The US Marshals Services has intervened in a dispute between a Florida police department and the ACLU, with the Marshals sweeping in at the last minute to seize controversial cell phone records before the ACLU was able to review them.
Earlier this year the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Sarasota Police Department in an attempt to compel them to turn over records on the police’s use of its “Stingray” devices.
The powerful Stingray equipment has drawn the ire of civil liberties advocates nervous about its ability to essentially act as a fake cell tower and collects information from each of phone that connects to it.
The ACLU, which asserts that the Stingray enables the “electronic equivalent of dragnet ‘general searches’ prohibited by the Fourth Amendment,” convinced the court to force the Sarasota police to make the documents available for review.
ACLU staff attorney Nathan Freed told Wired that the US Marshals sent an agent from the Tampa area to Sarasota to pick up the documents so the police would be unable to disclose them.
Wessler described the incident as “truly extraordinary and beyond the worst transparency violations” the ACLU has seen regarding use of the Stingray.
“This is consistent with what we’ve seen around the country with federal agencies trying to meddle with public requests for Stingray information,” he said, adding that officials have used the Homeland Security Act in the past to keep the documents under lock and key. “The feds are working very hard to block any release of this information to the public.”