Wednesday, April 10, 2013

FBI loses delay request for cellphone surveillance data

The Federal Bureau of Investigation lost an appeal last week to delay a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy advocacy group that's suing the agency for information related to its StingRay cellphone surveillance technology, reported the USA Today.

StingRay technology first began to attract attention when it was revealed to have been used to apprehend David Rigmaiden, a suspect in an electronic tax fraud ring indicted in 2008. Rigmaiden’s requests to provide details of how the FBI was able to locate him revealed the use of StingRay, a technology which fools cell phones within a certain range into linking with the technology, as though it was a real cell tower. By harvesting the data provided by a mass of cellphones, StingRay can physically locate a designated device.

In February of 2012, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI for an extensive number of documents and specifications on StingRay and similar “simulator technologies.” EPIC is requesting information regarding the bureau’s procedural requirements and guidelines for the use of StingRay, as well as the legal basis for the use of such technologies.

In response to the request, the FBI attempted to ask for a two-year delay in releasing the records. A federal judge rejected that request, saying the bureau’s justification that it was already overwhelmed by FOIA requests did not meet the criteria for an“exceptional circumstance.”

As the appeal was rejected, the FBI must now produce any non-exempt documents by August 1. In addition it has until the end of May to say how many of the documents in question will be subject to a classification-declassification review.

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