ACLU v. City of Sarasota
Various local law enforcement agencies in Florida use a portable device known as a “Stingray” to collect information from cell phones in the vicinity. Also known as “cell site simulators,” Stingrays mimic cell service providers’ towers and broadcast electronic signals that force cell phones in the area to register their identifying information and location. Stingrays collect information not only about specific targets of investigations, but also about hundreds or thousands of innocent third parties. In May 2014, the ACLU sought to learn how the Sarasota Police used Stingrays.
In response to the ACLU’s public records request, the Sarasota Police initially acknowledged sole possession, custody, and control of numerous state applications to use a Stingray and the orders granting the request. However, hours before the ACLU was scheduled to review them, the City changed course and refused public access them. It claimed its Det. Michael Jackson who submitted the applications to the state courts did so in his capacity as a cross-sworn deputy U.S. Marshal and therefore the records were federal. The ACLU sued to obtain public access to the learn about the state court’s oversight of the use of these Stingrays and when they allow them.
The state court denied the ACLU access to the Sarasota Police’s Stingray records finding that the requested records were federal records and possibly court records and concluding the Florida Public Records Law applies to neither. The U.S. Marshals Service then removed the case to federal court, which later agreed with the state’s court’s dismissal. The ACLU has appealed this decision to the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, where the case remains pending.
More information about the ACLU’s investigations into Florida law enforcement agencies’ use of stingray devices is available here: https://www.aclu.org/blog/national-security-technology-and-liberty/police-hide-use-cell-phone-tracker-courts-because
Verified Petition for Public Records Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 - (06/03/2014)
State Order Denying Access - (06/18/2014)
Mot. for Remand to State Court - (07/15/14)
Reply in Support of Mot. for Remand - (-8/19/2014)
Federal Order Denying Remand and Affirming State Court’s Dismissal - (01/06/2015)
List of 34 Applications & State Court Orders to Use Stingrays - (Jan. 1, 2012 – June 17, 2014)