Stingray Uber Alles! St. Louis Cops Drop Case Against Robbery Suspects Rather Than Discuss Use Of IMSI Catcher

from the vigorously-enforcing-the-law-(exceptions-may-apply) dept

According to the FBI and the law enforcement agencies it slaps with restrictive non-disclosure agreements, it's better to have indicted and lost than to not have deployed the Stingray at all.

Just one day before a city police officer was to face questions about a secret device used to locate suspects in a violent robbery spree, prosecutors dropped more than a dozen charges against the three defendants.

The move this month freed the officer from having to testify about a highly controversial surveillance tool — one that is subject to a confidentiality agreement between the St. Louis police and the FBI.
The department insists the Stingray had nothing to do with the dismissal. In fact, the spokesperson doesn't mention the Stingray at all (because one simply mustn't). Instead, it claims that recently uncovered information has "diminished the prosecutive merits of the case." What an odd statement to make when one suspect has already entered a guilty plea in connection with a robbery spree that resulted in the theft of cash and cell phones from seven people in just under two hours.

One of the public defenders assigned to the case believes otherwise. A victim's cell phone was traced to a hotel room using "a proven law enforcement technique." What this "technique" involved was never specified. When asked to explain in greater detail, the St. Louis Police Department called it a day. And now it looks as though it may not even be able to hold onto its single guilty plea.
Defense lawyers scheduled a deposition April 9 to ask an intelligence officer under oath about StingRay. But the charges were dismissed April 8 against all but the female defendant. She had already admitted the crimes and agreed to testify against the others but now wants to rescind her guilty plea.
This is great news for the victims of the crime spree.
Brandon Pavelich, who was pistol-whipped in one of the robberies and required 18 stitches, said he was “shocked” when prosecutors told him the charges were dropped and explained only that “legal issues” had developed.
Sorry 'bout all the stitches, says the FBI. These things will happen, unfortunately, because getting pistol-whipped and relieved of your belongings are integral to protecting this nation against terrorists.
The bureau supplied an April 2014 affidavit from Supervisory Special Agent Bradley Morrison, chief of the Tracking Technology Unit. He wrote that “cell site simulators are exempt from (court) discovery pursuant to the ‘law enforcement sensitive’ qualified evidentiary privilege” and also not subject to freedom of information laws.

Any FBI information shared with local authorities “is considered homeland security information,” he wrote. He warned that targets of investigation could benefit from piecing together minor details, “much like a jigsaw puzzle.”
It's not much of a consolation prize for the victims. In fact, it probably makes things a bit easier for criminals. The "jigsaw puzzle" piece handed over to criminals by this refusal to discuss "techniques" is that cell phone theft has a much better chance of going unprosecuted than criminal activities not involving cell phones. Cell phones are a potential "Get Out of Jail Free" card. Sure, they're also handy tracking devices -- the Narc That Fits in Your Pocket™ -- but if vague but "proven" law enforcement "techniques" are used to obtain warrants or effect arrests, evidentiary challenges and discovery requests have a small chance of resulting in a "screw it" from law enforcement agencies. That's better odds than were in play prior to the widespread use of IMSI catchers.

Certainly the victims of criminal activity are righteous in their anger. But where are the courts? They should be incensed that law enforcement feels it can withhold information from judges and defense attorneys simply because the FBI says so. The FBI doesn't have jurisdiction over courts or law enforcement agencies. The only power it does have is to do what it can to block local law enforcement from obtaining or deploying IMSI catchers if they won't play by its rules.

And where's the DOJ in all of this? It stands to reason the FBI is more concerned with prosecutions than justice, but this is a department wholly dedicated to the premise -- even if its actions often run counter to the "justice" ideal. It sits idly by while its subordinate agency tells law enforcement agencies to conceal Stingray usage and to drop cases rather than risk any national insecurity or additional criminal evasiveness.

This has gone past the point of outrage into the realm of the absurd. Dangerous criminals are being cut loose because certain techniques can't be confirmed or denied -- free to roam the streets like anthropomorphized Glomar responses, only with the potential to cause actual harm, rather than simply acting as existential threats to law enforcement techniques or the nation's well-being.

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Filed Under: law enforcement, stingray, surveillance


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2015 @ 9:47am

    Just think of the man power saved!

    Since we are obviously moving towards a state where the evidence collected against you gets to be kept secret, we should just go ahead cut to the chase and let the cops be Judge, Jury, and Executioner...

    Courts are now just a formality.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2015 @ 9:50am

    Anybody with a functioning brain cell now assume that carrying a mobile phone allow them to be tracked, and all their use of the phone to be monitored if they come in range of a stingray. Revealing this formally in court will not affect any criminals use of phones. Therefore there is something about stingray use that if revealed will result in the police losing them, so it seems reasonable to now demand that they give them up.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2015 @ 10:00am

    Implementation

    The FBI either needs to come up with a way to explain the whole 'stingray' phenomena without revealing 'sources and methods' or they have to become a whole lot better at the whole 'parallel construction' thingy.

    Yup, neither is gonna happen, which means that any criminal with a halfway conscious attorney will go free. See how safety and security go hand in hand?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2015 @ 10:00am

    I'm fairly certain these selective law enforcement situations have more to do with government agencies being afraid of legal challenges to the likely unconstitutional means and methods of their Stingray use. And less to do with preventing classified information from being released.

    Probably the only classified information the public doesn't know about when it comes to Stingrays. Is how government agencies are flying Stingray equipped drones over people's houses and reprogramming people's phones with malware and spyware for targeted surveillance.

    All possible thanks to the NSA stealing the private SIM card keys for everyone's phones from Gemalto. As reported by The Intercept.

    https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/02/19/great-sim-heist/

    Private SIM keys + Stingray equipped UAVs = Total Pwnage of any cellphone phone in the world

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

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 23 Apr 2015 @ 10:51am

      Re:

      A) the government prefers dragnet survalence to targeted surveillance, B) by having the SIM encryption keys, they don't need malware to surveil your phone, and 3) If they can install malware on your phone wirelessly from a drone, its unlikely the SIM card encryption, which involves how the phone talks to the network, is of any benefit.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 24 Apr 2015 @ 12:16am

        Re: Re:

        A) targeted surveillance still has great value, B) if someone is using end-to-end encryption software apps on their phone, law enforcement would need malware on their phone, and 3) SIM card keys allows law enforcement to issue remote commands, reflash the phone's firmware, and pretend to the wireless carrier, which is of great benefit.

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

  • identicon
    avideogameplayer, 23 Apr 2015 @ 10:04am

    I'm waiting for the day when a high level official is the victim and won't get 'justice' because law enforcement refuses to prosecute the crime...

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 23 Apr 2015 @ 2:19pm

      Re:

      May I present, 'Evidence laundering', also known as parallel construction. 'We didn't get that evidence from a stingray, we got it from another source, one we also can't disclose the details of.'

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

  • identicon
    I *wish* I were anonymous, 23 Apr 2015 @ 10:23am

    Were I inclined to such criminal activity, I might carry a couple of phones on different carriers, just to ensure the StingRay could find me.

    Get arrested, tell my public defender to schedule a deposition and mention the device, and walk away with my ill-gotten gains.

    For a while, anyway.

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

  • identicon
    Tavis, 23 Apr 2015 @ 10:34am

    So....

    If IMSI cell site simulators can not be used to lead to a conviction, they are useless to law enforcement. It is a waste of money better spent on more effective measures.

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

  • identicon
    David, 23 Apr 2015 @ 10:55am

    Parallel construction anybody?

    If Stingrays are not to be mentioned in court cases, the only way they are useful is after evidence laundering, namely parallel construction.

    Which is illegal. So there are no legal means of employing Stingrays for law enforcement. Which means that a police department buying one should be treated the same as a police department buying a pound of cocaine. Even if they do it on "unaccounted" money from asset forfeitures.

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

  • identicon
    AnonCow, 23 Apr 2015 @ 10:59am

    It looks like SLPD needs a refresher course in writing arrest reports that talk around Stingray use. What is the phrase "alternative construction" or something like that.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2015 @ 11:01am

    What's the point of using it, if you're going to drop the case as soon as someone starts asking questions?

    Defeats the entire point of catching the criminal in the first place.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2015 @ 11:13am

      Re:

      Stingrays have been in use since 2007 according to what I've read. We've only heard about their use in the past couple of years or so. So they've likely had a fair number of convictions already based on their use.

      Deploying a Stingray in a criminal investigation today is certainly risky business. Ideally, the Stingray is used as preliminary investigation tool that allows police to surveil long enough to find some other probable cause for an arrest (aka parallel construction) and then the Stingray is never mentioned as the means they used to obtain probable cause.

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

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 23 Apr 2015 @ 2:48pm

      Re:

      well obviously questioning the police on anything means you are supporting terrorism. Only unpatriotic people would question the police. This is what the police expect from loyal citizens, blind eyes and zipped mouths.

      /sarcasm

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

  • identicon
    Haggie, 23 Apr 2015 @ 11:01am

    That is a really nice feature upgrade. Now the phone that got you arrested will also set you free!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2015 @ 11:37am

      To bring John 8:32 to the modern day...

      The truth will set you free, because the truth must not be revealed in court.

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

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 23 Apr 2015 @ 11:52am

    How to commit the perfect crime

    1. Commit crime
    2. If caught, have your lawyer ask for access to the Stingray evidence
    3. Case not prosecuted in order to preserve secrecy of Stingray

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

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 23 Apr 2015 @ 12:32pm

    Oath Swearing Frauds, Who Needs Them?

    This has gone past the point of outrage into the realm of the absurd. Dangerous criminals are being cut loose because certain techniques can't be confirmed or denied -- free to roam the streets like anthropomorphized Glomar responses, only with the potential to cause actual harm, rather than simply acting as existential threats to law enforcement techniques or the nation's well-being.

    This exposes these law enforcement entities as the frauds they truly are.

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

  • icon
    PopeRatzo (profile), 23 Apr 2015 @ 1:07pm

    Are we not doing phrasing?

    ‘law enforcement sensitive’ qualified evidentiary privilege

    Holy shit. 'law enforcement sensitive' qualified evidentiary privilege

    Jesus wept.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2015 @ 1:32pm

    This is beyond suspicious

    Every local law enforcement has been handling these cases exactly the same. We know they get guidance from the FBI and US Marshalls on how to respond. But what are their worst fears? We pretty much know how these devices operate. So I see two non-exclusive options here.

    1) These devices do more than we are aware of or are part of a greater surveillance program

    2) The use of these devices is illegal and bringing a case against the evidence gained by using them would cause a prohibition or restriction on their use

    Either way, this behavior is extremely concerning. But who do we ask for help when the perpetrators are law enforcement?

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

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 23 Apr 2015 @ 2:46pm

      Re: This is beyond suspicious

      crazy trigger happy nuts? they will get rid of the dirty cops one way or another if the "official" way is dirty as well in regards to arresting these dirty cops

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

  • icon
    TasMot (profile), 23 Apr 2015 @ 1:49pm

    Law enforcement agencies are servants of the Citizens and yet are being allowed to hide contracts from the ones they serve?

    One of the problems I see that is not being addressed is that the police departments are agents of the citizens. They are writing contracts that then hide the terms of the contracts from the very ones they represent. Police departments and other law enforcement agencies are not some independent company. They are representatives of the citizens and are writing contracts as their agents. They SHOULD not be allowed to hide the terms of those contracts and their methods from the very citizens they represent.
    How do the citizens start reigning in these rogue agencies that are supposed to protect and preserve and yet seem to be more attack and destroy and hide the methods organizations.

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

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 23 Apr 2015 @ 2:45pm

      Re: Law enforcement agencies are servants of the Citizens and yet are being allowed to hide contracts from the ones they serve?

      police act more like the mob than police

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

  • identicon
    Zonker, 23 Apr 2015 @ 2:06pm

    So does this mean that in a future terrorist attack where thousands of people are killed and a IMSI catcher (Stingray) is used to track the terrorists down, that even as the suspects claim credit for the attack the DOJ will have to drop the terrorism charges when their defense attorney questions the "proven law enforcement technique" used to find them?

    If so, how would the Stingray even be of use for its claimed benefit of preventing terrorism or prosecuting terrorists? It seems the only one who benefits from the use of Stingrays is the company that builds and sells them.

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

    • identicon
      Doc, 25 Apr 2015 @ 1:28am

      Re:

      The fed/state/local governments and judges/attorneys benefit due to illegal prosecution. Even if you get off, you still must pay bail (which they keep until after sentencing), legal, and court fees - all of which keeps them in business. Even the local lawyers get business from illegal prosecution. Have you ever heard of anyone getting all of their money back for being found innocent? In MOST cases, being found innocent (getting a lawyer smart enough to know about stingray) will cost MUCH more then some idiot public defender that's just playing the "plead guilty & rack up the fines or put them in jail" game. Either way the gub'ment wins.

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

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 23 Apr 2015 @ 2:44pm

    can we charge the prosecutor and police with a crime then? If they had done nothing wrong then why are they so desperate to hide it.

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

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 23 Apr 2015 @ 4:04pm

    In other words, Stingray is ,i>only good for improper use, since charges against actual dangerous criminals get dropped when the data collection method must be revealed. All that money and time for negative outcomes. What will they think of next? How else can we let violent criminals and thieves walk while preserving the privilege to maim and kill random citizens for contempt-of-cop?

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

  • identicon
    Pragmatic, 24 Apr 2015 @ 2:33am

    Dangerous criminals are being cut loose because certain techniques can't be confirmed or denied -- free to roam the streets like anthropomorphized Glomar responses, only with the potential to cause actual harm

    Criminals, you know that movie, The Purge? Turns out it's real until we let the cops have Stingray and stop arguing about the Constitution.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Apr 2015 @ 5:09am

    Ahh, good old Harris-FBI NDA.
    Once again being proven to be supreme to justice, laws and constitutions.

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

  • icon
    Todd Shore (profile), 27 Apr 2015 @ 1:22pm

    Guilty plea withdrawn

    The person who had guilty has now withdrawn her guilty plea.

    It is interesting that the prosecutors office would give in to the political pressure to drop these charges when they can compel the officers to testify.

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


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