By statute every two years the Minnesota Court Administrator's office must file a report to the Minnesota Legislature about electronic surveillance activities that law enforcement does in Minnesota. Such detail as from previous reports indicated specifically for what crimes, what was used, and so forth. The 2016 report which was released last month was a very abbreviated version from the ones over the past few decades. Just compare the 2016 report with any of the others from previous years, quite a difference. Here is the one from 2014.
But what was different and very clear there was hardly anything about "tracking warrants" mentioned. A tracking warrant is a court order based on probable cause that gives law enforcement the right to track individuals using devices named such as StingRay, KingFish, and FishHawk. This is based on a law passed by the Minnesota Legislature in 2014 after it was discovered by the public and the Minnesota Legislature that Hennepin County Sheriff and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension had these devices. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension spent hundred of thousands of dollars on these devices and kept it secret from policymakers and public for nearly a decade.
What these devices do and with their software is track an individual down to within feet of their exact location. With add-on of software could intercept content of communication between people. It is so "secret" on these matters even today the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension refuses to release even the amount they are paying for these surveillance devices to the Harris Corporation.
The report released last month was the first one since the implementation of the new law. There was no detail about tracking warrants, particularly, how many times the Stingray and their brothers were used and for what purposes. And the reason why?
Tracking warrants were to be unsealed after the order was no longer needed for investigative purposes. There could be extensions for continued sealing but as it was clear in the 2014 legislation, eventually it would be public and even the subject of the surveillance would be notified. But for nought this has never happened......they all remain sealed and secret.
The promise of scrutiny by the public and Minnesota Legislature of secret law enforcement surveillance activities with use of hush-hush high-tech technology by the 2014 law has been nixed. (The law had a reporting mechanism to be a part of the every two year report, subdivision 5)
It appears that law enforcement and the Minnesota courts could be participating in a culture of secrecy either out of ignorance, carelessness, or just plain complicity in not wanting to follow the law.
For more background on this issue please check out these news pieces by the Fox News affiliate Channel 9 and done by reporter Tom Lyden: