Privacy SOS

Virginia Fusion Center bulletin about ‘malicious activists’ interfering with stingray surveillance cites this blog

The public interest website Public Intelligence spotted a bulletin from the Virginia Fusion Center warning police that people at protests might try to defeat their stingray surveillance equipment. The fusion center officials cited a blog post I wrote here in December 2014 describing what appears to be a video showing the Chicago Police Department and regional fusion center conducting real-time cell phone surveillance of Black Lives Matter activists. That post got picked up and up-voted on reddit, where officials at the fusion center discovered it and apparently became concerned about some of the comments. Commenters discussed using signal jammers and calling in fake bomb threats to the other side of town as possible tactics for stopping stingray spying from targeting protesters.

But the reddit comments weren’t the only thing that appear to have spooked the spooks. Public Intelligence:

These violent or malicious intentions are further exemplified, according to the bulletin, by an anonymous post on Pastebin from December 6, 2014 titled “Stingback: A Short, Emergency Guide for Activists Being Spied on by Chicago Police Stingrays (and very likely other police departments).” The guide provides a few simple actions protesters can take to help protect themselves from police surveillance while organizing, including using separate phones for personal and protest activities, using encrypted communication apps such as the products of Open Whisper Systems including TextSecure, RedPhone and Signal, as well as turning off a phone’s location tracking features. One of the last suggestions in the guide, which mentions physically inhibiting the movements of the vehicle, is what led to it being cited in the [Virginia Fusion Center] VFC bulletin. VFC warns law enforcement that “emergency management vehicles deployed to potential protest areas, particularly areas which may have a propensity for violence, should exercise caution” and “be aware that they may be targeted by non-violent methods in order to inhibit their vehicle movements in the area.”

The Virginia spy center seems awfully concerned that protesters might impede stingray surveillance at protests, but as Public Intelligence offers, “[a]t no point [addresses] the fundamental claim of the protesters: that surveillance of the protesters’ communications based solely on the fact that they are engaging in free speech activities is a violation of their Constitutional rights.”

Check out the bulletin here.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.