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Privacy today (2)

March 4, 2014

Radley Balko’s writing for The Washington Post these days. This is the opening of a piece he published yeterday about ‘stingray’ use in Florida. (My emphasis.)

The surveillance state: bigger, broader, and less accountable

Not only are local, state, and federal authorities finding more innovative, efficient, and comprehensive ways to spy on us, they’re doing it in ways that are less transparent and less accountable. From the ACLU:

It appears that at least one police department in Florida has failed to tell judges about its use of a cell phone tracking device because the department got the device on loan and promised the manufacturer to keep it all under wraps. But when police use invasive surveillance equipment to surreptitiously sweep up information about the locations and communications of large numbers of people, court oversight and public debate are essential. The devices, likely made by the Florida-based Harris Corporation, are called “stingrays,” and unfortunately this is not the first time the government has tried to hide their use.

So the ACLU and ACLU of Florida have teamed up to break through the veil of secrecy surrounding stingray use by law enforcement in the Sunshine State, last week filing a motion for public access to sealed records in state court, and submitting public records requests to nearly 30 police and sheriffs’ departments across Florida seeking information about their acquisition and use of stingrays (examples here and here).

Also known as “cell site simulators,” stingrays impersonate cell phone towers, prompting phones within range to reveal their precise locations and information about all of the calls and text messages they send and receive. When in use, stingrays sweep up information about innocent people and criminal suspects alike.


And here’s an article he linked recently. It’s about surveillance in southern California and appeared in the LA Weekly News.

Forget the NSA, the LAPD Spies on Millions of Innocent Folks 

Edward Snowden ripped the blinds off the surveillance state last summer with his leak of top-secret National Security Agency documents, forcing a national conversation about spying in the post-9/11 era. However, there’s still no concrete proof that America’s elite intelligence units are analyzing most Americans’ computer and telephone activity — even though they can.

Los Angeles and Southern California police, by contrast, are expanding their use of surveillance technology such as intelligent video analytics, digital biometric identification and military-pedigree software for analyzing and predicting crime. Information on the identity and movements of millions of Southern California residents is being collected and tracked.

In fact, Los Angeles is emerging as a major laboratory for testing and scaling up new police surveillance technologies. The use of military-grade surveillance tools is migrating from places like Fallujah to neighborhoods including Watts and even low-crime areas of the San Fernando Valley, where surveillance cameras are proliferating like California poppies in spring. […]

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California are suing LAPD and the Sheriff’s Department, demanding to see a sample week’s worth of that data in order to get some idea of what cops are storing in a vast and growing, regionally shared database. (See our story “License Plate Recognition Logs Our Lives Long Before We Sin,” June 21, 2012.)

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