The software purchased by the ISP allows a surveillance vehicle to track anyone within a certain radius of the vehicle and capture all incoming and outgoing cell phone calls and text messages without a warrant, which is obviously a concern for anyone who cares about protecting people's constitutional rights against unreasonable searches and seizures unless done so with a court-ordered warrant based on a finding of probable cause. "[O]fficials at Indiana’s largest police agency aren’t saying what they do with the technology; they’re mum on whose data they’ve collected so far; and they’re not talking about what steps they take to safeguard the data," the Star's Ryan Sabalow reports. "Citing concerns that releasing any information would endanger public safety by hindering the agency’s ability to fight crime and combat terrorism, they won’t even say whether they ask a judge for a search warrant before they turn the equipment on," he continued. "Al Larsen, a spokesman for The Department of Public Safety, declined to discuss how his agency uses the Harris technology, saying doing so would “adversely impact our crime-fighting effort."
The Star conducted a joint investigation with USA Today in which it found that police agencies in other places around the country were using the technology in "less urgent and more questionable ways."
In one case, a South Carolina sheriff obtained cellphone data from an unknown number of people — just to investigate a rash of car burglaries that included the theft of guns from the sheriff’s SUV.
In another instance, Miami police told the city council they intended to collect cellphone data to track protesters at a world trade event.
At least 25 police agencies around the country, including the Indiana State Police, have contracts with Harris Corp., of Melbourne, Fla., for devices called Stingrays, according to public records requests filed this fall with 115 police agencies by the Indianapolis Star, USA Today and other media outlets owned by Gannett.
Often installed in a surveillance vehicle, the suitcase-size Stingrays trick all cellphones in a set distance — sometimes exceeding a mile, depending on the terrain and antennas — into connecting to it as if it were a real cellphone tower. That allows police agencies to capture location data and numbers dialed for calls and text messages from thousands of people at a time.
Local and state police often buy the devices with federal grants aimed at protecting cities from terror attacks, and the devices, originally developed for military and spy agencies, are closely guarded secrets.History has a way of repeating itself in Indiana. Back in the 1970s, investigative reporters for the Indianapolis Star learned that the corrupt Indianapolis Police Department had used a federal grant to purchase electronic equipment that allowed the agency to bug private citizens. The Department then turned the equipment over to a private detective agency with close ties to the Lugar administration, which in turn allegedly used it to spy on political enemies. The private detective agency wound up paying a large settlement to a prominent local lawyer with close ties to the state's top Democratic officials whose office had been illegally bugged by the private detective. Here's a little of what Dick Cady wrote about the incident in his big "Deadline: Indianapolis," a book the former Pulitzer prize winning reporter for the newspaper authored that the Star refused to review:
In February 1971, IPD had purchased some sophisticated electronics equipment, including bugging devices, from Bell & Howell. There were turned over to C. Timothy Wilcox, the president of the Three Eyes. Wilcox apparently violated federal law by taking possession, Rossman said. That wasn't all. Wilcox instructed Rossman to begin visual surveillance of Wise's apartment . . . He said Wilcox was a Republican precinct committeeman and friend of Keith Bulen. Several years earlier, Wilcox had attempted to "bug" the Marion County headquarters of the Democratic Party . . .
Now Mrs. Kelly offered specific information. At campaign headquarters on election night in 1970, private detective Tim Wilcox told her he had broken into the offices of U.S. Sen. Vance Hartke, a Democrat, and had enough to put Hartke in jail," but the Republicans wouldn't let him use the material. During the 1971 election campaign, Wilcox and another man had planted an electronic bug in a room in a downtown building where a meeting of Democrats was held. She had been asked to transcribe the tapes. Buena Chaney, the state Republican chairman at the time, knew about the illegal eavesdropping. Mrs. Kelly also said Wilcox had asked her to help set up Congressman Andy Jacobs, Jr. He wanted to get Jacobs in a situation where he could be blackmailed .Cady went on to say that Wilcox denied breaking any laws and only admitted to testing the equipment for IPD. Star reporters should begin combing records and looking closely at any contracts either the state of Indiana or the city of Indianapolis have entered into with private detective companies, which may have been given access to surveillance equipment purchased with our public tax dollars to spy on private citizens and other public officials. The City of Carmel only two years ago used the same private detective agency to spy on the private sex life of Steven Libman, the former executive director of the city's performing arts center. I wouldn't be surprised at all if either police agency is relying on private investigators to do their dirty work for them.
Al Larsen with Indianapolis' Department of Public Safety told the Star that "any surveillance in Indianapolis is focused on specific targets and is only used if a court order is granted." “Broad-scale surveillance, including that of a data-related nature, is not currently a tactic we utilize,” Larsen said in an email. “And we would only do so in the future if an extreme circumstance drove us to seek an order from the court.” I beg to differ. Members of the police department have learned that the hard way as paranoid commanding officers have gone to extraordinary steps to obtain private e-mail communications sent by rank-and-file officers as private citizens for retaliatory purposes, including some of the biggest critics of former Public Safety Director Frank Straub, who they accused of moving IMPD officers into the newly-formed homeland security division for the express purpose of spying on police officers he suspected of criticizing his efforts to the media.
One of the points completely missing in the Star article is that there is already a statute on the books that makes it illegal to do precisely what this technology enable police departments to do. A state statute regarding the gathering of criminal intelligence information found at I.C. 5-2-4-5 contains the following prohibition:
No criminal justice agency shall collect or maintain information about the political, religious or social views, associations or activities of any individual, group, association, corporation, limited liability company, business, or partnership unless such information directly relates to an investigation of past or threatened criminal acts or activities and there are reasonable grounds to suspect the subject of the information is or may be involved in criminal acts or activities.It's not just private citizens who should be worried about the unlawful gathering of information of this nature by law enforcement agencies; police officers and other public officials may also be victimized by these unlawful searches and seizures. IMPD is already doing it. It takes the view that this statute does not prohibit their command officers from gathering information of this nature on its own police officers for use in disciplinary actions. Unfortunately, the command level of the Department is populated by commanders who are totally paranoid of any police officers they supervise who they perceive as being potential whistle blowers. They want to make it clear that they will do whatever it takes to destroy your career within the Department if you dare speak ill of them to the media or other private citizens in private communications. I believe you can find plenty of current and former ISP officers who will tell you that ISP is as bad as IMPD when it comes to these sorts of activities. So it's not just civil rights groups who should be concerned by these activities.