Memphis Mayor Ushers In New Era Of Transparency By Refusing To Discuss City's Stingray Devices

from the I-have-several-terrible-reasons-for-not-going-so dept

Multiple Stingray nondisclosure agreements between law enforcement agencies and the FBI have been obtained by FOIA requesters. They all contain the same boilerplate stating that law enforcement officers must do everything up to swallowing their cyanide pills (let suspects walk, route FOIA requests through the FBI, engage in parallel construction, etc.) to prevent information about the technology from making its way into the hands of defendants, judges or peskily inquisitive members of the public.

These agreements are usually signed by a handful of law enforcement officers and FBI reps. The documents are never signed by city legislators or officials… which makes the claims of Memphis mayor Jim Strickland either ignorant, misleading, just plain old politican bullshit.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland confirmed Monday that the city is using cell phone eavesdropping technology with court approval, but said he couldn't discuss specifics.

[...]

"As a candidate for mayor, I did not know the legal restrictions that were in the Harris contract that my predecessor signed," he said. "But now, as mayor, I'm bound by those restrictions, and I cannot talk about how the cell-site simulators are used."

[...]

"I've been more open about this issue than my predecessor was, but there are restrictions that I have and I just can't break the law," he said.
I'm going to go with ignorant. An NDA is not "the law," even if it's a federal agency writing them up. At best, the FBI could possibly demand local law enforcement stop using the equipment, or threaten future federal funding, for violating the agreement. But the NDA does not prevent city representatives from talking about, no matter what law enforcement officials may have told them.

This is especially uncomfortable for Strickland, who ran his mayoral campaign on a platform of greater transparency -- specifically in regards to city's ownership and use of a Stingray device. Now that's he in a position to be more open about the law enforcement technology, he's chosen to stop talking about it.

Maybe Strickland should just stop talking about not talking about Stingrays. Everything he says in explanation makes him sound even more inept and clueless.
He said he doesn't know which court reviews Memphis Police's requests for cell-site simulators or if they are commonly used.
Great oversight there, chief.
"It's an important crime-fighting tool," he said.
Well, at least he appears to have given the talking points a once-over. That's something.
Asked whether the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures trumps the wording of the Harris contract, Strickland said he was following the law as his administration understood it.

"I'm not a Fourth Amendment lawyer," he said.
Obviously. And not much of a mayor either. Strickland seems to have not even read the same contract he claims he's bound by.
But would he have signed the contract if he'd been mayor? "I don't know. I'd have to really review that more," he said.
For a guy whose campaign explicitly mentioned Stingrays and the secrecy surrounding them, Strickland seems incredibly reluctant to be the disinfecting sunshine his supporters thought he would be. This doesn't make him a terrible person. But it does make him nothing more than a politician, with all the negatives that implies. And he's certainly no better than his predecessor, whom he attacked for doing the same thing he's doing here: not answering questions about secret law enforcement surveillance tech.


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2016 @ 8:06am

    Hope and Change in Memphis

    Hmmm... The new Mayor campaigned on the Hope and Change platform and just like last time it turned out to be the Same 'ol - Same 'ol platform that he is governing with.

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