Investigating Law Enforcement’s Possible Use of Surveillance Technology at Standing Rock

One of the biggest protests of 2016 is still underway at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, where Water Protectors and their allies are fighting Energy Transfer Partners’ plans to drill beneath contested Treaty land to finish the Dakota Access Pipeline. While the world has been watching law enforcement’s growing use of force to disrupt the protests, EFF has been tracking the effects of its surveillance technologies on water protectors’ communications and movement.

Following several reports of potentially unlawful surveillance, EFF sent technologists and lawyers to North Dakota to investigate. We collected anecdotal evidence from water protectors about suspicious cell phone behavior, including uncharacteristically fast battery drainage, applications freezing, and phones crashing completely. Some water protectors also saw suspicious login attempts to their Google accounts from IP addresses originating from North Dakota’s Information & Technology Department. On social media, many reported Facebook posts and messenger threads disappearing, as well as Facebook Live uploads failing to upload or, once uploaded, disappearing completely.

While some have attributed these issues to secret surveillance technologies like cell-site simulators (“CSSs,” also known colloquially as Stingrays) and malware, it’s been very difficult to pinpoint the true cause or causes.

To try to figure this out, EFF also sent more than 20 public records requests to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies that have been sighted at Standing Rock or are suspected of providing surveillance equipment to agencies on the ground. So far, only one federal agency — the US Marshals’ Service — has denied use of cell-site simulators, while the remaining federal agencies have yet to respond or have claimed their responsive documents are so numerous as to make production untenable and costly. Of the fifteen local and state agencies that have responded, thirteen deny having any record at all of cell…

Read more