from the you-get-a-Stingray!-and-you-get-a-Stingray!-every-agency-gets-a-Stingray! dept
Did this sort of thing come about because someone at the nation's most hated agency whined that "everyone else was getting one?" Because there seems to be no logical explanation for this:
The Internal Revenue Service is the latest in a growing list of US federal agencies known to have possessed the sophisticated cellphone dragnet equipment known as Stingray, according to documents obtained by the Guardian.No explanation will be forthcoming. The documents The Guardian obtained were heavily redacted and requests for comments were met with silence. But there it is: the IRS not only has a Stingray, but it paid $65,000 to upgrade it to the Hailstorm model, allowing it to continue to intercept calls and data without being locked out by upgraded cell networks.
Invoices obtained following a request under the Freedom of Information Act show purchases made in 2009 and 2012 by the federal tax agency with Harris Corporation, one of a number of companies that manufacture the devices.
It appears the agency does have the legal authority to deploy the devices. (The IRS is part of the Treasury Department and not subject to the new, exception-loaded warrant requirement handed down by the DOJ.)
[Former IRS Deputy Commissioner Mark] Matthews said there are currently between 2,000 and 3,000 “special agents” in the IRS who form the criminal investigation division (CID). They have the ability to get PEN register orders – the only authority needed to use Stingray devices.Considering the criminal activity the IRS investigates most frequently -- tax evasion -- rarely involves highly-mobile suspects or the use of burner phones, it seems unlikely the IRS's Stingray sees much use. Then again, it does partner with other law enforcement agencies in criminal investigations, presumably under the Al Capone Theory of "tax evasion, if nothing else."
He said the IRS on its own usually uses gentler investigation tactics. But increasingly, investigating agents from the agency are brought on board for joint operations with the FBI and other agencies when the latter need financial expertise to look at, for example, money laundering from drug organisations.Even if the IRS is frequently assisting with these investigations, it's pretty much guaranteed that whatever agency it's partnering with already has this technology on hand. The IRS's acquisition of a cell tower spoofer would seem to be redundant, at best. Then again, maybe it's redundancy the government wants. Can't have drug-running suspects slipping out of sight just because the local DEA office's Stingray is in the shop.
Of course, the IRS's Stingray could become the go-to device in the future, if federal law enforcement agents are looking for a way to circumvent the DOJ's new warrant requirement. They could send IRS agents with pen register paperwork to obtain permission to deploy cell tower spoofers.
But at the same time, the IRS's Stingray device seems to be more a product of "because it's available" thinking. Why not have one on hand, just in case? When the news arrives that Fish and Wildlife or the US Postal Inspector's Office has one, it will be greeted with "of course they do" shrugs, because that's just the way things go these days.The US government is sold on the "essentialness" of cell tower simulators and with funding for devices often tied to ever-swelling budget lines for Wars A (Drugs) and B (Terrorism), no agency should have to go without.