Privacy SOS

Florida judge says he has no power to stop US Marshals from absconding with documents sought by ACLU

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how my colleagues in Florida were stymied by the US Marshals when they attempted to get records from the Sarasota police department. The ACLU wanted to know how the local cops were using Stingray cell phone sniffers, and so filed a public records request. They were later informed that the department didn't have the records anymore. It turns out that US Marshals, in a bid to keep them secret from the public, had deputized a local officer as a fed, and absconded with the documents.

Yes, you read that right. The federal government intervened in a local public records matter to hide information about police surveillance from the public. It's the most shocking example I've seen of the rampant trickle-down secrecy problem my colleague Nate Wessler described last week.

As you might expect, the ACLU filed an emergency motion in Florida district court to stop the cops from playing this shell game and to force the release of the surveillance records.

Now, in a huge win for government secrecy and the federal government's war on transparency, a Florida judge has said the whole matter is out of his hands.

Ars Technica reports:

In a four-page decision issued on Tuesday, state circuit court judge Charles Williams found that his court lacked jurisdiction over a federal agency—effectively recognizing the transfer of the stingray documents to the US government. The case was therefore dismissed.

The ACLU will appeal.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.