MISSOULA – On March 24, 2016, the ACLU of Montana sent its first Freedom of Information Act request for files pertaining to use of cell site simulators (commonly called Sting-Ray devices) and automatic license plate readers to all law enforcement agencies in Montana. On April 12, 2016, we sent follow up requests asking for information about the use of force policies, and racial profiling policies, of the agencies. Some agencies responded immediately, some asked for more time, and some never provided the information we requested. The Cascade County Sheriff’s Office is one of those agencies that never provided the ACLU the information we requested.
According to Jim Taylor, Legal Director for the ACLU of Montana, “The Montana Constitution contains a Right to Know provision, and Montana statutes have been adopted to require compliance with the Constitution. If you don’t comply, there is a penalty for non-compliance. We have tried to work with agencies that wanted more time. But we are no longer willing to try to work with agencies that ignore their legal obligations. We have a list of agencies that haven’t responded, and we are starting with Cascade County. Then we are going to move down the list.”
The technology police have access to today enables surveillance on a level never seen before. So-called “sting-rays” mimic cell phone towers and force your cell phone to tell police its location and identifying information. Automatic license plate readers send the information they capture about a plate’s location at a given time to regional sharing systems. The information is stored indefinitely and can allow police to track your movements.
Montana law requires that all law enforcement agencies adopt and implement policies about racial profiling. These agencies also have policies on use of force and track incidents about the use of force. Montanans are legally entitled to this information. It is the ACLU’s intent to compile all the information we have requested and to make it available to the public through our website.
“In this age of conspiracy theories and ‘alternative facts,’ getting concrete information on whether and how government may be intruding on Montanans’ privacy is more crucial than ever, as is the information on how and when law enforcement uses force, and whether law enforcement agencies are complying with Montana law on racial profiling.” said Executive Director Caitlin Borgmann.
Jim Taylor and Caitlin Borgmann will be available for interviews by phone.