Most transparent administration ever telling local police to keep surveillance secret

posted at 9:21 pm on June 16, 2014 by Mary Katharine Ham

This isn’t a matter of an Obama administration official whispering in local law enforcement’s ears or sending a vague memo. They’ve been actively interfering in public records requests and lawsuits:

The Obama administration has been quietly advising local police not to disclose details about surveillance technology they are using to sweep up basic cellphone data from entire neighborhoods, The Associated Press has learned.

Citing security reasons, the U.S. has intervened in routine state public records cases and criminal trials regarding use of the technology. This has resulted in police departments withholding materials or heavily censoring documents in rare instances when they disclose any about the purchase and use of such powerful surveillance equipment.

Federal involvement in local open records proceedings is unusual. It comes at a time when President Barack Obama has said he welcomes a debate on government surveillance and called for more transparency about spying in the wake of disclosures about classified federal surveillance programs.

As we know, local law enforcement is well on its way to becoming baby military forces, with MRAPs, riot gear galore, and firepower sometimes akin to the U.S. Marine Corps. Now, we know they’re becoming baby NSAs, and being just as secretive about it. What I find most discouraging about this story is that, if you can’t get any clear idea from your local government about where and how it might be capable of spying on you, there is no chance you’re going to get any answers from the feds. And, if we can’t be assured that we can even have cellphone conversations without our information being dragnetted, we’re not really free at all. This seems a rather low bar.

Here’s one of the tactics they’ve used, exhibiting the light touch the federal government is so famous for:

Some of the government’s tactics to hide Stingray from journalists and the public have been downright disturbing. After the ACLU had filed a records request for information on Stingrays, the local police force initially told them that, yes, they had the documents and to come on down to the station to look at them. But just before an ACLU rep was due to arrive, US Marshals seized the records and hid them away at another location, in what Wessler describes as “a blatant violation of state open-records laws”.

The ACLU explains how the technology works, and how it can ensnare plenty of people who are merely guilty of being adjacent to an investigation:

Cell site simulators, also known as “stingrays,” are devices that trick cellphones into reporting their locations and identifying information. They do so by mimicking cellphone towers and sending out electronic cues that allow the police to enlist cellphones as tracking devices, thus revealing people’s movements with great precision. The equipment also sends intrusive electronic signals through the walls of private homes and offices, learning information about the locations and identities of phones inside. Initially the domain of the National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence agencies, the use of stingrays has trickled down to federal, state and local law enforcement. In one Florida case, a police officer explained in court that he “quite literally stood in front of every door and window” with his stingray to track the phones inside a large apartment complex.

Even when police are tracking a specific suspect, stingrays sweep up information about large numbers of bystanders who happen to be nearby; if stingrays yell out “Marco,” the mobile phones in the area reply, “Polo.” The result is that police gather the electronic serial numbers and other information about phones, as well as the direction and strength of each phone’s signal, allowing precise location tracking. Stingrays can also gather information about people’s communications, such as which phone numbers they call. Because we carry our cellphones with us virtually everywhere we go, stingrays can paint a precise picture of where we are and who we spend time with, including our location in a lover’s house, in a psychologist’s office or at a political protest.

But mind you, President Obama is intent on a healthy debate about the limits of these powers when he’s not actively working to hide that governments are using these powers.

Vice on HBO checked out this trend in Camden, N.J.:

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Yeah, that “most transparent” thing was over a LONG time ago.

OccamsRazor on June 16, 2014 at 9:24 PM

We used to have governors that could do something about this.

The GOP is weak and afraid.

faraway on June 16, 2014 at 9:27 PM

“is the President responsible for anything … juan”
nice try President MKH….

going2mars on June 16, 2014 at 9:31 PM

This is getting to be so ridiculous. Hey.. so we got 2 more years. What else could he do…. you know there are a hundred new lines to cross that have never been crossed before. Maybe they could all bring back a new and improved sedition act. Create roaming community mobs with police powers to arrest any and all who criticize the government. Maybe expand what’s going on in our schools to main street.. anyone caught with a bent paper clip or a chewed pop tart looking like a weapon goes to jail.

I never in my wildest dreams thought this is what would come of America.

So where is Boehner? How bout Chris Christie? Oh wait.. they only criticize conservatives.

JellyToast on June 16, 2014 at 9:34 PM

All of these things will continue. In fact this type of surveillance will grow and grow. You have no control over it and no options are available to stop it.

Bmore on June 16, 2014 at 9:35 PM

we’re more comfortable with Obama wielding this sort of power because he seems a hell of a lot more effective and responsible with it.

urban elitist on February 8, 2012 at 9:33 PM

This is the Everlasting Gobstopper of leftist quotes.

Bishop on June 16, 2014 at 9:36 PM

All of these things will continue. In fact this type of surveillance will grow and grow. You have no control over it and no options are available to stop it.

Bmore on June 16, 2014 at 9:35 PM

Not unless or until people get outraged enough to FIRE any and all politians who don’t actively fight this.

We will get the government we ‘deserve’. If we allow abuse to continue – then abuse will continue.

LilyBart on June 16, 2014 at 9:38 PM

2 years is a long time folks. There’s still lots of freedom to shred.

So.. just sit back and think about what freedom you take for granted.. buying whatever quantity of bread you like.. driving wherever you want.. freely going to the church of your choice…. and realize someone out there is thinking about controlling that.

And not a GOP leader in sight could care a bit.

JellyToast on June 16, 2014 at 9:39 PM

I never in my wildest dreams thought this is what would come of America.

JellyToast on June 16, 2014 at 9:34 PM

I’m so very sad. We grew bored with freedom. We let the leftist takeover the schools, the media, the government….and they will never stop. They are the Hegelian legatees….progressives progressing toward their own narcissistic tyranny.

cthemfly on June 16, 2014 at 9:45 PM

Combine this with a IRS that targets law abiding American Citizens for political harassment and you discover that America today has become a police State that even Stalins Soviet Union or East Germany could have only drooled over.

oscarwilde on June 16, 2014 at 9:46 PM

LilyBart on June 16, 2014 at 9:38 PM

Sadly freedom loving individuals seem to be on the wane these days. We are quite surrounded. This does not have a happy ending.

Bmore on June 16, 2014 at 9:47 PM

On the brighter side, just be sure to look your best. ; )

Bmore on June 16, 2014 at 9:48 PM

cthemfly on June 16, 2014 at 9:45 PM

And lazy….

Barred on June 16, 2014 at 9:48 PM

From the ARCHIVES . . . . .

we’re more comfortable with Obama wielding this sort of power because he seems a hell of a lot more effective and responsible with it.

urban elitist on February 8, 2012 at 9:33 PM

.
This is the Everlasting Gobstopper of leftist quotes.

Bishop on June 16, 2014 at 9:36 PM

.
Do we think his tone has changed any, since then?

Naaahhhh . . . . .

listens2glenn on June 16, 2014 at 9:49 PM

Transparent? Who ever believed that? Maybe libfreeorcry still does but I never, ever took it seriously as a “regime objective.”

ExpressoBold on June 16, 2014 at 9:50 PM

I could always leave for the woods. Hunt rabbits and squirrels, and such.
Little Thoreau sized cabin.

Even our Pima County Sheriffs motorsickle units are sporting BMW’s, and Honda VFR 1100′s armed with AR’s with 10 1/2″ LMT barrels. Eotechs on top.
Long ways away from Barney Fife with one round in his pocket, and a switchboard operator.

wolly4321 on June 16, 2014 at 9:50 PM

Yeah, that “most transparent” thing was over a LONG time ago.

OccamsRazor on June 16, 2014 at 9:24 PM

.
Somewhere between election day 2008 and inauguration 2009.

listens2glenn on June 16, 2014 at 9:51 PM

Transparent? Yes, he has always been openly Marxist.

faraway on June 16, 2014 at 9:52 PM

You lefties want more government, well sister this is more government.

Wassa? What? You didn’t mean this? Too effin bad, you give power to thugs and the thugs eventually have enough of it to take whatever they want.

Bishop on June 16, 2014 at 9:55 PM

Attending a Tea Party rally or pro-life protest? Pull the battery out of your cell phone. Or leave it at home.

Oh, and maybe sunglasses, a fake beard and a ball cap.

iurockhead on June 16, 2014 at 10:02 PM

Reminds me of a tragic case a few years ago. A man who wrote for cnet.com and his family got lost in SW Oregon back roads due to snow, trying to get to the coast. He died trying to get help but the police found his family ok after several days via two cell phone company techs triangulating the few times his cell phone got a signal on a tower. They had the whole state looking for these folks. Long story short, there was a rumor that the police didn’t want to use this method early on because it might let the general public know they could track cellphones so easily.

oryguncon on June 16, 2014 at 10:08 PM

This would not be NSA surveillance. This would be FBI surveillance. Stingray, for example, is an FBI project.

NSA is not a law enforcement agency. They are a foreign intelligence collection agency. It comes under the Department of Defense, not Department of Justice. It is headed by a General. It is staffed by about 50% military and most of the other 50% are former military. The stuff people blame on NSA for domestic cases is almost always FBI. Look at the Verizon FISA order from the Snowden case — it was an FBI order.

The reporting on these sorts of stories stinks. It has a nugget of truth surrounded by a thick baloney coating.

crosspatch on June 16, 2014 at 10:13 PM

u lefties want more government, well sister this is more government. Wassa? What? You didn’t mean this? Too effin bad, you give power to thugs and the thugs eventuallyhave enough of it to take whatever they want. Bishop on June 16, 2014 at 9:55 PM

When wackobird Cruz single handedly shut down the gubmint, we had Sheriffs in battle gear, bulletproofs and all, armed to the teeth guarding public shitters on Fed land. National forests.

I rode my motorcycle around taking pictures of chained off, caution taped, barricaded crappers.

Maybe it was practice. A field drill.

wolly4321 on June 16, 2014 at 10:15 PM

The changes I have seen in my lifetime….

When I was growing up it was just common knowledge.. something no one even questioned.. that America was the greatest and best and most free nation on the earth.

In America.. and I remember teachers saying this.. in America “your home was your castle!” Again.. I remember high school teachers telling us this. It was a common phrase.

Police were friendly.. as far as I remember. I mean.. for real.. Adam-12 was a prime time major TV show. In Adam-12 the cops would never think of breaking the law.. in TV shows today they break as many laws as the crooks do. What kind of nation was it that had Adam-12 as a popular major police series?

Oh.. and yes.. I grew up with the Brady Bunch. It was just a fun TV show. And the Partridge Family. And you know what? Whenever a black was on TV during those years.. they were always a great role model.. I SPY, Mission Impossible, Hogan’s Heroes, Daktari, Land of the Giants and so many more. You never heard the N word on TV or saw any kind of nudity.. until the lib named Norman Lear came out with All in the Family.

Generally.. it was considered normal for you to mind your own business.

Everyone I knew wanted to be rich some day.
Everyone I knew wanted to be married and have kids.

There were no children services. No one could take you from your parent’s home. Children belonged to their parents. Child abuse were 2 words you never heard of.
In spite of there being no children’s services.. I never heard anyone ever talk about or read about any child who was locked in a cage anywhere. I never heard of any child who had been raped or savagely murdered or locked in a basement or anything.

Drugs were things people did in city colleges or on the streets of New York.

Schools were filled with teachers who believed in God.. loved the country.. and actually taught worthwhile things. As kids… if you were caught with a squirt gun they took it. That was it. I carried a pocket knife to school often.. as did many of my friends. We actually had a gun range in our school basement.. and people brought guns to school for hunter’s safety class. Boys liked girls and girls like boys and as for sexual harassment? I never heard of those words until I went to college.

If there was a fight in school.. the person who started it got in trouble.. that was it. And his trouble usually was nothing more than counting bricks in the hallway outside of the principle’s office.

Well.. no point in going on.. I could list a hundred other things.

JellyToast on June 16, 2014 at 10:20 PM

am I the only one that saw MKH on BOR show tonight??

going2mars on June 16, 2014 at 10:21 PM

am I the only one that saw MKH on BOR show tonight??

going2mars on June 16, 2014 at 10:21 PM

IDK.

Bishop on June 16, 2014 at 10:30 PM

sorry..IDK?? I didn’t know??

going2mars on June 16, 2014 at 10:33 PM

am I the only one that saw MKH on BOR show tonight??

going2mars on June 16, 2014 at 10:21 PM

.
I missed it . . . : (
.
But, was bluegill on BOR?

listens2glenn on June 16, 2014 at 10:33 PM

she slapped both bill n juan…
it was a pleasure to see…

ps bill hushed her up once.. unkind ..the loud mouth he is..

going2mars on June 16, 2014 at 10:34 PM

This would not be NSA surveillance. This would be FBI surveillance. Stingray, for example, is an FBI project.

NSA is not a law enforcement agency. They are a foreign intelligence collection agency. It comes under the Department of Defense, not Department of Justice. It is headed by a General. It is staffed by about 50% military and most of the other 50% are former military. The stuff people blame on NSA for domestic cases is almost always FBI. Look at the Verizon FISA order from the Snowden case — it was an FBI order.

The reporting on these sorts of stories stinks. It has a nugget of truth surrounded by a thick baloney coating.

crosspatch on June 16, 2014 at 10:13 PM

I suggest you keep up with news if you think this is limited to the Feds.

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/06/local-cops-in-15-us-states-confirmed-to-use-cell-tracking-devices/

darury on June 16, 2014 at 10:36 PM

listens2glenn on June 16, 2014 at 10:33 PM

laffs…it took less than 12 hours to prove the
‘do helicopters get shot down’ theory wrong…
so I would guess…mmm…the guppy is not ready for prime time..

going2mars on June 16, 2014 at 10:37 PM

did you all see Mike Spann’s daughter on with Greta??..
her father would be proud…

going2mars on June 16, 2014 at 10:39 PM

Right! I actually have no problem with this technology.

So long as the only time its used is with specific instructions, a single target, and under a court order.

deadrody on June 17, 2014 at 5:52 AM

Oh, and maybe sunglasses, a fake beard and a ball cap.

iurockhead on June 16, 2014 at 10:02 PM

Sorry, That won’t protect you against face reco. The algorithms don’t look at the same things you would.

You are much better off looking down to avoid giving the cameras good light and a direct front look.

Reuben Hick on June 17, 2014 at 6:38 AM

So are there apps out there which can stop your phone from responding to this? Gotta figure some code out there would eliminate this capability.

Zomcon JEM on June 17, 2014 at 8:33 AM

‘Ain’t no sunshine whentil you’re gone’.

Kissmygrits on June 17, 2014 at 8:53 AM

2016 is going to be scary for the Republican nominee. The unhinged left is going to wage all out war in order to elect another Dem. They cannot afford to have Republican Administration come in and shed light on everything that has happened under Obama. If you thought that the last couple of election cycles have been bad in terms of demonizing Republicans, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

They must win 2016 at all costs. Write it down.

It will be tempting for a Republican candidate to make a backroom promise to not pursue shedding light on the Obama admin to get the attack dogs to back off a little. Beware anyone who does not campaign on holding the Obama Admin accountable and informing the public on the activities of his administration after he is gone.

airupthere on June 17, 2014 at 9:13 AM

‘Heil Obama!’

easyt65 on June 17, 2014 at 9:29 AM

Police were friendly.. as far as I remember. I mean.. for real.. Adam-12 was a prime time major TV show. In Adam-12 the cops would never think of breaking the law.. in TV shows today they break as many laws as the crooks do. What kind of nation was it that had Adam-12 as a popular major police series?

Well.. no point in going on.. I could list a hundred other things.

JellyToast on June 16, 2014 at 10:20 PM

The fact is, Jellytoast, that Adam-12 was fiction even then. Read a little history and you will find that cops and even (yes!) firemen have been out of control thugs, and that the federal government has been unconstitutionally causing murder and mayhem since the late 1700′s. Just check out the Shay’s Rebellion 1786, the Great Chicago Fire 1871, or the police riots in NYC in 1857, the bonus army in 1932 and the mass murder of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Tx in 1993.

The police in this police state routinely murder in the US more people than the entire US death toll in war in Afghanistan every single year.

So tell me, what do you think of this wonderful country today?

earlgrey on June 17, 2014 at 10:29 AM

I carried a pocket knife to school often.. as did many of my friends. We actually had a gun range in our school basement.. and people brought guns to school for hunter’s safety class. Boys liked girls and girls like boys and as for sexual harassment? I never heard of those words until I went to college.

I always had a pocketknife; and the teachers knew it. At least once, I was called upon to use it to repair the plug on a movie projector. No problems. No “zero-tolerance”. And yes, I did fix it.

And any guy who was committing “sexual harassment” would be stopped by any other guy; if the gal herself, or her brothers, or any other friend of hers didn’t put a stop to it PDQ.

PDQ – not just another milk flavoring.
Is my age showing? :(

ReggieA on June 17, 2014 at 5:35 PM