Judge Tells ACLU It Can't Make The US Government Give Back The Stingray Records It Removed From A Florida Police Department
from the not-even-a-wrist-slap dept
The federal government doesn't want local law enforcement agents turning over cell tower spoofer documents. It has spent a great deal of time behind the scenes advising the agencies to withhold information from requesters, citing "security" and the fear of disclosing "methods" in defense of its actions.
In Sarasota, FL, it took a more overt route, sending US Marshals to seize responsive Stingray documents from the local police department. This time, it claimed it had "deputized" a department detective, making him part of a regional task force. As such, the records now "belonged" to the US Marshals Service and could not be turned over to the ACLU.
The ACLU responded to by filing an emergency injunction seeking to prevent US Marshals from confiscating any more SPD documents, as well as asking it to find that local law enforcement violated Freedom of Information law by handing over requested documents to the federal government.
The judge has now ruled on this motion, and almost everything about it is bad. In his decision, Judge Charles Williams found that his court had no jurisdiction over the federal agency and dismissed the case. But other concerns went unaddressed.
When Sarasota Circuit Judge Charles E. Williams issued his order dismissing the lawsuit, there was nothing about this act by the federal government to essentially abscond with documents to prevent them from potentially becoming public. In fact, the judge did not hold an appropriate hearing on the evidence, even though [Michael] Barfield [ACLU of Florida] had wanted one to resolve key issues.Williams did order the government to turn over Stingray-related applications and orders that have already been filed under seal, but did not offer to lift that seal, meaning the ACLU will be returning to court to attempt to unseal the documents. But this doesn't mean Sarasota's Stingray documents will make their way into the public domain anytime soon.
The ACLU is also “mystified” because Williams included in his latest order a statement that suggests the ACLU did not “challenge as a matter of fact to the representation of the United States government as to the status of Detective Jackson.”
[A]ccording to Barfield, the federal government “may not comply with the order. They did not seem to think the judge could order them to do anything and even implied they could “remove the case to federal court.”Once again, we have to ask what's in these documents. The federal government is obviously going above and beyond to ensure the information stays out of the public's hands. Maybe it's just the government's collective paranoia over "means and methods" of surveillance. Or maybe it's something more egregious, like the 200+ times Tallahassee (FL) police deployed Stingray devices without a warrant. Either way, it sends a strong signal to the constituents that the only real right they have is the right to be surveilled.