Two Oklahoma law enforcement agencies have acquired or used devices to track and collect information from cellphones. This demonstrates the need for state legislation to limit their use.
According to Oklahoma Watch, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs possesses a stingray device used to collect cellphone data but has never used it, while Oklahoma City Police Department has one on loan from the FBI. However, the department refused to disclose how it has been used.
The Oklahoma City Police Department has borrowed and possibly used a cell tower simulator. In response to an Open Records Act request, the department provided a copy of a non-disclosure agreement it signed with the FBI in 2014 allowing the department to use the FBI’s cell location device. The agreement is titled FBI-MOU OCPD Cell Site Simulator. Capt. Paco Balderrama, spokesman for Oklahoma City police, said the department does not own a cell site simulator. On advice from its attorney, the department refused to provide additional information, including any other administrative documents not directly related to an investigation, such as requests to borrow the device. The attorney cited a law enforcement exemption to the Open Records Act. That section of the law, however, does not specifically exempt administrative records, such as agreements, expense records or personnel data.
Oklahoma Watch reports that the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs has avoided using its donated stingray so far due to uncertainty over its legality.
Bureau spokesman Mark Woodward confirmed the device was donated to the agency by a law enforcement equipment supply company. Prices for simulators can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“It’s never even been taken out of the box,” Woodward said. “We never deployed or used it because there were too many questions about it: ‘Do we need a warrant? Do we not need a warrant?’ There was never a green light saying, ‘Yeah, go ahead and use it,’ similar to drones today.”
Under current law in Oklahoma, state and local law enforcement agencies can use stingray devices with absolutely no limits. Oklahoma residents should remove any ambiguity by pressing their state lawmakers to introduce legislation that would protect their civil liberties and privacy. States like Washington and Oregon have already done so.
Reuters revealed the extent of NSA data sharing with state and local law enforcement in an August 2013 article. According to documents obtained by the news agency, the NSA passes information to police through a formerly secret DEA unit known Special Operations Divisions (SOD). The report revealed the cases “rarely involve national security issues.”
Almost all of the information sharing involves regular criminal investigations.
According to the documents obtained by Reuters, after the SOD passes data along to state or local law enforcement, it then works with them to “create” an investigation, working backward to obscure the origin of the information in a process known as “parallel construction.”
Not only does the NSA collect and store bulk data and information collected without a warrant, the spy agency encourages state and local law enforcement to violate the Fourth Amendment by making use of this information in day-to-day investigations.
Former NSA Chief Technical Director William Binney called this process country’s “greatest threat since the Civil War.”
The revelation in Oklahoma demonstrates why state laws prohibiting warrantless collection of cell phone data are needed regardless of whether state law enforcement has started to use them.
Michael Boldin contributed to this report.