After federal document-snatch, ACLU case over Florida cops' phone surveillance collapses

After US marshalls raided a Florida police department to seize documents about to be revealed in an ACLU case over "stingray" mobile phone surveillance, we knew that the case was endangered. Now the worst has happened: state circuit court judge Charles Williams has thrown out the case because he says his court has no jurisdiction over federal agents, so he can't order the critical documents to be returned, so there's no case.

The feds have offered a limited, sealed disclosure to the Florida court, and the ACLU has vowed to fight to unseal them and carry on with the case.

At issue is the widespread police use of "stingray" devices that spoof mobile phones, tricking them into revealing information about their owners' movements, communications, associations, and identity.

“I can guarantee you that we will move to unseal them and we also are evaluating our options in terms of appealing the judge’s decision because we never had an opportunity to address a critical factual issue in his ruling,” he said, noting that it remains unclear what portion of the stingray records the US government is willing to hand over.

“Now based on the judge’s order it appears that factual representations were made and, because we didn’t refute them at the status conference, they’re being used as a basis for the judge’s rationale, which obviously we disagree with.”

Barfield added that he continues to believe, despite the federal government’s claims, that the stingray records as they originated with the Sarasota Police Department are a state record and that state records law applies.

“When the government goes to such lengths to keep the public in the dark about its warrantless spying on citizens, then the requirement that courts approve of government searches is rendered pointless,” he added by e-mail. “Both the federal and local governments need to respect open records laws so the public knows what police are doing in their name.”

Judge allows US Marshals’ seizure of stingray records, dimisses lawsuit [Cyrus Farivar/Ars Technica]

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