North Star Radio Hour #6 – CellHawk & ACLU Legislation
Until now, Hawk Analytics and their product CellHawk have remained hidden from the public eye. CellHawk is a call detail record (CDR) analytics tool used by police departments and private investigators around the United States. Records indicate Hawk Analytics, which employs six people, nets over a million dollars a year. On social media, Hawk Analytics brags that “hundreds of agencies and law enforcement professionals [use] CellHawk.” From their corporate literature it is clear that CellHawk is used in Wisconsin, Florida, Tennessee, Indiana, Colorado, California, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Texas, Georgia and Minnesota.
In Minnesota, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) has a subscription with at least five user accounts. Analysts at the Criminal Information Sharing & Analysis unit (CISA), which is one of several fusion centers in the state, became frustrated with the limitations of a previously used CDR system. In December of 2014, HCSO’s Captain Smith wrote, “You want to start with CellHawk and drop Pen-link by the first of the year correct?” Soon after that was sent, funding was redirected from their previous operations to CellHawk. An analyst happily noted, “CellHawk is pretty new and a lot cheaper! The great thing about CellHawk is that it is ‘hands off’… the software does everything for you. The biggest selling point is of course the mapping, it also has animation, which is cool!”
Obviously any realist wants their local police forces to be able to solve crimes, that’s not in question. What is alarming is the fact that CISA documents indicate that they are simply issuing subpoenas to cell carriers, not warrants signed by a judge. Furthermore, Minnesota state law requires “a government entity may not obtain the location information of an electronic device without a tracking warrant. A warrant granting access to location information must be issued only if the government entity shows that there is probable cause the person who possesses an electronic device is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a crime.” Simply issuing a subpoena to AT&T, for example, falls far short of this mandate.
Furthermore, with news of a Fox 9 Anchor being awarded almost $200,000 after police abused the drivers license database to look her up, one wonders what protections are in place to prevent frivolous searches within CellHawk. Added to the routine abuse is a political climate in which protesters could be facing increased penalties for protesting on highways and elsewhere. It would be a naive proposition to state that these systems would not be used to target those engaged in First Amendment activity, such as Black Lives Matter, who routinely challenge the power of police. Listen to the broadcast above for more troubling angles to this story and check NSP often for future updates to this investigation. Currently, NSP is awaiting data requests that should shed light on how often CellHawk has been used among other information.
In segment two of this week’s episode Sam talks with Chad Marlow, Advocacy and Policy Counsel for the ACLU. Marlow is spearheading a legislative campaign to give communities power over the surveillance and military gear being deployed in their backyards.
From their website:
“The increasing use of surveillance technologies by local police across America, especially against communities of color and other unjustly targeted groups, has been creating oppressive and stigmatizing environments in which every community member is treated like a prospective criminal. Many communities of color and of low income have been turned into virtual prisons where residents’ public behavior is monitored and scrutinized 24 hours a day. And in most cities, decisions to acquire and use surveillance technologies are made by police departments without any knowledge or input from the public or their elected officials. This secretive process has been condemned by groups across the political spectrum as antithetical to good government transparency and accountability principles.
It was against this backdrop that the Community Control Over Police Surveillance (CCOPS) effort was launched on September 21, 2016. The effort’s principal objective is to pass CCOPS laws that ensure residents, through local city councils are empowered to decide if and how surveillance technologies are used, through a process that maximizes the public’s influence over those decisions.”