Administration Helping Bury Documents Related To Local Law Enforcement Use Of Cell Tower Spoofers

from the widening-the-gap-between-'us'-and-'them' dept

The recent story about the US Marshals Service stepping in to prevent the ACLU from obtaining documents related to the Sarasota (FL) Police Department's ownership and use of cell tower spoofers is apparently not an isolated instance. According to an AP report, the US government is actively inserting itself into the "discussion" by ensuring no one gets to talk about the controversial devices.
The Obama administration has been quietly advising local police not to disclose details about surveillance technology they are using to sweep up basic cellphone data from entire neighborhoods, The Associated Press has learned.

Citing security reasons, the U.S. has intervened in routine state public records cases and criminal trials regarding use of the technology. This has resulted in police departments withholding materials or heavily censoring documents in rare instances when they disclose any about the purchase and use of such powerful surveillance equipment.
Beyond the obvious negative impact on the much-vaunted "transparency" this administration claims to personify, there's also the new disturbing level of overreach -- the US government actively interfering with state-level Freedom of Information requests. In addition to the restrictive non-disclosure agreements that law enforcement agencies must sign when purchasing Stingray devices (and these agencies' general reluctance to share surveillance equipment info with the public), the government itself is taking an active role in erecting a wall between the public and its public servants.
Interviews, court records and public-records requests show the Obama administration is asking agencies to withhold common information about the equipment, such as how the technology is used and how to turn it on. That pushback has come in the form of FBI affidavits and consultation in local criminal cases.
Harris, the largest manufacturer of cell tower spoofers, specifically directs law enforcement to consult with the FBI during the purchase process, as well as before deploying the devices. The company claims this is all above board because it's "regulated" by its status as a government contractor. That might mean something if it wasn't so closely aligned with these government agencies' desire to keep the technology secret.

And, of course, the government has used its go-to defenses to justify its secrecy efforts. Above, it mentioned "security." A supporting affadavit filed by an FBI agent in a Freedom of Information lawsuit adds another:
A court case challenging the public release of information from the Tucson Police Department includes an affidavit from an FBI special agent, Bradley Morrison, who said the disclosure would "result in the FBI’s inability to protect the public from terrorism and other criminal activity because through public disclosures, this technology has been rendered essentially useless for future investigations."

Morrison said revealing any information about the technology would violate a federal homeland security law about information-sharing and arms-control laws…
Once you strip out all the panicky trappings, the FBI is basically asserting that it, and the law enforcement agencies it's speaking in support of, should be allowed to do what they like with zero accountability. These agencies want to have the ability to collect massive amounts of data without being slowed by warrant requests or minimization processes.

These exposure fears are unfounded, and those using them to justify withholding information know this. This secrecy has been used to seal returned warrants and court orders on closed investigations, giving lie to the claim that these agencies are concerned about damaging current and future investigatons. And, realistically, the only way terrorists or criminals are going to be able to completely avoid Stingray surveillance is to not use or carry cell phones, something that seems highly unlikely. For this to be any use to them, they would have to know in advance where it's being deployed and when.

The real reason behind the collaborative burial of information is the agencies' desire to do what they want without limitations or paper trails. This sort of behavior should be an indicator of a law enforcement agency that's gone rogue, rather than an all-too-common collaborative effort between local and national government agencies.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Name Redacted, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 2:08pm

    I guess transparency isn't what it used to be.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    icon
    rw (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 2:09pm

    "Once you strip out all the panicky trappings, the FBI is basically asserting that it, and the law enforcement agencies it's speaking in support of, should be allowed to do what they like with zero accountability."

    Of course, how else can you get a good police state setup and running if everyone knows all you secrets?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    icon
    AricTheRed (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 2:23pm

    How much longer until

    When the Prez walks out somewhere and the Marine Corps Band plays The Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme)instead of Hail to the Cheif?

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bzWSJG93P8

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 2:29pm

    Re:

    "I guess transparency isn't what it used to be."

    Well, their true motives are becoming pretty transparent. That's the "new" Obama style transparency he promised everyone. And we just *thought* he lied.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 2:30pm

    "...the disclosure would "result in the FBIs inability to protect the public from terrorism and other criminal activity because through public disclosures, this technology has been rendered essentially useless for future investigations.""

    Oopsie. So by extension we might also say:

    ..disclosures of internet-monitoring would "result in the FBIs inability to protect the public from terrorism and other criminal activity because through public disclosures, this internet has been rendered essentially useless for future investigations."

    No point snooping on the internet then since it's similarly "useless for future investigations".

    And let me get this straight: "revealing any information about the technology would violate a federal homeland security law about information-sharing and arms-control laws": Would he like to be specific which 'federal homeland security' he's talking about or is that too secret to talk about too? But he is trying to insist that a commercially available electronic device falls under 'arms control' legislation because of what? Are not arms control laws about allowing arms to fall into the hands of the 'enemies of the United States'? So how soon before common-or-garden criminals are labelled enemy combatants? Slipper slope getting slippier.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 2:36pm

    Re: How much longer until

    I get the symbolism but I'm sure lawyers will descend from the heavens to sue everyone for unlawful use of their intellectual property.
    Also, it's much too good a theme to be wasted on Obama.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 2:37pm

    Transparency is apparently a one-sided mirror where the government gets to look in on everything the public is doing while remaining invisible to those looking in.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 2:37pm

    When is the government's mom going to tell them to quit fucking around with their toys, get inside and get washed up for dinner?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 2:40pm

    Everyone knows police can wiretap phone calls, yet a warrant is still required in order for it to take place. The public also knows about Stingray tracking devices, so there's no reason why a warrant shouldn't be required for use of these devices too.

    A warrant requires a specific person, place, and thing to be specified for a search and seizure. There's no way to square the warrant requirements with scooping up everyone's communications in a 5 square mile radius. There's nothing particular or specific about the way Stingray's operate.

    So it basically boils down to Stingray searches failing to meet the legal requirements of a warrant, as outlined in the 4th Amendment.

    That's law enforcement refuses to issue any warrants for Stingray use. Such a warrant would be challenged in court, and the White House, DOJ, FBI, and local law enforcement all know a Stingray search will be ruled Unconstitutional due to it's bulk collection of message content and metadata for everyone in a 5 mile square radius.

    They're using the phrase "safety and security" to hide the illegal and unconstitutional use of their general warrant technology. Harris Corp lawyers also interpreted US law, and they also know Stingray use would be found illegal. Which is why they require everyone to sign a nondisclosure agreement, saying no warrants will be used.

    This is all crystal clear when you take all into account everything that's been happening. I'm sure the EFF and ACLU also know Stingrays won't hold us against the 4th Amendment in a court of law.

    The White House, DOJ and FBI are terrified of a warrant being issued, and the Stingray being challenged in court. That's why there's so much coaching going. Especially about using parallel construction techniques after the suspect has been located, to avoid Stingrays ending up in court.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 2:47pm

    'but we are the most open administration there has been in the USA to date'. it's just that we have to know everything about everyone, covertly, so keep your mouths shut!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    Charles (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 2:53pm

    I asked a friend of mine why all the apathy? He didn't really have an answer. I am trying to help him realize what is going on. I send him a lot of links from here to get him thinking about these privacy and constitutional issues.

    It amazes me that there is no huge public outrage.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    zip, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 3:20pm

    Re:

    Maybe many of us have concluded that resistance to this corrupt police state that we live in is futile. Electing new politicians is pointless. And let's face it - we could not have elected a more pro-transparency, pro-Constitution, anti-police-state President than we elected. That he turned out to be even worse on these important issues than the former president he criticised so harshly ... should teach us all a big lesson.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 3:26pm

    I wonder if you could WarCart their collection towerspoofers

    Chances are that that something they want to keep so secret is loaded with vulnerabilities. So, someone could either expose exactly what they can collect, or someone could use it for more widely and directly nefarious purposes than the government.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 3:45pm

    Re:

    Don't you remember back in the last century (1990's or so) that strong encryption was categorized as a munition?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 3:45pm

    Re:

    Don't you remember back in the last century (1990's or so) that strong encryption was categorized as a munition?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 4:29pm

    Re:

    Nicely said, and what I was thinking.

    Question, since I don't understand, which is stronger, an NDA or some or all of the following?

    1. The Constitution
    2. Federal Procedure Rules
    3. State Procedure Rules
    4. HLS "Laws" (I am so unaware that enforcement agencies could 'make' law)
    5. A subpoena
    6. A warrant should they actually make some effort
    7. Something I am missing

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 4:53pm

    Somehow, I feel the feds try to hide some skeletons in Sarasota case. It may be, ACLU stubmled upon evidence laundering, and the feds sent to prison an innocent man using Sarasota cops.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 5:05pm

    Re:

    ".... arms-control laws"

    The only thing that I can think of is ITAR but that's to do with International selling/trafficking/trade.
    Maybe agent Morrison is a bit confused here.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    Matthew Cline (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 6:10pm

    Intervening in criminal trials

    Citing security reasons, the U.S. has intervened in routine state public records cases and criminal trials regarding use of the technology.
    The linked article didn't have much details on this. Did a defense attorney attempt to challenge the use of the cell tower spoofer, but to do so would need details about the spoofer, and the DA refused to hand over the info on grounds of national security?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Jerrymiah, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 6:15pm

    Re: Re: How much longer until

    I think that the Furher Entrance March will be more appropriate. Heil Barck, along with the nazi salute.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 6:18pm

    Re: Re:

    Yes, this was not policy previously - as everything was totally transparent. I am shocked and dismayed that the present administration has covered up so many conspiracies. Just read the totally truthful accounts of everything on Alex Jones website.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 6:39pm

    Re:

    Am I not making myself perfectly clear to you?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 7:19pm

    Think it is secret? Wrong.

    This is my estimation of what the cellphone sniffers do. It is based on reasoning, both on the basis of what is technically likely, combined with their rabid determination to keep its capabilities secret, which means that (in every case!) the worst truth is true.

    Capabilities:

    1) The sniffer can be set up anywhere.
    2) Every cell phone in the area will connect to the sniffer, in preference to any other cell tower.
    3) They can record the metadata of every phone call.
    4) They can determine the phone type.
    5) They can break the encryption capabilities of the cellphone and record voice for every call.
    6) They can deploy exploits to a phone from a library containing exploits for every device type. This allows them to...
    7) They can inspect anything on the connected cellphone including but not limited to: Contact lists, apps, pictures, instant messages, voice mail, call history and encryption keys.
    8) They can turn the cellphone into a passive listening device.
    9) They can prevent you from turning the cell phone off.
    10) They can have the phone transmit its GPS location.
    11) They can triangulate the physical location of a non-GPS phone to within 20 feet or so.

    Usage:

    1) They use the sniffer at any time without warrants.
    2) It gives them enormous amounts of evidence to launder.
    3) Wherever it is set up, they always capture all cell phones in the vicinity, regardless of cause or suspicion.
    4) All phones so connected are permanently exploited, even after they return to normal cell service towers.

    Assume this is true because it explains why they are so concerned about leaks. Then you won't be surprised when you find out the real truth.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    David, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 10:13pm

    Same old, same old

    "Your honor, we aren't as effective when staying with the constitution."

    Guess what: things like the Fourth Amendment have been written exactly in order to limit the effectiveness of the government invading the public's privacy.

    It's like fishermen complaining that they cannot guarantee the nation's continued sustenance if they are not allowed to fish with dynamite, the most effective and thorough way of fishing imaginable.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 14th, 2014 @ 10:19am

    What is needed is a published list of carrier cell towers and their GPS coordinates and the ability in the phone to limit attempts to connect thru a whitelist in the same way WiFi is handled. That would solve the problem.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    David, Jun 15th, 2014 @ 11:51am

    Re: Re:

    So what are you going to do? Wait for E-day?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 15th, 2014 @ 7:25pm

    Re: Re:

    Awesome! A Stingray tracking detection App for Android! Thanks for sharing this information with Techdirt readers.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 15th, 2014 @ 10:42pm

    I think its about time that the public started to track the movements and record the communications of everyone known to be a part of the federal government or its agencies. We have the technology and we have a damn good reason for needing to know what these legalised criminals are up to, 24/7. It would also go far towards letting the spies know exactly what it feels like to be spied upon by people who do not have their best interests at heart.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    icon
    The Infamous Joe (profile), Jun 16th, 2014 @ 10:54am

    Re: Re: Re: How much longer until

    Entry of the Gladiators seems more appropriate.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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