South Florida

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Local FL Police Tap Cell Phones

Wire Tapping

(William Patrick)   The National Security Agency apparently isn’t the only government agency engaged in domestic spying.

Local law enforcement is playing the role of Big Brother, too, but to what extent is still unknown.

Recent court documents reveal a troubling cell phone surveillance program conducted by a Florida police department against unsuspecting cell phone users.

Attempts to keep the practice secret, even from judges, is raising questions as to just how prevalent police spying is within the Sunshine State.

The controversy stems from the arrest of James L. Thomas, a criminal suspect believed to be in possession of a stolen phone. Tallahassee police located and arrested Thomas by tracking a cell phone signal, then promptly searched his home.

It later became known that police didn’t seek a warrant or admit to using a little-known surveillance device called a “Stingray.”

Stingrays are small mobile devices that trick cell phones into connecting to them as if they were cell phone towers. The technology gives police the ability to track phone movements and intercept both phone calls and text messages of any cell phone within range.

In the court case, Thomas’ attorney asked police how they determined the defendant had the cell phone in question. The police declined to answer. A judge ordered a response, but only after clearing the courtroom and sealing the official record.

Now on appeal, courtroom deliberations revealed last week that the Tallahassee Police Department used a Stingray 200 times since 2010 without seeking a warrant.

“This record makes it very clear that (Tallahassee Police Department) were not going to get a search warrant because they had never gotten a search warrant for this technology,” an appeals court judge said.

Beyond the prospect of unconstitutional warrantless police searches, government watchdogs have long warned against surveillance tactics that broadly expose the personal information of countless innocent people in attempts by law enforcement to identify individuals suspected of crimes.

“When police use invasive surveillance equipment to surreptitiously sweep up information about the locations and communications of large numbers of people, court oversight and public debate are essential,” states the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU is now leading the effort to determine just how widespread cell phone tracking is in Florida. The group announced a public records submission Monday to nearly 30 police and sheriffs’ departments across the state.

Court documents show the Tallahassee Police Department didn’t seek a search warrant in the Thomas case because it “did not want to reveal information about the technology they used to track the cell phone signal.”

TPD also said the Stingray was loaned to the department from a private manufacturer who in turn required a nondisclosure agreement.

“A nondisclosure agreement is typically a civil agreement between two or more parties over a commercial contract,” Christopher Torres, a Tallahassee defense lawyer, told

“They’re saying because it’s a cell phone they don’t have to get a warrant, but it’s basically a wiretap,” Torres said. “You cannot say something is protected by a trade agreement and that somehow trumps the U.S. Constitution.”

According to ARS Technica, Stingrays are exclusively manufactured by the Harris Corp., a Melbourne-based telecommunications company. Earning $5 billion in annual revenue, Harris Corp. supplies electronic equipment to government, defense and commercial sectors.

“Since 2004, Harris has earned more than $40 million from spy technology contracts with city, state, and federal authorities in the US, according to procurement records,” reports ARS Technica, an online information technology periodical.

Contact William Patrick at or follow Florida Watchdog on Twitter at @watchdogfla


Florida Supreme Court Approves Medical Marijuana Initiative

(BROWARD NEW TIMES)   In the week the Super Bowl is being played by two cities (Seattle, Denver) in states that legalize pot, Florida just got that much closer to being a part of the blaze.

The Florida Supreme Court has approved to have a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana be put on the ballot this November.

The court ruled 4-to-3 in favor of the ballot initiative on medical marijuana at 2:00 p.m. on Monday.

“By reading the proposed amendment as a whole,” the judgement reads, “and construing the ballot title together with the ballot summary, we hold that the voters are given fair notice as to the chief purpose and scope of the proposed amendment, which is to allow a restricted use of marijuana for certain ―debilitating medical conditions.”


Miami workers scramble to test toxic soil in 112 parks

(MIAMI HERALD)   A day after Miami announced it would begin testing soil at all its parks, workers scrambled to install a fence around the latest park to be tagged for contaminated soil.

Wednesday morning, nannies who say they gather daily at Merrie Christmas Park in Coconut Grove arrived with toddlers and infants in strollers. But by late afternoon, a line of metal fence posts blocked their entrance.

The discovery of elevated levels of heavy metal at the sloping 5.38 acre park, shaded by towering banyans, is the second in recent weeks. Like Blanche Park, just two miles away, officials believe evidence of melted glass indicates toxic ash may have been dumped at the site the city purchased from the county for $1 in 1954. Following the discovery, county environmental chief Wilbur Mayorga recommended Miami test all 112 of its parks Tuesday.

The response is distinctly faster than the two years it took the city to address contamination found at an old incinerator site in the West Grove, which prompted bitter complaints from residents and set in motion the far reaching tests now being conducted.



Black people benefit from Florida ‘Stand Your Ground’ law at disproportionate rate

(THE DAILY CALLER)   African Americans benefit from Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law at a rate far out of proportion to their presence in the state’s population, despite an assertion by Attorney General Eric Holder that repealing “Stand Your Ground” would help African Americans.

Black Floridians have made about a third of the state’s total “Stand Your Ground” claims in homicide cases, a rate nearly double the black percentage of Florida’s population. The majority of those claims have been successful, a success rate that exceeds that for white people in Florida.

Nonetheless, prominent people including Holder and “Ebony and Ivory” singer Stevie Wonder, who has vowed not to perform in the Sunshine State until the law is revoked, have made “Stand Your Ground” a central part of the Trayvon Martin controversy.


Florida lagoon is an animal ‘mass murder mystery’ as 46 dolphins, 111 manatees and 300 pelicans die from unknown cause

(DAILY MAIL)   Hundreds of dead animals are washing up along the shores of one of America’s most biologically diverse estuary. More than 100 manatees, 300 pelicans and almost 50 dolphins were all found dead along the northern stretches of the Indian River Lagoon in Florida. Biologists are now trying to work out what the problem is, but there is no doubt that it is a serious one. The lagoon contains more species than anywhere else in the U.S. and to the towns along its edge — Titusville, Cocoa, Melbourne, Vero Beach and Stuart, it accounts for hundreds of millions in revenue from angling, boating, bird-watching, tourism and other waterfront activities. Its 156 miles of water boast more than 600 species of fish and more than 300 kinds of birds.


Miami, Davie put the brakes on red-light cameras — for now

(MIAMI HERALD)   Starting Monday, drivers in Miami and Davie who skate through certain red lights won’t be getting tickets — at least for the time being.

The two cities are temporarily suspending their red-light camera programs as the result of a new state law requiring municipalities to hold their own hearings for appeals of red-light camera citations.

Neither Miami nor Davie has been able to set up a special hearing board, though the new measure takes effect Monday, along with a host of other new state laws.

Doral is in a similar position and will likely follow suit, City Manager Joe Carollo said Thursday. “It appears that based on what the Legislature passed … we would end up having to suspend the red-light cameras beginning July 1, until the council decides which way it wants to go when it begins [meeting] again in August,” he said.

Still, some other municipalities, including Hollywood and North Miami, say they are on track to establish special appeals systems by the deadline.

“We already have a special magistrate process for our code enforcement process, so we’re looking at expanding that program to cover red-light citations,” Hollywood spokeswoman Raelin Storey said.

In Miami, no citations will be issued for at least two weeks, when the City Commission will meet next and take a final vote on whether to have special magistrates hear the city’s red-light camera cases.

That ordinance won tentative approval 3 to 2 Thursday, but not before commissioners blasted the administration for waiting until the last minute to bring the proposal to a vote. Commissioner Frank Carollo said the measure should have been discussed in May, when the Florida Legislature approved the bill requiring municipalities to hold the hearings.



Florida Law Requires Stadiums to Shelter Homeless On Off Nights; Not A Single One Has Complied


(DEADSPIN)   As is the case in most cities with professional franchises, the buildings that host Florida’s professional sports teams have been built with the assistance of taxpayer contributions. It’s played off as a symbiotic relationship (new stadium means new jobs, more revenue coming in, etc.) but most of the time feels parasitic. Well, destitute Floridians know a thing or two about that.

Under a Florida law, franchises that have received public benefits from the state are required to open their stadium doors for the homeless on non-event nights. It should shock absolutely no one to learn that not a single franchise has ever done so over the last 20 years.

State law now requires that any professional sports facility built with state money must be used as a homeless shelter except when the facility is being used for a specific event or activity.

But none of the 17 football, baseball, basketball and hockey arenas that relied on state money for construction have ever been used to house the homeless, according to Sen. Mike Bennett, who’s filed a bill that could cost counties and professional sports franchises big-time.

In total, Florida taxpayers have contributed over $270 million to the various professional franchises that play in the state. Dolphin Stadium (now Sun Life Stadium) has been the biggest beneficiary of the taxpayer subsidy, having received approximately $37 million in funding. Lest the Dolphins take all the heat, the Marlins, who prior to this year have been co-tenants with the Dolphins since their inception in 1993, are also on the list.

All the professional teams, in fact, are well-represented with over $30 million in benefits received, except the Miami Heat. They only received $27 million.

Florida state Senator Mike Bennett has decried the failure to comply with the law as “yet another example of how taxpayers are supplementing the super rich owners of sports franchises while the taxpayers of Florida are receiving very little in return.” Not only are they “super rich” as far you know, Mr. Senator, they are most likely far more wealthy than they have led you to believe.

Sen. Bennett’s bill would require the teams and counties that have received benefits to either begin compliance, or refund the money. While the homeless in Florida shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for their free shelter, on nights like tonight, they should at least consider themselves lucky for being homeless in Florida and not, say, New York.


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