U.S. Marshals Seize Surveillance Documents from Police

Thursday, June 05, 2014
Harris Corporation's StingRay (photo: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which was contesting Florida police’s use of surveillance technology, got quite the surprise recently when federal marshals unexpectedly confiscated police records pertaining to the controversial program that had been requested by the ACLU.


The organization sought the documents through the state’s public records law, and was to have reviewed them at a police station in Sarasota when members of the U.S. Marshals Service swept in and took the files. The federal authorities insisted the records belonged to them and didn’t want the police to release them to the ACLU.


Nathan Freed Wessler, an ACLU lawyer, told Wired that the Marshals’ actions were “truly extraordinary,” but also “consistent with what we’ve seen around the country with federal agencies trying to meddle with public requests for StingRay information.”


StingRay refers to a new tool used by law enforcement to spy on suspects, often without approval from a judge. Resembling cell phone towers, StingRays allow police to capture mobile phone data and even triangulate a device’s location.


Wessler added that the federal government has been “working very hard” to keep the public from learning about StingRay, even using the Homeland Security Act to prevent the release of such records.


The ACLU is concerned about the Sarasota police’s practice of using the technology without obtaining a probable-cause warrant. Instead, they have employed StingRay under Florida’s “trap-and-trace” statute, which is usually used only to have a phone company report numbers called and received by a specific account. The ACLU says the StingRay is more invasive than a trap-and-trace, and should require a regular warrant.


StingRay also has been controversial because its manufacturer, Harris Corporation, has required police to sign non-disclosure agreements in order to use the technology, leading them to use it without even telling the courts of their surveillance work.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

U.S. Marshals Seize Cops’ Spying Records to Keep Them From the ACLU (by Kim Zetter, Wired)

Barfield and ACLU Sue Sarasota over ‘StingRay’ Surveillance (by Ian Cummings, Herald-Tribune)

Florida Cops’ Secret Weapon: Warrantless Cellphone Tracking (by Kim Zetter, Wired)

Local Police Departments Use Non-Disclosure Agreements to Hide Cellphone Tracking (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

FBI Uses Portable Device to Track Cell Phone Users (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)


anonamouse 9 years ago
Seventy years ago, American soldiers breached Nazi defenses on the beaches of Normandy, the final step in the overthrow of a lawless regime that embodied everything those brave men and women detested. It waged war on weaker countries, not in self-defense, but for economic advantage, sacrificing the nation's youth in pursuit of a corporate agenda; it barbarously killed millions of innocent civilians in the nations it invaded in violation of longstanding rules of warfare; it enacted bogus laws to justify the imprisonment of members of a despised minority and the confiscation of their property; it gave the police sweeping powers to infiltrate and destroy domestic political opposition, and it spied on everyone through informers and wire-taps; it acted in secrecy and the penalty for revealing its secrets could be death; its leadership assumed the power to unilaterally suspend constitutional rights and to "disappear" anyone by executive order; it used disinformation and propaganda to spread its corrupt values in foreign countries and to undermine democratically elected governments; it built the world's most powerful military machine in a bid for global dominance; its central tenet was that the security of the state was paramount, and that the duty of the citizen was to serve that state unquestioningly. .... So, please remind me, who did win the Second World War?

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