The Spy In Your Pocket

Cell phone surveillance technology has outpaced policy and public awareness. MuckRock is investigating precisely how law enforcement across the country use cell phones to locate and track individuals.

Over the past year, we’ve uncovered crucial details of cell phone tracking: from the nondisclosure agreement that police sign with the FBI to the DEA’s inventory of StingRays to baby steps taken by the Justice Department to increase transparency around cell phone tracking.

The Non-Disclosure Agreement

Before they could track cell phone data, police had to sign a NDA with the FBI

FCC, FBI can’t agree on StingRay NDA

Months later, key details about StingRay non-disclosures remain unknown

From “We can’t find it” to “You can’t have it” - FBI changes tactics on StingRay NDA denials

Law enforcement divided over releasing StingRay docs

Full disclosure at last: lawsuit reveals unredacted StingRay NDA

Federal Agencies

The Justice Department

Federal rules for cell phone tracking are a milestone, not an endpoint

Justice Department withholds cell phone tracking docs it’s already released

Drug Enforcement Agency

DEA bought millions in cell phone trackers and training, payment data shows

FBI

5,000 page doc dump

How the Patriot Act changed FBI’s policies for tracking cell phones

FBI backtracks on cell phone trackers

FBI ordered more cell phone trackers in wake of Hurricane Katrina

US Marshals Service

US Marshals Service conceals key details of millions spent on StingRays

As US Marshals director resigns amid scandal, questions mount over agency’s cell phone tracking

State Agences

Illinois State Police

Illinois State Police purchased StingRay in 2008 for $250k

Stingrays snitching on distracted drivers? Not yet in Illinois, according to state police

Local Agencies

Boston Police Department

Boston police insist they have no guidelines on cell phone data

Boston police ordered to release StingRay docs or ditch template rejections

Boston police argue that releasing StingRay docs makes devices “essentially useless”

Image by Alan Levine via Flickr and is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

24 Articles

Maine State Police "can neither confirm nor deny" use of cellphone surveillance

Maine State Police “can neither confirm nor deny” use of cellphone surveillance

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 made it into a matter of national security.

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DEA bought millions in cell phone trackers and training, payment data shows

DEA bought millions in cell phone trackers and training, payment data shows

Over the past ten years, the Drug Enforcement Administration has spent millions of dollars on cell phone tracking. Federal purchasing documents that are already posted online indicate the make and model of the tracking device, and often even the DEA field office that bought it.

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Justice Department withholds cell phone tracking docs it's already released

Justice Department withholds cell phone tracking docs it’s already released

Despite new issuing new federal disclosure guidelines around the use of cell phone trackers, the Justice Department is still refusing to release basic information about the program - some of which has already been disclosed.

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Federal rules for cell phone tracking are a milestone, not an endpoint

Federal rules for cell phone tracking are a milestone, not an endpoint

Last week, the Justice Department released new guidelines on how its agents can use cell phone trackers in investigations. As promised, the revised policy has a warrant requirement, clear guidance on writing a detailed warrant, and provisions for deleting bystander data. Civil liberties watchdogs call it an enormous step - but as enormous a step as it may be, this policy is but an initial one toward true transparency on cell phone tracking by law enforcement.

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FBI ordered more cell phone trackers in wake of Hurricane Katrina

FBI ordered more cell phone trackers in wake of Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina killed hundreds of people along the Gulf Coast, displaced thousands more, and exposed critical deficiencies in our country’s disaster response mechanisms. The historic storm also revealed gaps in the FBI’s inventory of cell phone trackers, making additional equipment purchases “essential,” by the agency’s assessment.

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FBI backtracks on cell phone trackers

FBI backtracks on cell phone trackers

The Drug Enforcement Administration has at least two systems that can locate an individual mobile device to within 25 feet, the agency admitted recently. Meanwhile, just down the halls of the Justice Department, the FBI insists that it can neither confirm nor deny that it has any records on the same system.

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CIA can provide specialized tech and training to domestic law enforcement

CIA can provide specialized tech and training to domestic law enforcement

New Central Intelligence Agency documents shed light on the agency’s authority to partner with domestic law enforcement agencies. These procedures appear to give the green light for such programs as the development of aerial cell phone trackers in collaboration with the US Marshals.

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As US Marshals director resigns amid scandal, questions mount over agency's cell phone tracking

As US Marshals director resigns amid scandal, questions mount over agency’s cell phone tracking

This week, the director of the US Marshals, Stacia Hylton, announced that she will step down within the year. Director Hylton’s resignation follows increased scrutiny regarding allegations of fiscal mismanagement, cronyism and dubious surveillance practices - especially concerning the infamous Stingray cell phone trackers.

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Boston police argue that releasing StingRay docs makes devices “essentially useless”

Boston police argue that releasing StingRay docs makes devices “essentially useless”

In response to an order from the state records authority, Boston police have provided more detailed reasons for withholding documents related to cell phone trackers. The department altered its legal stance slightly, and asserts that revealing which agencies have StingRays helps criminals to evade law enforcement.

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How the Patriot Act changed FBI's policies for tracking cell phones

How the Patriot Act changed FBI’s policies for tracking cell phones

With key provisions of the Patriot Act set to expire next week, it’s worth revisiting how the October 2001 legislation reshaped surveillance authorities along a number of fronts - including StingRay cell phone tracking.

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Boston police ordered to release StingRay docs or ditch template rejections

Boston police ordered to release StingRay docs or ditch template rejections

Last week, the Massachusetts public records chief determined that the Boston Police Department must either release documents on StingRay cell phone trackers, or else provide a more detailed rationale for withholding them.

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Full disclosure at last: lawsuit reveals unredacted StingRay NDA

Full disclosure at last: lawsuit reveals unredacted StingRay NDA

Before they can deploy a StingRay cell phone tracker, state and local law enforcement must sign a non-disclosure agreement with the FBI. But the public did not know the precise terms of this NDA until yesterday, when the full six-page agreement was released in unredacted form as part of a lawsuit won by the New York Civil Liberties Union.

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U.S. Marshals Service conceals key details of millions spent on StingRays

U.S. Marshals Service conceals key details of millions spent on StingRays

While the agency doesn’t appear to be under an NDA, the USMS has withheld a wide range of basic information under an exemption meant to protect law enforcement techniques. However, much of the redacted data is already available online via a federal accounting website.

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Law enforcement divided over releasing StingRay docs

Law enforcement divided over releasing StingRay docs

A handful of key disclosures in recent weeks shed new light on the FBI’s involvement in cell-site simulator deployments nationwide.

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FBI changes tactics on StingRay NDA denials

FBI changes tactics on StingRay NDA denials

After initially claiming to be unable to locate any such document, the FBI now insists that it cannot release its comprehensive list of police departments across the country that use cell phone trackers.

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Months later, key details about StingRay non-disclosures remain unknown

Months later, key details about StingRay non-disclosures remain unknown

It’s been months since we learned of the seemingly compulsory non-disclosure agreement that the FBI hands police eager to use cell phone tracking equipment. But we still know precious little about which departments aren’t allowed to tell us what about their StingRays.

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Feds can't agree on StingRay NDA

Feds can’t agree on StingRay NDA

The Federal Communications Commission insists that it does not require police departments to sign a nondisclosure agreement with the FBI before acquiring or deploying cell phone trackers. The FCC’s response contradicts wording found in one such FBI nondisclosure agreement released last month by Tacoma police.

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Before they could track cell phone data, police had to sign a NDA with the FBI

Before they could track cell phone data, police had to sign a NDA with the FBI

Advanced cell phone tracking devices known as StingRays allow police nationwide to home in on suspects or to log individuals present at a given location. But before acquiring a StingRay, state and local police must sign a nondisclosure agreement with the FBI, documents released last week reveal.

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The Spy in Your Pocket Project Is Ready to Get Started

The Spy in Your Pocket Project Is Ready to Get Started

MuckRock is thrilled to dive into “The Spy in Your Pocket” – your overwhelming support allowed us to beat our initial funding goal, and we’re now poised to investigate cell phone surveillance across the country!

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UPDATED: Stretch Goals Added To Beacon Reader Project

UPDATED: Stretch Goals Added To Beacon Reader Project

Update: You may have heard that the Supreme Court unanimously ruled yesterday that cell phones of arrested suspects can’t be searched without a warrant. We’re still working through the ruling, but it makes this project more timely than ever.

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Illinois State Police purchased StingRay in 2008 for $250k

Illinois State Police purchased StingRay in 2008 for $250k

We’re down to five days left in our “The Spy in Your Pocket” crowdfunding campaign! Last week, the Illinois State Police released documents surrounding its 2008 purchase of a StingRay cell phone tracker.

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Boston police insist they have no guidelines on cell phone data

Boston police insist they have no guidelines on cell phone data

With a little over ten days left to go in “The Spy in Your Pocket” crowdfunding campaign, here’s a case study in just how little information one department claims to have on its cell phone surveillance practices … and how little it is willing to release.

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Help FOIA how police across the country are tracking cell phones

Help FOIA how police across the country are tracking cell phones

It’s clear that local police use advanced cell phone tracking — finding out where you are, who you are with, who you’re talking to — a lot more than we know. Now, with a crowdsourced project to file targeted records requests across America, you can help fix that, in as little as 30 seconds.

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The Spy in Your Pocket

The Spy in Your Pocket

Cell phone surveillance technology has outpaced policy and public awareness. With your help, our newest surveillance transparency project will uncover precisely how law enforcement across the country use cell phones to locate and track individuals.

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