Shhhhh! I Have A Secret About the Baltimore City Police Department. Don’t Tell!
According to a confidential agreement obtained by The Associated Press (view the agreement here: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1809046-baltimore-fbi-agreement.html), the Baltimore City Police Department collaborated with the U.S. government to withhold certain information about SECRETIVE cell phone surveillance technology from the public and even the courts. Pursuant to the discovery of the confidential agreement, the Baltimore City Police Department has disclosed that it has used the technology, without warrants or permission from cell phone users, thousands of times since 2007.
The technology is so controversial that the agreement between the Police and the FBI encourages the State to dismiss otherwise viable cases instead of divulging details about the surveillance equipment. This is a slippery slope, and the agreement has most probably led the Police to believe they can withhold evidence in criminal trials or ignore subpoenas in cases in which the devices are used. This is wrong, contrary to due process, and my personal pleasure to expose.
The technology, using devices called Hailstorm or StingRay (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cellphone surveillance) can wirelessly collect cell phone data from an entire neighborhood/city block by making the phones in that area think the StingRay device is the cell phone tower and, in doing so, the StingRay identifies unique subscriber numbers. The data is, of course, then transmitted to the Police, allowing them to locate a phone without the user even making a call or sending a text message.
The Baltimore City Police Department entered into an agreement with the Justice Department in 2011, which calls for the withholding of information about the Hailstorm/StingRay devices in “press releases, court documents, during judicial hearings, or during other public forums and proceedings.” The agreement sets out that the Baltimore City Police Department must seek FBI approval before sharing any details with other law enforcement agencies.
Even more troubling, the agreement states that neither the Baltimore City Police Department nor the State are permitted to divulge information about the surveillance technology in court, and even warns that if either agency suspects that the State is planning to provide information about the device in an open court proceeding, it must “notify the FBI in order to allow sufficient time for the FBI to intervene to protect the equipment/technology and information from disclosure and potential compromise.”
The agreement also states that the agency can request that the Baltimore City Police Department, in conjunction with the Baltimore City Office of the State’s Attorney, seek dismissal of a case rather than “allowing others to use or provide” information about Hailstorm or StingRay.
Aside from the obvious troubling privacy issues relating to government agencies collecting personal cell phone data en masse in a secretive fashion, these sorts of behind the scenes agreements, in practice, cause the Baltimore City Police Department to interpret the non-disclosure agreements as instructing them to withhold evidence from the court, which is in direct violation to Constitutional and Due Process protections afforded all citizen of the USA.
According to an Associated Press article By JACK GILLUM and JULIET LINDERMAN, Emmanuel Cabreja, a Detective with the Baltimore City Police Department’s Advanced Technical Team testified on April 8, 2015 in a carjacking/robbery case. In that case, Cabreja’s team allegedly used a Hailstorm to locate a stolen cell phone inside a group home where Defendant, Nicholas West, was living. A juvenile was also charged in the case. He said the Department has deployed Hailstorm and similar technology roughly 4,300 times since 2007. Personally, Cabreja said he had used it between 600-800 times in the past two years. “Does (the document) instruct you to withhold evidence from the State’s Attorney and the Circuit Court for Baltimore City even if upon order to produce?” defense attorney Joshua Insley asked Cabreja. “Yes,” he said. Cabreja also said he ignored a Subpoena he received Tuesday to bring the device with him to court.
Police across the country have largely been kept silent on how they use the devices. Because documents about Hailstorms and StingRays are regularly censored in public records requests by citizens and journalists, it is not entirely clear what information the devices could capture — such as the contents of phone conversations and text messages, what they routinely capture based on how they are configured, or how often they might be used.
Cabreja, on Wednesday, said the Hailstorm can identify phones from a 360-degree antenna from about a city block away in distance. He said no data, or content, is captured in the process; however, he said the device detects the unique identification numbers assigned to cell phones that have the same service provider as the targeted phone within that radius.
Given what Cabreja said about the technology involved, it is likely that thousands of people in Baltimore City have been unknowingly impacted by Police cell phone surveillance. This could mean hundreds of criminal cases.
The case in which Cabreja testified is not the first case to inspire a struggle between prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges in regards to revealing details of the Baltimore City Police Department’s use of StingRay technology.
Baltimore City Circuit Judge Barry Williams presided over a trial in which the Police allegedly used a StingRay to collect evidence on a robbery suspect. At a November 2014 hearing, Judge Williams lost his patience with the State after a Police technician would not answer defense attorney’s questions about the device — citing the FBI non-disclosure agreement. “You don’t have a non-disclosure agreement with the court,” Judge Williams told Police Detective John Haley, part of the Department’s Advanced Technical Team. “Answer the question.” Of course, the State instead withdrew the evidence, avoiding the contempt citation and questions about the equipment’s use.
Two months earlier, Judge Williams threw out evidence in yet another criminal case involving cell phone tracking after a Police Sergeant said there were unspecified “homeland security” issues when asked why the suspect was stopped. “If it goes into homeland security issues, then the phone doesn’t come in,” Williams said, telling the prosecutor: “You can’t just stop someone and not give me a reason.“