Judge allows US Marshals’ seizure of stingray records, dimisses lawsuit
The American Civil Liberties Union has lost in its attempt to get the city of Sarasota, Florida, to hand over city records pertaining to the use of stingrays, or fake cell tower surveillance devices.
As we reported earlier this month, the ACLU asked a Florida court for an emergency motion (PDF) that would require the city to make its stingray records available via a public records request. These devices, which are also known as international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) catchers, can be used to track phones or, in some cases, intercept calls and text messages.
The term “Stingray” is a trademarked product manufactured by a Florida-based company, the Harris Corporation. But it has since come to be used as a generic term, like Xerox or Kleenex. Harris is notoriously secretive about the capabilities of its devices and generally won’t talk to the press about their capabilities or deployments.
Federal authorities frustrated the ACLU’s efforts to learn how the devices are used in Sarasota after the US Marshals Service (USMS) deputized a local police detective. The USMS then physically moved the stack of paper records hundreds of miles away.
In a four-page decision issued on Tuesday, state circuit court judge Charles Williams found that his court lacked jurisdiction over a federal agency—effectively recognizing the transfer of the stingray documents to the US government. The case was therefore dismissed.
However, pursuant to the government’s own voluntarily handover as it was described to the court on June 12, the court ordered that the US government must turn over applications and orders approving the use of stingray devices that have already been filed under seal and issued by Florida state judges. Those records will, at least for the time being, remain sealed.