The FBI doesn’t want to talk about its Stingray devices. It definitely doesn’t want local law enforcement agencies talking about them. It forces any agency seeking to acquire one to sign a very restrictive non-disclosure agreement that stipulates — among other things — that as little information as possible on IMSI catchers makes its way into the public domain, which includes opposing counsel, prosecutors’ offices and judges. The NDAs also instruct agencies to drop prosecutions if disclosure appears unavoidable. We know this because two NDAs have actually been obtained through Freedom of Information requests.
Now that Stingray usage and its attendant secrecy have been questioned by high-ranking DC legislators, the FBI is apparently feeling it should be a bit more proactive on the Stingray info front, presumably in hopes of heading off a more intrusive official inquiry. So, it has offered some “clarification” on its Stingray policies — including the NDAs it makes local agencies sign.
The “clarification” seems to contradict a great deal of what the FBI’s own NDAs require.
In a handful of criminal cases around the country, local police officers have testified in recent months that non-disclosure agreements with the FBI forbid them from acknowledging the use of secret cellphone-tracking devices. In some, prosecutors have settled cases rather than risk revealing, during court proceedings, sensitive details about the use of the devices.
The FBI, however, says such agreements do not prevent police from disclosing that they used such equipment, often called a StingRay. And only as a “last resort” would the FBI require state and local law enforcement agencies to drop criminal cases rather than sharing details of the devices’ use and “compromising the future use of the technique.”
To date, the bureau hasn’t invoked that provision, FBI spokesman Christopher Allen said in a statement to The Washington Post.
Let’s compare the official statement with statements found in the agreement signed with a New York sheriff’s department. The FBI says it’s OK for law enforcement agencies to disclose Stingray usage in this “clarification.” Here’sthe NDA:
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.