FBI replies to Stingray Freedom of Information request with 5,000 blank pages

The Stingray — a fake cellphone tower that gathers identity/location information on everyone who passes it — is the worst-kept secret in law enforcement, but that doesn't stop feds from going to absurd lengths to pretend they don't use them.

We know that police departments have to sign non-disclosure agreements when they buy Stingrays, and we've even seen them lie to judges about how they acquired their evidence to maintain their non-disclosure obligations. We've seen US Marshalls raid city cops to steal Stingray evidence before it could be introduced in court (even more dismaying — it worked, and the case against the cops collapsed because the evidence had been disappeared down the Marshalls' memory hole).

Since 2014, Muckrock has been firing out Freedom of Information Act requests about Stingrays to agencies at all levels of government, using crowdfunded dough to pay for it.

The fun-loving feds at the FBI have turned over 5,000 pages of Stingray records in response to one set of Muckrock requests — but they redacted virtually every word on every page first.

That's not to say there's nothing of interest left intact. A few pages explain the FBI's legal rationale for IMSI catcher deployment — including the fact that the Patriot Act expanded the reach of pen register orders to include not just numbers dialed, but also the location of the phone itself. This allows the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to route around one of CALEA's (Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act) few limitations related to pen register orders: that service providers not be required to hand over subscriber location info.

In passing CALEA in 1994, Congress required providers to isolate and provide to the government certain information relating to telephone communications. At the same time that it created these obligations, it created an exception: carriers shall not provide law enforcement with "any information that may disclose the physical location of the subscriber" in response to a pen/trap order… By its very terms, this prohibition applies only to information collected by a provider and not to information collected directly by law enforcement authorities. Thus, CALEA does not bar the use of pen/trap orders to authorize the use of cell phone tracking devices used to locate targeted cell phones.

FBI Hands Over 5000 Pages Of Stingray Info To MuckRock, Redacts Nearly All Of It [Tim Cushing/Techdirt]