Privacy Watch Dog: State Cops Are Tracking Your Cell Phone

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Minnesota BCA: Protect, Serve and Eavesdrop?

From UpTake contributor Rich Neumeister, at Open Secrets

Since 2005, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) has paid nearly $750,000 for what they call a “cellular exploitative device.” After the state’s top cop agency got their new spy tool, the Hennepin County Sheriff had to get one, too. In 2010, Hennepin County got a similar evice for nearly $400,000.

The BCA wants to keep you from knowing about these secret tools. They have pulled a shade of “total” secrecy, a blackout. What the secret tool does is track mobility of anyone in a general area with their mobile device and grabs the numbers of individual’s outgoing and incoming phone calls, possibly including the content of messages and also the location of the phone owners.

As people know who have read my blog posts over the last few months I’ve been doing data requests and reporting on these new tech tools. I have been asking for what the devices do, the costs, the inactive criminal investigations in which the tool has been used (public data), protocols and guidelines used, legal thresholds, the contract and the name of the vendor who provides the spy/surveillance equipment.

The Hennpin County Sheriff provided more public data to me than the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (BCA) did.

The communication I got from the Sheriff’s lawyer gave me the contract, the legal threshold (court order) — less than a search warrant — and the number of times which the tool has been used.

The "Stingray" -- one of the cellphone tracking devices being used by at least two law enforcement agencies in Minnesota

Quite different though from the state’s top cop shop, the BCA. I got nothing, other than a couple of letters confirming they have a device and the cost since 2005. I am still in the accountability and transparency fight with them, by sending them another data request to review and inspect all inactive criminal investigations (public data) in which the snooping devices — called Kingfish or Stingray — were used.

On Sunday, USA Today published an investigative story on this type of technology and the issues surrounding it.

I do not have the resources to fight the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension or any government agency through the judicial process to get them to be accountable, transparent, and scrutinized by the public. Only the Minnesota Legislature can do that, with laws and effective oversight.

Over the 40-plus years I have learned about abuses of power in national, state, and local government, we Minnesotans cannot say abuses do not occur. A secret law enforcement system is an anathema and repugnant in our democracy and all things I have fought for. If the government does not trust us, it can always go somewhere else and rule over a people it does trust, but government cannot do this, because we rule.

More from Open Secrets about this issue: Minnesota Cops Know Where You Are

Click here to see KARE-TV (Channel 11) report on the story

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