The IRS Has A Stingray As Well Because Of Course It Does

from the you-get-a-Stingray!-and-you-get-a-Stingray!-every-agency-gets-a-Stingray! dept

Did this sort of thing come about because someone at the nation's most hated agency whined that "everyone else was getting one?" Because there seems to be no logical explanation for this:

The Internal Revenue Service is the latest in a growing list of US federal agencies known to have possessed the sophisticated cellphone dragnet equipment known as Stingray, according to documents obtained by the Guardian.

Invoices obtained following a request under the Freedom of Information Act show purchases made in 2009 and 2012 by the federal tax agency with Harris Corporation, one of a number of companies that manufacture the devices.
No explanation will be forthcoming. The documents The Guardian obtained were heavily redacted and requests for comments were met with silence. But there it is: the IRS not only has a Stingray, but it paid $65,000 to upgrade it to the Hailstorm model, allowing it to continue to intercept calls and data without being locked out by upgraded cell networks.

It appears the agency does have the legal authority to deploy the devices. (The IRS is part of the Treasury Department and not subject to the new, exception-loaded warrant requirement handed down by the DOJ.)
[Former IRS Deputy Commissioner Mark] Matthews said there are currently between 2,000 and 3,000 “special agents” in the IRS who form the criminal investigation division (CID). They have the ability to get PEN register orders – the only authority needed to use Stingray devices.
Considering the criminal activity the IRS investigates most frequently -- tax evasion -- rarely involves highly-mobile suspects or the use of burner phones, it seems unlikely the IRS's Stingray sees much use. Then again, it does partner with other law enforcement agencies in criminal investigations, presumably under the Al Capone Theory of "tax evasion, if nothing else."
He said the IRS on its own usually uses gentler investigation tactics. But increasingly, investigating agents from the agency are brought on board for joint operations with the FBI and other agencies when the latter need financial expertise to look at, for example, money laundering from drug organisations.
Even if the IRS is frequently assisting with these investigations, it's pretty much guaranteed that whatever agency it's partnering with already has this technology on hand. The IRS's acquisition of a cell tower spoofer would seem to be redundant, at best. Then again, maybe it's redundancy the government wants. Can't have drug-running suspects slipping out of sight just because the local DEA office's Stingray is in the shop.

Of course, the IRS's Stingray could become the go-to device in the future, if federal law enforcement agents are looking for a way to circumvent the DOJ's new warrant requirement. They could send IRS agents with pen register paperwork to obtain permission to deploy cell tower spoofers.

But at the same time, the IRS's Stingray device seems to be more a product of "because it's available" thinking. Why not have one on hand, just in case? When the news arrives that Fish and Wildlife or the US Postal Inspector's Office has one, it will be greeted with "of course they do" shrugs, because that's just the way things go these days.The US government is sold on the "essentialness" of cell tower simulators and with funding for devices often tied to ever-swelling budget lines for Wars A (Drugs) and B (Terrorism), no agency should have to go without.

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Filed Under: hailstorm, irs, stingray, surveillance, warrants
Companies: harris corp.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2015 @ 11:56am

    A tyranny grows by leaps and bounds when the government decides it will no longer govern but rule by decree and is not held to the laws it demands everyone else follow

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 26 Oct 2015 @ 12:41pm

      Re:

      Makes me wonder what it's like for young people growing up and seeing this stuff every day, just shrugging it off with, "Well, of course. Oh, you didn't expect that?"

      No, kids. This sort of !@#$ didn't just used to happen. There was a time when people actually expected privacy (especially from the authorities) until suspicion was raised in relation to an illegal act. Oh, and the IRS was all about funding the numerous activities of the gov't, not fighting crime.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2015 @ 1:04pm

        Re: Re:

        That was before the people who would be taking steps to reign this in, are being blackmailed into rubber stamping by not even investigating. No one seems to be worried that these have no limits that prevent them from being used on people in power.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2015 @ 1:44pm

        Re: Re:

        Makes me think that you guys handed us over a pretty shitty situation that unfortunately will require violence to change. We need to cull the statists and their ilk.

        Fuck the DEA, FBI and IRS… fucking Nazis. You boomers are a big part of the problem, but you were conditioned your entire lives, you greedy fucks that got distracted by comforts.

        A population dependent on the inherently immoral construct of government will never be free. The proles have the power, but they don't know it. The COGS are scared from propaganda, state violence, the proles and the fact that they are not sufficient with their community. Same as it ever was…

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2015 @ 1:50pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Remember, like all other times, it has to get bad enough before people get tired of it and work to improve it.

          Had it not been for that huge spanse of water, the USA may have never won its fight for freedom.

          Governments are VERY QUICK to act on civilian unrest. The benefit is now with technology, the population could rise up in a near instant as well... which should explain to you why the government is fight tooth and nail to take over the internet in its veritably entirety.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            art guerrilla (profile), 26 Oct 2015 @ 3:20pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "Remember, like all other times, it has to get bad enough before people get tired of it and work to improve it."

            naw, i saw on a real movie where The They (tm) just have to kill one little white girl in a mask, and everyone goes all apeshit and shit...

            "Had it not been for that huge spanse of water, the USA may have never won its fight for freedom."

            yeah-ah-h-no...
            had it not been for the huge stravagance (sic) of the froggies, we would still be wearing powdered wigs and drinking warm stout...
            ...and we are STILL fighting for our freedoms; this time from enemies domestic, not foreign...

            "Governments are VERY QUICK to act on civilian unrest. The benefit is now with technology, the population could rise up in a near instant as well... which should explain to you why the government is fight tooth and nail to take over the internet in its veritably entirety."

            the critical mass, the tipping point, the great convocation of the 99% is coming, it is inevitable... and, of course, all psycho-his-story-like, the more The They (tm) tighten the grip of their velvet-gloved iron-fist, the more they hasten The Fall...

            may you live in interesting times, indeed...

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            tqk (profile), 26 Oct 2015 @ 3:47pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Had it not been for that huge spanse of water, the USA may have never won its fight for freedom.

            Your elites won their freedom, from the British elites. Your "common man" still awaits his freedoms, and at the moment they're receding from view.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          tqk (profile), 26 Oct 2015 @ 3:33pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Makes me think that you guys handed us over a pretty shitty situation that unfortunately will require violence to change.

          Don't you dare go blaming this !@#$ on my generation! We stopped the Cold War and Vietnam. What've you done recently?

          Look at that. You've just been called to the front by imperial order. Have fun.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2015 @ 11:35pm

        Re: Re:

        when you make everyone a criminal you have to increase the number of agencies dedicated to fighting crime

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2015 @ 12:17pm

    More likely

    It's because Harris needs to sell more of these to keep padding the wallets of their bought-and-paid-for government officials.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 26 Oct 2015 @ 12:29pm

    Reminds me of those Woody the woodpecker cartoons:

    One stingray for you, one for me. Two stingrays for you, one, two stingrays for me.

    They are violating the Constitution regularly and showing utter contempt for the citizen's rights so this shouldn't come as a surprise. It is obvious such devices will exist and will be abused and nobody in the power chain seems to give a damn about doing something so the real question is: how can we defend ourselves from the phone end (if there is such way) and how can we force the powers to give a damn?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2015 @ 1:46pm

      Re:

      Yep, and what is sad is that when the citizens get fed up with it, everyone like to say they are the ones rebelling when it is the government rebelling first.

      If there is a movement to toss these scum out of office we need to make sure that it is established that WE THE PEOPLE are quashing a REBEL GOVERNMENT! Not a bunch of Rebels overthrowing it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2015 @ 12:49pm

    Hasn't it been proven the IRS targets people based on their political beliefs? Do we really want such an agency listening in on people's phone calls, text messages, and internet browsing histories?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2015 @ 5:43am

      Re:

      Yes, yes it has but the DOJ let them off the hook because Lois Lerner is part of the same party as the President and was doing the President's bidding. This kind of power is very dangerous, but nobody on the left cares about the lies, corruption, wrong doing as long as it progresses their agenda. But wait for the day a Repub wields that power and they will cry foul to the highest mountains. This is why nobody should have this power and all abuses of power should be prosecuted. But the current administration is corrupt and the voters and the liberal media will not hold them accountable.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 26 Oct 2015 @ 1:08pm

    The Civil Service Hero's Journey

    > But at the same time, the IRS's Stingray device seems to be more a product of "because it's available" thinking.

    Aw, c'mon. It's a classic narrative template, the Hero's Journey. Joseph Campbell described the basic narrative pattern as follows:
    A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

    A government official ventures forth into the technology industry - be it Comcast, a music distributor or Harris Corporation - and encounters fabulous new technology that promises to help him if only the forces of evil (courts, civil rights activists, the Constitution) are defeated. He returns with the power to bestow boons (more technology, trips to technology demos with expensive hotel stays and meals paid for, a cushy post-retirement job if his government agency spends a few $million) on his fellow man.

    This story is as old as the hills. Or government.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 26 Oct 2015 @ 3:38pm

      Re: The Civil Service Hero's Journey

      This story is as old as the hills.

      Yeah, I was channeling Tolkein as you spewed it. LotR? I can offer lots of other examples of prior art (Beowulf?).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    btr1701 (profile), 26 Oct 2015 @ 2:45pm

    Capone

    > Then again, it does partner with other law
    > enforcement agencies in criminal investigations,
    > presumably under the Al Capone Theory of "tax evasion,
    > if nothing else."

    Is that a bad thing? Al Capone was a multiple murderer, after all. If charging him with tax evasion (something for which he was also undeniably guilty) put him in prison where he belongs, how is that a bad thing?

    The same would be true of other more modern criminals. If they actually *are* guilty of tax evasion, and that is provable in court, there's certainly nothing wrong with using that to put someone away who's also guilty of other less provable crimes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 26 Oct 2015 @ 4:00pm

      Re: Capone

      > Then again, it does partner with other law
      > enforcement agencies in criminal investigations,
      > presumably under the Al Capone Theory of "tax evasion,
      > if nothing else."

      Is that a bad thing?

      Only if you suffer under the delusion that the state has a right to exist as ordinary citizens benefit through the existence of the state. AKA, the pro-state Objectivist, anti-ultra-anarchist view. I think.

      I'm not entirely sure I've got all the "not not"s correct here. I'm of the opinion "the state" is just another big gang, like Medellin or Cali or Zeta, or Rome/USA/EU/...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 26 Oct 2015 @ 4:22pm

      Re: Capone

      I agree. As long as the law isn't being stretched, bent, oddly interpreted, etc., there's nothing wrong with properly convicting someone of a crime that he actually committed, even if he probably committed even greater crimes as well.

      But it does make me nervous. When multiple agencies coordinate to pin something on someone just because they don't like them or suspect them of some crime they can't prove it turns into the sort of high intensity project easily gets out of hand, especially in bureaucratic environments.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2015 @ 11:40pm

        Re: Re: Capone

        Operation choke point comes to mind.

        Where the DoJ targeted business they did not like and forced to banks and other institutions to shut down their accounts even though the businesses in question broke no laws.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2015 @ 3:19pm

    My first thought...

    ... is that this device should be MUCH more illegal than a DVD ripper.

    My second thought is... why is the UK based Guardian telling us more than anyone here about OUR gov't? Just as they have better numbers about police killings here. I only read the Guardian now.

    This will be Obama's "legacy" of "transparency". Didn't he say something along the lines of that his gov't will be the most transparent after all the Bush secrecy? They are all liars. It's a job prerequisite.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2015 @ 4:45pm

    Prevent auto dropdown to 2G

    Can't we just fix this by preventing cell phones from dropping to 2G without positive action by the user? Don't stingrays require the phone to drop to 2G to crack the encryption?

    If we can keep the phone on 3G or 4G, that stingray would be as useless as Hillary in the White House.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2015 @ 9:36am

    What's next, the United States Department of Education has one to make sure kids aren't texting answers to eachother in class?

    A) There is no reasonable answer the IRS would ever need a stingray.

    B) If they actually required use of one, they can get one on loan from any other federal agency - or rely on them to do the work.

    C) What a fucking joke.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    powerKitten (profile), 5 Nov 2015 @ 4:40pm

    ...Well by that logic.

    Since it seems that practically anyone that can submit a half-assed reason to get one can get one... where do I go to submit a funding request? I want one of these things because.... hmm... Yeah I think [X] 'CAUSE TERRORISIM will do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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