ACLU Sues FBI Over Secret Stingray Agreements With Police

FBI Director Christopher Wray speaks at a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, Monday, Nov. 8, 2021.

FBI Director Christopher Wray speaks at a information convention on the Justice Department in Washington, Monday, Nov. 8, 2021.Photo: Andrew Harnik (AP)

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union are preventing to uncover extra concerning the FBI’s function in serving to native police purchase highly effective cellphone surveillance gadgets recognized broadly as “stingrays.” The true scope of their use towards Americans has, by design, remained a intently guarded secret for greater than a decade. This is because of secrecy necessities devised by the federal authorities, which police departments and prosecutors have adopted to an excessive.

In a lawsuit filed this week in Manhattan federal courtroom, the ACLU accuses the FBI of violating the nation’s freedom of knowledge legislation by refusing to even acknowledge the existence of any paperwork that contractually prohibit police from disclosing details about stingrays. Should there be any doubt, these paperwork do, actually, exist. I ought to know. I’m observing a number of of them proper now.


We human beings should discover, Bertrand Russell as soon as wrote, “in our own purely private experiences, characteristics which show, or tend to show, that there are in the world things other than ourselves and our private experiences.” (Characteristically, these paperwork are nonetheless heat from my printer.) From Democritus, first to posit the existence of atoms, to Descartes, who believed in a malice-free God who would by no means deceive him into believing in that which consists of nothing, the query of what, if something, exists past ourselves has been conserving philosophers up at night time for greater than two millennia.

That is over now. These paperwork are positively actual. I’m touching them. With my arms.

These non-disclosure agreements, dozens of which police departments have (deliberately or not) already made public, could be described as explicitly prohibiting police from discussing the usage of stingrays within the broadest sense. An agreement prepared by the bureau for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department in 2012, for example, bars police from telling anybody they acquired a stingray, together with the general public, the press, and “other law enforcement agencies.”

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Image for article titled The FBI Will Neither Confirm Nor Deny the Existence of These Documents I Just Printed

In plain English, the settlement instructs police to attempt to convict individuals of crimes utilizing the info collected from such gadgets whereas additionally concealing the existence of the gadgets themselves from judges, defendants, and juries. Lastly, it asserts the FBI holds the fitting to hunt the dismissal of any fees introduced towards a suspect if the case is prone to consequence within the public studying “any information” concerning the gadgets or their capabilities.

The FBI publicly acknowledged the existence of those agreements to the Washington Post years in the past. Perplexingly, it’s now refusing to take action a second time. Although, in 2015, an company spokesperson instructed the Post that “nondisclosure agreements do not preclude police from discussing the equipment’s use.” The agreements themselves contradict that assertion, and possibly the FBI now prefers silence relatively than persevering with to stay a lie.

While the Freedom of Information Act permits the FBI to withhold sure data from the general public based on the idea that doing so would compromise “techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions,” the ACLU is arguing that the agreements themselves are usually not lined beneath this exemption.

Here are 26 of them, compiled by Mike Katz-Lacabe on the Center for Human Rights and Privacy. I’m not a lawyer, however be at liberty to evaluate for your self.

The ACLU stated on Wednesday that it launched its effort to assemble copies of the non-disclosure agreements 11 months in the past after Gizmodo found the first firm accountable for offering legislation enforcement stingrays, the Harris Corporation, had determined it could not promote them on to native police. As Gizmodo reported, police companies at the moment are turning to different producers, together with one in Canada whose patents lean closely on the work of engineers abroad.

“The public lacks information about whether the FBI is currently imposing conditions on state and local agencies’ purchase of cell site simulator technology from these or other companies,” the ACLU’s grievance says.

“In response to our request, the FBI issued a ‘Glomar response,’ meaning they refused to confirm or deny the existence of any responsive records,” the ACLU stated. “Glomar responses are only legal in rare situations where disclosing the existence (or non-existence) of the requested records would itself reveal information that is exempt from disclosure under FOIA.”

“In this case, the FBI’s Glomar response doesn’t come close to passing the sniff test,” the attorneys stated, calling the bureau’s refusal to “confirm or deny” if it even has information about secrecy agreements “ironic indeed.”

“The fact of whether the FBI has continued to impose nondisclosure agreements and other conditions on local and state police isn’t a secret law enforcement technique or procedure,” they stated. “It’s basic information about whether the government is evading foundational transparency requirements we expect in a democratic society.”

The FBI declined to remark.

The use of stingrays—so named for some of the widespread fashions of IMSI-catchers, a know-how that’s used to trace the areas of cellphones by mimicking authentic cellphone towers—isn’t controversial exclusively due to the secrecy surrounding it. But it is a significant factor. Authorities have gone to excessive lengths to hide their existence. Prosecutors have been recognized to drop circumstances towards legal suspects as a result of officers will flat out refuse to be questioned about the usage of stingrays in courtroom. U.S. Marshals as soon as notoriously raided a Florida police division to grab any paperwork associated to stingrays; an effort to maintain the division from disclosing them beneath the state’s personal public information legislation.

In an obvious effort to confuse judges authorizing their use, the U.S. Justice Department as soon as circulated a template for warrant functions that misleadingly affiliated the gadgets with different telephone monitoring applied sciences often employed for over half a century. Defendants have gone to courtroom and been convicted of crimes with out the vaguest understanding of how police gathered proof towards them. To disguise stingrays, police have employed a controversial legislation enforcement method often called “parallel construction,” which seeks to create, as one Wired reporter put it in 2018, “a parallel, alternative story for how it found information.”

“For decades, law enforcement agencies across the country have used Stingrays to locate and track people in all manner of investigations, from local cops in Annapolis trying to find a guy who nabbed 15 chicken wings from a delivery driver, to ICE tracking down undocumented immigrants in New York and Detroit,” the ACLU stated. “But until a few years ago, even the existence of this technology was shrouded in near-complete secrecy.”

We now know what’s actual, even when the FBI is free, for now, to fake in any other case.

Update, 3:30pm: The FBI declined to remark after publication.

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