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Chicago Police Lose Battle To Keep Surveillance Tech Records Secret

By aaroncynic in News on Jan 12, 2016 3:15PM

The Chicago Police Department is losing a legal fight over some secret surveillance technology. A Cook County judge denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought forth by privacy advocates Monday regarding the use of surveillance equipment by the Chicago Police Department.

Judge Kathleen Kennedy ruled that the department must turn over records related to its use of Stingray and other devices, also known as cell site simulators, which are used to locate and track cell phones. Kennedy will examine the records, which include documents that show how and when the devices were used, warrants, and purchase requests and justifications before deciding on whether or not any should be withheld.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by Chicago activist Freddy Martinez, who filed several FOIA requests for records about the use of the equipment, which law enforcement and city officials have fought. Last year, some documents were released showing the department made purchases of the equipment between 2005 and 2010 for more than $340,000, CBS2 reports. The city also showed it spent $120,000 on legal fees trying to keep the how and why of the usage of cell site simulators secret.

Police and law enforcement officials say the technology is used in high-level crime fighting operations like drug trafficking, kidnapping or terrorism. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez has argued that revealing the records related to cell site simulators could compromise investigations. But several reports in the past two years have shown that police are likely monitoring local activists and protesters using technology like Stingray.

Last December, the hacker collective Anonymous posted photos and recordings of alleged use of the technology by police during a Black Lives Matter protest. Since then, investigations by the Sun-Times have revealed that CPD has opened at least six investigations into activist groups since 2009. Some, such as the protest groups organizing against the 2012 NATO summit, featured the use of undercover officers posing as demonstrators to infiltrate groups. Police were also alleged to have used surveillance technology like Stingray at those demonstrations.

Meanwhile, a six-month investigation by In These Times last year showed that Chicago Police are directed to report “information concerning strikes, labor-management incidents or union controversies or the possibility thereof” to its fusion center, a high-tech facility funded by the Department of Homeland Security where the department shares information with the feds.

While unnamed, anonymous sources within the department have denied any use of the devices at the NATO demonstrations and downplayed their use in monitoring protests, Martinez says that without the records, the public has no way of knowing if it's telling the truth.

“There’s no reason to believe them. We’ve seen time and time again that just because they claim something doesn’t mean it’s true,” said Martinez in a Monday afternoon interview with Chicagoist. “I don’t think we should just believe it on its face, just because they say its true...A lot of the uncertainty is a result of their own policies.”