Harris Corporation sent a letter in October of last year to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asking the agency to withhold information related to the StingRay and KingFish surveillance equipment because the documents would certainly include trade secrets and information about how the devices are used in the law enforcement arena.
StingRay and KingFish are the names of a device that acts a lot like its own cell phone tower, and in many cases they are used by the police to conduct surveillance. The computer attached to the devices allows investigators to gain access to a myriad of data from intercepted cell phones. The’re not without controversy, however, as privacy advocates say they ensnare “innocent” devices, and the police end up collecting information on users who are not involved in any police investigation whatsoever.
In some cases, police have been caught using the devices without first obtaining the required warrant.
While both devices work the same, KingFish is the cheaper version of the two and can be remotely controlled, while the StingRay is designed to be mounted and controlled from a vehicle. Both devices were first developed for use by the military — the US Navy in particular, and that's when they acquired their aquatic names.
The American Civil Liberties Union accuses Harris of misleading the FCC by not disclosing how easy it is for both the StingRay and the KingFish to gather information from the phones they are not targeting. The ACLU says Harris basically lied to the FCC when it claimed the devices would only be used as a last resort by law enforcement. The civil liberties group also says that Harris forces agencies that use the devices to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which the ACLU says is unduly secretive.
The news website The Blot reports that it filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents about the devices, and the FCC asked Harris to justify why they should be kept secret.
On March 23, more than six months after the original FOIA request, the FCC released a heavily redacted user manual on the StingRay and KingFish devices.