Newly released documents detail how U.S. Border Patrol used ‘Stingray’ cellphone surveillance tools to catch an undocumented immigrant.
The Detroit News has obtained a federal search warrant affidavit which details how border patrol agents are using secretive surveillance technology to locate individuals who have entered the U.S. illegally. The News reported:
The secret device was used in March by a team of FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in Metro Detroit to find Rudy Carcamo-Carranza, 23, a twice-deported restaurant worker from El Salvador whose only brushes with the law involve drunken driving allegations and a hit-and-run crash.
FBI and ICE agents made use of a cell-simulator, also known as Stingrays. Stingray is the brand name of a popular cell-site simulator manufactured by the Harris Corporation. The Electronic Frontier Foundation describes Stingrays as “a brand name of an IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) Catcher targeted and sold to law enforcement. A Stingray works by masquerading as a cell phone tower – to which your mobile phone sends signals to every 7 to 15 seconds whether you are on a call or not – and tricks your phone into connecting to it.”
As a result, whoever is in possession of the Stingray can figure out who, when, and to where you are calling, the precise location of every device within the range, and with some devices, even capture the content of your conversations.
Both the Harris Corp. and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) require police to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDA) related to the use of the devices. Through these NDAs local police departments have become subordinate to Harris, and even in court cases in front of a judge, are not allowed to speak on the details of their arrangements. Due to this secrecy, most of the publicly available information on Stingrays or Hailstorm has come through leaked manuals.
Rudy Carcamo-Carranza was arrested in 2005 after he was caught illegally entering the U.S., Detroit News reports. He was eleven years old at the time. Court records reveal he was ordered to leave the country by an immigration judge, but instead became a fugitive until his arrest in 2012. After being arrested, sent home, and returning once more, Carcamo-Carranza was involved in a hit-and-run in January 2016. He was released before authorities could hold him and in pursuit of him the federal authorities chose to use surveillance tools and techniques originally developed for the military.
The Detroit News reports that federal authorities obtained a warrant to access Carcamo-Carranza’s private messages on his Facebook account. During the course of their snooping, a border patrol agent found his address and cellphone number. With this information authorities were able to use a cell-site simulator to track down his phone. Detective McCullough was given a search warrant to locate the phone using a cell-site simulator. In March, the FBI and ICE used the device to quickly locate Carcamo-Carranza.
In an attempt to learn more about how the tools are used in immigration enforcement operations, the American Civil Liberties Union is submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Nathan Wessler, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, told Detroit News this was “the first warrant I have seen specifically showing ICE’s use of a cell-site simulator in an immigration enforcement operation.”
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The U.S. Attorney’s Office and an ICE spokesman declined to comment about the case, but an ICE spokesman did defend the use of the tools.
“ICE officers and special agents use a broad range of lawful investigative techniques in the apprehension of criminal suspects,” ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls wrote in an email to The News. “Cell-site simulators are invaluable law enforcement tools that locate or identify mobile devices during active criminal investigations.”
The Detroit News reports that Michigan State Police have been in possession of a Stingray for almost a decade. Despite being designed to catch terrorists, the Michigan police used the device hundreds of times in cases dealing with everything from homicide to fraud. No cases of terrorism were reported.
Until September 2015 federal investigators were not required to obtain a search warrant for Stingrays. Beginning that month the Department of Justice issued a new policy requiring a judge’s stamp of approval. “Under the policy, Stingrays cannot be used to collect emails, texts, contacts or images during an investigation,” the News writes. However, the reality is different than what is written in the policy.
A previous leak released by The Intercept provided more details about other Harris Corp. devices, some of which are capable of gathering more than just the numbers dialed and received calls. The devices include:
- Cellbrite: “a portable, handheld, field proven forensic system for the quick extraction and analysis of 95% cell phones, smart phones and PDA devices,” capable of extracting “information such as phone book, pictures, video, text messages, and call logs.”
- Stargrazer: “an Army system developed to deny, degrade and/or disrupt a targeted adversary’s command and control (C2) system,” which “can jam a handset and capture its metadata at the same time it pinpoints your target’s location. But watch out — the Stargazer may jam all the other phones in the area too — including your own.”
- Cyberhawk: which is capable of gathering “phonebook, names, SMS, media files, text, deleted SMS, calendar items and notes” from 79 cell phones.
Sadly, Americans are beginning to accept the use of such dangerous technology with the apparent justification that civil liberties violations are fine as long as the victim is an “illegal” immigrant. Just as we have seen a disturbing support for the militarization of the border in the name of fighting immigration, formerly liberty loving individuals are now falling for the old liberty vs. security false dichotomy. Now is the time for the free hearts and minds to reject tyranny, authoritarianism, and statism. It’s time to stand up for freedom.
Derrick Broze is an investigative journalist and liberty activist. He is the Lead Investigative Reporter for ActivistPost.com and the founder of the TheConsciousResistance.com. Follow him on Twitter. Derrick is the author of three books: The Conscious Resistance: Reflections on Anarchy and Spirituality and Finding Freedom in an Age of Confusion, Vol. 1 and Finding Freedom in an Age of Confusion, Vol. 2
Derrick is available for interviews. Please contact [email protected]
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