Yesterday, I joined the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice to testify regarding my Office’s work to combat MS-13 and the area of electronic investigation and surveillance with a focus on the ever-increasing problem of the use of encrypted applications and other devices to thwart law enforcement’s lawful efforts to collect reliable, real-time intelligence and evidence relating to criminal enterprises such as MS-13.

Suffolk District attorney Timothy Sini, left, and Suffolk

Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini and Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart appear in Suffolk County Court in Riverhead.

 

Here in Suffolk County we have been on the forefront of developing innovative tactics and long term sustainable strategies to eradicate violent street gangs from our communities. We are now one of the nation’s leaders in the number of wiretaps completed and I’ve devoted an enormous amount of resources into our wiretapping infrastructure. I’ve also recruited top investigators with experience in electronic surveillance, invested heavily in training relating to electronic surveillance, and implemented a series of best practices governing how we conduct electronic surveillance. These efforts positioned my Office to conduct, in collaboration with the DEA and other law enforcement agencies, one of the largest MS-13 take downs in U.S. history involving wiretaps on approximately 215 phone lines and communication applications over the course of about two years. The amount of intelligence generated off those approximate 215 phones was enormous and led to the arrests of more than 330 MS-13 gang members and close associates worldwide. Notably, the intelligence generated off the wire led to the foiling of more than 10 murder plots on Long Island and the charging of 45 MS-13 gang members and 19 associates for murder conspiracy. The intelligence generated off the wire also led to the arrest of high-ranking MS-13 leaders and the solving of murders and other serious violent crimes throughout the world, including in the Northern Triangle. Remarkably, the intelligence and strategic arrests from the wire terminated the New York Program, which was created by the leadership of MS-13 in El Salvador to develop a greater presence on Long Island and further its objectives of violence and dominance.

I share the results of this wire-tap investigation to highlight the importance of electronic surveillance. But our ability to effectively conduct this type of surveillance is currently hampered by the use of encryption and other tools used to thwart law enforcement’s lawful efforts to obtain evidence of criminal wrongdoing. To assist in overcoming these obstacles, my recommendation to the President’s Commission was to develop strategies and propose laws to assist law enforcement agencies, particularly those at the local level, to overcome these issues and enable us to continue to effectively conduct long-term, wiretap investigations, which go a long way in eradicating criminal enterprises such as MS-13.

Below you’ll find my full remarks before the Commission. My testimony led to the Deputy Director of the FBI to contact my Office and schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss my recommendations.

It is your support that makes it possible for my office to do this incredibly important work.

Thank you,

Timothy D. Sini

District Attorney

 

 

 DA Tim Sini: Testimony Before the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice

I want to thank the President’s Commission for Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice for the invitation to testify regarding my Office’s work combatting MS-13 and the opportunity to make recommendations that would strengthen our mission to eradicate this ruthless, violent criminal enterprise. There are many important pieces to a successful strategy, including collecting reliable intelligence, collaboration among law enforcement agencies at all levels, partnerships with the Northern Triangle countries, and much more. But I want to focus my remarks on the area of electronic investigation and surveillance and, in particular, the ever-increasing problem of the use of encrypted applications and other devices to thwart law enforcement’s lawful efforts to collect reliable, real-time intelligence and evidence relating to criminal enterprises such as MS-13. My recommendation is to create a taskforce, to which I’d be willing to devote whatever resources necessary, to develop strategies and propose laws to assist law enforcement agencies, particularly those at the local level, to overcome these issues and enable us to continue to effectively conduct long-term, eavesdropping investigations which go a long way in eradicating criminal enterprises such as MS-13. I will make four specific recommendations, but first let me highlight to you why this is so important.

As a former federal prosecutor, police commissioner and now District Attorney, I know the value of electronic surveillance, particularly court authorized eavesdropping, otherwise known as wiretaps. As a federal prosecutor, I often utilized wiretaps to collect evidence against criminal organizations and violent criminals. And now as the District Attorney for Suffolk County, my Office is one of the nation’s leaders in the number of wiretaps completed since I took Office. I’ve devoted an enormous amount of resources into our wiretapping infrastructure. I’ve also recruited members of my team because of their particular experience in electronic surveillance, invested heavily in training relating to electronic surveillance, and implemented a series of best practices governing how we conduct electronic surveillance.

These efforts positioned my Office to conduct, in collaboration with the DEA and other law enforcement agencies, one of the largest, if not the largest, MS-13 takedown in U.S. history involving wiretaps on approximately 215 phone lines and communication applications over the course of about two years. The amount of intelligence generated off those approximate 215 phones was enormous and led to the arrests of more than 330 MS-13 gang members and close associates worldwide. My Office convened a Special Grand Jury which indicted 96 of these defendants in Suffolk County for a variety of offenses, including murder conspiracy, gang violence, weapons possession, drug trafficking and more. The Special Grand Jury indicted the leadership of nine MS13 cliques operating on Long Island. Notably, the intelligence generated off the wire led to the foiling of more than 10 murder plots on Long Island and the charging of 45 MS-13 gang members and 19 associates for murder conspiracy. What I mean by that is, we heard a murder plot unfolding in real-time on the wiretap and then took immediate action in the field to prevent that murder from happening (and without burning the wire). The intelligence generated off the wire also led to the arrest of high-ranking MS-13 leaders and the solving of murders and other serious violent crimes throughout the world, including in the Northern Triangle. Remarkably, the intelligence and strategic arrests from the wire terminated the New York Program, which was created by the leadership of MS-13 in El Salvador to develop a greater presence on Long Island and further its objectives of violence and dominance.

I share the results of this wire-tap investigation to highlight the importance of electronic surveillance. But our ability to effectively conduct this type of surveillance is currently hampered by the use of encryption and other tools to thwart law enforcement’s lawful efforts to obtain evidence of criminal wrongdoing. To assist law enforcement in overcoming these obstacles, I respectfully recommend that a task force or working group be created to focus on developing strategies and better laws to enable law enforcement to do the following four things:

  1. Access real time surveillance of communications, regardless of encryption or provider;
  2. Obtain historical content, such as text messages, from providers;
  3. Access locked phones that are seized during an investigation; and
  4. Effectively store and analyze “packet data” and invest in interception technology that is not surpassed by the latest communications technology.

Now remember, none of these recommendations would lead to us receiving any information that we are not otherwise entitled to pursuant to a court order.

So first, communication providers (and I refer here to traditional “telecommunication service providers” and non-traditional electronic communication service providers such as Apple, Google, Facebook, WhatsAp, Instagram, and the various other application platforms that provide means to communicate via voice, text, or video) must be required to create a back-door into their service for law enforcement and provide the “key” to law enforcement to decrypt the communications.

Second, these companies must be required to store the content that is being transmitted – at least for set periods of time (much like the traditional telecommunication providers provide phone records for particular times). Alternatively, they should be required to store the content or preserve the content upon a request from a law enforcement entity. This will allow law enforcement to obtain that information with a search warrant after the fact, if it cannot do so in real time.

Both real time surveillance and after the fact review of content would of course still require the appropriate court order, i.e., an eavesdropping warrant or a search warrant, based on probable cause.

Third, there should be a requirement that providers such as Apple and Google (android phones) and other phone companies create “keys” to unlock or by-pass the lock screen feature of cellular telephones.

Lastly, local law enforcement, such as my Office, require additional funding to effectively conduct wiretap investigations in these high-technology, information-rich times. This is in part because most people, including criminals, now use smart phones, which contain what is referred to as “packet data.” Packet data includes photos, video, multimedia, internet access/surfing, identification of app usage, and other electronic information that occurs over a phone but not through the traditional voice or SMS messaging capabilities. The amount of packet data that is received pursuant to an eavesdropping warrant is significant. This data requires both an enormous amount of physical space to store it (network; SD cards; etc.) and also requires specially trained investigators to unpack and review the material. We often do not even know what is in the packet data until a much later point in time; this is both because it is technologically difficult to decode and surveil it in real time and because it requires special training to do so. Therefore, additional funding is essential to assist Office’s like mine to conduct effective electronic surveillance in these days.

Additional funding would also assist law enforcement in investing in technology to essentially catch up to communications technology, which now, in many ways, surpasses intercept capability. What I mean by that is, as the communication capacity expands, and the phone technology expands with it, it becomes harder and harder to effectively run an eavesdropping investigation. One phone line, coming over 5G, may have multiple “lines” that get sent to the eavesdropping equipment. Some of those lines can be partially encrypted; sometimes we get one side of the conversation and not others; sometimes we get nothing. Because the eavesdropping equipment is not equipped to intercept at that level, we are losing some, if not all, of the communications; or at best it takes great effort to marry the communications together in to one cohesive communication. Again, smart investments in technology for local law enforcement would help our offices keep up with the technology advancements of companies such as Apple and allow us to continue running effective electronic surveillance.

As the case I highlighted earlier clearly demonstrates, these issues are of utmost importance to eradicating criminal enterprises such as MS-13.

 

 

Original article and credits can be found here.