Florida-based Harris Corporation, manufacturer of computer hardware and communications equipment used by government agencies, attempted to block the public release of documents last year related to a once-secret cellphone surveillance device distributed to federal, state and local law enforcement.
In an October 2014 letter sent to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Harris executive Tania Hanna asked the agency to withhold documents related to its StingRay and KingFish surveillance equipment from public disclosure because the records contained “trade secrets” and information about “law enforcement techniques.”
Harris argued the documents sought — user manuals requested by TheBlot Magazine under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) — qualified for exemption because the documents had previously been kept secret in criminal cases.
TheBlot filed the FOIA request with the FCC last September. A heavily redacted copy of a 2010 user manual covering both StingRay and KingFish devices was delivered by the FCC last week and is being published here for the first time.
A StingRay is a radio interception device that, when deployed, forces cellphones in a given area to connect to it instead of a legitimate communications tower. A computer attached to a StingRay allows investigators access to a trove of data from intercepted cellphones, including call and messaging logs, geolocation data and handset information.
A KingFish is a less-expensive, more-portable version of a StingRay. Some records indicate that, while a StingRay is intended to be mounted in and controlled from a vehicle, a KingFish can be remotely controlled and can even be worn by its user.
Records reviewed by TheBlot reveal Harris first began manufacturing the devices for use by U.S. military analysts in the early 2000s. One of the company’s earliest buyers of cellphone spy equipment was the U.S. Navy, which could explain how the Harris-made surveillance gear got its aquatic nicknames.
The manual, which appears to be the same copy submitted to the FCC by Harris in 2010, reveals the StingRay and KingFish equipment are likely individual components that comprise a cellphone surveillance kit marketed and sold to police.
The manual indicates the StingRay and KingFish devices are sold as part of a larger surveillance kit that includes third-party software and laptops. Tables that contain the names of the other equipment is redacted in the copy provided by the FCC, but other records reviewed by TheBlot indicate the laptops are manufactured by Dell and Panasonic, while the software is designed by Pen-Link, a company that makes programs for cellphone forensics.