Racist Suspect Shelby County Mayor Authorized Surveillance Tools to Record & Monitor all Inmate Calls, Amass their Voice Prints & Track the Cellphone Location of Anyone They Talked To

Mayor Mark Luttrell.jpg

From [HERE] With the stroke of a pen in December 2017, the administration of then-Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell gave the nation's largest jail-and-prison phone provider, GTL, the green light to provide county investigators with a suite of high-tech surveillance tools that record and monitor all inmate calls, amass their voice prints and track the cellphone location of people who are not incarcerated, on the other end of the line.

In the year since the contract was signed a location service offered by GTL’s primary competitor, Securus, became the subject of a Federal Communications Commission investigation. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement, barring exigent circumstances such as bomb threats and active shootings, must have a warrant to gather cellphone location information. And, GTL became embroiled in a scandal for recording attorney-client phone calls — for the third time in three years.

Lauren Lee, spokeswoman for new County Mayor Lee Harris, said the location tracking portion of Shelby County's contract was never implemented. She did not address a question as to how the change was formalized.

GTL spokesman James Lee said the company installed a new phone system in Shelby County in 2017, but cellphone location tracking services "ended up not being used." Upon further questioning as to whether the change prompted a decrease in price, Lee said the system is still being implemented, which could make a change in pricing premature.

The Commercial Appeal’s public records request for all GTL contracts and amendments did not return any documents showing any alteration to the fully executed contract, which details the inclusion and cost of three separate “intelligence bundles,” including location tracking — with a planned execution date of February 2017.

The county may not be using the legally problematic service. But, the absence of an amendment implies that inmates’ families are still paying a rate that covers the cost of it.

'Absolute surveillance' 

The discrepancy between the contract and statements from the company, and county spokespersons, comes as the legality of the location service is in question. 

GTL's winning bid, which describes the company's "Location IQ" product, was "incorporated fully" into the contract, according to records obtained by The CA.

"To create more actionable intelligence for the County, Location IQ uses powerful and accurate Carrier Tower and GPS location based services to access a called party's location regardless of the network or device type," GTL's bid states.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “deeply revealing” personal information about cellphone owners — automatically generated and stored by wireless carriers — should be protected by the Constitution, requiring a warrant. Writing the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts described cellphone location tracking as "absolute surveillance," akin to attaching an ankle monitor to a person.

Separately, GTL's counterpart Securus became the subject of an investigation in August, for potentially violating the Communications Act, through “allegedly sharing the location information of American citizens without adequate safeguards,” in the words of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai.

Pai mentioned the investigation in a letter to Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. A proponent of internet freedom, Wyden pressed the federal agency to investigate Securus, after a Missouri sheriff was charged with inappropriately using Securus' location tracking platform, to surveil a judge and state troopers, the New York Times reported.

GTL's Shelby County bid offered similar "on-demand" tracking and live monitoring of the location of people on calls with inmates. Company spokesman Lee initially told The CA that GTL does not offer or utilize on-demand location services. He later said that it was considered in 2016 but Shelby County did not request it. County spokeswoman Lee said she didn't know why it is in the contract.

Lt. Anthony Buckner, a spokesman for the Shelby County Sheriff’s office and former gang investigator, shared an example of how he once listened to a call to advance a tip regarding a murder for hire that he said was commissioned from the jail. 

But, Buckner did not address four requests for comment as to whether the agency uses any location tracking tool and if a warrant is involved. 

Biometric analysis and address lookup

The other surveillance features listed in Shelby County's contract documents enable the extraction of called phone numbers and include biometric software that analyzes calls by words used and the degree of emotion expressed — then flags them for investigators' review. That review can occur while the conversation is in progress or after copies of call records are automatically stored for a year, at GTL data centers in Alabama and Texas.

Authorized county personnel can also select files they wish to keep longer, play back calls remotely — on off-site computers and smartphones — and email call recordings directly from GTL's interface.

The biometric software also automatically collects samples of inmates' voices during calls to build a voice print, with what GTL calls "state-of-the-art accuracy," though the company's bid also mentions the possibility of "false positives."

Separate from the Location IQ product, GTL's bid documents also describe a "no-cost," built-in feature that gives county investigators "unlimited" access to "a large industry database" that supplies the billing name and address associated with a phone number, along with a satellite image or map of the address.

Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy and Technology project, argued the U.S. Supreme Court case which compelled the majority of justices to come down on the side of protecting cellphone location information.

The local branch of the ACLU also recently brought the Memphis Police Department to court for spying on activists via Facebook. [MORE]