|This graphic illustrates how a StingRay works. Signals from cellphones within the device's radius are bounced to law enforcement. The information relayed may include names, phone numbers, locations, call records and even text messages. |
(Photo - News10 Sacramento)
An Attack on the Police State
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Tenth Amendment Center) – Last Thursday, a third Florida Senate committee approved a measure that would ban warrantless location tracking and the use of stingray devices to sweep up electronic communications in most situations. The new law will not only protect privacy in Florida, but will also hinder one aspect of the federal surveillance state.
Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) introduced Senate Bill 1256 (SB1256) on Dec. 14. The legislation would help block the use of cell site simulators, known as “stingrays.” These devices essentially spoof cell phone towers, tricking any device within range into connecting to the stingray instead of the tower, allowing law enforcement to sweep up communications content, as well as locate and track the person in possession of a specific phone or other electronic device.
SB1256 would require police to get a search warrant based on probable cause before acquiring real-time or historical GPS location data, and before using any type of mobile tracking device in most situations. Police already must get a warrant before intercepting cell phone communication content. Adding location tracking to the warrant requirement would effectively end warrantless stingray use in Florida.
The legislation would also require police to get a warrant before accessing stored location data from a service provider. Under current law, police can access stored data with a court order.
Last week,, the Senate Rules Committee passed SB1256 by a 13-0 vote with some amendments.
One amendment requires police to get a warrant before accessing information from a service provider that is more than 180 days old. Under current law, police have to have a warrant for data stored less than 180 days old, but do not need a warrant to access older data, A second amendment adds provisions allowing police to access stored electronic data with a judicially issued subpoena for sex crime investigations.
The Criminal Justice Committee previously passed the measure by a 4-1 vote and the Senate Judiciary Committee passed SB1256 by a 10-0 vote.
The bill does include some exceptions to the warrant requirement. Police could use stingray devices an emergency situation that involves the immediate danger of death or serious injury, the danger of escape of a prisoner, or when specifically defined exigent circumstances exist. In these situations, police would still be required to obtain a warrant within 48 hours.
The contents of any intercepted wire, oral, or electronic communication, or evidence obtained in violation of the law could not be received in evidence or otherwise disclosed in any trial, hearing, or other proceedings.
IMPACT ON FEDERAL SURVEILLANCE PROGRAMS
The federal government funds the vast majority of state and local stingray programs, attaching one important condition. The feds require agencies acquiring the technology to sign non-disclosure agreements. This throws a giant shroud over the program, even preventing judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys from getting information about the use of stingrays in court.
The feds actually instruct prosecutors to withdraw evidence if judges or legislators press for information. As the Baltimore Sun reported in April 2015, a Baltimore detective refused to answer questions on the stand during a trial, citing a federal non-disclosure agreement.
Defense attorney Joshua Insley asked Cabreja about the agreement.
“Does this document instruct you to withhold evidence from the state’s attorney and Circuit Court, even upon court order to produce?” he asked.
“Yes,” Cabreja said.
As privacysos.org put it, “The FBI would rather police officers and prosecutors let ‘criminals’ go than face a possible scenario where a defendant brings a Fourth Amendment challenge to warrantless stingray spying.”
The experience of a Pinellas County, Florida, man further highlights the shroud of secrecy around the use of stingray devices, along with the potential for abuse of power inherent in America’s law enforcement community.
The feds sell the technology in the name of “anti-terrorism” efforts. With non-disclosure agreements in place, most police departments refuse to release any information on the use of stingrays. But information obtained from the Tacoma Police Department revealed that it uses the technology primarily for routine criminal investigations.
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FBI lets suspects go to protect
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