New York, NY -- Stingray devices, generically known as international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) catchers, are designed to emit a signal that is stronger than nearby cell phone towers in order to force phones in the vicinity to connect to them. Once connected, all call records, location data, text messages and metadata are accessible to those in control of the device.
This technology was originally developed for anti-terrorism operations by Harris Corporation but has been employed by police departments across the U.S. for use in standard police work.
New information shows that the FBI lets suspects in criminal cases go free rather than revealing the details of their use of stingray devices.
According to CNN Money:
Judge Patrick H. NeMoyer in Buffalo, New York, described a 2012 deal between the FBI and the Erie County Sheriff's Office in his court order Tuesday: The FBI instructed the police to drop criminal charges instead of revealing "any information concerning the cell site simulator or its use."
Erie police had long tried to keep that contract secret, but the judge rejected that idea and ordered that details of the Stingrays be made public.
"If that is not an instruction that affects the public, nothing is," NeMoyer wrote.
The secrecy surrounding stingrays is ominous, to say the least. Police agencies in at least 20 different states have non-disclosure agreements with Harris Corp. They also have similar secrecy contracts with the FBI.
Last month we reported on how the FBI was covering for local police departments in a concerted effort to keep their unethical spy program under wraps.
According to reports, there have been several instances (that we know about) of prosecutors dropping charges to keep quiet about stingrays.
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Last year, a man facing a four-year prison sentence for armed robbery was let go with 6-months probation because his defense attorney discovered police used a Stingray to locate him.
Hanni Fakhoury, an attorney with the pro-privacy Electronic Frontier Foundation, told CNN that Tuesday's court order was the first time that revealed a nationwide cover up by police departments and the FBI. The idea is to maintain secrecy, at all costs.
"We've long suspected that's the policy, but now we know," said Fakhoury. "It's crazy on a billion legal levels."
The lead ACLU attorney on this case, Mariko Hirose, described Stingrays as military-grade equipment that has no place being used on unsuspecting American citizens. She also said that the FBI's tactic to stay quiet about Stingrays makes little sense. Erie County spent more than $350,000 to buy two Stingray devices and related training and equipment.
"Why are municipalities spending so much money when they might have to drop the charges in the name of secrecy?" she asked.
Apparently the secrecy of these devices is more important than the ostensible benefit received from using them.
What does this policy say about the so-called "justice" system in the US?
The justice system is seemingly more concerned with keeping its information clearinghouse open and rolling than they are with capturing criminals.
When the act of spying becomes more important than the act of deterring crime, we might live in a police state.