A community letter from Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada explaining the department’s use of cell phone spying devices, known as StingRays, appears to have borrowed content from a canned statement issued by the FBI on the devices, according to a report by the website Ars Technica.
The revelation has attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union — which is suing Anaheim for access to documents about the devices — questioning Quezada’s contention that police have carefully considered residents’ privacy rights as they track cell phones during investigations.
“Holy moley! That’s some remarkable transparency—distributing a pre-prepared release,” ACLU attorney Peter Bribing wrote in an email to Ars Technica. “But that also pretty much undermines any suggestion that [the Anaheim Police Department] has taken special steps to protect privacy.”
A Voice of OC article earlier this week delved into the nationwide controversy over StingRays, which are most commonly used as tracking devices. They work by mimicking cell phone towers, diverting a targeted individual’s mobile data and allowing police to see with GPS precision the comings and goings of that person.
But StingRays also cast a wide net, potentially capturing data from all cell phones within a 1-mile-radius. With upgrades, they sweep up text messages, emails and phone conversations.
Anaheim police have refused to turn over any records to the ACLU that could show whether police are obtaining proper court orders to use the devices and what the police do with the data they retrieve.
In his letter, Quezada wrote that the police go to a judge for authorization to use the devices, except in circumstances where there is potential for immediate physical harm, and that police don’t keep “third-party information” or feed that data into a database.
Ars points out that the first paragraph of Quezada’s letter contains language that is remarkably similar to an FBI letter on the devices.
Quezada’s letter states: “With the understanding that the release of technical details and operational procedures concerning this technology would create a significant detriment to our efforts in protecting our community, the information provided herein will address common concerns while maintaining the relevance and effectiveness of this investigative tool.”
And the FBI letter states: “…in the case of cell site simulators, numerous federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies have determined that the public release of technical details, applications, and operational procedures would create a significant detriment to the protection of their communities by providing criminal elements with the ability to circumvent the devices.”
Bribing also told Ars that Quezada’s response regarding the devices — specifically that third-party information isn’t retained — is technically impossible. The devices inherently sweep up cell phone information over a wide area, Bribing notes.