New Documents Show FBI Instructing Law Enforcement To Throw Out Cases Rather Than Give Up Info On Stingray Use

Documents obtained by the New York ACLU (via a lawsuit, naturally) provide more details on the FBI’s efforts to cover up usage of Stingray devices. Back in February, an FBI memo obtained by the Minnesota Star Tribune stated clearly that the agency required all public records requests for Stingray documents be routed through it.

This agreement between the FBI and the Erie County (NY) Sheriff’s Department is even more restrictive. It opens up with the FBI repeating one of its lies in hopes of making the highly-restrictive agreement following it seem less like federal bullying and more like just one of those unfortunate byproducts of pesky regulation.

Consistent with the conditions on the equipment authorization granted to Harris Corporation by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), state and local law enforcement agencies must coordinate with the FBI to complete this non-disclosure agreement prior to the acquisition and use of the equipment/technology authorized by the FCC authorization.

This paragraph is apparently included in every FBI/Stingray agreement and, according to the FCC, it’s all a bunch of BS. The FCC may require coordination with the FBI prior to the purchase of Stingray equipment, but it does NOT require the signing of a non-disclosure agreement. Here’s its reply to an FOIA requester seeking the text of this supposed FCC requirement.

We do not require that state and local law enforcement agencies have to complete one or more non-disclosure agreements with the Federal Bureau of Investigation prior to acquisition and/or use of the authorized equipment. We have no documents responsive to your request.

So, the FBI opens with a lie, and then moves on to instructing law enforcement agencies to lie about their Stingray usage… to damn near everybody.

In order to ensure that such collection equipment/technology continues to be available for use by the law enforcement community, the equipment/technology and any information related to its functions, operation, and use shall be protected from potential compromise by precluding disclosure of this information to the public in any manner including but not limited to: in press releases, in court, during judicial hearings, or during other public forums or proceedings.

The government wants law enforcement agencies to lie to the courts — which includes lying to judges, prosecutors and defendants. Everyone is included. This is made even more explicit a few paragraphs later.

The Erie County Sheriff’s Office shall not, in any civil or criminal proceeding, use or provide any information concerning the Harris Corporation wireless collection equipment/technology… beyond the evidentiary results obtained through the use of the equipment/technology including, but not limited to, during pre-trial matters, in search warrants and related affidavits, in discovery, in response to court ordered disclosure, in other affidavits, in grand jury hearings, in the State’s case-in-chief, rebuttal, or on appeal, or in testimony in any phase of civil or criminal trial, without the prior written approval of the FBI.

In short: parallel construction. The Sheriff’s Office can hand over the results of Stingray collections, but not divulge how it arrived at these results. If it’s going to deploy a Stingray, it either needs to do it without a warrant, or mislead the judge on its search techniques when applying for one.

When not lying to judges, the Sheriff’s Office will need to lie to defendants and their counsel. Most incredibly, the FBI instructs the law enforcement agency to directly disobey court orders, if it would mean turning over Stingray information.

If any of this seems unavoidable, our nation’s top law enforcement agency encourages its colleagues to toss out criminal prosecutions rather than risk exposing Harris Technology’s equipment.

In addition, the Erie County Sheriff’s Office will, at the request of the FBI, seek dismissal of the case in lieu of using, or providing, or allowing others to use or provide, any information concerning the Harris Corporation wireless collection equipment/technology […] if using or providing such information would potentially or actually compromise the equipment/technology.

With one caveat…

This point supposes that the agency has some control or influence over the prosecutorial process.

But what a caveat. This is the FBI stating that it assumes any law enforcement agency it enters into this agreement with can easily push prosecutors to drop cases. It naturally follows that this sort of influence would also allow law enforcement agencies to push questionable prosecutions forward, if so inclined.

If the law enforcement agency doesn’t have that kind of pull, the FBI suggests they make rogue prosecutors sign on the dotted line as well.

Where such is not the case, or is limited so as to be inconsequential, it is the FBI’s expectation that the law enforcement agency identify the applicable prosecuting agency, or agencies, for inclusion in this agreement.

And the lies being told by the Erie County Sheriff’s Department have already been numerous. As the NYCLU points out, a court order for the deployment of the devices was obtained only once in the 47 incident reports returned as responsive documents — which isn’t what Sheriff Howard said when (mostly not) answering questions about his office’s Stingray use last May:

Howard said the machines are used under “judicial review” in all criminal matters.

Well, obviously not. And for that matter, the Sheriff’s Office isn’t performing much oversight on its own. The NYCLU requested several more Stingray-related documents, including department policies, warrant applications, agreements with communications providers and records concerning the technology’s use in investigations. None of these requested documents were withheld. They simply did not exist. The NYCLU sees this as extremely odd:

This leaves us puzzled. Either the $200,000 device is just sitting around somewhere without being used or the agency is using the device without creating and maintaining records.

The latter is more probable, especially in light of the FBI’s restrictive non-disclosure agreement. There’s no better way to avoid violating that agreement than simply not creating any records that might somehow find their way to the many venues the FBI has listed as off-limits.

What it all boils down to is this: the FBI believes it is more important to protect law enforcement technology than protect the public. It says toss out prosecutions if it might compromise Stingray specifics and actively withhold information from every other participant in the justice system — from defendants seeking information in discovery all the way up to every judge, at every level, presiding over these cases. The first potentially puts dangerous criminals right back out on the street. The latter guts the protections built into the system. Neither of these are done in the public’s interest, and as far as these documents go, the public is way, way down on the FBI’s list of priorities. The same goes for law enforcement agencies that willingly sign these agreements.

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