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Emails show company misled FCC to get approval for a cell tower spoofer

The ACLU has evidence that the FCC was misled when gave permission to police to use StingRay cell phone surveillance gear.
September 26, 2014

According to TechDirt, the ACLU of Northern California appears to have evidence that shows a company called the Harris Corporation misleading the Federal Communications Commission when it sought authorization to sell its line of StingRay cell phone surveillance gear to state and local police.

StingRay gear is used to interfere with cell phone networks by “mimicking cell towers and tricking phones into reporting back their identifying information, location, and other data.” Therefore, the FCC must give its approval before surveillance devices, such as StingRay gear, is sold to state and local police.

The ACLU, through a Freedom of Information Act request, recently obtained emails between Harris employees and FCC regulators responsible for reviewing the StingRay equipment application. In an email dated June 24, 2010, a Harris representative wrote to the FCC to explain that the purpose of the StingRay equipment was “only to provide state/local law enforcement officials with authority to utilize this equipment in emergency situations.”


Except, when that email was written, it was known that police departments were using StingRay equipment quite often in non-emergency situations. For example, records released by the Tallahassee (Florida) Police Department show that have used the StingRay equipment in non-emergency situations 71% of the time since 2007.

Basically, the police were using the StingRay equipment in non-emergency situations often because it made their investigations easier. Police Departments from Charlotte, North Carolina to Gwinnett County, Georgia, admit to as much in recent years by stating that they use StingRay devices “in criminal investigations with no restrictions on the type of crime.”

Nobody wants to hinder the police from stopping crime. But the StingRay got approved based on their assertions to the FCC that their devices would not be common place and used strictly during emergency situations. That wasn’t and still isn’t the case.

It would be nice if we could see what the Harris Corporation wrote to the FCC in its application but as of today, those documents are not being released to the public. Then again, this should not be that big of a surprise considering federal officials have ASKED state and local officials to lie about their use of StingRay devices.


If there was some good news, it is that the ACLU has gotten the FCC Inspector General to put together a new FCC task force that will soon begin scrutinizing unauthorized StingRay use and whether the FCC decision to authorize sale of StingRays was influenced by false information.

Then again, maybe we are just over-exaggerating the usage by a few police departments in Florida and Georgia:

More documents have been uncovered (via FOI requests) that show local law enforcement agencies in California have been operating cell phone tower spoofers (stingray devices) in complete secrecy and wholly unregulated. Sacramento News10 has obtained documents from agencies in San Jose, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento and Alameda County — all of which point to stingray deployment. As has been the case in the past, the devices are acquired with DHS grants and put into use without oversight or guidelines to ensure privacy protections. Some of these agencies have had these devices for several years now. – TechDirt