May 27th was a rather unusual day. Or to put it more bluntly, May 27th kind of sucked. In the days beforehand, the ACLU had made a public records request to the Sarasota, FL police department, regarding their use of Stingray devices in law enforcement operations. Specifically, the ACLU asked for
“any records made or received by [the Sarasota Police Department] related to the use of cell phone tracking equipment, including but not limited to, any device known as stingray or stingray II.”
Source: Ars Technica
Sarasota PD Detective Michael Jackson was the keeper of these records, and he scheduled an appointment for the ACLU to review them. The appointment was set for 2:30pm on the afternoon of May 27th.
A few hours before 2:30pm, the US Marshals office deputized Detective Jackson, claimed that records in question were federal property, and seized them from the Sarasota Police Department. According to Boing Boing
US Marshals swept into the offices of police in Sarasota, Florida to whisk away records related to operation of “stingray” surveillance tools that the ACLU had requested. The records detailed the farcically low standard for judicial permission to use a stingray (which captures information about the movements, communications and identities of all the people using mobile phones in range of them), and is part of a wider inquiry to their use without a warrant at all — at least 200 Florida stingray deployments were undertaken without judicial oversight because the police had signed a nondisclosure agreement with the device’s manufacturer and they decided that this meant they didn’t have to get warrants anymore.
Source: Boing boing
This is a disturbing chain of events on at least two levels. First, the US Marshals office seized documents from a local police department, in an effort to prevent the ACLU from examining them. Second, we have the notion that a nondisclosure agreement (with Harris Corporation, who manufacturers Stingray devices) trumps the need to obtain a warrant.
Additional information on this issue:
- Wired: U.S. Marshals Seize Cops’ Spying Records to Keep Them From the ACLU
- ACLU: U.S. Marshals Seize Local Cops’ Cell Phone Tracking Files in Extraordinary Attempt to Keep Information From Public
- Ars Technica: Cops hid use of phone tracking tech in court documents at feds’ request
After reading about the records seizure, I did what any fan of government transparency would do: I sent a FOIA request to the US Marshals office for the seized records.
June 10, 2014
Office of General Counsel
FOI/PA, CS4, 10th Floor
2604 Jefferson Davis Highway
Alexandria, VA 22301
Dear FOIA/PA Officer,
This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
I am seeking copies of the following records
Stingray-related documents seized from the Sarasota, FL police department in early June 2014. These documents are described in the following article by the American Civil Liberties Union:
The responsive documents are also described in the following Wired magazine article:
and in this article by security firm Sophos:
I am willing to pay up to $25.00 for the processing of this request. Please inform me if the estimated fees will exceed this limit before processing my request.
I am seeking information for personal use and not for commercial use.
I am happy to accept responsive documents in paper or electronic form, but would prefer electronic copies (.pdf is fine). My postal address appears at the top of this letter, and my email address is steve@….
Thank you for your time and consideration,
The US Marshals office responded on June 18th, 2014
Re: Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Request No. 2014USMS26121
Subject of Request: Records Allegedly Seized from Sarasota, FL Police
This is in response to your request any [sic] stingray records allegedly “seized from the Sarasota, FL, police department in early June 2014.”
Pursuant to your request, the USMS conducted a search and located no records responsive to your request.
Here is a pdf of the US Marshals response.
I suspect that I’ve been dinged on a technicality. My request asked for records seized “in early June 2014”, but it looks like the seizure took place on May 27th. I’m planning to amend and re-file my FOIA request.
The Mass. Pirate party has worked with the ACLU on several occasions, and we hope people will support their efforts to obtain these documents. At the very least, we hope that a few of you are willing to take a few minutes to let the US Marshals office know that you’re aware of what they’re doing. Submit a FOIA request of your own, and feel free to use mine as a starting point. You can also ask for “Administrative records generated in response to FOIA request 2014USMS26121”, “The US Marshals FOIA request log for May and June 2014”, or “administrative records generated by FOIA requests which mention the Sarasota, FL police department”. Be creative; you too can help open government.