In March 2008, the general counsel for Governor Rod Blagojevich approved the covert purchase of a StingRay device by Illinois State Police, documents released last week reveal.
The documents, which were released to MuckRock user Scott Ainslie, indicate that state police used $241,450 in federal homeland security funding to purchase the device in September 2008.
Two months later, the department paid another $12,800 in training fees plus an additional $7,000 in travel costs for four special agents to attend a seven-day StingRay crash course at the Florida headquarters of Harris Corporation, which manufactures the device.
Like many of the police departments around the country we’re surveying as part of “The Spy in Your Pocket,”, the Illinois State Police justified their covert purchase on the grounds that it was to be used for covert law enforcement operations.
The agency withheld many additional details from the release, citing an exemptions for "details about investigative techniques that could be countered by criminal elements if widely known.” The agreement with Harris Corporation includes the same publicity non-disclosure provision as have been uncovered for a number of other departments using cell phone tracking devices nationwide.
With five days to go on our campaign to survey hundreds of police departments across the country about their cell phone tracking habits, these documents suggest trends that demand further investigation. In particular, we want to know how many departments have purchased surveillance equipment under the banner of homeland security, with federal funds, and outside the public procurement process. What’s more, what do departments do with this equipment once purchased, as well as with the sensitive information such devices collect?
With your support, we’re finding out. Check out our project page over at Beacon Reader for “The Spy in Your Pocket” to help make law enforcement more transparent and accountable.