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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Police Contract With Spy Tool Maker Prohibits Talking About Device’s Use -- By Kim Zetter, Wired, Threat Level

Photo: Hal Bergman/GettyPhoto: Hal Bergman/Getty

A non-disclosure agreement that police departments around the country have been signing for years with the maker of a cell-phone spy tool explicitly prohibits the law enforcement agencies from telling anyone, including other government bodies, about their use of the secretive equipment, according to one of the agreements obtained by an Arizona journalist.

The NDA includes an exception for “judicially mandated disclosures,” but no mechanisms for judges to learn that the equipment was used. In at least one case in Florida, a police department revealed that it had decided not to seek a warrant to use the technology explicitly to avoid telling a judge about the equipment. It subsequently kept the information hidden from the defendant as well.

A copy of the contract was obtained from a police department in Tucson, Arizona, which signed the agreement in 2010 with the Harris Corporation, a Florida-based maker of the equipment used by the department. The police department cited the agreement as one of the reasons it withheld information from a journalist who filed a public records request seeking information about the department’s use of the equipment.

“[The Tucson Police Department] and the City of Tucson have allowed Harris Corporation to dictate the City of Tucson’s and TPD’s compliance with Arizona public records law in regards to products and services purchased from Harris Corporation,” notes the ACLU of Arizona in a lawsuit demanding that the police department comply (.pdf) with the journalist’s records request.

The non-disclosure agreement signed by the Tucson Police Department, which went into effect June 7, 2010, not only bars the police department from discussing their use of the surveillance tool with any government entity, it requires the law enforcement agency to notify Harris any time journalists or anyone else files a public records request to obtain information about their use of the tools and also states that the police department will “assist” Harris in deciding what information to release.

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