Originally published April 22 2015
Chicago PD refuses to reveal use of StingRay to illegally monitor citizens
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) Federal, state and local governments are increasingly doing all that they can to hide their activities from the citizenry paying them to serve.
The latest example comes from the Chicago Police Department -- the same one with a secret "black site," Constitution-free interrogation facility -- where officials are fighting to keep hidden information regarding how, when and where officers employ covert cell phone tracking systems.
So adamant is the government of former Obama operative Mayor Rahm Emmanuel about keeping the information hidden that city taxpayers have already shelled out $120,000 to a law firm fighting in court to keep the details secret.
Chicago, known historically as a hotbed of political corruption and criminal activity, has spent even more hundreds of thousands of dollars since 2005 on cell phone-site simulators manufactured by a Florida firm, according to records reviewed by the Chicago Sun-Times.
The devices come with names like KingFish and StingRay and have also been used by the FBI to (unconstitutionally) monitor Americans all over the country. They are designed for one purpose, primarily -- the capture of cell phone signals.
Mass warrantless surveillance
The problem is, they capture all cell phone signals -- not just those of targeted suspects -- and do so without a court-issued warrant, as required by the Fourth Amendment. Police in Chicago, the Sun-Times reported, have used the devices to locate cell phones.
The paper also reported:
Police agencies in other states have revealed in court that StingRays and similar devices have been used to locate suspects, fugitives and victims in criminal investigations.
But privacy activists across the country have begun to question whether law enforcement agencies have used the devices to track people involved in demonstrations in violation of their constitutional rights. They also have concerns the technology scoops up the phone data of innocent citizens and police targets alike.
Chicago police officials counter that the devices are used in cases where serious crimes have been committed, such as kidnappings and murders. And no doubt most Chicagoans have no problems with their police department legitimately investigating serious criminal activity.
But the issue isn't legitimate investigative activity; the issue is that the department is using technology that likely violates privacy and other constitutional and civil rights. And the fact that the city is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep its use of the devices secret is in itself damning.
Privacy advocates have for some time wondered if the Chicago PD was using illicit methods to track political enemies. For instance, activists have thought for some time that cops used a StingRay or similar device to track protestors of a NATO summit in the city in 2012.
Demonstrators became suspicious after seeing the batteries in their phones drain more quickly than normal during protests -- an effect of the phony cell phone tower simulators, the Sun-Times reported.
In fact, the Chicago Reader reported recently, "that the police have opened at least six investigations involving spying on citizens, including NATO protesters, since 2009," according to the Sun-Times.
Transparency in government?
Thankfully, some Chicagoans are fighting back.
In June, Chicago resident and software industry worker Freddy Martinez filed suit against the city; he wants records of purchases of cellular tracking equipment. In addition, his suit seeks access to all records regarding details about how such systems operate and in what cases police have employed them. He filed suit after filing an ultimately unsuccessful public records request.
"Surveillance like this has a chilling effect on free speech and dissent, especially when considered in light of the history of illegal political surveillance by the Chicago Police Department and misconduct that has led to far too many false convictions," Matthew Topic, the attorney representing Martinez, told the paper. "People are less willing to speak out against government corruption and wrongdoing when they fear that government is monitoring their location, their associations and their speech."
While the city most definitely deserves its day in court, the fact that officials are fighting tooth and nail -- while spending limited taxpayer dollars in the process -- to keep their surveillance program secret is an abomination.
So much for the mayor's promise of transparency.
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