Do You Take To Your Phone To Protest? Police Can Monitor Your Smartphone Using A “Stingray”

SAN JOSE (CN)-- A senior staff attorney with the ACLU clarified the closure of a longstanding FOIA case involving the federal government's efforts to protect documents about its usage of location-tracking "Stingray" gadgets in Northern California on Monday.

The ACLU of Northern California sued the Department of Justice in 2012, seeking more than 200 documents on federal, state and regional police policies and treatments on cell-site simulators or digital analysis devices called Stingray, Triggerfish, AmberJack, KingFish or Loggerhead.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James dismissed the complaint with bias on June 23, after the ACLU and the Justice Department settled the final issue, lawyer's charges and costs.

The cell-site simulators, a lot of them made by Harris Corp., an Orlando defense professional, replicate a mobile phone tower, fooling cellular phone into detaching from utility cell towers and linking to the simulators.

Once connected, state and local agencies can use the signal to track people's location through their cellular phone signal; federal agencies can intercept telephone call, sms message and other information, San Leandro personal privacy rights supporter Mike Katz-Lacabe said.

These location-tracking gadgets get info "not just from specific gadgets targeted by the federal government, however also devices coming from innocent third parties," the ACLU says on its website. "By keeping info about this technology from courts in applications for electronic surveillance orders, the federal government is basically seeking to write its own search warrants while taking part in a form of dragnet surveillance."

Katz-Lacabe stated one of the reasons state and local agencies are reluctant to launch their policies is since they sign nondisclosure agreements as a condition of getting the devices.

" It makes it really clear about how police should not expose anything about this devices to any person," Katz-Lacabe said. "There are specific paragraphs about how not to include info in criminal and civil discovery in addition to the judiciary."

Katz-Lacabe stated he has uncovered language in nondisclosure agreements instructing companies to drop cases if judges purchase them to reveal information about cell-site simulators.

Linda Lye, senior personnel lawyer with the ACLU of Northern California, said the government's effort to shroud advanced monitoring innovation strikes at the core of the case and why the documents need to be disclosed.

" With the proliferation of this innovation, higher transparency is required so the public can weigh in alongside chosen leaders and determine whether it is proper for communities," Lye stated.

Katz-Lacabe stated agencies likewise must reveal whether they retain data they gather, and if so, the technique of storage.

An equally crucial element of the problem is to give the judiciary branch a fundamental understanding of how the technologies work, so it can release warrants in accordance with the law, Lye said.

" The courts need standard details on how it works, so they can ensure it comports with integrated restrictions to the search warrant process," Lye said.

The Department of Justice issued a policy memorandum in September 2015, which applauded the innovation's ability to protect public security, however acknowledged some constitutional limitations.

Cell-site simulators can be "deployed as part of a fugitive apprehension effort, a complex narcotics examination, or to find or save an abducted child; cell-site simulators satisfy critical functional requirements," the policy states. "Just like any law enforcement ability, the department needs to use cell-site simulators in a way that follows the requirements and protections of the Constitution, including the Fourth Amendment, and suitable statutory authorities, including the Pen Register Statute."

Lye said the Department of Justice has actually acknowledged that a law enforcement agency need to secure a warrant under the Wire Tap Act if it plans to listen to discussions or intercept sms message.

Nevertheless, information on how the devices obstruct and handle data from innocent 3rd parties, and which agencies have and utilize the gadgets, is needed, Lye said.

" You have a lot of regional law enforcement agencies buying this advanced security technology without disclosure," Lye said. "Due to the fact that it is bought via federal grants, it often bypasses the typical spending plan procedure."

As a counterexample, Lye and Katz-Lacabe pointed out a recent regulation passed by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.

The Security Tech Ordinance, authorized in early June, states that companies need to have a public policy on usage of monitoring technologies prior to they acquire them, and must write a yearly report divulging how the technologies were used.

Santa Clara Manager Joe Simitan told the East Bay Times that the ordinance was not meant to forbid using innovation such as cell-site simulators, but simply to improve the openness of their usage.

For Katz-Lacabe, who operates in computer system security in Silicon Valley, this strikes at the core of the issue.

" I have an interest in these technologies and they can be a good idea, a great tool," he said. "But I am a strong open government supporter and how these innovations function, how departments use it, exactly what for, how frequently they utilize it, these are everything that are worthy of public disclosure."

" And they should be openly revealed," he said

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