Feds Make Police Hide Their Use of Spying Tech

While we’re supposed to trust the government to reform the NSA, the government is trying to hide other forms of spying from us. The Obama Administration has been trying to get the police to keep quiet about their ability to spy on people. Associated Press published a lengthy report on how the Federal government is overriding state open-records laws to hide police departments’ purchase and use of tools for spying. One example among several in the article:

In Sarasota, Florida, the U.S. Marshals Service confiscated local records on the use of the surveillance equipment, removing the documents from the reach of Florida’s expansive open-records law after the ACLU asked under Florida law to see the documents. The ACLU has asked a judge to intervene. The Marshals Service said it deputized the officer as a federal agent and therefore the records weren’t accessible under Florida law.

The Feds have done this several times. The basis for their behavior seems to be related to how using a license plate database is kept secret.

One well-known type of this surveillance equipment is known as a Stingray, an innovative way for law enforcement to track cell phones used by suspects and gather evidence. The equipment tricks cell phones into identifying some of their owners’ account information, like a unique subscriber number, and transmitting data to police as if it were a phone company’s tower. That allows police to obtain cell phone information without having to ask for help from service providers, such as Verizon or AT&T, and can locate a phone without the user even making a call or sending a text message.


Harris Corp., a key manufacturer of this equipment, built a secrecy element into its authorization agreement with the Federal Communications Commission in 2011. That authorization has an unusual requirement: that local law enforcement “coordinate with the FBI the acquisition and use of the equipment.” Companies like Harris need FCC authorization in order to sell wireless equipment that could interfere with radio frequencies.

As a result, the Federal government is overriding local open-records laws. Reports of police purchases and other documents are redacted.

Interviews, court records and public-records requests show the Obama administration is asking agencies to withhold common information about the equipment, such as how the technology is used and how to turn it on. That pushback has come in the form of FBI affidavits and consultation in local criminal cases.

The AP story notes the irony:

Federal involvement in local open records proceedings is unusual. It comes at a time when President Barack Obama has said he welcomes a debate on government surveillance and called for more transparency about spying in the wake of disclosures about classified federal surveillance programs.

You mean Barack Obama wasn’t being honest? What a shock!