Tag Archives: Fourth Amendment

The StingRay Spy Device Is Exactly Why the 4th Amendment Was Written

At least 68 agencies in 23 different states own StingRays.

By Olivia Donaldson

Photo: The Desk

Imagine you are in the middle of your typical day-to-day activities. Maybe you are driving, spending time with family, or working. If you are like most people, your phone is at your side on a daily basis. Little do you know that, at any time, police and law enforcement could be looking at information stored on your phone. You haven’t done anything wrong. You haven’t been asked for permission. You aren’t suspected of any crime.

The StingRay

Police have the power to collect your location along with the numbers of your incoming and outgoing calls and intercept the content of call and text communication. They can do all of this without you ever knowing about it.

How? They use a shoebox-sized device called a StingRay. This device (also called an IMSI catcher) mimics cell phone towers, prompting all the phones in the area to connect to it even if the phones aren’t in use.

The police use StingRays to track down and implicate perpetrators of mainly domestic crimes. The devices can be mounted in vehicles, drones, helicopters, and airplanes, allowing police to gain highly specific information on the location of any particular phone, down to a particular apartment complex or hotel room.

Quietly, StingRay use is growing throughout local and federal law enforcement with little to no oversight. The ACLU has discovered that at least 68 agencies in 23 different states own StingRays, but says that this “dramatically underrepresents the actual use of StingRays by law enforcement agencies nationwide.”

The Violation

Information from potentially thousands of phones is being collected every time a StingRay is used. Signals are sent into the homes, bags, and pockets of innocent individuals. The Electronic Frontier Foundation likens this to the Pre-Revolutionary War practice of soldiers going door-to-door, searching without suspicion.

Richard Tynan, a technologist with Privacy International notes that, “there really isn’t any place for innocent people to hide from a device such as this.”

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution states that, “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

The StingRay clearly violates these standards. The drafters of the Constitution recognized that restricting the government from violating privacy is essential for a free society. That’s why the Fourth Amendment exists. The StingRay is creating a dangerous precedent that tells the government that it’s okay for them to violate our rights. Because of this, freedom is quietly slipping out the window.

Little Regulation

Law Enforcement is using StingRays without a warrant in most cases. For example, the San Bernardino Police Department used their StingRay 300 times without a warrant in a little over a year.

In 2010, the Tallahassee Police Department used a StingRay in a warrantless search to track down the suspect of a crime. A testimony from an unsealed hearing transcript talks about how police went about finding their target. The ACLU sums it up well:

“Police drove through the area using the vehicle-based device until they found the apartment complex in which the target phone was located, and then they walked around with the handheld device and stood ‘at every door and every window in that complex’ until they figured out which apartment the phone was located in. In other words, police were lurking outside people’s windows and sending powerful electronic signals into their private homes in order to collect information from within.”

A handful of states have passed laws requiring police and federal agents to get a warrant before using a StingRay. They must show probable cause for one of the thousands of phones that they are actually searching. This is far from enough.

Additionally, there are many concerns that agents are withholding information from federal judges to monitor subjects without approval – bypassing the probable cause standard laid out in the Constitution. They even go as far as to let criminals go to avoid disclosing information about these devices to the courts.

If the public doesn’t become aware of this issue, the police will continue to use StingRays to infringe on our rights in secret and with impunity.

Olivia Donaldson

Olivia Donaldson

Olivia Donaldson is a recent high school graduate that is currently opting out of college and participating in an entrepreneurial program called Praxis.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Editorial note: If you’d like to read about the current use of StingRays by the Trump administration, we ran an article on the subject back in May.

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Future of Free Speech at Risk as Supreme Court Hears Critical Digital Privacy Case

“No constitutional doctrine should presume that consumers assume the risk of warrantless government surveillance simply by using technologies that are increasingly integrated into modern life.”

By Julia Conley, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 11-29-2017

In a Supreme Court case beginning Wednesday, the ACLU is arguing that Americans should not be expected to give up privacy rights every time they use a cell phone that pings phone towers nearby, as analog-era legal arguments would hold. (Photo: Mike Mozart/Flickr/cc)

The Supreme Court will hear the first arguments in a landmark case regarding digital privacy rights on Wednesday as civil liberties advocates, joined by tech companies and journalists, argue the court must acknowledge that privacy rights and free speech protections should align with the reality of 21st century technology.

The case, known as Carpenter vs. United States centers around Timothy Carpenter, who was convicted in 2011 of several robberies after the police, without a probable cause warrant, gathered data from his cell phone company. Months of records were turned over, showing that he had been near cell towers close to the sites of the robberies when they took place. Continue reading

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Trump Quietly Nominates Mass Surveillance Advocate To “Protect” Your Privacy Rights

By Carey Wedler. Published 9-1-2017 by The Anti-Media

 

Though outrage over mass surveillance swept the United States after Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013, there is little discussion of these invasive practices just four years later

This apathy comes despite former President Barack Obama’s move to expand to information sharing between agencies just days before Trump took office and after the Trump administration signaled its desire to continue widespread surveillance.

Amid this lack of attention toward the NSA, the president recently nominated a staunch advocate of mass surveillance to chair one of the few barriers standing between intrusive government spying and the American people’s privacy. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) was created in 2004 at the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission and was intended “to help the executive branch balance national security priorities with individual rights,” the Intercept reported earlier this year. Continue reading

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Feds Drop Charges in Child Porn Case to Protect Secrets

By . Published 3-9-2017 by The Anti-Media

Official FBI flag. Photo: Public domain

Washington, D.C. — In a case that’s drawn criticism from multiple angles, last week federal prosecutors in Washington state dropped all charges against a man who allegedly downloaded child pornography from a website that was infiltrated, taken over, and allegedly even improved by the FBI.

The site, Playpen, operated on a platform designed to mask the real identities of its users, as Gizmodo explained Monday:

“The site in question operated on the Tor network, a system used to anonymize web activity. The network makes use of a special web browser that conceals people’s identities and location by routing their internet connections through a complex series of computers and encrypting data in the process.” Continue reading

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NYPD Catches Itself Selling Stolen Goods, Blames Business Owner

By Carey Wedler. Published 10-8-2016 by The Anti-Media

One Police Plaza- NYPD headquarters. Photo: Youngking11 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

One Police Plaza- NYPD headquarters. Photo: Youngking11 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

New York, NY — A business owner in Manhattan is suing the city after being forced to waive his fourth amendment rights and potentially forfeit his business because an NYPD officer sold illegal goods at his store.

You read that right.According to a lawsuit filed this month by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian legal advocacy group, an undercover NYPD detective attempted to sell stolen electronics to customers at Sung Cho’s laundromat in Inwood, which located near the northern tip of Manhattan, in 2013. After the officer successfully sold stolen goods to two people — one inside the store and one outside — the city threatened Cho with eviction “merely because a ‘stolen property’ offense had happened at his business,” the legal organization’s website explained. Continue reading

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Feds: We can read all your email, and you’ll never know

Clark D. Cunningham, Georgia State University

Fear of hackers reading private emails in cloud-based systems like Microsoft Outlook, Gmail or Yahoo has recently sent regular people and public officials scrambling to delete entire accounts full of messages dating back years. What we don’t expect is our own government to hack our email – but it’s happening. Federal court cases going on right now are revealing that federal officials can read all your email without your knowledge.

As a scholar and lawyer who started researching and writing about the history and meaning of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution more than 30 years ago, I immediately saw how the FBI versus Apple controversy earlier this year was bringing the founders’ fight for liberty into the 21st century. My study of that legal battle caused me to dig into the federal government’s actual practices for getting email from cloud accounts and cellphones, causing me to worry that our basic liberties are threatened.

A new type of government search

The federal government is getting access to the contents of entire email accounts by using an ancient procedure – the search warrant – with a new, sinister twist: secret court proceedings.

The earliest search warrants had a very limited purpose – authorizing entry to private premises to find and recover stolen goods. During the era of the American Revolution, British authorities abused this power to conduct dragnet searches of colonial homes and to seize people’s private papers looking for evidence of political resistance.

To prevent the new federal government from engaging in that sort of tyranny, special controls over search warrants were written into the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. But these constitutional provisions are failing to protect our personal documents if they are stored in the cloud or on our smartphones.

Fortunately, the government’s efforts are finally being made public, thanks to legal battles taken up by Apple, Microsoft and other major companies. But the feds are fighting back, using even more subversive legal tactics.

Searching in secret

To get these warrants in the first place, the feds are using the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, passed in 1986 – long before widespread use of cloud-based email and smartphones. That law allows the government to use a warrant to get electronic communications from the company providing the service – rather than the true owner of the email account, the person who uses it.

And the government then usually asks that the warrant be “sealed,” which means it won’t appear in public court records and will be hidden from you. Even worse, the law lets the government get what is called a “gag order,” a court ruling preventing the company from telling you it got a warrant for your email.

You might never know that the government has been reading all of your email – or you might find out when you get charged with a crime based on your messages.

Microsoft steps up

Much was written about Apple’s successful fight earlier this year to prevent the FBI from forcing the company to break the iPhone’s security system.

But relatively little notice has come to a similar Microsoft effort on behalf of customers that began in April 2016. The company’s suit argued that search warrants delivered to Microsoft for customers’ emails are violating regular people’s constitutional rights. (It also argued that being gagged violates Microsoft’s own First Amendment rights.)

Microsoft’s suit, filed in Seattle, says that over the course of 20 months in 2015 and 2016, it received more than 3,000 gag orders – and that more than two-thirds of the gag orders were effectively permanent, because they did not include end dates. Court documents supporting Microsoft describe thousands more gag orders issued against Google, Yahoo, Twitter and other companies. Remarkably, three former chief federal prosecutors, who collectively had authority for the Seattle region for every year from 1989 to 2009, and the retired head of the FBI’s Seattle office have also joined forces to support Microsoft’s position.

The feds get everything

This search warrant clearly spells out who the government thinks controls email accounts – the provider, not the user. U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

It’s very difficult to get a copy of one of these search warrants, thanks to orders sealing files and gagging companies. But in another Microsoft lawsuit against the government a redacted warrant was made part of the court record. It shows how the government asks for – and receives – the power to look at all of a person’s email.

On the first page of the warrant, the cloud-based email account is clearly treated as “premises” controlled by Microsoft, not by the email account’s owner:

“An application by a federal law enforcement officer or an attorney for the government requests the search of the following … property located in the Western District of Washington, the premises known and described as the email account [REDACTED]@MSN.COM, which is controlled by Microsoft Corporation.”

The Fourth Amendment requires that a search warrant must “particularly describe the things to be seized” and there must be “probable cause” based on sworn testimony that those particular things are evidence of a crime. But this warrant orders Microsoft to turn over “the contents of all e-mails stored in the account, including copies of e-mails sent from the account.” From the day the account was opened to the date of the warrant, everything must be handed over to the feds.

The warrant orders Microsoft to turn over every email in an account – including every sent message. U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

Reading all of it

In warrants like this, the government is deliberately not limiting itself to the constitutionally required “particular description” of the messages it’s looking for. To get away with this, it tells judges that incriminating emails can be hard to find – maybe even hidden with misleading names, dates and file attachments – so their computer forensic experts need access to the whole data base to work their magic.

If the government were serious about obeying the Constitution, when it asks for an entire email account, at least it would write into the warrant limits on its forensic analysis so only emails that are evidence of a crime could be viewed. But this Microsoft warrant says an unspecified “variety of techniques may be employed to search the seized emails,“ including “email by email review.”

The right to read every email. U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

As I explain in a forthcoming paper, there is good reason to suspect this type of warrant is the government’s usual approach, not an exception.

Former federal computer-crimes prosecutor Paul Ohm says almost every federal computer search warrant lacks the required particularity. Another former prosecutor, Orin Kerr, who wrote the first edition of the federal manual on searching computers, agrees: “Everything can be seized. Everything can be searched.” Even some federal judges are calling attention to the problem, putting into print their objections to signing such warrants – but unfortunately most judges seem all too willing to go along.

What happens next

If Microsoft wins, then citizens will have the chance to see these search warrants and challenge the ways they violate the Constitution. But the government has come up with a clever – and sinister – argument for throwing the case out of court before it even gets started.

The government has asked the judge in the case to rule that Microsoft has no legal right to raise the Constitutional rights of its customers. Anticipating this move, the American Civil Liberties Union asked to join the lawsuit, saying it uses Outlook and wants notice if Microsoft were served with a warrant for its email.

The government’s response? The ACLU has no right to sue because it can’t prove that there has been or will be a search warrant for its email. Of course the point of the lawsuit is to protect citizens who can’t prove they are subject to a search warrant because of the secrecy of the whole process. The government’s position is that no one in America has the legal right to challenge the way prosecutors are using this law.

Far from the only risk

The government is taking a similar approch to smartphone data.

For example, in the case of U.S. v. Ravelo, pending in Newark, New Jersey, the government used a search warrant to download the entire contents of a lawyer’s personal cellphone – more than 90,000 items including text messages, emails, contact lists and photos. When the phone’s owner complained to a judge, the government argued it could look at everything (except for privileged lawyer-client communications) before the court even issued a ruling.

The federal prosecutor for New Jersey, Paul Fishman, has gone even farther, telling the judge that once the government has cloned the cellphone it gets to keep the copies it has of all 90,000 items even if the judge rules that the cellphone search violated the Constitution.

Where does this all leave us now? The judge in Ravelo is expected to issue a preliminary ruling on the feds’ arguments sometime in October. The government will be filing a final brief on its motion to dismiss the Microsoft case September 23. All Americans should be watching carefully to what happens next in these cases – the government may be already watching you without your knowledge.

The Conversation

Clark D. Cunningham, W. Lee Burge Chair in Law & Ethics; Director, National Institute for Teaching Ethics & Professionalism, Georgia State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Travel Alert: US Border Agents Want to Know What You’ve Been Doing on Social Media

Department of Homeland Security says collecting social media data will “provide greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity”

By Lauren McCauley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 6-29-2016

los-angeles-social-media

 

File this under Another Unsettling Development: People who want to travel to the United States may soon have their Facebook profiles and other social media accounts “vetted” by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) before entering.

A proposed change to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and to Form I-94W posted to the government’s Federal Register last week suggests adding the following question: “Please enter information associated with your online presence—Provider/Platform—Social media identifier.” Continue reading

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‘Corroding Civil Liberties,’ Supreme Court Codifies Unlawful Police Stops

“This case tells everyone…that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in the dissent

By Nadia Prupis, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 6-20-2016

The Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that evidence collected during an illegal stop can be used in court if the search was conducted after the discovery of an arrest warrant. (Photo: Mark Fischer/flickr/cc)

The Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that evidence collected during an illegal stop can be used in court if the search was conducted after the discovery of an arrest warrant. (Photo: Mark Fischer/flickr/cc)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that evidence recovered during illegal stops may still be used in court, if police officers conducted their searches after learning that a defendant had an outstanding arrest warrant.

In a 5-3 ruling (pdf), the Supreme Court said such searches do not violate the Fourth Amendment, which protects against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who dissented, slammed the decision, writing in a sharp rebuke that the case “tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent…that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights.” Continue reading

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Supreme Court Quietly Approves Rule to Give FBI ‘Sprawling’ Hacking Powers

Absent action by Congress, the rule change will go into effect in December

By Nadia Prupis, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 4-29-2016

The rule would allow a federal judge to issue a warrant for any target using anonymity software like Tor to browse the internet. (Photo: Ben Watkin/flickr/cc)

The rule would allow a federal judge to issue a warrant for any target using anonymity software like Tor to browse the internet. (Photo: Ben Watkin/flickr/cc)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday quietly approved a rule change that would allow a federal magistrate judge to issue a search and seizure warrant for any target using anonymity software like Tor to browse the internet.

Absent action by U.S. Congress, the rule change (pdf) will go into effect in December. The FBI would then be able to search computers remotely—even if the bureau doesn’t know where that computer is located—if a user has anonymity software installed on it. Continue reading

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Disregarding Privacy, Court Rules Common Cell Surveillance Method is Legal

The court rejected an argument that collecting phone location data without a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment

By Nadia Prupis, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 4-14-2016

The panel referred to a 1979 ruling in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that the numbers dialed on a landline are not protected by the Fourth Amendment because the caller willingly gives that data to phone companies. (Photo: Graeme Peterson/flickr/cc)

The panel referred to a 1979 ruling in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that the numbers dialed on a landline are not protected by the Fourth Amendment because the caller willingly gives that data to phone companies. (Photo: Graeme Peterson/flickr/cc)

In a show of “complete disregard” for privacy, a federal appellate court on Wednesday ruled that the warrantless collection of cell phone location data is constitutional.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in United States v. Carpenter that law enforcement can legally request cell site location information (CSLI) without a warrant on the grounds that routing data, which is not as accurate as GPS coordinates, is not protected under the Fourth Amendment.

But as Jennifer Lynch, senior staff attorney with the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote in a blog post responding to the ruling, “The opinion shows a complete disregard for the sensitive and revealing nature of [CSLI] and a misguided response to the differences between the analog technologies addressed in old cases and the data-rich technologies of today.” Continue reading

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