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Sunday, December 08, 2013

Ind. Gov't. - "Indiana State Police tracking cellphones — but won’t say how or why"

On Oct. 22nd, the ILB had a post on an Oct. 17th opinion by the Public Access Counselor which turned on the application of a 2013 law. The Indianapolis Star's Ryan J. Sabalow had asked for:

Purchase orders or invoices for any International Mobile Subscriber Identity locator device (sometimes called an “IMSI catcher” for short). While some IMSI devices are sold under the product name StingRay or TriggerFish, this request applies to any such device the department has purchased with department funds or grant money.
The State Police had responded that the records sought either did not exist or were not subject to disclosure, relying on the exception in the 2013 law.

Today on the front-page of the Indianapolis Star we see the story reporter Sabalow was working on, headed "Indiana State Police tracking cellphones — but won’t say how or why." It begins:

This year, the Indiana State Police paid $373,995 for a device that law enforcement personnel have described as a powerful tool in the fight against crime and terrorism.

It could allow investigators in a surveillance vehicle to park in a crowded area and track the movements of anyone nearby with a cellphone and capture the numbers of people’s incoming and outgoing calls and text messages.

All of which concerns civil liberties and open-government groups.

They worry that the technology could be used to violate innocent Hoosiers’ constitutionally protected rights to privacy if proper checks and balances aren’t in place.

But officials at Indiana’s largest police agency aren’t saying what they do with the technology; they’re mum on whose data they’ve collected so far; and they’re not talking about what steps they take to safeguard the data.

Citing concerns that releasing any information would endanger public safety by hindering the agency’s ability to fight crime and combat terrorism, they won’t even say whether they ask a judge for a search warrant before they turn the equipment on. * * *

While most Americans have paid little thought to the fact that their smartphone is a mobile tracking device that broadcasts their location and data about who they’re calling and texting, local police agencies have taken sharp notice.

At least 25 police agencies around the country, including the Indiana State Police, have contracts with Harris Corp., of Melbourne, Fla., for devices called Stingrays, according to public records requests filed this fall with 115 police agencies by the Indianapolis Star, USA Today and other media outlets owned by Gannett.

Often installed in a surveillance vehicle, the suitcase-size Stingrays trick all cellphones in a set distance — sometimes exceeding a mile, depending on the terrain and antennas — into connecting to it as if it were a real cellphone tower. That allows police agencies to capture location data and numbers dialed for calls and text messages from thousands of people at a time.

Local and state police often buy the devices with federal grants aimed at protecting cities from terror attacks, and the devices, originally developed for military and spy agencies, are closely guarded secrets. * * *

The Indiana State Police paid Harris $373,995 this spring for a Stingray, but police officials were reluctant to share even that information.

State Police officials initially refused to provide any records related to the agency’s contract with Harris or grants they obtained.

After The Star appealed the denial to the Indiana Public Access Counselor, the state’s arbiter of public records disputes, the agency provided a one-page purchase order, which provided no clues to how the device works or how and when it may be used.

To receive more information, Public Access Counselor Luke Britt said, The Star would have to sue the State Police to see if a judge agreed with police that releasing the complete contract would constitute a public safety threat and harm the agency’s ability to investigate terrorists. * * *

USA Today and The Star also sought records about what are known as “tower dumps,” in which police seek court orders requiring cellphone companies to provide investigators with massive amounts of phone data.

State Police officials said they had no such records when The Star asked for any records that might shed light on how many times detectives used such methods.

But officials said they wouldn’t have shared the documents if they did keep them, citing a provision in Indiana’s records law that gives police agencies discretion to withhold all investigatory files. * * *

What most troubles civil liberties groups about Stingrays and tower dumps is that elsewhere in the country, cellphone data often can be obtained with a simple court order — and not a search warrant.

But it’s unclear whether the same standard applies in Indiana because local officials wouldn’t discuss the matter.

Court orders generally only require detectives to show that the data collected would aid in an investigation, a standard that’s much easier to meet than what’s required for a search warrant, in which detectives and prosecutors must demonstrate to a judge probable cause, a legal term meaning there is belief a crime occurred.

Kenneth Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana, said the mass collection of cellphone information raises serious and troubling Fourth Amendment questions. The amendment protects citizens’ rights to privacy and to be free from government officials searching their homes and other property without probable cause.

He said police should at least be required to have a judge sign a search warrant before getting access to the phone data from potentially hundreds or even thousands of innocent Hoosiers.

Lanosga of the Coalition for Open Government said Indiana police agencies have an obligation to publicly address privacy concerns and explain what checks and balances are in place to protect the data collected.

Both Lanosga and Falk said they didn’t want to deny law enforcement the ability of using whatever technology is needed to fight crime and head off terror. But not without limits.

“What sort of reassurances can the agency make to those people their data is being destroyed, not maintained indefinitely, not abused for any purpose?” Lanosga said. “I think there are a lot of serious questions about that that demand the agency publicly address what it’s doing with these types of techniques and equipment.”

But that’s not happening.

“Maybe,” Lanosga said, “the legislature can intervene and get some answers.”

The Star's mothership, USA TODAY has a special multi-media report today on "NSA Phone Tracking - How Police Scoop Up Cellphone Data." From the "How we did it" section:
This story is a collaborative effort of USA TODAY and Gannett newspapers and TV stations across the country.

More than 50 investigative journalists requested public records from local and state police agencies in their communities, seeking records that might shed light on capabilities of civilian police to gather data from people's cellphones.

Records obtained from police agencies, as well as additional records from online databases of contracts and government proceedings, were gathered to paint a broad picture of the state of cellphone surveillance by police. Many agencies denied records requests.

Gannett newspapers and TV stations are reporting additional details about local agencies.

Eleven local papers' stories are linked, including the Star story.

See this interactive graphic titled "How Stingray Works."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 8, 2013 12:35 PM
Posted to Indiana Government