They justify the use of Stingray devices (IMSI catchers/cell tower spoofers) by pointing out how great they are at catching criminals. They justify the secrecy surrounding them by claiming the release of any details will compromise investigations. And then they pull something like this.

Baltimore prosecutors withdrew key evidence in a robbery case Monday rather than reveal details of the cellphone tracking technology police used to gather it.

So… great for catching crooks but not all that great at keeping them caught. How embarrassing. That has to suck for Baltimore citizens, who have just discovered their local PD prizes non-disclosure agreements over putting bad guys away.

City police Det. John L. Haley, a member of a specialized phone tracking unit, said officers did not use the controversial device known as a stingray. But when pressed on how phones are tracked, he cited what he called a “nondisclosure agreement” with the FBI.

Which most people would take to mean don’t go around spilling the details to normal citizens, family members or journalists. But as we’ve seen repeatedly, law enforcement agencies have taken this FBI-required NDA to mean (very conveniently, I might add) that they’re allowed to tell no one. Goodbye, crusty old “due process” ideals. Hello, parallel construction.

But in this case, the judge responded with an obvious statement — one that is made far too infrequently.

“You don’t have a nondisclosure agreement with the court,” Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams replied.

Then Judge Williams called the PD’s bluff: explain the evidence’s origin or face contempt charges. Faced with this, the prosecution folded.

It’s no secret the Baltimore Police Dept. has a Stingray device. Here’s a document from 2009 containing the city council’s approval of the Stingray purchase. Here’s another document showing the PD’s request for additional funds to upgrade the device. The general public is already aware of the device’s existence and capabilities, and yet, the police balk at discussing it publicly, even if it means potentially damaging a prosecutor’s case.

It’s not just the phone-related evidence that’s being withdrawn. It’s everything derived from that Stingray-related search, including a handgun.

This isn’t Judge Williams’ first experience with police officers unwilling to discuss Stingray usage. The Baltimore Sun reports he also dealt with a non-discussion of the technology back in September. The device was used to track a phone (and a suspect) to a certain location. When Williams asked how the officers ascertained that the suspect actually had the phone on him, they actually invoked national security rather than answer the question.

“This kind of goes into Homeland Security issues, your honor,” [Sgt. Scott] Danielczyk said.

Williams nailed this response, too.

“If it goes into Homeland Security issues, then the phone doesn’t come in,” Williams said. “I mean, this is simple. You can’t just stop someone and not give me a reason.”

That’s how this is supposed to work. If law enforcement agencies want to deploy super-secret technology, then they shouldn’t be able to drag evidence of unexplained origin into the courts with them. Allowing them to have it both ways steamrolls due process.


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