Tag Archives: U.S. Justice Department

Cops & Data Collection: Stingrays Under Scrutiny

extremetech.com

extremetech.com

For years, phone-tracking devices known as Stingrays have been a closely guarded secret of law enforcement. But  according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal that may be about to change.

According to the WSJ report, the U.S. Justice Department has launched a full scale investigation of how police agencies use these snooping devices. As a result they may be about to reveal significant details about how and where the devices are typically deployed. For ten years or more Stingrays have been cloaked in intense secrecy. In some cases criminal prosecutions were halted rather risk admitting in court that the devices were used.

How does a Stingray work? By locating a specific phone in a crowd, sometimes even from a plane flying overhead. They also have the capability to extract more comprehensive data from the phone. Stingrays impersonate  2G cell towers. These towers don’t require any authentication to connect to a phone as long as the Stingray is the strongest signal in the area. Cell phones automatically connect to the device revealing their location and basic identification data. The use of Stingrays inhibits other networks from working properly resulting in significant service disruptions in the areas where they are used.

Stingrays are significant for how deeply they have become entrenched in the law enforcement world. A number of Justice Department agencies are known to have access to the devices including the U.S .Marshals. But local law enforcement is also beginning to use the technology. The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) has compiled legal evidence of Stingray use by local departments in Baltimore, Sarasota, and Tacoma. The EFF believes that many more local departments are using the technology but do not refer to the devices in court. A recent test run in Washington, DC revealed as many as 18 different Stingray-like service interruptions in just two days.

Breaking It Down

America’s system of rights and justice seem to be slowly crumbling. I used to think that those folks we call right-wing gun toting nut cases railing about the government destroying our rights were just that, nuts. I am not so sure anymore. No, not at all.

First of all the collection of data and information on ordinary citizens is simply un-Constitutional anyway you look at it. In the story about license plate data collection I have to ask who is responsible for not deleting  the data the Attorney General ordered destroyed? I want that guy’s name. I want to know why license plate data was being collected at political rallies? Keep in mind these are the very same tactics used in totalitarian states. Constant watching for dissent. Have we come to that?

Now we have law enforcement and prosecutors working together to hide information collected using Stingrays. How much of that evidence has resulted in wrongful convictions of black men, or anybody for that matter? Let’s talk about the fruit of the poison tree. It works like this; any evidence obtained illegally is not admissible in court. Any OTHER evidence collected as a result of the original illegal evidence is also not admissible. But if the cops and prosecutors are hiding the use of Stingray and collect evidence based on information discovered by this technology then that evidence is not legal. Cops, lawyers and all prosecutors know this.  So how many black men are sitting in prison as a result of this practice? So now you see how technology can be abused in the cause of justice

Prosecutors are deciding to drop cases that may reveal Stingray use. What?  Is this evidence of illegal obtained evidence being concealed? Again technology being used to pervert justice. 

Questions abound. Since when did America allow the hidden collection of information by law enforcement? And when did we allow cops and prosecutors to work together? I thought there was supposed to be a separation of powers in the Constitution? One branch enforces the law another prosecutes violation. When did that change?

 

App of the Week: Driving While Black

driving-while-black-landing-pagejpg-fabb6a73b66f9508Incidents in recent weeks have reminded all people of the horrible relationship between black people and law enforcement. Again and again black men have ended up dead as a result of an encounter with a police officer.

Driving while black is not a crime but a situation that is far more dangerous than just avoiding accidents. African-American parents have the added fear of wondering if their child will ever return when they leave home in the family car.

A 2013 U.S. Justice Department report revealed that a black driver is 30 times more likely to be pulled over than a white driver.  It is an insane situation to deal with but we have to. But now there is an app for that.

An African-Amercan lawyer in Portland, OR  has created the “Driving While Black” app. Mariann Hyland made a vow 10 years ago, after Portland Police fatally shot 21-year-old Kendra James during a routine traffic stop, to do something about these tragic incidents. She teamed up with another lawyer, Melvin Olden-Orr and software developer James Pritchett to create the app. It is intended to teach young black people how to survive being pulled over by police. As the level of tension between police and people of color continues to escalate after the Mike Brown and Eric Garner decisions, Hyland says this type of education is crucial.

“Being a police officer is a tough job,” said Hyland. “They deal with the most horrific experiences in society. They’re first responders. And traffic stops tend to be where they get hurt the most. So they’re on high alert when they pull you over. We want to educate people about how to put them at ease so they don’t feel threatened.”

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Melvin Oden-Orr, Mariann Hyland and James Pritchett

The “Driving While Black” app teaches young African-Americans how not to get pulled over in the first place. The app points out factors that can put a police officer on alert such as tinted windows. It urges people of color to perform as responsible drivers by using turn signals early. The app also offers a checklist to remind drivers to keep their license plate tags up-to-date and their headlights in working order.

The app also instructs young drivers on what to do if they do get pulled over. Alert functions in the app allows users to program in three numbers such as their mother, a friend or a lawyer if needed. When stopped by the police the driver can hit the “alert” button to immediately send a message to those three people.

“People feel so alone in these vulnerable situations,” Hyland said.

The “Driving While Black” app offers a record function so the user can tape and log interactions with police. It also provides video tutorials that demonstrate good and bad behavior during traffic stops and forms for submitting commendations or complaints against officers. It also includes a how-to-guide for parents talking with their kids about police. There is a checklist for ways to keep officers at ease. During research before the app was created Hyland and her team discovered that police see a car full of empty Red Bull cans as a danger sign.

But Hyland still had concerns about the app and the potential for danger. For example; could a driver reaching for his or her phone to use the app be mistaken for reaching for a weapon; a gun? We know it happens.

Oden-Orr considered if they should include video recording. Secretly recording police is illegal in Oregon. Other similar apps, including the ACLU’s Mobile Justice app for Android devices and the New York City-based Stop and Frisk Watch app for iPhone, allows it. They decided to include the record function with a reminder for the user to tell officers they are being filmed. They  also suggest using a hands-free device.

“Driving While Black” focuses specifically on traffic stops. But many police encounters happen outside traffic situations. Pedestrian situations have proven to be just as dangerous  as the Ferguson interaction between Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown clearly indicate.

Hyland pointed that “Driving While Black” consolidates resources from dozens of sources but reminds users that each case is different. The app teaches mothers how to talk to their sons about police. Eventually, it also will include a directory of lawyers for the user’s area, programmed using location-based technology.

“Driving While Black” is available for Android and iPhone.