possible on IMSI catchers makes its way into the public domain, which includes opposing counsel, prosecutors’ offices and judges. The NDAs also instruct agencies to drop prosecutions if disclosure appears unavoidable. We know this because two NDAs have actually been obtained through Freedom of Information requests.

Now that Stingray usage and its attendant secrecy have been questioned by high-ranking DC legislators, the FBI is apparently feeling it should be a bit more proactive on the Stingray info front, presumably in hopes of heading off a more intrusive official inquiry. So, it has offered some “clarification” on its Stingray policies — including the NDAs it makes local agencies sign.

The “clarification” seems to contradict a great deal of what the FBI’s own NDAs require.

In a handful of criminal cases around the country, local police officers have testified in recent months that non-disclosure agreements with the FBI forbid them from acknowledging the use of secret cellphone-tracking devices. In some, prosecutors have settled cases rather than risk revealing, during court proceedings, sensitive details about the use of the devices.

The FBI, however, says such agreements do not prevent police from disclosing that they used such equipment, often called a StingRay. And only as a “last resort” would the FBI require state and local law enforcement agencies to drop criminal cases rather than sharing details of the devices’ use and “compromising the future use of the technique.”

To date, the bureau hasn’t invoked that provision, FBI spokesman Christopher Allen said in a statement to The Washington Post.

Let’s compare the official statement with statements found in the agreement signed with a New York sheriff’s department. The FBI says it’s OK for law enforcement agencies to disclose Stingray usage in this “clarification.” Here’s the NDA:

The Erie County Sheriff’s Office shall not, in any civil or criminal proceeding, use or provide any information concerning the Harris Corporation wireless collection equipment/technology… beyond the evidentiary results obtained through the use of the equipment/technology including, but not limited to, during pre-trial matters, in search warrants and related affidavits, in discovery, in response to court ordered disclosure, in other affidavits, in grand jury hearings, in the State’s case-in-chief, rebuttal, or on appeal, or in testimony in any phase of civil or criminal trial, without the prior written approval of the FBI.


The FBI also denies it instructs agencies to toss cases rather than face possible exposure of Stingray usage. The NDA:

In addition, the Erie County Sheriff’s Office will, at the request of the FBI, seek dismissal of the case in lieu of using, or providing, or allowing others to use or provide, any information concerning the Harris Corporation wireless collection equipment/technology […] if using or providing such information would potentially or actually compromise the equipment/technology.

This “clarification” is mostly bullshit, but it’s all in the wordcraft. Everything the FBI stated here could be technically factual. It may have never explicitly directed agencies to dump cases or hide Stingray usage. Instead, it has relied on law enforcement agencies to follow the restrictions laid out in the NDAs — something they’ve apparently done without ever bothering to approach the FBI for permission to turn over Stingray information during court cases.

To say these NDAs do not prevent law enforcement agencies from acknowledging the use of Stingray devices is only true insofar as the NDAs themselves are apparently just a pile on unenforceable words. The implication, however, is that these agencies will see their Stingray privileges yanked if they cough up information. Or, in the best case scenario, law enforcement officials will be sternly talked to by FBI officials for breaching the agreement.

As for the claim that the FBI has never directly instructed a law enforcement agency to toss a case rather than disclose information? That may be true, as well as being completely unverifiable. Agencies appear to be taking these agreements literally — which is, of course, the point of ANY WRITTEN AGREEMENT — and proactively dropping cases rather than risk breaching the terms of the NDA.

The FBI is washing its hands of the Stingray secrecy mess it created. This “clarification” is astoundingly disingenuous. The FBI forces agencies into these agreements and then steps back and says, “Hey. we didn’t make them do this. They just interpreted the agreement to mean exactly what it says it means.” It passes the buck to local cop shops, blaming them for not seeking the second opinions these agreements clearly discourage.

If this “clarification” is actually going to approach something akin to honesty, the FBI needs to immediately begin rescinding its non-disclosure agreements. It can’t force agencies into restrictive agreements and then throw up its hands and claim it has no idea why these agencies might be interpreting these highly-restrictive NDAs so literally. This is a nasty, self-serving cheap shot wrapped in the guise of transparency.

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Companies: harris corp.

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Comments on “FBI Says It Has No Idea Why Law Enforcement Agencies Are Following The Terms Of Its Stingray Non-Disclosure Agreements”

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Personanongrata says:

FBI Non-Disclosure Statements Are Tyranny

The duplicitous cretins of the Federal Bureau of Investigation would like to redefine the term non-disclosure statement to mean whatever the FBI’s clarifying remarks say it means.

The secrecy in place surrounding the stringray program is there not to keep the criminals unaware of it’s existence but rather to keep US citizens from seeing the US governments unbounded tyranny on full display.

Did the agents of the FBI swear an oath to uphold the US Constitution or did they swear an oath to uphold clearly unconstitutional laws enacted by criminal politicians in the US Congress or clearly unconstitutional methods of evidence collection originating from within the Department of Justice?

Ven says:

My lay reading of the NDA

From my IANAL reading of this NDA it sounds like the FBI has said you can use the resulting evidence (“An electronic log proves this guy was at that place at this time.”) but not disclose how that evidence was obtained.

This feels oddly like the FBI is telling us that they won’t allow us to see the meta-data (product model, collection methodology, etc), but we can see the data (actual collected evidence), strange isn’t it.

The “Right to face your accuser” has repeatedly ruled to included the right to challenge how evidence was gathered, the FBI knows this practice is unconstitutional, but they want to keep this tool around for those that don’t lawyer up, or can’t afford a lawyer, so they won’t let it go to court.

Dyspeptic Curmudgeon (profile) says:

Re: How does the FBI get in the middle in the first place?

I would like to know how the FBI has any right to even ask for this NDA. The cops buy from Harris, not the FBI. Where/how do the FBI get to demand an NDA? Is there some obscure section which lets the FCC pass oversight of cellphone tower like broadcasting to the FBI? Or allows the FBI to allow hacking the phone system when they approve?
The nature and source of this ‘power’ would be interesting to know.

Robert Driggers (profile) says:

They should be arrested

Can someone explain to me how a Sheriff (or any law enforcement official for that matter) can sign an NDA from ANYONE that prohibits compliance with the law. Judges, prosecution and defense teams cannot have information withheld from them and the act of doing so is a violation of law. To sign an agreement reflective of the same is conspiracy to commit said offense. All should be jailed.

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