Stingray Spying on Phones and Non-Disclosure in Courts

I have been surveilled by the FBI and probably still am. I noted on my friend’s phone “FBI surveillance” literally in the wireless list, given she is not political it is likely it is me as I am speaking up more now.  I have posted a photo of this surveillance on this blog as it is a foreign agency tapping in to an Australian national – for what reason?  Revealing inconvenient truths would be my guess.  I believe I was being listened to as I don’t use my phone that much.  It is not because I committed any crime it is because I am in the peace area and in the past I have been a community journalist reporting on two key whistleblowers (amongst others) Major Douglas Rokke former Director of the Depleted Uranium Project in the Pentagon who came out critising the US government about depleted uranium used in missiles in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans and the health and safety of soldiers exposed to it.  He stated there was a total disregard for the soldiers (and of course the people on the ground).  People died given exposure and it has radiation affects of 4.468 billion years (re-read that, implications for future generations, that is how serious it was.  He talked about how would people like radioactive material thrown into their backyards? Empathy is the core gvalue and it enables an opening to sensing humanity to prophet.  So he spoke out to warn people about their government, this is citizenship not treason.  The other was Scott Ritter who was a former CIA operative and part of the weapons inspection team in Iraq.  He was a whistleblower in respect of the intelligence operations in Iraq under the guise of weapons inspections and he explained the lies that were told to the people about the purpose of this and what he discovered and strategies to spread misinformation by the government.  This had implications for the Australian Government as they supported the war and we had Andrew Wilkie speak up from the Office of National Assessment who was a former intelligence officer working on Iraq as he too believed this war was illegal and raised issues of politicisation.  He is now an independent MP in Tasmania clearly there because he realised the system has to change.  Scott Ritter came out and stated the war was an illegal war of aggression.  This is a serious charge and given more weight by the fact over 80,000 violent deaths happened in Iraq, murder on a large scale of mostly civilians.

So I am a civilian, I wonder what if I was them? What would I want?  I would want someone writing about it and making criminality visible as children and families are under those bombs.  So I feel social responsibility, great love for people and it appears I have to take a risk in a supposedly democratic society to simply speak or share truths for public discussion. I sat with Scott Ritter for a few house in a hotel room.  We didn’t talk about Iraq, I told him about REAL HOPE which is a values based peace, nonviolence and anti-bullying program I taught as a peace clown to empower kids to resolve conflict.  Of course I have had barriers to get this into schools as universal values are not understood.  You can’t just say ‘stop’ to bullying. There has to be transformational change, we have to learn to speak nonviolently, we have to become problem solvers but not hate others.  My voice is very tiny in a world that keeps on fighting.  So I do my best to contribute despite surveillance that stays in the shadows and doesn’t speak to you personally so you can work the issue out.  I am all for visibility as I know as a peacemaker so many problems could be resolved with a willingness to resolve.  I am realising so many are totally indifferent to what another thinks.  Do I dislike them?  No.  I realise they have their own barriers based on beliefs they see as true.  I question them – is it true?  Questioning is critical for a democracy and seeking to understand matters.

In a democracy speaking up should be encouraged and protected as it is about freedom of speech in the public interest.  Publicly elected officials do have to be accountable for their decisions and if there is undue influence from other parties there is a duty bestowed on all citizens to speak up. It does not serve the tyrant to say nothing, if someone is doing something that is destructive and harmful it is in their interests to be stopped or at the very least, made visible so society can work out the issue. Some even say they wanted to be stopped as they couldn’t, many get caught up one way or another.  So speaking up in a democracy is how we learn, change and improve society.  It is how we evolve and the possible futures we create.

However, what we see these days particularly when illegal activities are outed about powerful people then people become the subject of surveillance, intimidation and possible fabricated charges or set ups or they are killed, this is not democracy nor does it reflect the values of communities around the world.   I have to say this is a masculine world view, the feminine would do it differently.

I recorded radio interviews with two soldiers on ‘Bridges to Peace’ in the public interest as the munitions were radioactive and not only did they kill people they remained in the environment as a crime against nature.  It was a war crime issue.  I recall a FBI agent interviewed on Michael Moore’s movie Fareinheit 911 saying that the bin Laden family would have been the first suspects and then interviewed. The fact that the Saudi’s inclusive of members of the royal family left US airspace whilst the rest of the country was grounded, is highly suspicious. I have no issue with surveillance of suspects in respect of crimes providing their is Judicial oversight.  What was raised in the interviews should  have become the subject of a trial at the International Criminal Court given the war was not about an illegal weapons program but it appears clear it is about the energy industry.  There has been plenty of evidence since then to recognise the Saudi relationships at the highest levels were compromised together with office holders who were involved and still profiting from the oil business and defence.  The Bush family were a dynasty of sorts.  There appears a breakdown in application of the law in respect of any US citizen, no matter if they are the Commander-in-Chief.  The same argument applies here in Australia.  All should be equal before the law and to ensure just laws.  That is how values and standards are mainained and people are safe.

This is why the media is very important, and their independence is critical as well as protection of sources.  I have been noticing the information I have used for my blogs when I Googled for information the highest quality is coming from The Guardian and the ABC.  They have excellent journalists in the tradition of investigative journalism.  I am very impressed with the quality and courage.  I am sure they are under pressure given they would be seen by some as ‘the enemy’ as they critique and reveal what is ‘dark’.  Rather than answering those critiques with their viewpoint as should be normal in a democracy there is pressure applied to jouralists.  The Liberal Party here recently voted to privatise the ABC (a show of hands filmed inside the conference) and I regard this as a way of reducing the voice of the public through removing public media that is critical.  I find that very concerning and a sign of the times we are in.   Andrew Wilkie the MP I spoke of above, has come out warning people of the formation of a ‘police state’.  That should concern people.

These media sources are often relegated by vested interests as left wing socialist orientation, and hence included in, what for some is a war mentality, a side to be removed.  In reality it is bringing out the truth or a contrasting view which is often demonised in some way or specific journalists or individuals targetted.  It is evident that opposing views are not respected as part of a democratic process and used to innovate new ideas, or expand on old ideas but instead seen simplistically as the enemy to be removed in order to control information.  This is not a free press type perspective. This is the nature of control paradigms. This is becoming more identifiable as a feature of bullying than genuine critique for public discussion.  Bullying is illegal in Victoria, Australia.  Bullying also moves people to illegally surveil to get something on that other, this then justifies their persecution of that other.

It is essential to ensure the organs of government are functioning with checks and balances which government was designed to have. This ensures honesty and transparency so people know what is done in their name.  It is in respect of the public interest that abuses are made visible otherwise more people are harmed and illegality is given the green light to flourish. It is about values.  I have personally been to countries where surveillance occurs normally, where the rights of the people are minimised, where there are real disparities in class and opportunities to access education, where people have been arrested without charge and brutally tortured. I have seen the photos, the equipment and seen the courage of those who seek to turn the situation around and make crime visible. I have interviewed and met people who are direct witnesses.  I understand what happens when govenment, policing and the judiciary break down.  That is, they become compromised by corrupt leaders, corrupt businessmen and the public is given no voice. In Australia we have had it good and many do not realise what they have got to lose.  They have never been locked up when speaking up, they think they are in a democracy. They do not realise people are filmed and their activities documented when it is claimed this is a democratic system.  This is the conundrum.

Ultimately it comes down to who we are and what we value?  Is it the bottom line or is it human rights based on shared values that reflect who we are as a civilisation?  As Al Gore so famously stated “the gold bar or the planet?”  Many speak of the core problem in the attitude of it being all about the money, I think that is true.  Follow the money trail they say.  I suspect the pendulum will swing back when it happens to people personally and they have their rights violated, become the subject of illegal tapping of their phones (most of us will) or they see they have no say (government non response) or they realise the future their children are entering on the basis of potential abuses and control.

We have to decide what are the minimum standards as part of this acceptance of diversity. What is fair? What is in the public interest?  What are the moral dilemmas?  What is appropriate or inappropriate?  The public has to start to communicate in order to realign with a changing world.  Do we value – integrity, honesty, compassion and problem solving in order to face problems and resolve them for the betterment of all of us. What is the intent?  Intent has an impact on outcome.  If you come at life with negative intent it has an uncanny way of returning to you in another form.  If you come at life with a positive intent then you can actually start to make a difference.  We all live in community and we are all responsible for the shape of it.  Silence gives tacit consent and in truth people give up their rights by disengaging or saying ‘it is all too hard’, ‘they don’t listen’ or ‘I have no power’, none of this is true. Yes it is complex but it is worth empowering yourself to find out what is happening in your name.  If it reflects you that is fine, it is doesn’t then say so.  It in in visibility not secrecy that democracy is sustainable.  That is why surveillance is a key issue as it can shut down that freedom if people feel they are surveilled.  They want privacy not illegal tapping.

Illegal tapping reminds me of the former President Nixon when he recorded people coming to his office and the Democratic party offices in Watergate.  I interviewed his attorney John Dean who wrote the book ‘Worse than Watergate: the Secret Presidency of George W. Bush’  refer  He speaks of Bush’s wiretapping  John Dean is now saying the same about Trump refer

The public statements of whistleblowers or those setting examples of democratic engagement by speaking up must be encouraged in order to inform the public of illegal or concerning activities that are happening in their name.  I am sure John Dean would be surveilled as a POI (Person Of Interest).  His private life invaded on every level as opponents search for mud to discredit his reputation. Illegal surveillance is not the role or duty of government or business and it is not in the public interest.  The media is a channel, private blogging is a channel and public meetings can bring the truth out.  Agencies and organisations step over a line when they secretly surveil the public and say it is to protect themselves from what? This would be a key question. Have the discussion!

Illegal surveillance must be at the least discussed publicly and if this is agreed to as a breach of citizens privacy then it has to be stopped as it runs totally against the grain of privacy, democracy and basic respect and dignity.  What if the political establishment is corrupted by industry interests, criminalised, allowing personal profiling and data collection under the guise of debt, or concocted suspicions or some other mask?  This is of concern to the public, in whose names activities are happening.  There are also more moves to privatise government activities that are publicly funded that were traditionally the function of government. It appears another way of ensuring secrecy is to transfer public activities to the private sector to enable possible profiting from a financial share market (publicly listed) perspective, or undue influence by those running the services and the ability to keep secret any adverse activities through private non-disclosure agreements or citing trade secrets or breach of other contract laws (see below). This removes the public right to speak openly or request under FOI laws or enact Privacy legislation as it is a private entity.  So this becomes the opposite of surveillance in that those who do it, ensure their privacy is protected but the target’s is not.  This is the imbalance of power and the undermining of democracy through instruments of privatisation and weakening legislative protections, hence civil society rights. The citizens voice is weakened as they do not have the resources to counter this, nor are they organised, nor do they know what is being done in their name.  That is why surveillance of civilians through phone, computer and private investigators is a real issue.

The reality is abuses continue if people are not held to account.  When people are shut down or dissent criminalised then it is clear that the reality of democracy is superficial and that the rights of the public are ignored but their money used for purposes that may not serve them or indeed further undermine their voices.  That is why surveillance (risk management) issues are critical to a functional democracy that subscribes to clear tenants of openness, human rights, privacy and due process to ensure a fair hearing.

I want to make clear the public are not the enemy. The temptation is to surveil phones, to get the edge, to gather data for future court cases in order to silence and suppress disclosures or opposing views or corporate conflict.  Lawyers can demonise, bully and minimise any person in a court hearing who they may well know is innocent.  I’ve witnessed this personally and it is very concerning how people can be destroyed when they are innocent.  This is important when reflecting on surveillance technology and its availability for law enforcement but also for private use in the name of risk mitigation.

This is a notable quote from the article below.

“…police can tell the courts about the information they found with the portable spy gadgets – just not how they found it.”

“…It reminds me of what happens in totalitarian countries: you don’t know what the hell is going on, said law professor Bruce R Jacob, the former dean of Stetson law school in Florida, when shown a copy of the NDA for Hillsborough County, which includes the Tampa metropolitan area.”

The producer of Stringray is Harris Corporation and their work in global geospatial databases
They have an operation in Hamilton, Brisbane, Australia

Under ‘Impact’ the Lift Off link is not there – it can be accessed here: Satellites can be used for weather or spying.  High powered cameras are mounted.

It is interesting to notice the marketing in the first Harris link and how it is marketed in Australia. This is how websites can persuade in different ways.  I find it very concerning.  Websites can give any face to the public but how do they know what is behind a website?

Therefore, the public need to know what is true and if it affects them. Disclosure is absolutely an imperative in the times we are in, not only for the public but for corporations as they move into this ‘brave new world’ mindset that seems to have no values or limits.  It is in all interests to limit invasive technologies as it will create more conflict as businesses spy on their competitors, jealous partners spy on their spouses, governments spy on their people if they are of the opposite viewpoint and on and on it goes.  What all fail to see is that we live in great diversity and it is very easy to project ‘enemy’ onto anyone.  This can easily get out of hand.  Snowden revealed mass surveillance of citizens, rather than this stopping it has intensified as the real issue is unquestioned beliefs translated into threats that would not exist in transparent governance. So wars between militaries become wars to access resources to then become surveillance of the very citizens to be protected. This is how the rabbit hole just gets deeper.

I am mindful of the major barrier to disclosure of non-disclosure agreements which protect and facilitate secrecy and judicial overview. The core questions are:

Is non-disclosure in the public interest?
Is it protecting the agency/organisation from misconduct disclosures?
Is it genuine corporate protections of proprietary interests given competition?

For the record I do not give consent to be surveilled, tracked or monitored in any way in respect of speaking up about issues that I know are in the public interest nor my personal life monitored like a silent voyer.  My blog (video and written) is here to fully disclose who I am and reveal truths that have inspired my life and to live freedom of speech as my right as a human being.  If anyone who is surveilling me wants to know more, then ask me directly and I will respect this type of courage.  If there are issues then have the decency to discuss it and make it visible. The danger is always the ‘fog of war doctrine‘ (coined by former US Secretary of Defence McNamara) where intelligence gets it wrong as they watch and gather but do not sit down and work out the problem collectively.  This leads to distortions and miscarriages of Justice. I am a person who will speak the truth to anyone as I don’t have anything to hide.  I am sensitive to all people/sides and recognise there are complex contexts and webs.  I ask for citizens to be invited into the discussion as their voice needs to be heard given they are impacted without their knowledge.  If this is not a democracy then make that clear to everyone so they don’t stand up for something they think is their right, to discover their disclosures put them innocently in harms way.  Can you be honest is my point!

As a citizen I am not voting for surveillance of citizens as it is not in their interests given corruption at the highest levels has been evident across the world.   Real freedom is not encased in ideologies that serve one group against another,  it is to live according to one’s own conscience and to not be threatened by reprisals, payback or bullying.  I prize democracy and I love all people.

I read a wise statement from a source that stated: “freedom is not in getting what you want it is in wanting what you get“.  I found that very inspiring.  Freedom is about living in peace not resistance or imagining future threats.

This blog can be regarded as my vote as a world citizen.

This article provides insights into this Stingray technology and the use of it.

Stingray spying: FBI’s secret deal with police hides phone dragnet from courts

The FBI is taking extraordinary and potentially unconstitutional measures to keep local and state police forces from exposing the use of so-called “Stingray” surveillance technology across the United States, according to documents obtained separately by the Guardian and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Multiple non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) revealed in Florida, New York and Maryland this week show federal authorities effectively binding local law enforcement from disclosing any information – even to judges – about the cellphone dragnet technology, its collection capabilities or its existence.

In an arrangement that shocked privacy advocates and local defense attorneys, the secret pact also mandates that police notify the FBI to push for the dismissal of cases if technical specifications of the devices are in danger of being revealed in court.

The agreement also contains a clause forcing law enforcement to notify the FBI if freedom of information requests are filed by members of the public or the media for such information, “in order to allow sufficient time for the FBI to seek to prevent disclosure through appropriate channels”.

The strikingly similar NDAs, taken together with documents connecting police to the technology’s manufacturer and federal approval guidelines obtained by the Guardian, suggest a state-by-state chain of secrecy surrounding widespread use of the sophisticated cellphone spying devices known best by the brand of one such device: the Stingray.

Stingray box
 “The device has the ability to pull content, so all the sudden your text messages are at risk, your phone calls are at risk, and your data transmission, potentially,” said John Sawicki, a former police officer who consults attorneys on technological evidence, of the Stingray device made by Harris Corporation. Photograph: Harris Corporation

Made by Florida-based Harris Corporation, the Stingray and similar devices are known as IMSI-catchers or cell-site simulators.

The secrecy required by such NDAs is perhaps why information on the use of Stingrays by local police forces remains scarce after years of probing by civil-liberties advocates – and why the true scale of the technology’s use is unknown. But other documents recently obtained by the Guardian and the ACLU hint at how widespread the practice might be.

The ACLU has shown that at least 48 agencies across 20 states likely use the devices. Documents obtained by the Guardian show police from states as such as Texas, Florida, Washington, Minnesota, Virginia, Florida, Maryland, Illinois, Arizona, and California utilize the devices.

The Florida agreement – obtained from the Hillsborough County sheriff’s office by the Guardian after a series of Stingray-related Freedom of Information Act requests sent over the past seven months – reads in part:

“The Florida Department of Law Enforcement will, at the request of the FBI, seek dismissal of the case in lieu of providing, or allowing others to use or provide, any information concerning the Harris Corporation wireless collection equipment/technology, its associated software, operating manuals, and any related documentation.”

Law enforcement agencies that sign NDAs [non-disclosure agreements] similar to the one in Hillsborough County are barred from providing “any information” about the Stingray-style devices in search warrants, pre-trial hearings, testimony, grand jury proceedings, in appeals or even in defense discovery. Per the agreement, police can only release the “evidentiary results” obtained with the device.

In other words, police can tell the courts about the information they found with the portable spy gadgets – just not how they found it.

“It reminds me of what happens in totalitarian countries: you don’t know what the hell is going on,” said law professor Bruce R Jacob, the former dean of Stetson law school in Florida, when shown a copy of the NDA for Hillsborough County, which includes the Tampa metropolitan area.

In response to a detailed list of questions from the Guardian, the FBI sent a copy of an affidavit from 2014 by supervising special agent Bradley Morrison, chief of the agency’s tracking technology unit.

The FBI affidavit states that the agency believes cell-site simulator devices are exempt from discovery because information “could easily impair use of this investigative method”, and affirms the agency’s policy of secrecy on the matter.

“Disclosure of even minor details about the use of cell site simulators may reveal more information than their apparent insignificance suggests because, much like a jigsaw puzzle, each detail may aid in piecing together other bits of information even when the individual piece is not of obvious importance in itself,” the affidavit states.

The Florida department of law enforcement (FDLE) and its subsidiary in the Hillsborough County sheriff’s office did not respond to requests for details from the Guardian. Harris Corp said Thursday it could not comment.

The FBI’s extreme secrecy: ‘Interfering with the courts’

Two additional versions of similar Stingray NDAs – only with different county names – were obtained this week, one following a lawsuit against the Erie County sheriff’s office by the ACLU of West New York, and the other by a Baltimore defense attorney trying a city carjacking case.

An equipment grant authorization document obtained by the Guardian from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) states that local police must coordinate with the FBI to use Harris Corporation’s devices. “State and local law enforcement agencies must advance coordinate with the FBI the acquisition and use of the equipment authorized under this authorization,” the document states.

And similar NDAs have also been obtained – albeit in heavily redacted form – in Washington state and Minnesota.

“The dynamic we’re seeing is the federal government leaning heavily on local police,” ACLU staff attorney Nathan Freed Wessler said. “Even departments who have said that they would like to be more transparent are being prevented from doing so by this agreement that they’re being forced to sign.”

The provision for pushing cases for dismissal rather than reveal information about Stingray capabilities and scope, he said, represented “the FBI’s consistent policy of making local police maintain extraordinary and extreme secrecy”.

Jacob, the law professor who has reviewed the pacts, said they were “interfering with the operation of the courts” and judges’ ability to evaluate whether a search and seizure involving Stingray technology is even constitutional under the fourth amendment. He said the NDA could also interfere with fair hearings, allowing some defendants to walk free while others are convicted on the basis of the evidence obtained with such devices.

“The defendant who finds out about this is able to get his case dismissed, and the other defendant can’t? That’s unfair.”

From Baltimore to Tampa to Stingray HQ: ‘Your phone calls are at risk’

Hillsborough County Stingray
 Hillsborough County includes the Tampa metropolitan area. One document shows state law enforcement willing to pay for 11 days of ‘necessary training’ on ‘vital’ equipment made by Stingray’s manufacturer. Photograph: Facebook

Despite the sweeping NDAs that law enforcement offices like the Hillsborough County sheriff have signed, local departments have recently struggled to keep a lid on their use of the dragnet.

In Baltimore on Tuesday, police revealed another example of the FBI non-disclosure agreement in court – and also that they had used Stingray technology 4,300 times since 2007, according to defense attorney Joshua Insley. In other cities across the country – from Texas and Minnesota to California and Washington state – the Guardian has obtained invoices, purchase orders and training documents confirming the use of Stingrays.

In June 2014, according to a training request obtained by the Guardian, Hillsborough County detective Mark Gilbertson wrote that the FDLE would pay $5,000 for 11 days of “necessary training” at the Harris Corporation’s base in Melbourne, Florida, on a $780,000 “piece of cellular equipment”.

The exact type of device remains unclear, but the request said the training was “vital to the sheriff’s office” and that “only” one other employee at the office was “actively trained in this equipment”.

In its freedom of information response to the Guardian, the Hillsborough sheriff’s office refused to hand over any training materials, saying they were the property of Harris Corporation and “proprietary”. The NDA bars “direct or indirect statements to the media” about Harris corporation equipment.

John Sawicki, a former police officer who founded Forensic Data Corp, a company that consults attorneys on technological evidence, said “one of the problems we have is we don’t know for sure” what Stingrays specifically can even do, wherever they are used.

“When you get an officer into a deposition and ask what the capability of the device is, they say, ‘Well I can’t get into it because of the NDA.’ We’re left to speculate a bit as to what the device can do,” he said.

“We believe that, at least in some cases, the device has the ability to pull content, so all the sudden your text messages are at risk, your phone calls are at risk, and your data transmission, potentially.”

The NDAs drastically reduce courts’ access to documents on the devices. With provisions that restrict defense attorneys’ discovery, pre-trial motions, testimony and even court orders, defense attorneys say even basic due process has become frustratingly difficult.

For example, the FBI-police pact would make it impossible to determine whether local law enforcement were properly trained to operate the surveillance devices.

In most cases, law enforcement only need to apply for a court order known as a ‘PEN register’ to use a Stingray, based on 1986 legislation designed to track outgoing calls from a land-line phone.

In any case, Owsley said, police officers from any jurisdiction with access to the devices could also simply choose to use them off the books.

When judges attempt to compel the FDLE to release information about the tracking devices, the state police agency must forward such notices to the assistant director of the FBI’s Operational Technology Division, and to the chief of the Technology Tracking Unit in Quantico, Virginia. Freedom of Information requests are also forwarded to the two department heads.

This kind of sweeping secrecy has led to tense exchanges in courtrooms, and the crumbling of prosecution’s cases, as they attempt to maintain secrecy. City councils may even be unaware that the police departments they oversee are using the devices if the local force has signed similar agreements with the FBI.

Now, defense attorneys appear to be catching on to the practice. In Tallahassee, Florida, the ACLU has amassed a list of more than 300 cases where they believe Stingrays have been used to locate clients, and at least one Florida case recently came undone when defense attorneys began to dig into the involvement of Stingrays.

There, a robbery defendant took a plea bargain of six months probation after defense attorneys started asking questions about how police found her client.

Mohandas Gandhi

“God has no religion”