Stingray is a product name for an IMSI-catcher popular amongst law enforcers. Despite the devices being trivial enough that anybody can build one for $1,500, law enforcers have been desperate to keep the devices a secret. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), for example, would rather throw out cases than disclose its Stingray usage.
Here in Minnesota law enforcers are also busy keeping tight wraps on Stingray usage:
A Fox 9 Investigation has revealed that tracking warrants for a surveillance device called StingRay have routinely been kept sealed, despite a law requiring them to become public with 90 days.
The StingRay device is used by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension about 60 times a year, said BCA Superintendent Drew Evans. Hennepin County Sheriff also had a StingRay, but a spokesperson said they discontinued it after using it only four times.
Why the secrecy? If you were expecting a detailed legal defense you’re going to be left wanting. The only defense law enforcers can muster is fear. Whenever a law enforcement department is pressed about the secrecy of Stingray devices they respond with the scariest case they can think of that involved the device
“This technology has been absolutely critical in locating some of Minnesota’s most violent criminals, more quickly than we ever were before,” Evans said.
Photo State of surveillance: StingRay warrants sealed despite changes in Minnesota law
Law enforcement used the technology last month when a disgruntled client allegedly gunned down a clerk at a St. Paul law firm and then went on the run. Police had the suspect’s cell phone and tracked him down.
“Just this week we were able to locate a level 3 sexual offender that was non-compliant, a suspect in a series of serial rapes, and a homicide suspect, this week alone,” he explained.
This usually satisfies journalists and the general public but shouldn’t. Whenever a law enforcer brings up a scary case where they used a Stingray device the immediate response should be, “So what?”
So what if the devices were used in secrecy to find a suspected murderer or a level three sex offender? Will these devices suddenly cease working if they’re subjected to the same oversight as any other law enforcement technology? Will they power off forever the minute a warrant is unsealed? No.
Law enforcers have no legal justification for keeping these devices secret, which is why they’re resorting to fear tactics. The question everybody should be asking is why they’re so desperate to keep these devices in the shadows. I theorize that there is a known weakness in the technology that would make them potentially inadmissible in court. What other reason could there be to go so far as to throw out individual cases rather than unseal warrants and release technical details about the devices? It’s not like the devices are a novel technology that nobody knows how to make or defend against.