Wired Magazine posted an article on Tuesday which illustrates how the government is interfering with the rights of American citizens. Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a request with the Sarasota, Florida, police department for information detailing its use of a surveillance tool known as stingray. Federal authorities then seized the documents before the police department could release them.
The article reports:
The ACLU had an appointment last Tuesday to review documents pertaining to a case investigated by a Sarasota police detective. But marshals swooped in at the last minute to grab the records, claiming they belong to the U.S. Marshals Service and barring the police from releasing them.
ACLU staff attorney Nathan Freed Wessler called the move “truly extraordinary and beyond the worst transparency violations” the group has seen regarding documents detailing police use of the technology.
“This is consistent with what we’ve seen around the country with federal agencies trying to meddle with public requests for stingray information,” Wessler said, noting that federal authorities have in other cases invoked the Homeland Security Act to prevent the release of such records. “The feds are working very hard to block any release of this information to the public.”
Stingrays, also known as IMSI catchers, simulate a cellphone tower and trick nearby mobile devices into connecting with them, thereby revealing their location. A stingray can see and record a device’s unique ID number and traffic data, as well as information that points to its location. By moving a stingray around, authorities can triangulate a device’s location with greater precision than is possible using data obtained from a carrier’s fixed tower location.
The issue here is the fact that a police detective obtained permission to use a stingray by filing a ‘tap and trace’ request rather than a probable-cause warrant.
The article further reports:
The government has long asserted it doesn’t need a probable-cause warrant to use stingrays because the device doesn’t collect the content of phone calls and text messages, but instead operates like pen-registers and trap-and-traces, collecting the equivalent of header information. The ACLU and others argue that the devices are more invasive than a trap-and-trace.
Recently, the Tallahassee police department revealed it had used stingrays at least 200 times since 2010 without telling any judge because the device’s manufacturer made the police department sign a non-disclosure agreement that police claim prevented them from disclosing use of the device to the courts.
The ACLU has filed numerous records requests with police departments around the country in an effort to uncover how often the devices are used and how often courts are told about them.
I definitely agree with the ACLU on this. I have no problem with the use of stingrays when probable-cause warrants are obtained, but without those warrants, the use of stingrays is simply another intrusion into the civil rights of Americans by the government. As Americans, all of us need to be aware of when our rights are being threatened, and we need to learn to fight back.