Sep 222014
 

Public records I received last week reveal that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are requiring police departments to engage in nondisclosure agreements with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in order to receive permission to use IMSI catchers, the mobile phone surveillance devices that allow operators to slurp up information about every mobile phone in the area, from serial numbers to voice and SMS content.

Last spring, I read about police in Florida using these devices and hiding it from the public, from prosecutors, and from judges. Details are scant, in part because the U.S Marshals confiscated public records about them before the Sarasota police were able to provide copies as requested under the state’s public records law.

Various ACLU affiliates around the nation were researching law enforcement agencies’ use of the devices, but it wasn’t happening in Washington, so I filed a series of similar requests with about 20 law enforcement agencies. All except one eventually responded with notification that they had no records responsive to my request.

Results came back positive for Tacoma, a city of 200,000 about 30 miles south of Seattle. They have had a device from Harris Corporation’s Stingray line since 2008. They, like Sarasota, have been dishonest about the situation, convincing Tacoma City Council to pay for an upgrade under the guise of bomb detection equipment, and receiving search warrants from judges for pen register or trap and trace devices, then using the IMSI catcher instead.

Kate Martin, a reporter at Tacoma News-Tribune, came across my request on MuckRock and ran a 2800-word piece on the topic last month. She followed up with an article including Tacoma Police Department claims that they don’t keep data they collect with the Stingray, and another with a report that some Tacoma City Council members were briefed on the device.

The latest news is a nondisclosure agreement concerning use of the their IMSI catcher. Three months since I requested it (a delay that likely constitutes a violation of the Washington Public Records Act), Tacoma Police finally handed over a copy last week. A letter, dated December 19, 2013, from Laura M. Laughlin of FBI to Tacoma Police Chief Donald Ramsdell, begins with the following:

We have been advised by Harris Corporation of the Tacoma Police Department’s request for acquisition of certain wireless collection equipment/technology manufactured by Harris Corporation. Consistent with the conditions on the equipment authorization granted to Harris Corporation by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), state and local law enforcement agencies must coordinate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to complete this non-disclosure agreement prior to the acquisition and use of the equipment/technology authorized by the FCC authorization.

The next four pages of the letter were redacted in their entirety, citing “specific intelligence information the non-disclosure of which is essential for effective law enforcement.”

Today, reporter Shawn Musgrave kicks off MuckRock News’ crowdfunded “The Spy in Your Pocket” series (archived copy) with a detailed look (archived copy) at the apparently-unprecidented arrangement with the FCC.

 Posted by at 11:32 am

  8 Responses to “Conspiracy to hide police use of mobile phone snooping devices from the public goes all the way to the FCC”

  1. Why is the City of Tacoma driving around at 7:20pm on Thursday night Oct 30, 2014 in a white Mercedes Benz van with no windows, an exempt license plate, with a huge antenna (directional use antenna at that) with police lights on front and back with the City of Tacoma emblem on it? It was going NB on Jackson Avenue then turned lSB on 6th Avenue where two antenna expert signal communications experts notice it and disclosed the information.

    What justifies such cost in buying a a Mercedes Benz van for spying?

  2. By Kate Martin
    Another cellphone surveillance device in Puget Sound?
    http://www.thenewstribune.com/2014/11/06/3475190/another-cellphone-surveillance.html?sp=/99/289/&ihp=1

    So wth is the justification for the Tacoma spy van surveilling streets Oct 30th at 7:20pm? That huge ass antenne could see & hear through any house!!!! Including adversaries.

  3. […] non-disclosure agreements before buying or using the equipment. And there are numerous accounts by media and the ACLU of police hiding or misrepresenting the use of stingrays from judges, even when they […]

  4. […] non-disclosure agreements before buying or using the equipment. And there are numerous accounts by media and the ACLU of police hiding or misrepresenting the use of stingrays from judges, even when they […]

  5. I seen your request to SnoCo for these devices and the Sheriff’s office won’t have those records because the SnoCo Regional Drug Task Force does, but they created it as a non-profit so that they would be exempt from the Public Records Act. They claim Clark v Tri-Cities Animal Control doesn’t apply to them but they receive public and Federal Funds but no one has the time or money to challenge them. They also receive help in regards to fighting the public off from the WSBA, Ramsey Ramerman, Margeret King and Kenyon Disend mostly but there are others involved. I have been trying to get records from Everett for 6 years, and they just send me 100 of the same emails and charge me 3.00 to 17 for each time, the last time they sent me all of their junk mail, oh and the time before that they sent me a virus on a disk. Good luck getting anywhere in SnoCo.

  6. Oh sorry… I was just reading more: About your request for drones. They use a contractor to operate the drones so they don’t have to be accountable, a private party. They did some work for SnoCo DEM on youtube over the Oso Landslide. I can’t find the link but I’ll keep trying to find it, pretty sure I have some emails about it too. SnoCo Regional Drug Task Force may have gotten some since then but they won’t tell you.

  7. reading more: About your request for drones. They use a contractor to operate the drones so they don’t have to be accountable, a private party. They did some work for SnoCo

  8. reading more: About your request for drones. They use a contractor to operate the drones so they don’t have to be accountable, a private party. They did some work for SnoCo

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