NYPD Has Deployed Stingrays Over 1,000 Times Without Warrants

from the no-surprises-here-(other-than-the-document-release-itself) dept

The New York ACLU has obtained documents from the NYPD — a feat on par with prying paperwork away from the FBI, CIA or NSA — showing the department has been deploying Stingrays without a warrant since 2008. This puts them on the same timeline (and with the same lack of legal paperwork) as the Baltimore Police Department, although the BPD was much more proactive with their deployments: over 4,300 since 2008, as compared to the NYPD’s relatively restrained 1,016.

Not only does the NYPD deploy Stingrays without warrants, it apparently does so without any official guidance at all. (The better to keep paper trails from developing, I would guess. This also allows it to choose its own scapegoat when the political hammer falls, rather than there being a bunch of inculpatory signatures on internal policies/permission slips.)

The NYPD also disclosed that it has no written policy for the use of Stingrays but that, except in emergencies, its practice is to obtain a “pen register order” – a court order that is not as protective of privacy as a warrant – prior to using the device.

The use of pen register orders suggests major police departments all had the same idea when they got their hands on the repurposed military technology: it’s a phone, so why not pen register orders? Well, to begin with, Stingrays capture a whole lot more than a pen register would — like everyone connecting to the faux cell tower, rather than just the target. Pen registers also can’t be used to track someone in motion. All they can do (in the historical sense) is generate phone records of calls made and received. Utilizing this paperwork lowers the amount of proof needed to obtain permission as well as obscures the technology behind the collection of “phone records.”

That the NYPD is using Stingrays is no surprise, considering how many other law enforcement agencies in the country use them. The NYPD has always considered itself to be an extension of federal intelligence services and a bit of a standing military force, so it follows that it would be ahead of the curve when it comes to both surveillance equipment and repurposed military gear.

What is surprising is that these documents are in the ACLU’s hands at all. The NYPD is notoriously resistant to FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) requests, having gone so far as to deny requesters copies of its FOIL response procedures.

And, as usual, the Stingrays went into use without any sort of public comment period or any information being passed on to affected citizens (which would be anyone with a cell phone) by the city representatives who signed off on the purchase orders. No doubt these were pushed through with maximum secrecy while NYPD officials chanted their “terrorism” mantra and spritzed the passing documents with holy water redactions.

“Terrorism” is the most frequently cited reason when law enforcement agencies seek to obtain military technology — which Stingrays are — but the documents obtained show no deployments for terrorist-related activity. Instead, they’ve been used to tackle all sorts of “normal” crime, from the violent (rape, homicide, armed robbery) to more mundance illegal activities — like bail jumping, fraud, drug possession, suicide [?] and the location of material witnesses. For the most part, the NYPD’s Stingrays seem to be effective in tracking people/phones down, but that’s hardly any excuse for brushing past the Fourth Amendment with a minimum of paperwork or internal accountability.

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Comments on “NYPD Has Deployed Stingrays Over 1,000 Times Without Warrants”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I imagine that not once was a defendant informed that the evidence being used against them was gathered via Stingray, with good old evidence laundering being used to disguise the source of the evidence.

Can’t have the evidence being challenged after all, and judges are just too simple to understand how valuable Stingrays are, so best to just pretend that all the evidence came from somewhere else.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: detect and hack

Do you honestly believe that a person smart enough to accomplish that would actually be dumb enough use an IMSI that is tied to his actual personal information such that he could be tracked? Also when that happens he will also likely not be the person they are actually looking for so they will probably not realize that the device has been compromised until long after they are done and long gone. How exactly then are they going catch this person?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Rape, homicide, armed robbery

All of them as long as the advanced technology is used in a targeted manner, consistent with the Constitution requirements that a warrant based on probable cause is obtained that specifies what information they are searching for and it respects the privacy and rights of others who are not the specified target of the investigation. Then I am all for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Nothing will be done to bring these criminals to justice for blatantly breaking the law, simply they are police right?

This is why I support people that shoot dirty cops. Since the actual police refuse to arrest and prosecute the criminals in their ranks. Someone has to deal with this if the government will refuse to.

qyiet (profile) says:

Degraded Cellphone Coverage

While everyone seems to (correctly) be up in arms about the privacy issues these things raise, I’ve yet to see someone complain about the mechanics of how they work on everyday cellphone usage. I can’t believe they don’t mess it up at least a little bit, and possibly quite horribly.

These things broadcast a cell tower signal out that is stronger than the local towers tricking every cellphone in the area connecting to them instead. Presumably then every phonecall/sms/data packet then gets routed through this fake cellphone tower so that the law enforcement can see what’s going on. (otherwise what’s the point?)

I can’t believe that these stingrays will have a better back-end connection to the rest of the telephone network than a static tower, so surely they must degrade the performance of every device that connects to it.

Possibly your poor cellular service isn’t due to your provider sucking.. just that the police have decided that it would be a great idea for them to relay all your calls through their mobile connection.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Degraded Cellphone Coverage

It really depends on how they actually work though which without the documentation that the Harris Corporation there really isn’t a way to tell. Theoretically, these devices could be used in a proper, targeted, Constitutionally compliant manner that protected the privacy of innocent citizens. Imagine if law enforcement went got a court order for the cell service provider to provide the IMSI number of the suspect that they are looking for along with the warrant and then had to configure the Stingray to only accept attempts to connect from any that device and it didn’t log any identifying information about other devices that sent requests to connect, I don’t think people would have as many problems with it and the performance issues wouldn’t be there either.

Deputy Dickwad says:

Re: Degraded Cellphone Coverage

You have revealed confidential sources and methods by publicly identifying T-Mobile’s Binge ON! as actually being routed exclusively through Harris Corp products.

Don’t even let on that you know about those “Unlimited” collection, er ‘uh, I mean Data plans from those other carriers! or it is Black Site Rendition for you buddy!

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