More documents have been uncovered (via FOI requests) that show local law enforcement agencies in California have been operating cell phone tower spoofers (stingray devices) in complete secrecy and wholly unregulated.
Some of these agencies have had these devices for several years now. Documents obtained from the Oakland Police Dept. show the agency has had stingrays in use since at least 2007, citing 21 "stingray arrests" during that year. This is hardly a surprising development as the city has been pushing for a total surveillance network for years now, something that (until very recently) seemed to be more slowed by contractor ineptitude than growing public outrage.
The device manufacturer's (Harris) troubling non-disclosure agreement (which has been used to keep evidence of stingray usage out of court cases as well as has been deployed as an excuse for not securing warrants) rears its misshapen head again, mentioned both in one obtained document as well as by a spokesperson reached for comment. One document states:"The Harris (REDACTED) equipment is proprietary and used for surveillance missions," the agreement reads. "Its capabilities can only be discussed with sworn law enforcement officers, the military or federal government. This equipment's capabilities are not for public knowledge and are protected under non-disclosure agreements as well as Title 18 USC 2512."
The Sacramento County Sheriff's Dept. had this to (not) say when asked about its stingray usage:"While I am not familiar with what San Jose has said, my understanding is that the acquisition or use of this technology comes with a strict non-disclosure requirement," said Undersheriff James Lewis in an emailed statement. "Therefore it would be inappropriate for us to comment about any agency that may be using the technology."Law enforcement agencies are conveniently choosing to believe a manufacturer's non-disclosure agreement trumps public interest or even their own protection of citizens' Fourth Amendment rights.
An easy thought experiment demonstrates this. Imagine that you hired a private detective to eavesdrop on a subject. That detective would plant a bug in that subject's home, office, and car. He would eavesdrop on his computer. He would listen in on that subject's conversations, both face to face and remotely, and you would get a report on what was said in those conversations. (This is what President Obama repeatedly reassures us isn't happening with our phone calls. But am I the only one who finds it suspicious that he always uses very specific words? "The NSA is not listening in on your phone calls." This leaves open the possibility that the NSA is recording, transcribing, and analyzing your phone calls -- and very occasionally reading them. This is far more likely to be true, and something a pedantically minded president could claim he wasn't lying about.)
Now imagine that you asked that same private detective to put a subject under constant surveillance. You would get a different report, one that included things like where he went, what he did, who he spoke to -- and for how long -- who he wrote to, what he read, and what he purchased. This is all metadata, data we know the NSA is collecting. So when the president says that it's only metadata, what you should really hear is that we're all under constant and ubiquitous surveillance.