The Spy In Your Pocket
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
The Justice Department
Drug Enforcement Agency
US Marshals Service
Illinois State Police
Boston Police Department
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A handful of key disclosures in recent weeks shed new light on the FBI’s involvement in cell-site simulator deployments nationwide.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.