Tag Archives: FCC

Newly Released “StingRay” Manual Shows Company Asked FCC for Secrecy

A heavily redacted edition of a 2010 manual for the StingRay cellphone surveillance devices has been released.

The manual was released through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests sent to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by The Blot Magazine. This marks the first public release of the user manual which covers the Harris Corporation’s StingRay, StingRay II, and Kingfish devices.

StingRays are the name of a brand of cell-site simulators, a tool which allows law enforcement to trick a phone into sending it’s cell signal (and associated data) to the device rather than a cell tower. Depending on the model, authorities are able to gather location, numbers dialed, length of calls, and in newer models, the actual contents of conversations and texts.

The Blot reports that an FCC official said an additional government agency was recruited to help with redactions related to the manuals before they could be released. The agency was not named but with the amount of secrecy the Federal Bureau of Investigation has employed around the devices it would come as no surprise to find out it was the bureau. At the same time, we know that the NSA and the US Marshals also have an interest in keeping StingRays private.

The Blot first filed a FOIA request with the FCC in September 2014.The documents were finally turned over to The Blot last week and now reveal that Harris Corp attempted to block the release of the documents. By October a Harris executive had told the FCC they believed the documents could remain secret under certain FOIA exemptions that protects the release of trade secrets, and law enforcement strategies. Harris also attempted to block the release based on previous court cases which have kept the details hidden.

The StingRays have received an increasing amount of attention from civil liberties and privacy advocates throughout 2014 and the beginning of 2015. Several lawsuits have been launched and judges in Florida; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Erie County, New York have ordered details be revealed. Several Senators have even begun questioning the FCC, and the Department of Justice on the tools.

It has been known for some time that the technology is the latest in a long line of tools that were developed for the military and passed down to local law enforcement. The new records reviewed by The Blot provide further detail. A contract shows the U.S. Navy was one of the first to purchase the equipment from Harris. The Blot suggests this might have something to do with the aquatic nicknames.

The Blot reports:

Sources familiar with Harris’ 2010 application told The Blot that the company had received authorization from the FCC several years before to manufacture and sell the devices specifically as an anti-terrorism tool, and that its application to the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) was intended to expand that authorization so that police could use legally use the devices beyond terrorism investigations.

The definition of what constituted an “emergency” was intentionally left vague so that the authorization would cover law enforcement in a wide range of criminal investigations, the source said.

The manual also shows the StingRays and Kingfish technology was sold as part of a surveillance kit with third-party software and laptops. The laptops are manufactured by Dell and Panasonic and the software designed by a cellphone forensics company called Pen-Link. The manual is filled with warnings and reminders that the information is “confidential,” and “not for public inspection”.

These latest documents provide a view into how the technology operates and highlights the level of secrecy Harris Corp and government agencies are using. Past documents have shown that most police departments have been granting themselves authorization without first getting a warrant based on probable cause. When the departments do pursue a warrant through a judge, they often do not specifically mention the Stingray specifically but rather use vague and generic terms.

In Houston I have worked to expose the Houston Police Department’s use of the StingRays. I have asked HPD Chief three times (one, two) about the use of the tools and he continues to remain quiet despite documentation that the department is using the tools. His behavior is indicative of departments and chiefs around the country. Only by challenging the power structures in government, corporations, and the secrecy they thrive in will we set this nation and this world FREE.

For more information check out this Guide to Stingray Technology.

FCC reclassifies the internet, approves net neutrality rules

The Federal Communications Commission has just approved their plan for net neutrality, which also reclassifies broadband Internet as a public utility.

Under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, the reclassification of the internet as a public utility allows the FCC to place regulations on Internet service providers (ISPs) such as Comcast and Verizon. These regulations would mandate these service providers to transmit all Internet content at the same speed, regardless of what interests are involved, according to Newsweek.

According to engadget, the FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, said, “It [the internet] is our printing press; it is our town square; it is our individual soap box and our shared platform for opportunity… That is why open internet policies matter. That is why I support network neutrality.”

Net neutrality, also known as open Internet, is an idea which says all Internet networks and content are equally available to all legal content generators, according to USA Today. Therefore, a practice called “paid prioritization” which results in ISPs showing preference towards companies who pay more for higher transmission speed of content, would be illegal.

The new reclassification also affects wireless data providers. The new plan places similar regulations on phone companies as those placed on other ISPs.

However, some people have spoken out against the new net neutrality plan.

Jim Cicconi, AT&T’s senior executive vice president-external and legislative affairs, said, “What doesn’t make sense, and has never made sense, is to take a regulatory framework developed for Ma Bell in the 1930s and make her great grandchildren, with technologies and options undreamed of eighty years ago, live under it.”

Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai said, according to FOX News, the plan represents a shift of power to allow the government to control the internet. Pai also warned the new plan would result in intended and unintended consequences, such as rate regulations. “The order explicitly opens the door to billions of dollars in new taxes… Read my lips: More new taxes are coming. It’s just a matter of when.”

The FCC has said the new regulations will be posted online soon and will be published in the Federal Register. The new regulations will also go into affect 60 days after their publication.

President Obama wants more competition amongst broadband providers

Many people, when in the market for broadband subscriptions, can only pick from telephone or cable providers, but President Obama wants local governments to be able to provide broadband services to citizens too.

A report released by the White House says the president wants to “end laws that harm broadband service competition,” and this would seemingly start in 19 states which restrict their governments from offering broadband to citizens.

“Laws in 19 states—some specifically written by special interests trying to stifle new competitors—have held back broadband access and, with it, economic opportunity,” the report reads. “Today President Obama is announcing a new effort to support local choice in broadband, formally opposing measures that limit the range of options to available to communities to spur expanded local broadband infrastructure… the Administration is filing a letter with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging it to join this effort…”

While big tech companies, such as Comcast, will surely fight this as they have in the past, this new push by the president is lawful. According to the New York Times, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia stated the FCC had the power to strike down state laws which could hinder the ability to invest in the state’s infrastructure, which includes Internet infrastructure.

Two states have already filed complaints to the FCC on similar grounds.

Tennessee and North Carolina have petitioned the FCC to preempt state laws which forbid those state’s local governments the ability to construct their own broadband networks and provide their citizens with the Internet. According to Recode, Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the FCC, is expected to make a ruling on these two cases soon.

The new push from the president does not stop at allowing local governments to provide their own broadband services to the community.

The report also says the president wants to establish a “Broadband Opportunity Council” which will have the “singular goal of speeding up broadband deployment and promoting adoptions,” for all citizens. The public will also be able to bring grievances related to “unnecessary regulatory barriers” with concern to their broadband, before the council, which will address the issues.

According to ARS Techinca, President Obama believes the community-based broadband services could boost the competition and ultimately help Internet users. “In markets where private competition is anemic,” said the president, “towns and cities can build their own middle-mile networks and offer competitive access to the private sector… municipalities are creating more choices for consumers, fostering competition and creating opportunities for economic growth.”

President Obama wants internet to be considered a utility

After months of plans to create “high-speed” and “slow-speed” broadband connections at different costs, President Obama has come forward urging the FCC to reclassify the internet as a public utility.

“The time has come for the FCC to recognize that broadband service is of the same importance [as the traditional telephone system] and must carry the same obligations as so many of the other vital services do,” President Obama wrote in a statement released on the White House’s website.  “To do that, I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act…”

The internet usage described by the president is not exclusive to laptop and desktop computers however.  Internet usage across mobile devices, such as cell phones, would also be covered.

[T]he rules also have to reflect the way people use the Internet today, which increasingly means on a mobile device,” the statement continued.  “I believe the FCC should make these rules fully applicable to mobile broadband as well, while recognizing the special challenges that come with managing wireless networks.”

As part of the call for reclassification, ARS Technica writes some basic rules would need to be implemented.  Some of these rules include not blocking particular websites, internet speeds should not be throttled, and there should not be a difference in a services speed based on what they pay.

President Obama said, according to the Hill, making two different speeds for internet service would “undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth…”  

This is not the first time President Obama has spoke out against internet “fast-lanes” either.  In October, the president spoke at a town hall meeting in California where he called for a ban on “fast-lanes” but offered no plan on how to do so.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said he agrees the internet should not be advantage to some and not others, but at the same time said he and the FCC were working on a “hybrid” plan which would regulate transactions between websites and internet service providers.

The new FCC plan is expected to be unveiled by year’s end.

Ben Swann Talks With David Christopher About FCC’s New “Net Neutrality” Proposal

David Christopher of OpenMedia.org appeared on Ben Swann’s radio program to talk about net neutrality and the widely debated issue of the future of unconstrained internet. New media, as opposed to traditional print and television media owned by large corporations, heavily relies on the internet to disseminate information. Much of new media is run by small, independent companies.

The value of people being able to connect freely and quickly to one another using the internet is astounding, and Christopher said this is the basis of the recent surge in independent media. More people have the power to choose their sources of information than ever before. Christopher noted that there is a level of distrust in mainstream media due to the fact that many of the large media companies are owned by even larger telecommunication companies that provide internet service.

Christopher told Swann that on May 15th, the FCC will consider a proposal being pushed by large telecommunication companies to transfer control of internet content speed to the telecommunication companies. The FCC is discussing allowing internet service providers to charge more to content providers for faster delivery of their internet content. “The telecoms basically want to create an internet slow lane for everyone who can’t afford to pay these kind of ridiculous new fees that they’re proposing,” said Christopher. He added that this proposal will have a “terrible effect” on independent media companies.

Ben asked Christopher about this “slow lane/fast lane” FCC proposal. Christopher clarified that this proposal places burden on content producers (independent media for example) to pay more money for their content to be streamed faster. Companies that could not afford the extra cost of putting their content in the “fast lane” would be doomed to have it instead placed in the “slow lane” where transmission of the content would be much slower. Christopher explained that real net neutrality is the state of all content being treated equally; that all videos and news items have the same right, whether it comes from an independent source or a corporate-controlled source such as NBC or CNN, to travel through networks at the same speed.

“It’s simply a matter of fairness at the end of the day,” Christopher said. “It’s a matter of freedom. Because if you’re sitting at home, you want your media content from an independent outlet, you should have the right to access that content on the same basis as you would any media from the big guys.”

If the FCC proposals pass, Christopher says this will be a step backwards, making the use of internet more costly. He referred to Netflix, a large company that uses a massive amount of internet traffic. While Netflix can afford the cost of using the “fast lane”, that cost will be passed down to customers. “That’s why so many are saying this is a terrible idea, from right across the political spectrum as well, this is one of those issues that is not a left and right sort of thing,” he said, adding that the only huge push for the FCC proposal is coming from the “giant telecom conglomerates, and they’re pretty powerful.” Christopher expressed concern that these telecommunication giants have an enormous amount of influence on politics.

Swann and Christopher discussed the possibility of internet providers packaging internet content the way that cable companies create television programming bundles. Christopher said that experts agree that the internet could follow the same pattern as cable companies, where the choices of content are narrow. “It really takes all the power away from the customers, hands it over to the big telecom companies and it’s going to stifle free speech, it’s going to stifle freedom, and it’s also going to stifle innovation,” mentioning that any startup wanting to be the “next Netflix” or “next Facebook” would have a difficult time getting off the ground without equal access to all internet content.

Christoper told Swann that the goal of Open Media is to encourage people to “raise their voices” to try to ensure that politicians listen to citizens first, rather than the giant telecommunication companies. He said that protesters have been camped outside the FCC building in Washington for over a week, and their organization is “piling on the pressure” in hopes that the FCC will listen to individual citizens.

On Open Media’s website, openmedia.org/slowlane, people can add their name and Open Media will transfer the message to directly to the FCC. Christopher said these next few hours are vital to make individual voices heard by the FCC.

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LOTFI: Obama administration moves to virtually kill the internet?

WASHINGTON, April 30, 2014– Reports have been circulating that the Obama administration is trying to destroy the internet by killing off net-neutrality. In order to see if the claims check out, you need to meet Tom Wheeler. Just who is Tom Wheeler? If you credit Kathleen Sebelius with the death of the American healthcare system, you could soon credit Wheeler with the death of the internet, or at the very least, as we know it to be now. The Obama administration’s supposed plan is an innate result of crony corporatism and could well be their next big lie.

In November, 2013, President Obama appointed Wheeler to head-up the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). First, never mind that Wheeler raised more than $700,000 for Obama’s two elections.

Second, never mind that 2007 presidential candidate Obama made a solemn promise to protect internet neutrality while visiting Google headquarters in California.

“We have to ensure free and open exchange of information. That starts with an open internet. I will take a backseat to no one in my commitment to network neutrality. Because once providers start to privilege some applications or websites over others then the smaller voices get squeezed out and we all lose. The internet is perhaps the most open network in history, and we have to keep it that way.”

That promise is starting to sound a lot like Obama’s, “If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your healthcare plan.” You know, the promise that won PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year.  Considering the current moves, the administration’s audacity to leave this net-neutrality campaign video posted on their official YouTube account is astonishingly insulting to proponents of net-neutrality.

Finally, never mind that Wheeler is a former cable and internet lobbyist giant. You know, one of those lobbyists that candidate Obama swore to never hire if he was elected. For decades, Wheeler is credited with lobbying for “deregulation” of the industry.

Is it not peculiar Obama would tap a man, the very man that supposedly wanted to deregulate the cable and internet industry, to lead the massive federal bureaucracy that regulates that very industry?

It’s not as strange as one may think. Two types of “small government” lobbyists exist. One truly wants the government out of everything. The other uses the government to deregulate his own business, while simultaneously lobbying for regulation or unfair disadvantages on competitors, which is often done under the guise consumer protectionism, or blatant corporate protectionism [Enter Wheeler].

So, what is net-neutrality or “open internet”?  In layman’s terms, net-neutrality is actually a government regulation pressed on internet service providers (ISPs). The regulation seeks to ensure that all ISPs enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and do so without favoring or blocking particular websites and products.

When approached from an economic vantage point, net-neutrality, in its most basic definition, actually inhibits the ISP free-market.

In most cases, those in favor of small government and free-markets would likely champion such deregulation. Meanwhile, those in favor of market regulation point to fears of censorship.

For example, an ISP like Comcast could limit its end-user subscribers’ ability to access BenSwann.com if it wanted to increase traffic (revenue) to a news website the company owned (MSNBC), or it could begin downgrading BenSwann.com’s connection quality if a friendly competitor like TheBlaze.com was willing to pay higher fees to knock out the competition.

The question we must ask is as follows: Does this deregulation actually move towards a more free marketplace? In this case, probably not. These corporatist giants have used the government to secure no bid contracts, geographical subscriber exclusivity and more. The companies are now formed into a government sponsored quasi-monopoly. This is corporatism- not free-market capitalism.

Last January, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the FCC could not regulate net-neutrality. According to the Court plurality, the FCC lacked “regulatory jurisdiction” under the provided framework. Appellant Verizon seems to win the day. Net-neutrality is dead.

However, the Court left a loophole by stating that the FCC could rewrite the rules under a more acceptable framework.

“I intend to accept that invitation by proposing rules that will meet the court’s test for preventing improper blocking of and discrimination among Internet traffic, ensuring genuine transparency in how Internet Service Providers manage traffic, and enhancing competition,” Wheeler said in a statement. “Preserving the Internet as an open platform for innovation and expression while providing certainty and predictability in the marketplace is an important responsibility of this agency.”

But wait, isn’t Wheeler against net-neutrality and in favor of helping his old employers out? That’s what many headlines are reporting, and here is where things get confusing.

If one was to read the Verizon v. FCC case, it seems as though the FCC was trying to protect net-neutrality all along, and the Court ruled in favor of the corporations instead. Obama’s promise upheld. Right? After all, the administration can’t necessarily control what the Court says.

However, the Court gave the FCC the go-ahead to write rules under a new framework. Rather than continue and try to protect net-neutrality, reports now insinuate that the administration will re-write the rules to instead favor the giant ISPs Wheeler lobbied on behalf of for decades.

It is possible that the Verizon v. FCC case was a test case. Many such cases have been brought forth throughout the history of the federal judiciary. The goal of a test case is to figure out just what will be tolerated and in what way. Sometimes we know immediately whether or not a case is a test. However, it sometimes takes decades until such cases are exposed. In most all cases, the federal Court system now creates new tests, frameworks, and alternative ways for which a law or rule could be considered constitutional, or in this instance, within regulatory jurisdiction. This is one way the Court illegally legislates from the bench. The goal of such a test case could have been to get the Court to define ways to incorporate corporate protectionism into the FCC rules. Of course, at this time, this is only speculation. However, it would help to explain what happened next.

According to multiple reports, the FCC is playing a game of Orwellian semantics. While the commission maintains it is protecting net-neutrality, the reports show the new rules could kill net-neutrality by allowing ISPs to create a “fast lane internet”. The possibility of fast lane internet being incorporated into the new FCC rules validates the concerns of net-neutrality proponents.

Although the Court has already ruled that the FCC could not enforce net-neutrality, it seems as though Wheeler’s FCC is now attempting to use the Court’s new framework to write such protection into the actual FCC rules. This could allow ISPs an added layer of protection by throwing the weight of federal regulation on top of the Court’s ruling.

The new rules won’t be fully released until mid-May. For now, all is speculation.

Meanwhile, to fill in the gaps while we wait for new rules to be fully released, one should follow the money.


Brian Roberts, Comcast CEO, is good friends with Obama. He is regularly invited to the White House and has been golfing with Obama. In fact, Roberts even served on Obama’s jobs council. Comcast Vice President David Cohen has raised more than $2.2 million for Obama’s elections since 2007. Since 2008, Comcast has spent more than $91.2 million lobbying the government. Of course, it probably doesn’t hurt that Comcast is the parent company of the hard left-leaning Obama mouthpiece known as NBC Universal which operates the MSNBC cable news station.


In 2008, TWC donated $618k to Obama’s election. In 2012, they donated $422k.  Since 2008, TWC has spent more than $25.5 million lobbying the government.


In 2008, Verizon donated more than $218k to Obama’s campaign. In 2012, Verizon donated $224k to Obama’s reelection campaign. Since 2008, Verizon has spent more than $97 million lobbying the government.


In total, At&T has given Obama more than $484k for his two elections. The company has spent more than $30 million lobbying the government since 2008.


In 2008, Cox donated $64k to Obama’s campaign. In 2012, the group donated more than $47k. Since 2008, the group has spent more than $28 million lobbying the government.

Together, these five companies represent the top five ISPs in the country. They also represent Obama’s top donors. With Wheeler driving the FCC and Obama’s top campaign donors pulling the puppet strings, it is hard to imagine the administration actually fighting to maintain net-neutrality.

Government sanctioned neutrality is parallel to government sanctioned equality. Backlash and economic dead weight loss are the byproducts of such interference. With the ensuing death of net-neutrality, many are asking a similar question. Will it kill the internet? Doubtful. However, the government sponsored ISP quasi monopoly makes it too soon to tell.

Follow Michael Lotfi On Facebook & Twitter.


Obama Bypassing Congress to Enact New Taxes

Obama is sidestepping Congress once again. This time, the unconstitutional act is in an effort to raise $6 Billion in new taxes to put WiFi in public schools across America. Rather than waste his time with the Constitution and Congress, Obama is going straight to the FCC to lobby for the new taxes. The new tax will apply to every American who uses a cellphone.

I can make a firm pledge. Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.

Candidate Barack Obama, 2008Obama shrug

Shhh… Never-mind that.

The proposal has gone mostly unnoticed. It was quietly introduced over the Summer under the name ConnectEd. The White House proposal specifically states:

Today, President Obama called on the Federal Communications Commission to take the steps
necessary to build high-speed digital connections to America’s schools and libraries, ensuring
that 99 percent of American students can benefit from these advances in teaching and learning.
He is further directing the federal government to make better use of existing funds to get this
technology into classrooms, and into the hands of teachers trained on its advantages. And he is
calling on businesses, states, districts, schools and communities to support this vision.

Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution clearly statesThe Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes. You will notice it does not say the President, or a regulatory board under the influence of the President. According to The Washington Post, republicans are vowing to ensure that the FCC does not create this new tax, which will certainly be disguised as a “fee”–not a tax. If the plan moves forward republicans plan to hold congressional hearings to persuade the FCC. However, the commission is headed by only 5 members. Two are democrats, one is republican and the other two are Obama nominees for the remaining open slots. The odd man out is not expected to have much pull.