Imagine if you will, cruising down Woodward Avenue all smiles and sunshine until you see it; that red, white and blue flicker in your rear-view mirror. The Oakland County Sheriff has abruptly merged behind you. We’ve all felt that initial rush, the terror of being ‘pulled over’ and treated like a child. Whether you’re a sinner or a saint those lights strike fear and now they can do much more.
Let’s take this a step further. Sitting there shamed and awaiting punishment would you be tolerant with the immediate confiscation and investigation of your private belongings including cell phone data?
‘HailStorm’ is a new device obtained by the Oakland County Sheriff with monies from a U.S. Homeland Security Grant and so far, there isn’t much information available on what exactly it can and cannot do. There were no questions asked when Oakland County commissioners unanimously approved the use of this cellphone tracking device previously used by the US military in Iraq.
Undersheriff Michael McCabe told The Detroit News that the federal Homeland Security Act bars him from discussing the Hailstorm device.
Many privacy advocates are questioning why one of the safest counties in Michigan needs the very powerful, super-secretive military device called ‘Hailstorm’. The Detroit News sought basic information about Hailstorm and the county denied their Freedom of Information Act request.
The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, located here in Pontiac, is the only police department in the state of Michigan(that we know of?) currently using the military technology. If you think this is an invasion of privacy, you are not alone.
“I don’t like not knowing what it’s capable of,” Oakland County Commissioner Jim Runestad told the Detroit News.
Recently, police in Florida were caught abusing a similar device over 200 times, called ‘Stingray’, without ever telling a judge or obtaining a warrant.
“It’s all very secretive and information about (Stingray and Hailstorm) is tightly controlled, which makes it (difficult) to have a broad discussion about these tools,” said Alan Butler, a lawyer for the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
Oakland county received a $258,370 federal grant that paid for more than half the device, training and about $56,000 to purchase a vehicle to contain it.
I can’t help but think back to the exclusive piece released in February by Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald exposing the NSA’s secret role in the US drone assassination program. Drone strike operators usually identify targets based on metadata and cell-phone tracking technologies like Hailstorm and Stingray. From there, the CIA or US military orders a drone strike to the location of the phone the target is thought to be using.
This doesn’t make me feel very good about the 30,000+ drones expected to be flying over Americans heads by the end of this decade.
This is not right! Police departments across the country have been armed with devices that can tap into cellphone data in real time, capturing information about thousands of people at the same time, whether they are targets of an investigation or not, according to public records obtained by USA Today. The records show that more than 125 police agencies in 33 states are already guilty!
Unfortunately, these machines were developed by the military and spy agencies to use on terrorists, so information about what the devices and their operators can actually do(and currently doing in Oakland County) will remain a secret due to the Homeland Security Act of 2002.
Just last Friday a divided federal appeals court ruled The Justice Department does not have to turn over information on cases involving warrantless cellphone tracking to the American Civil Liberties Union, which had requested information on federal cases in which law enforcement had obtained cellphone tracking data without a warrant to track a user’s whereabouts.
This information needs to go viral.