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)