TUCSON (CN) - A reporter sued the Tucson Police Department for records on the surveillance equipment it uses to collect data from cellphones.
Beau Hodai sued Tucson and its Police Department Tucson in Pima County Court, seeking an order to show cause why the Tucson PD should not have to comply with the public records act.
Hodai submitted his first records request to Tucson police on Oct. 11, 2013, "concerning TPD's purchase and use of Stingray and Stingray II cell phone tracking equipment from Harris Corporation."
Stingray is a transportable device that acts like a cellphone tower, forcing nearby cellphones to connect to it and to provide data, including what phone numbers are called and the duration of the call.
Hodai claims that Harris Corp.'s surveillance equipment, "including products purchased by TPD, are reportedly capable of: mimicking cell phone towers; collecting cell phone data from thousands of persons in a single use; intercepting the content of communications; capturing cell phone meta data, text messages, and location data; providing real-time tracking of persons; conducting denial of service attacks on phone users; and, monitoring and mining information from mobile phones over large, targeted areas."
Because the equipment pulls cell phone data from a large number of people, "the technology collects information from persons having no involvement with or connection to criminal activity," the lawsuit states.
In response to Hodai's request, TPD provided him with four documents, but redacted them, citing exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act and a nondisclosure agreement with Harris Corp. and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The Tucson PD, however, failed to provide Hodai with "work product resulting from the use of Stingray or Stingray II," requests or authorizations of Harris Corp. products in any police operations, training materials, and internal policies. The agency also failed to produce TPD memos describing when to use Stingray and external correspondence concerning the program.
The nondisclosure agreement between Harris Corp. and Tucson states: "The City of Tucson shall not discuss, publish, release or disclose any information pertaining to the Products covered under this NDA to any third party individual, corporation, or other entity, including any affiliated or unaffiliated State, County, City, Town or Village, or other governmental entity without the prior written consent of Harris ... The City of Tucson is subject to the Arizona Public Records Law. A.R.S. sec 39-121, et seq. While the City will not voluntarily disclose any Protected Product, in the event that the city receives a Public Records request from a third party relating to any Protected Product, or other information Harris deems confidential, the City will notify Harris of such a request and allow Harris to challenge any such request in court. The City will not take a position with respect to the release of such material, beyond its contractual duties, but will assist Harris in any such challenge."
According to Hodai, this agreement dictates TPD's and the City of Tucson's "compliance with Arizona public records law in regards to products and services purchased from Harris Corporation."
Hodai filed a second public records request on Nov. 15, seeking records on a device known as Hailstorm, records related to a purchase by TPD from Harris Corp., and the nondisclosure agreement between TPD and the FBI.
Tucson police have not responded to the request.
Hodai filed a third records request on Dec. 9, "seeking records concerning TPD's use of surveillance equipment in police investigations, its purchase of surveillance equipment, and TPD's relationship with Harris Corporation and the FBI."
The agency has not responded.
Hodai says that there is a public interest in knowing how Tucson and is police are using the equipment, given that TPD has bought at least $408,000 worth of merchandise from Harris Corp.
"Mr. Hodai is trying to figure out whether the Tucson police are using Stingrays to collect information and conduct surveillance of innocent people without a warrant," said Darrell Hill, a lawyer representing Hodai with the ACLU of Arizona.
"Tucson cannot evade the public records law simply because the manufacturer of this surveillance equipment told the city not to disclose information about the equipment's use. It violates both the law and our democratic principle of transparency for Tucson and the TPD to hide behind a nondisclosure agreement so that they can spy on anyone they want without interference from the public," Hill said in a statement.
Hodai seeks an order directing the City of Tucson and the Tucson Police Department to provide copies of the records he requested.Follow @@jamierossCNS
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