Michigan State Police Used Forfeiture Funds To Upgrade Its Stingray

from the first-with-the-'terrorism,'-then-with-the-'free-money' dept

There are a few ways law enforcement agencies acquire cell tower spoofers. Very rarely do agencies pay for these expensive devices themselves. (Meaning with their funds drawn from their own departments. Obviously, no government agency is self-funded.) In most cases, funding in whole or in part is obtained from the DHS — something nearly any agency can obtain simply by checking [X] BECAUSE TERRORISM when applying for a Homeland Security grant.

Agencies are also using seized funds from asset forfeiture programs. The Michigan State Police used both methods to buy and upgrade its Stingray, according to documents obtained by the ACLU.

For nearly a decade, the Michigan State Police has had secretive cellphone tracking devices that were bought to fight terrorism but instead are used to solve everyday crimes, internal documents show.

More than 250 pages of emails, invoices and other documents show the state police in 2006 acquired cellphone simulator technology, which lets police collect large amounts of data including the location of users. The equipment was upgraded in 2013 and an internal memo indicates it was used last year on 128 cases ranging from homicide to burglary and fraud, but not terrorism.

But that didn’t stop the state police from telling the DHS that it was going to use the device to beat back terrorists.

The documents acquired by the ACLU indicate the state police paid Harris Corp. $206,500 in 2006 for equipment that was “vital to the war on terrorism” and allows “the state to track the physical location of a suspected terrorist.”

The equipment was fully funded by a U.S. Homeland Security grant and the cost matches Harris Corp. prices lists for its Stingray device, Wessler said.

Seeing as burglary and fraud aren’t nearly as fund-worthy as actual terrorism, the agency apparently decided against going to the DHS well twice. The second round of funding was internal, but padded by plenty of external “donors.”

In 2013, the state used asset forfeiture funds to pay Harris $593,450 for “surveillance and countersurveillance equipment and supplies,” records show.

The money isn’t going to waste though. While the state police may have trouble finding enough “serious” crime (documents show 82 arrests and the location of six missing persons… but still no terrorism) to deploy the device against, it apparently needs very little prompting to put it to use. According to the records, the state police fire up the Stingray (now most likely a Stingray 2.0, aka, Hailstorm) once every three days.

Whether further upgrades will be this easy for the state to obtain remains to be seen. For one, this document release, along with last year’s discovery of Oakland County (MI) Sheriff’s Department’s previously-unmentioned Stingray, has placed the use of these surveillance devices under additional scrutiny by legislators.

Additionally, the state government recently passed an asset forfeiture reform bill. While it didn’t go as far as many had hoped (thanks to the objections of law enforcement lobbyists), the new law does raise the level of evidence needed to process a forfeiture from “a preponderance” (which sounds much weightier than it is) to “clear and convincing.” It also requires additional reporting from law enforcement agencies on the seizure and distribution of funds and property.

That being said, some legislators still don’t see a problem with law enforcement agencies doing whatever they want with surveillance equipment they don’t want to talk about.

State Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth Township, chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee, said McMillin’s bills [introducing a warrant requirement for Stingray use] would have “tied the hands of police.”

“Right now, I don’t think this is an issue ripe for state action,” Heise said. “The burden is on law enforcement to demonstrate they are operating under the constitution … If the ACLU wants to challenge this in court, then we may have to let the courts sort it out.”

There’s a company man. Heise, of course, speaks with authority on the subject of Stingrays, law enforcement burden and the ripeness of the issue. After all, he had no clue about the technology or who had it until someone else pointed it out to him.

Heise said he wasn’t aware the state police have the technology and isn’t concerned about it.

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Comments on “Michigan State Police Used Forfeiture Funds To Upgrade Its Stingray”

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David says:

So basically

They are holding up random people on the street and taking their cash (to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars) in order to buy surveillance devices that they are not allowed to operate lawfully, and then are using those devices in order to cheat doing the job they are paid for, lying to judges in the process?

Don’t they at some time actually need to decide whether they are running an organized crime syndicate or a state department and then act accordingly? I don’t think this mixed strategy facilitates the kind of synergies that would strengthen the actual missive of those departments.

David says:

Re: Re: So basically

No, it’s called a police state.

When purported public interests trump individuals’ rights, it’s mainstream communism. “Comrade, we need better surveillance equipment to make sure nobody’s stepping over the lines and you are carrying more money around than any law-abiding citizen would. You seem to be a drug trafficker but we’ll let you go this time if you hand over your suspicious cash quietly for this worthy cause.”

The police state bit is: “We’ll take it anyway, but it’s your choice how much we’ll make this hurt.”

But that’s only a minor variation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: So basically

When public interests trump individuals’ rights, it’s mainstream communism. When purported public interests trump individuals’ rights, it’s just another corrupt government finding a marketable excuse for abuse of power.

I’m not sure we’ve ever had any political or economic system tested sufficiently before the greedy sociopathic fuckwits took over and ruined it. Personally, I really want to try out minarcho-paradoxicalism.

David says:

Re: Re: Re:2 So basically

I’m not sure we’ve ever had any political or economic system tested sufficiently before the greedy sociopathic fuckwits took over and ruined it.

Well, yes. That’s the whole selling point of a democracy: it has no single point of failure, so it takes more effort and longer to corrupt.

If the U.S.’ democracy were set up well, it would have 150 million points of failure all-in-all (simple majority). It isn’t, so it’s rather a few hundred instead. And they’ve all been taken by now.

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