Boston PD Finally Confirms It Has A Stingray Device In Its Possession

from the so-many-months,-so-few-disclosures dept

The Boston Police Department has been fighting two FOIA requests — one from Mike Katz-Lacabe and one from Shawn Musgrave — for months. We covered Katz-Lacabe’s battle back in June. In that one, the BPD denied the release of documents related to Stingray devices on the questionable grounds that they were covered under the “investigative materials” exemption.

The information you have requested is exempt from disclosure by MGL c. 4s. 7(26)(f) and (n). Disclosure of the information contained in these documents would not be in the public interest and would prejudice the possibility of effective law enforcement. More specifically, the protection of such investigatory materials and reports is essential to ensure that the Department can continue to effectively monitor and control criminal activity and thus protect the safety of private citizens.

Whatever the BPD might have imagined about the documents’ release “prejudicing the possibility of effective law enforcement,” it certainly had no basis to claim the public had no interest in the contents of the withheld documents.

To date, it is still withholding the fiscal and policy documents Katz-Lacabe requested. It has, however, as Shawn Musgrave reports for the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, finally handed over its non-disclosure agreement with the FBI.

Boston police have confirmed that they deploy devices capable of secretly locating cell phones in real time, a controversial practice that critics say impinges on the public’s privacy and constitutional rights.

Former Boston police commissioner Edward Davis signed an agreement with the FBI in 2013 to obtain the cell phone tracking systems, documents released to a privacy activist yesterday in response to a public records request reveal.

This is the first official confirmation that BPD is one of dozens of law enforcement agencies nationwide that deploy the controversial technology.

The agreement is one we’ve seen before in the hands of other law enforcement agencies, containing the FBI’s instructions that all public records requests must be submitted to it first (“to prevent disclosure”) and that cases should be dropped if the exposure of Stingray technology/capabilities seems inevitable. The document is signed by the police commissioner, a handful of detectives and a member of the Massachusetts State Police, who apparently also has access to the device.

That last signature seemingly makes this statement made last year by the state police technically correct.

In June 2014, the Massachusetts State Police told the ACLU of Massachusetts that it does not own any cell site simulators.

“Own?” No. But it still has one it can use.

Katz-Lacabe received the long-disputed document November 6th. Musgrave has yet to receive a response to his similar request, which dates back to April of this year. And neither requester has received the fiscal and policy documents they’ve asked for, so unanswered questions remain about the process used to procure the cell tower spoofer as well as the BPD’s rules governing its use.

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Comments on “Boston PD Finally Confirms It Has A Stingray Device In Its Possession”

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Anonymous Coward says:

What can you do about it?

Luckily, this surveillance is not one-way. IMSI catchers have unique properties that make them detectable. If you have a rooted android phone, running one of these apps and documenting when and where IMSI catchers are detected gives us a little more insight on the frequency these devices are being used and is part of a broader sousveillance movement.

Anonymous Coward says:

Mutual aid in action

…”Own?” No. But it still has one it can use…

In my area many, if not all, police agencies have mutual aid agreements to lend assistance to one another, including combining their forces for major incidents. It’s not unusual to see a police helicopter owned by (the large city) over (neighboring small town) helping out that police force. It’s not unusual to see an officer from one town backing up an officer from the neighboring town simply because they were the closest backup. And if a 999 call goes out (“officer needs emergency assistance”) everybody responds until called off, including county and state officers.

So one department owns a device that merits criticism. That department will take the heat while all the other departments that have any aid agreement with the owner can also use the equipment if available and avoid criticism. If anything the owner can simply not use it and be truthful in stating that they haven’t used it while other departments can use it and truthfully say they don’t own any such equipment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Mutual aid in action

How long until we find out they have ‘shell’ PDs? The lone LEO in a town of 100 people hooks up with the FBI to obtain a thousand Stingrays, and then lends ’em out as needed.

PDs could even start a round-robin ‘loan’ program and nest agreements, each with its own NDA, until they’d have hidden any mention of IMSI catchers under dozens of layers of stonewalled FOIA requests and lawsuits.

deus777 says:

Secrecy Above All

What’s even more offensive to me than the blanket surveillance and the secrecy is the fact that they would rather drop cases and let criminals go free than reveal the existence or capabilities of the device. Most people already know that police can get taps on calls, cell phone records, and location data from the cell companies with a warrant. Would knowing that the police can set up their own device to do the same things really change the behavior of criminals?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Secrecy Above All

What’s even more offensive to me than the blanket surveillance and the secrecy is the fact that they would rather drop cases and let criminals go free than reveal the existence or capabilities of the device.

Which nicely demonstrates their real sense of priorities. Given they are willing to drop cases rather than admit to using the devices, or even admitting to have them, it makes it abundantly clear that ‘Stopping criminals’ is considered at most a secondary priority, with ‘Maintaining the ability to engage in mass spying’ their number one concern.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’ve got to imagine this was in direct response to the Marathon bombings.

Perhaps, but my money’s still on the War On Drugs And Minorities, Especially Blacks And Chicanos.

Would we have SWAT teams with MRAPs in one horse towns without the War On Drugs? Not to mention full prisons, civil forfeiture, prosecutorial overreach, and every cop in existence apparently terrified of cell-phones? I doubt it.

The WOD is where the money is.

GEMont (profile) says:

In the merchant's kingdom...

What I find truly amazing is how the federal government and its agents are now using legal loopholes and “lawyerized wordings” – not to mention outright lies and witness coercion – in exactly the same fashion as wealthy gangsters have always done in the past, in order to escape the consequences of their crimes.

Pretty soon, American criminals of all stripes will be taking to the streets, protesting the lack of available victims, due to the federal government’s unfair, mass, legalized, draconian exploitation of the general public.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re: In the merchant's kingdom...

The smarter ones are already there.

Sadly, this is too absolutely true.

However, as we have all seen repeatedly here on techdirt, there is a vast horde of utterly moronic crooks out there desperately trying to be counted too.

It is those millions upon millions of untalented petty criminals, stupid phone scammers and ass-dialing wannabe gangsters, that will be parading down US streets; banners held high, demanding their cut of the action.

Happily, there is no loyalty among thieves.

Perhaps the smarter ones will send out the smart ones to arrest the stupid ones.


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