Local cell phone spying KingFish stonewall: Minnesota law enforcement at BCA & Hennepin County refuse to disclose SIGINT cell phone snooping capabilities from NSA contractor Harris
It's been dawning on Americans this year that their everyday electronic devices are used by law enforcement for investigations. However the lawmen and the county attorneys are withholding the policy information about the Harris Corporation Kingfish system which is a device that can alter the electronic behavior in a cell phone, also known as a CDMA Interrogator or cell phone interceptor.
The MN Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) has declined to share any policy information about Kingfish. I have also heard that Hennepin County Sheriffs Office and their legal counsel are putting up rather high barriers to disclosing anything at all about Kingfish. The whole case is weirdly parallel to the 1978 Rockford Files episode House on Willis Avenue, which ended with this unprecedented title card:
We still have "no legal right" to know about who in Minnesota is building dossiers and how. The main question: what is Hennepin County and the BCA hiding in their versions of the House on Willis Avenue?
At the Hennepin County level in the 2010 they earlier promised to come up with sensible and clear policies about if and when law enforcement uses these devices to interfere with cell phones. Now they are claiming that stuff is non-public data - which of course precludes informed public debate at the Legislature in 2014 about electronic law enforcement interference in technical devices.
Several people including Rich Neumeister are looking into this nasty Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) mess. Follow @RichNeumeister - he is helpful answering about the details on this via Twitter.
In a shocking surprise Harris Corporation is a major contractor with the National Security Agency and KingFish is part of the domestic-grade apparatus for local but still unchecked NSA-style electronic snooping. The NSA didn't seem like a big deal when KingFish was approved, but now everyone has finally started noticing the tremendous power of unchecked electronic data collection. It's a much Hotter Potato than in 2012!
Wikispaces notes: PIRT - Harris Corporation etc. More Harris links at end.
Another angle here: Hundreds of thousands of dollars have gone into KingFish in Minnesota and they are not willing to share the expense information. Ars Technica reports the boxes cost $25K so where the hell is the rest of the money? Meet the machines that steal your phone’s data | Ars Technica:
The Kingfish is a surveillance transceiver that allows authorities to track and mine information from mobile phones over a targeted area. The device does not appear to enable interception of communications; instead, it can covertly gather unique identity codes and show connections between phones and numbers being dialed. It is smaller than the Stingray, black and gray in color, and can be controlled wirelessly by a conventional notebook PC using Bluetooth. You can even conceal it in a discreet-looking briefcase, according to marketing brochures.
First used: Trademark records show that a registration for the Kingfish was filed in August 2001. Its “first use anywhere” is listed in records as December 2003.
Agencies: Government agencies have spent about $13 million on Kingfish technology since 2006, sometimes as part of what is described in procurement documents as a “vehicular package” deal that includes a Stingray. The US Marshals Service; Secret Service; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; Army; Air Force; state cops in Florida; county cops in Maricopa, Arizona; and Special Operations Command have all purchased a Kingfish in recent years.
[…]The code of silence shrouding the above tools, however, is highly contentious. Their use by law enforcement agencies is in a legal gray zone, particularly because interference with communications signals is supposed to be prohibited under the federal Communications Act. In May, an Arizona court ruled that the FBI's use of a Stingray was lawful in a case involving conspiracy, wire fraud, and identity theft. But according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), when seeking authorization for the use of the Stingray tool, the feds have sometimes unlawfully withheld information from judges about the full scope of its capabilities. This means that judges across the country are potentially authorizing the use of the technology without even knowing what it actually does. [But in MN who needs judges?? LOL]
That's not all. There is another significant issue raised by the Harris spy devices: security. According to Christopher Soghoian, chief technologist at the ACLU, similar covert surveillance technology is being manufactured by a host of companies in other countries like China and Russia. He believes the US government’s “state secrecy” on the subject is putting Americans at risk.
"Our government is sitting on a security flaw that impacts every phone in the country," Soghoian says. "If we don't talk about Stingray-style tools and the flaws that they exploit, we can't defend ourselves against foreign governments and criminals using this equipment, too."
Soghoian makes an excellent point - the vulnerabilities exploited by KingFish are in some ways a major public safety threat, and the security establishment is accruing power by hiding the flaws as usual instead of forcing society to deal with the overall crappiness of today's telecom technology.
"Security by obscurity" is the dominant principle of political accountability here, and of course it is doomed to fail. Responsible disclosure of the flaws exploited by KingFish and their granular legal circumstances are what we need, not moar domestic SIGINT fog and mystification.
All of these cell phone attack avenues should be known because similar tech to KingFish would be more widely available soon. The disruption under the federal Communications Act is also relevant.
Some time back I pointed out the problems with MN statutes about these kind of cell interceptor technology at a Senate committee and former Sen. Mee Moua suggested that if I wanted to go fishing for KingFish I might need to find some alternate way. At least these days more people care about this stuff!! [It should be recalled Moua - a Hmong war refugee - was hounded by law enforcement at the tail end of her service. See MPR clip below]
Earlier: March 3 2010: Sheriff Stanek landing Fed cash for KingFish military cellphone tracker in Hennepin County; National Guard intelligence analysts fuse to metro police departments; Lobby for warrantless wiretaps in St. Paul | Twin Cities Indymedia -- March 15 2010: Surprise bill for interstate fusion center data sharing pops up Tuesday; Specs found for Harris StingRay & KingFish cellphone tracking devices | Twin Cities Indymedia
via Rich Neumeister: Open Secrets: An indefensible and odious practice with (Foia-Data Practice) data requests (Oct 15th)
Office of the Commissioner
445 Minnesota Street - Suite 1000 - Saint Paul, Minnesota 55101
Phone: 651.201.7160 - Fax: 651.297.5728 - TTY: 651.282.6555
October 3, 2013
Rich Neumeister VIA Electronic Mail
Re: Cell Phone Tracking Data Request
Dear Mr. Neumeister:
Thank you for your data request. You ask "to inspect and review all government data about the cell phone location tool known as the (Kingfish) including, but not limited to, such items as protocols, procedures, legal thresholds, Attorney opinions, evaluations, correspondence, and results of use."
The BCA does possess cellular exploitation equipment; however, we cannot provide details about the equipment because it would compromise ongoing and future criminal investigations including AMBER Alerts, kidnapping cases, fugitive searches and homicides.
In addition, any disclosure regarding the manufacturer, model, capabilities, functionality or other specifics about the equipment could be used by criminals and fugitives to defeat the technology and render the system useless.
As a result, any data regarding this equipment is confidential or protected non-public under Statutes 13.82 Subd. 25 and 13.37 Subd. l (a).
Portions of the data are also trade secret data not subject to dissemination. The contracting company has taken efforts to protect the data from disclosure. As you are aware, a corporation supplying trade secret data to a government entity may claim portions are trade secret. The contractor in this case has appropriately made such a claim as it relates to portions of the data, pursuant to Minn. Statute 13.37 Subd. 1(b).
Again, thank you for your data request. Should you care to discuss it further please contact me.
E. Joseph Newton
Lol "any disclosure regarding the manufacturer, model, capabilities, functionality or other specifics about the equipment could be used by criminals and fugitives to defeat the technology" - so they are counting on ignorance to succeed in controlling society. A perfectly sound way to invest public Debt-Dollars, counting on perpetual confusion over some metal box's legal & technical specifications. Perhaps this kind of clever spending theory contributed to the federal government shut down - it's not like millions haven't vanished on deficient & wasteful Homeland Security gear :-/
Well then let us take a look at MN Statutes 13.82 Subdivision 25. 13.82, 2013 Minnesota Statutes
"Subd. 25.Deliberative processes. Data that reflect deliberative processes or investigative techniques of law enforcement agencies are confidential data on individuals or protected nonpublic data; provided that information, reports, or memoranda that have been adopted as the final opinion or justification for a decision of a law enforcement agency are public data."
Justification for a decision of a law enforcement agency are public data and that would really seem to include the legal memos about the process for when to fire up Kingfish to poke at cell phones.
here is the 13.37 Subdivision 1 a: 13.37, 2013 Minnesota Statutes
Subdivision 1.Definitions. As used in this section, the following terms have the meanings given them.
(a) "Security information" means government data the disclosure of which the responsible authority determines would be likely to substantially jeopardize the security of information, possessions, individuals or property against theft, tampering, improper use, attempted escape, illegal disclosure, trespass, or physical injury. "Security information" includes crime prevention block maps and lists of volunteers who participate in community crime prevention programs and their home and mailing addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail or other digital addresses, Internet communication services accounts information or similar accounts information, and global positioning system locations.
It seems like this is worded to mean that the "information" would be subjected to "theft, tampering, improper use, attempted escape, illegal disclosure, trespass, or physical injury". "Defeat the technology" is not on that list, and indeed the question of who the technology has been used on remains decidedly open.
Here is Rich's list of questions which is a good starting point: What's behind the secrecy wall of Hennepin Co Sheriff and BCA?
Some of the few questions I am trying to get answered are as follows: In what situations are the cellular exploitation devices used?
Are the BCA/Hennepin Co Sheriff invading people's privacy and liberty at a low legal threshold or no threshold rather than get a search warrant?
Who oversees and approves the use of the equipment? Where is the accountability?
How many innocent people have been within sights of the Kingfish or similar device, the data collected and those subjects of the surveillance who may not even know about it,? How many arrests have happened with the use of this device?
Kip Carver, an official in the Hennepin County Sheriff's office stated to the county's commissioners three years ago that the cellular exploitation device may be used hundreds of times a year.
How frequently are the cellular exploitation devices used and the number of subjects?
Depending if the cops are using a low threshold or none at all in using this device are they doing so to avoid an appearance before a judge where a search warrant (top standard to protect our privacy & liberty) needs to be issued and where questions can be asked?
What is the role of the prosecutors in situations when this equipment is used?
In my data request I asked for the legal thresholds that the agencies must go by in order to use the Kingfish? What is so secret about that?
At this time, the attitude that both agencies have taken with my data requests give the Minnesota Legislature and most important the public no idea how this tool has been used, is being used, how an individual or individuals get chosen to be pursued, and who is accountable.
As some people may currently know I have been working to possibly update our state laws so that the rule of law applies to whats happening now in 2013 not in 1988-1989 when 626A had its last major update.
Even though the Department of Public Safety and the Hennepin County Sheriff do not want to tell me or the public their protocols, policies, procedures of accountability, legal thresholds, and other appropriate public data I will still push on and I hope others will. I am not interested to live in a state where law enforcement rules and not the people.
Story from Feb 9 2010 Star Tribune. You Can LOL about how Kip Carver claims that the device would only track cell phone numbers obtained through a search warrant: via Sheriff Stanek landing Fed cash for KingFish military cellphone tracker in Hennepin County; National Guard intelligence analysts fuse to metro police departments; Lobby for warrantless wiretaps in St. Paul | Twin Cities Indymedia | Movement Media for Minneapolis-St. Paul
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in St. Paul has a KingFish device and makes it available to local agencies, said Jill Oliveira, a BCA spokeswoman. Only a few people know how to use it because the training is expensive, she said.
Stanek couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday. Kip Carver, a Sheriff's Office inspector who heads the investigations bureau, told commissioners that the device would track only cell phone numbers obtained through a search warrant, and couldn't be used without a court order.
The KingFish can't eavesdrop on phone conversations, Carver said. Instead, it locates cell phones that might be in the possession of an abduction victim, he said, or a robber making a getaway.
"I truly believe [we] would be very busy using that," Carver said. Asked how many times a year the device might be used, he said it could be in the hundreds.
Commissioner Jan Callison agreed to table the request to get more information, but added she was not as troubled by the device as some of her colleagues. "It seems to me that there are certainly ways to make sure this technology is deployed legally. ... It's really the sort of law enforcement that we want," she said.
Here is something handy, a contract surely similar to the ones being currently hoarded by BCA and Hennepin County Sheriffs Office, a 2012 Harris Government Communications Systems Division June 25 2012 from the city of Tempe Arizona: Harris Corporation Wireless Surveillance Products Standard Terms and Conditions of Sale | Public Intelligence - 11 pages.
Harris Corporation AmberJack, StingRay, StingRay II, KingFish Wireless Surveillance Products Price List. Thanks to PublicIntelligence.net as always for stacking the key infos nicely!
July 2011: Harris Corporation's Small Secure Data Link Receives National Security Agency Certification - aka drone radios
Photo source: Ars Technica: Meet the machines that steal your phone’s data | Ars Technica
Sen Mee Moua hounded by law enforcement: Mee Moua leaves state Senate, legacy | Minnesota Public Radio News - Laura Yuen June 29 2010
Yet Moua made waves with some law-enforcement officials this year when she proposed legislation that would ban police departments from sharing secret files on gang members and activities. Moua said she had concerns about racial profiling, especially of young African-Americans who she says could be entered into the database simply for being photographed with a known gang member. The proposal came after a series of scandals involving the now-defunct Metro Gang Strike Force.
"So she saw abuse in law enforcement, and I think that's why she wrote the bills she did," Limmer said. "Was it an overreach? Hmm. Some people might say so, but you could understand where she was coming from."
Some law-enforcement officials, though, painted Moua as a gang sympathizer. And Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said at the time that Moua was overreacting to isolated problems with the strike force.
"I think that overreaction has caused her to introduce reckless legislation that will jeopardize the safety of citizens, officers and case prosecutions," Fletcher said.
Moua said she was taken aback by the reaction from law enforcement.
"They wanted to make this about cops vs. dangerous criminals," she said. "But the actuality is it's about cops vs. people in the community who haven't done anything [wrong] and who were being profiled in these databases."
Chaska Police Chief Scott Knight said Moua has been known to question police practices -- which may have irked some law enforcement officials.
"While sometimes some of my peers had some frustrations, I thought she was very healthy for the global approach to law enforcement, and the balance with community and citizens' rights and fairness," Knight said.
To paraphrase Rockford Files Jim says: "You can stomp someone into the ground using computer technology as a club"… Evil CEO guy: "To my knowledge none of this is illegal." Jim: "It should be!" The House on Willis Avenue is easily the most applicable episode to this scenario, with its combination of unregulated electronic spying and shady local government operations:
Finally I would add there are several candidates for Pirate Party in Minneapolis in November - if you want to send the signal that these issues matter, consider voting for them. The two parties are almost certainly not going to help you and the other minor parties are all over the map.