Police Are Keeping Mum About Their Cell-Tracking Technology

POSTED BY Edwin Batista

Police have been using a device called Stingray to intercept phone calls and text messages to aid in their police work. However, privacy issues have been raised due to police refusing to elaborate on the details of their surveillance operation. Little is known about how police use Stingray and the rules they follow when using it even in states with strong open record laws. Efforts to obtain public-records regarding Police use of Stingray have been mostly fruitless.

At about the size of a suitcase, Stingray works by tricking cellphones in its range of operation into identifying themselves and transmitting their data to police rather than the nearest cellphone tower. It is not clear what information Stingray is capable of capturing because documents regarding Stingrays are usually heavily censored. In rare court appearance in 2011, the FBI confirmed that Stingray has the potential to affect innocent users in its area of operation.

Earlier this month the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, through one of its journalist, sued the Tucson Police Department, alleging that police had not complied with the State’s public-records law because police did not fully disclose Stingray records.

Awareness of police cell-tracking capabilities through their use of Stingray has spread across the country. News agencies in California, Florida and Philadelphia have been denied police records on Stingray. Attempts to obtain this information have been met with denials and challenges to such request in court. The main issue here is that there is an exception in public-records law that protects trade Secrets. It is through these trade secrets exception and nondisclosure agreements that Police have been able to decline to tell the courts about the use of Stingray.

The recent revelations about the surveillance programs run by the NSA has started a debate regarding the balance between citizen’s privacy and government surveillance policies. The issue of the lack of information on police use of Stingray will not go away and will likely intensify and spread across the country. The fact that police can avoid complying with public-records request by contracting with private companies with trade secrets and nondisclosure agreements must be addressed. In order to maintain our civil liberties and eliminate abuses public agencies need to be more transparent. A balance must be struck between allowing police to use technology to effectively do their job and allowing citizens the ability to make sure police are not abusing their power.

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The Emergence or Downfall of Bitcoin?

POSTED BY Kevin Tan

Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency, emerged in 2009 which gives its network participants the ability to make transactions free of any transactional fees that banks and credit card companies would usually require. Furthermore, using bitcoins for international purchases would not subject the parties to the country’s laws or to its regulations. The use of bitcoins has appealed to many small businesses and restaurants worldwide. There are also some established large firms that have accepted bitcoins such as Overstock.com, the Sacramento Kings, Zynga, and Virgin Galactic, among several others. Bitcoins can be bought and sold for many different currencies worldwide from individuals and companies alike.

Bitcoin users do not have to reveal their names. All that is needed is their account number. Because of this fact and the fact that all parties involved are not subject to the conventional transactional fees, to government regulation, or to its laws, Bitcoin users have used bitcoins for various criminal activities: money laundering, Ponzi schemes, purchasing stolen goods, guns, and drugs, among many others. Believing that most of these transactions were done on the server called the Silk Road, the FBI has stepped in by seizing nearly 30,000 bitcoins (currently valued at $25 million) from the server. Having found that these bitcoins were the proceeds of crime, District Judge Oetken announced for the forfeiture of these coins.

In his press release, United States District Attorney Bhara supported Oetken’s holding because it furthered the government’s role in taking out “the profit of crime and signal to those who would turn to the dark web for illicit activity.” Although the holding does support this view, it is very difficult to claim that all activities done on that server were illegal. It is still unclear what sorts of transactions were done here. Furthermore, the money that was left there were there at the end of the transaction- the government did not prove that these coins were to be used to commit a crime or to further a crime. The holding suggests that the government could take money from anyone so long as the money were from the proceeds of crime. This is equivalent to stating that the government could take money from girl scouts for selling their girl scout cookies to a drug dealer because the money obtained from the drug dealer were from the proceeds of selling drugs. This doesn’t sound right.

Profiling “Criminal Aliens”

POSTED BY Hillary Cheng

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is responsible for locating and deporting immigrants who have not complied with laws governing immigrants. These statutes regulate the criminal activity of aliens, their entry into the U.S., their health, their dependence on public welfare, and various other activities related to the national interest. As technology has advanced, ICE has begun to use an electronic biometrics system to track immigrants in the U.S. in conjunction with local law enforcement databases, and they call this program “Secure Communities.” This policy has raised concern among civil liberties advocates including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The concern over using the biometrics scanning comes down to three main points, which are listed on the ACLU website regarding the Secure Communities policy. First, it deters people from accessing the criminal justice system and receiving equal protection of the laws. Second, it creates the risk of unlawful and extended detentions by local jails. Third, it invites racial profiling by local law enforcement.

The constitutionality of this ICE policy is difficult to assess. Historically, immigrants have received fewer constitutional protections than citizens, and it is unclear how the protection against unreasonable search and seizure apply. The question, then, becomes whether immigrants should be treated differently than American citizens—and why. One side of the debate advocates for a conditional, special status for immigrants where they are bound to certain restrictions or face the penalty of deportation, characterizing immigrants as temporary visitors to the U.S. whose permission can and should be easily revoked. The other side recommends that immigrants be treated no differently from American citizens, especially if these immigrants have grown up in the U.S. and know no other home but this.