When we filed requests with police departments across the country for their use of cell site simulators, we expected some pushback. Nonetheless, we were taken aback when Maine State Police (MSP) made it a matter of national security.
“Glomar” rejections, as they are known, are mostly issued by federal agencies like the CIA on requests about black ops programs or operations gone wrong, and they have a tight legal scope. Those infamous words, “we can neither confirm nor deny,” are only supposed to come out when national security is at risk, or if someone’s name appearing or not appearing in a law enforcement document would have a ruinous effect on that person’s life or character.
While MSP is more or less allowed to do this under the state’s Access to Public Records Act’s confidential records statute, both Baltimore PD and the Colorado State Patrol have already completed the same request and released responsive documents.
Precedents set by the Chicago PD and many others around the nation in response to reporting on IMSI catchers by outlets from local news stations to the ACLU suggest many more PDs will complete my request. And plenty more will deny us under specific and relevant FOIA exemptions.
Which makes the MSP Glomar denial downright silly. City PDs as large as Baltimore and Chicago have seen fit to not only confirm the existence of the technology but to disclose relevant documents. We’d love to hear the MSP’s explanation as to how the security situation in Maine is so different that it warrants total secrecy.
Although Glomar abuse is becoming increasingly common at the federal level, it’s slowly working its way to state agencies, setting a disastrous precedent. If any departments hit you with an unwarranted Glomar denial, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Image via Maine State Police Facebook