Judge Shuts Down Vallejo PD's Illegally-Obtained Stingray

from the city-is-ping-free-until-further-notice dept

For the moment, police officers in Vallejo, California aren’t allowed to use their cell site simulator. A tentative ruling [PDF] issued by a judge says the city violated the law by approving the purchase of a Stingray device without instituting a privacy policy governing its use — a policy explicitly approved by the city council and subjected to public scrutiny prior to adoption.

The case challenging the new device’s purchase and use was brought by Oakland Privacy. Matthew Gauriglia of the EFF breaks down the multiple ways the city and its PD skirted their obligations to Vallejo residents.

The City Council assembled via teleconference in spring 2020, amidst a state-wide pandemic related shelter-in-place order, to vote for the purchase of this controversial piece of surveillance equipment. It did so without adequately obtaining input from the public.

What’s worse, the city council approved the purchase in violation of state law (S.B. 741) regulating the acquisition of such technology. […] The law prohibits local government agencies from acquiring cell-site simulators without the local governing body approving a specific privacy and usage policy that “is consistent with respect for an individual’s privacy and civil liberties.” This policy needs to be available to the public, published online, and voted on during an open hearing.

The Vallejo city council dodged its state law obligations to expedite the acquisition of the device, seemingly taking advantage of restrictions on gatherings to minimize objections from the public. That decision has led to this (tentative) decision: no tech toy for city cops until it follows the steps above.

This sort of deception is far too commonplace when it comes to law enforcement agencies and the acquisition of controversial tech. Assertions that law enforcement needs this secrecy to stay a step ahead of criminals often go unchallenged. This continues to happen even though Stingrays and other tech (like phone-cracking tools) have been in the public eye for years and their capabilities discussed openly — not just by civilians, but by government agencies and officials.

It seems pretty short-sighted to take steps like these to dodge controversy. Bypassing obligations to the public tends to result in greater public scrutiny once these actions are exposed or, as in this case, directly challenged as violations of the law. This (tentative) victory for Vallejo-area transparency activists shows the city would have been better off doing it all by the book in the first place. Now it’s going to have to retrace its steps and no longer has a COVID lockdown to abuse to minimize complaints from the pesky peasants.

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Comments on “Judge Shuts Down Vallejo PD's Illegally-Obtained Stingray”

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Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Now, if there were true justice

All the perps in jail or prison who were put there by that stingray would be released immediately.

Lest we reminded those weren’t just insubordinate police officers, but agents of the state.

When the state fucks up, it needs to provide reparations, otherwise there’s no incentive to adhere to proper protocol.

Anonymous Coward says:

Entire City broke the law

" judge says the city violated the law "


No, the entire city and population of Vallejo did not break the law — specific and identifiable police officers broke the law.

This is a standard and unjust technique by which the courts and government prosecutors shield individual police officers from direct accountability for their crimes.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: The City of Vallejo broke the law

It could be argued that, if Vallejo Penal syatem executed a falsely convicted man that the City of Vallejo, the State of California and the United States (and their respective populations) were morally responsible for the death, even if they are not held legally accountable for it.

The same can be said for agents of government who act in bad faith. Whenever a law enforcement officer of Vallejo plants evidence, kills an innocent civilian in cold blood, or utilizes technology that violates Fourth Amendment protections, the City of Vallejo is responsible (as well as the State of California and the United States). And by extension, in accordance with the Social Contract the populations that benefit from the collective organization of these governed territories.

So yeah, it would be our Jeffersonian duty to make sure the officers involved (and any culpable administrators and judges) were expelled from service, possibly with a good coat of tar and feathers, if we don’t hang them outright.

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