We've been covering the increasingly widespread use of Stingray
or similar mobile phone tower spoofing equipment by law enforcement. The stories have been getting increasingly bizarre lately, starting with the news that police were claiming that non-disclosure agreements
prevented them from getting a warrant to use the technology. And then, there was the recent news that the federal government was regularly stepping in to claim ownership
of documents related to the technology (even when it's used by local police) in order to block them
from being obtained under Freedom of Information laws. Just this morning, we wrote about some new evidence that police are claiming
they need these devices to stop "weapons of mass destruction," though they then just use them to spy on people suspected of everyday crimes instead.
Late last night, the ACLU came out with perhaps the most explosive information so far: a set of internal police emails showing that the US Marshals have been instructing police to lie to courts about the use of such devices
. Specifically, rather than revealing the use of the tool, they're told to just tell the court they got the information from a "confidential source." While affidavits may initially note the use of such a device, the police are told to submit a new affidavit after the fact
without mentioning the Stingray, and seal the old one, so that it never becomes public. The key parts of the email are highlighted below:
This is highly questionable
. Just to repeat: this is the federal government loaning out equipment to spoof mobile phone towers to spy on people and then instructing (practically demanding) that the police hide or suppress this information by claiming that it came from a "confidential source" and by sealing any affidavits that accidentally mention the use of the equipment. As the ACLU notes this practice "deprives defendants of their right to challenge unconstitutional surveillance ." It also seems like a fairly straightforward due process violation. This even goes beyond "parallel construction" in which illegal surveillance is concealed by "recreating" it in other ways. In this case, you have illegally obtained evidence... and then police are just told to lie to the court about it.
This is stunningly bad.
As some legal experts are quick to note, this seems like an astoundingly stupid move
by both the US Marshals and the local police who took them up on their request. That link, includes quotes from a number of legal experts interviewed by Cyrus Farivar at Ars Technica, some of whom are actually supportive of the use of Stingrays, but who note that this effort could very well be fraud on the court.