A story from KARE-11’s Blake McCoy has been traveling through Republican circles since last evening and I predict “KingFish” will soon become a well-known word in Minnesota politics.
Here’s the background from KARE-11:
It’s not just the NSA spying on your cell phone. KARE 11 has learned that two Minnesota law enforcement agencies have the ability to do the same.
The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and Bureau of Criminal Apprehension have both purchased cellular exploitation devices that go by the names of KingFish or StingRay. The devices mimic a cell phone tower and allow the agencies to extract data from nearby cell phones.
News of a cell phone spying program in Hennepin County, aside from raising privacy concerns, will have an impact on the Republican nomination for governor and U.S. Senate in Minnesota.
U.S. Senate – Julianne Ortman
State Senator Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen) is one of numerous Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate and previously, she worked for Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek as a member of Sheriff Stanek’s “command staff” from 2007-2013. According to press reports, funding for KingFish was approved while Ortman was working for Stanek.
Ortman repeatedly has made the NSA’s spying program a centerpiece of her U.S. Senate campaign, but now news is growing that a similar program was set-up in the office where she worked.
Ortman, who claims issues “of government power and personal privacy have been of interest since her law school days”, wrote about the NSA spying scandal and demanded answers:
The American people had a right to know about this long ago, and we should have had the opportunity to object through legal and/or political challenges to this systematic abuse. Now that the cloak of secrecy has been removed, our elected officials in Washington owe us an explanation and a remedy. It is long past time that we discuss publicly this threat to our cherished freedoms and liberties.
I would expect similar request for answers to now come to Ortman, as more and more Republican activists will be asking about what she knew about Kingfish and when did she know it. Ortman has used the NSA spying scandal to appeal to libertarians/Ron Paul supporters inside the Republican Party of Minnesota.
With information about Hennepin County’s spy program reaching Republicans, I would expect Ortman’s role in the implementation of KingFish to face scrutiny.
Governor – Jeff Johnson
Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson is one of the Republican candidates for governor and as with Ortman, Johnson has connections to Hennepin County’s NSA-like spy program called Kingfish.
In March 2010, the Hennepin County Board tabled a request by Sheriff Stanek to spend $426,150 to acquire Kingfish. Johnson voted against tabling the motion, with the Star Tribune reporting “Commissioner Jeff Johnson said he was convinced it was an important and useful law enforcement tool that wouldn’t violate privacy rights.” Johnson was absent the day funding was finally approved. Johnson later wrote in a blog post that he was able to ask question about KingFish to Stanek’s office and was “…quite comfortable with the answers” he received in response. The record is clear: Johnson supported the implementation of KingFish.
KARE-11’s story also mentions a device called “Stingray” which was purchased by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. The initial focus with Republican activists seems to be the implementation of KingFish. Please check back to politics.mn for more information on this story.