Police in Florida have, at the request of the U.S. Marshals Service, been deliberately deceiving judges and defendants about their use of a controversial surveillance tool to track suspects, according to newly obtained emails.
At the request of the Marshals Service, the officers using so-called stingrays have been routinely telling judges, in applications for warrants, that they obtained knowledge of a suspect’s location from a “confidential source” rather than disclosing that the information was gleaned using a stingray.Once, when a police officer made the mistake of actual describing how the location information was obtained, the State's Attorney issued a stern rebuke with strict orders never to tell the truth again, to ensure "that we may continue to utilize this technology without the knowledge of the criminal element."
When the ACLU made a FOIA request to get to the bottom of what was going on, the U.S. Marshals swept in and seized the evidence:
The release of the emails showing interference by a state attorney and the U.S. Marshals Service comes two weeks after agents from the Marshals Service took the extraordinary measure of seizing other public documents related to stingrays from the Sarasota Police Department in order to prevent the ACLU from examining them.
The documents, which were responsive to a FOIA request seeking information about Sarasota’s use of the devices, had been set aside for ACLU attorneys to examine in person. But hours before they arrived for the appointment to view the documents, someone from the Marshals Service swooped in to seize the documents and cart them to another location.The police argue that the use of these stingrays without a warrant is unobjectionable "because the devices don’t collect the content of phone calls and text messages, but instead operate like pen-registers and trap-and-traces, collecting the equivalent of header information." Perhaps so, but it is hard to see how this justifies their secret use, or how it justifies lying about using them in sworn affidavits. Or am I over-reacting?