David vs. Goliath: Baby-faced millennial takes on Chicago Police Department

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Somewhere between age 14, when Freddy Martinez got his first computer and promptly took it apart, to now, a bashful, fidgety 28-year-old learned enough about technology to know more than most of us.

Suddenly, his knowledge has led him to face off with the Chicago Police Department….

What he’s almost single-handedly done is expose the CPD’s super-secret, military grade, cell phone tracking operation.

He and a few fellow protesters first noticed it a rally, ironically, demanding an end to illegal search and seizure. Then at another Black Lives Matter protest.

He and his group saw a police car and then noticed a suitcase type of thing on top of the car.  Martinez knew immediately it was a stingray.  First he thought it was an “ah ha” moment where they’d busted the police for illegal search and seizure.  Then Martinez thought, “wait, let’s back off” and find out more about what they’re doing and when.

So here he was, David, setting off to take on Goliath.  Martinez filed a freedom of information request. Anyone can – his asked the CPD to turn over its records on stingray.

His request begins with a simple "hello," but look closer. This young technical wizard goes deep.  It’s not your typical request. He's asking for intercepts, phone tracking codes and related cell phone data.

Anything designed to tap the vulnerabilities of a phone to catch a terrorist or drug dealer, could also pick up the texts or calls of innocents like him.  What are police telling the courts and judges in cases where they’ve used the stingray?

But all he heard from the police department was silence.  Every request was either ignored or rejected.

He got nothing from them.

So suddenly, a guy so leery of being tracked he’s not on Facebook, so introverted he’d rather be alone in a room testing the limits of his personal computer, thrusts himself into the spotlight to take CPD to court.  The Chicago Police Department has spent at least $120,000 to fight Freddy Martinez’s requests.  What that told Martinez is that this was being orchestrated from a national level.
Chicago private investigator Perry Myers knows all about stingray.  He says it’s especially helpful tracking throw away phones, bought cheaply, which bad guys can use and then discard.

So who makes this super-secret device so covertly coveted by law enforcement on every level?  A manufacturer with a sense of humor or sense of their regional headquarters.
Florida-based Harris Company has named all of its devices after fish.

Stingray, Kingfish and Amberjack.

But where there’s secrecy in the technology, there’s secrecy in the company that makes it.  When we called to get a comment -- we got options instead --  push  1 -- technical --push 2 -- sales -- push 3 -- training --  4 and 5,  but not a single human being.  So we left a message on all 5 lines asking about stingray. The next day someone called back and left their own message -- no comment.

And, we got a no comment from the Chicago police.

For his part, Freddy Martinez has made a little progress.
At first, he got 8 pages of documents from the Chicago police.
He’s now up to 200 pages.

… some of it blacked out with words like confidential – covert in nature – a non-disclosure agreement from the FBI. CPD is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for the equipment.

In fact, it’s all so secretive, in other cities, law enforcement has been forced to simply drop legitimate crime cases so as not to reveal the existence of stingray’s use.
For his part, Martinez, the young computer programmer, doesn’t relish being in the spotlight.  But he says somebody has to find out what they’re doing, so it might as well be him.

He’s filed a second suit against the Chicago police to learn more than what he’s been given, but he’s added another name to this lawsuit: Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.

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16 comments

  • Edward Douglas

    All lives matter, as it’s just not black people that suffer the abuse of police misconduct and that of this emerging totalitarian government. I thank Freddy and heroes like Edward Snowden. They are true american heroes, not because they worship a piece of cloth with stars and stripes on it, or are obedient. People like Mr Martinez, are heroes because they stand for the values of this country. People have to understand that their government is no longer on their side, it no longer follows the Constitution. It is by far the biggest threat to liberty and freedom.

  • John Carlson

    The cops’ reason for lying and deceiving judges about Stingrays is that they “signed a non-disclosure agreement” … last I heard the Constitution doesn’t include a business agreement exception. Quality reporting, Mark, per the usual. And kudos to Freddy for fighting the good fight.

  • Marianne Brown

    oh please. enough CPD bashing. ride along in one of their cars in the 10th district some night. see for yourself what they encounter on a nightly basis. Drug dealers, gangs, use throw away phones to make their deals. be glad they are being monitored. sounds like Freddie doesn’t like that. Freddie, next time you need assistance and some gang member is shooting up your block, it’s the CPD that will have your back, not the gangs. The gangs will shoot you in the back.

  • Realist

    you should not mess in affairs you do not understand…….be very careful who’s toes you step on. Unless you live on your own private island……..there is no where to go that such tactics do not exist.

  • Not Ignorant

    People who are so concerned about their potential privacy being violated… why? What are they hiding? I don’t think whatever minor activities I’m doing are on the radar of the already understaffed police force. These people would rather have things like the Boston Marathon bombings happen than use technology like this to hopefully prevent acts of terror. Are these devices ever going to get credited for foiling any potential plots? I think by the very nature of this article, it’s clear : NO!
    Just go back to your mundane lives wishing someone thought you were interesting enough to eavesdrop on.

    • Edward Douglas

      Post your email address with your password on here…what are you hiding? Most communist and totalitarian governments have or had a similar motto, “if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear”. Those who give up security for liberty, deserve neither.

  • Jeanmaire

    are you kidding me, this is what journalism has evolved to? wow and here I thought that WGN had more integrity than to print a story like this.

  • .

    I agree that these tactics need to be investigated. If your willing to accept the motto ” spy all they want, i have nothing to hide” , then you have already given up a freedom that you were granted at birth. There is a much more to this story and will be looking forward to a follow up. Thanks Mark.

  • Chris Warner

    I know how we could be even safer…let’s just do away with the Constitution completely so the cops’ jobs will be easier. Why restrict them at all? If a cop wants to search your home because your neighbor said you did something illegal, then they should be able to enter without your permission and check. We’ll all be safer when they can monitor everything we do, at all times, for any reason. That’s obvious. The tradeoff, however, is that we’ll be inching closer to a more totalitarian union.

  • Joe

    I am seriously disappointed by the quality of writing and English in this article. I understand that the news business is fast-paced and every outlet wants to be the first to get the story out there, but even that can not explain the sloppiness we see here. This really reflects badly on WGN news. Shouldn’t the person writing this have better training in both English writing and in having a professional, journalistic tone? Shouldn’t there be an editor who at least looked at this before it was published on the WGN website? Has no one who has left a comment on the story’s content even noticed the abysmal writing? It’s baffling to see so many sentence fragments, random dashes, inconsistent capitalization, and so many irrelevant details sprinkled throughout the piece. I am not a fault-finder or pedant, but this needs to be addressed. I am a Chicagoan who is reading this from my job overseas, and it makes me fear that anyone in the world can be reading such writing on one of our city’s main news sources and to think how it reflects on our city. Please be more careful and thoughtful.

    • ChicagoPeach

      THANK YOU! I was reading this and thought to myself “My 2nd grade cousin’s chapter book rough draft looked better than whatever this is supposed to be!”

    • Gina Ann

      WOW, congratulations. You’re a highly intelligent person for leaving this comment. I pray that they’re tracking your I.P. address at this very moment. Terrorism isn’t funny.

  • Gina Ann

    Interesting articles… but very poorly written. Do you require your journalists to provide writing samples before they’re hired? Doesn’t seem like it…