US Marshals raid Florida cops to prevent release of records of "stingray" surveillance

US Marshals swept into the offices of police in Sarasota, Florida to whisk away records related to operation of "stingray" surveillance tools that the ACLU had requested. The records detailed the farcically low standard for judicial permission to use a stingray (which captures information about the movements, communications and identities of all the people using mobile phones in range of them), and is part of a wider inquiry to their use without a warrant at all -- at least 200 Florida stingray deployments were undertaken without judicial oversight because the police had signed a nondisclosure agreement with the device's manufacturer and they decided that this meant they didn't have to get warrants anymore.

The ACLU has seen a lot of shenanigans in respect of its campaign to document the use and abuse of stingrays, but this is a cake-taker: "We’ve seen our fair share of federal government attempts to keep records about stingrays secret, but we’ve never seen an actual physical raid on state records in order to conceal them from public view."

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.”

The records sought by the ACLU are important because the organization has learned that a Florida police detective obtained permission to use a stingray simply by filing an application with the court under Florida’s “trap and trace” statute instead of obtaining a probable-cause warrant. Trap and trace orders generally are used to collect information from phone companies about telephone numbers received and called by a specific account. A stingray, however, can track the location of cell phones, including inside private spaces.

U.S. Marshals Seize Cops’ Spying Records to Keep Them From the ACLU [Kim Zetter/Wired]

(Image: Marietta CST assists federal marshals in training, Georgia Department of Defense, Public Domain)

Notable Replies

  1. Cops that look like combat troops have no place in a free society....but then I forgot. We aren't really a free society anymore are we. This all just sucks.

  2. I don't have the right swear words for this

  3. Cory, how do you justify prominently using "raid" in your headline?

    A few definitions:
    "a sudden attack on an enemy by troops, aircraft, or other armed forces in warfare."
    "a sudden assault or attack, as upon something to be seized or suppressed"

    From the ACLU's own report: "Instead of complying with that clear legal obligation, the local police allowed the records to disappear by letting the U.S. Marshals drive down from their office in Tampa, seize the physical files, and move them to an unknown location."

    Do you see the difference between "drove down from their office" and "suddenly attacked", and why it might be significant?

    This is what people imagine when they read "raid":

  4. I know right? Its a fantastically important distinction and definitely what we should all be focusing on here. Anyway I'm starving, I'm gonna go raid the pantry. Oh no! I just accidentally used that word in a way where its meaning is commonly understood and yet completely inconsistent with the short list of definitions you showed!!! Damn its hard to discuss anything meaningfully!!!!!

  5. No I think its bullshit. The term raid was used in the article. The article describes what a reasonable person would call a raid.

    I think the inability to recognise a whole website that contains nothing but op ed is borderline delusional.

    Its a blog. The bloggers can use whatever hyperbole they want, its a casual conversation, and absolutely not cast in any way as serious journalism.

    Its probably a comment on the decline and fall of serious journalism that people are now trying to demand higher journalistic integrity from sources such as Boing Boing. If you visit Boing Boing, you should have some idea how it is pitched, and frankly if you want to start comparing it to 'legitimate' news outlets who have a real, binding mandate to present current affairs accurately you'll find many don't even come close to the level of integrity shown here. Yes I'm talking about Fox, just for starters.

    So yeah, I think your point is both technically and philosophically dead wrong, and you should probably stop digging. But hey, have at it.

Continue the discussion

58 more replies