Thanks to explosive revelations by the now exiled Edward Snowden, Americans are much more aware about how the Federal government is spying on them. But what many don't realize is that local police departments are adopting many of the same techniques as DC and they're likely spying on you as well.
Cell phone snooping is in the news thanks to the 9-0 ruling from the Supreme Court that police require a search warrant before searching your phone. But technology is now available where they can spy on your phone without even touching the actual phone. Here's how it works.
To be able to receive calls phones are constantly registering their physical location with the phone network. Using this information, the phone company knows where to send a call. Technology now exists to create a phony base station, which would cause all nearby phones to reveal their identity. These devices are sometimes called "Stingrays" because that's the product name from a popular vendor. Read more here.
Federal agencies like Homeland Security are now buying these devices and local
police are following in their footsteps. I recently asked San Diego police for documents related to these devices to see if they're in use where I live.
They gave me one lousy document and they blanked most of it out so it reveals very little. It does seem to suggest they have purchased a Stingyray device from its manufacturer Harris Corporation for $33,000. They refused to produce any other documents citing Cal Code 6254f, which says they do not have to turn over "records of intelligence information or security procedures". I wasn't asking for intelligence information or security procedures. I am wanting to know what technology our government uses to spy on us.
Some might say, what does it matter? If you have nothing to hide, you shouldn't mind? I do mind and so should every citizen. One of the aspects of the US that makes it unique is that we tolerate dissent going so far to enshrine protection for dissenters in the Constitution. In many countries, if you oppose a government position you could be harassed, imprisoned, or killed. People's natural instinct is to retaliate against those with different beliefs. We're witnessing this first hand as Lois Lerner's emails leak out showing how she ordered audits to those with different ideology than hers. To protect this from happening, government spying on their own citizens needs to be exposed, monitored, and limited.
Below is my request, then SD Police department's response, and finally a link to the one document they did produce.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Michael Robertson email@example.com
Date: Sat, Jun 14, 2014 at 6:57 AM
Subject: CPRA Request - Documents related to cellphone tracking technology
To: Salvador, Jericho firstname.lastname@example.org
I'm requesting all documents from 6/10/12-6/10/14 related to any
technology which tracks cellphones. To assist in this search here are some terms (but not an complete list) that may be useful in a document search: International Mobile Subscriber Identity, IMSI, Trigger Fish, Harris Corporation and Stingray.
I got no response even though I sent multiple emails and left voicemail message, which is unusual because Jericho is usually very responsive. Then I got this:
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Salvador, Jericho email@example.com
Date: Wed, Jun 25, 2014 at 8:35 AM
Subject: RE: No response to my CPRA request
To: Michael Robertson firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Mr. Robertson,
I am responding to your public records request to the San Diego Police Department dated June 14, 2014. I was on a day off yesterday and was unable to respond to you.
Attached is a copy of one responsive document, Purchase Order
4500038491. The document has been redacted to protect information that would reveal security or intelligence information, and is exempt from disclosure pursuant to California Government Code section 6254(f).Alternatively, the information is exempt from disclosure pursuant to Section 6254(k) and the Department claims confidentiality per Evidence Code section 1040.
Jericho Salvador, Officer
Chiefs' Office/ CPRA Liaison
And here's the single document they provided: