US authorities are deliberately concealing information about how they obtained evidence in criminal proceedings, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report [text] Tuesday.
HRW divulged findings from over a year of investigating a police practice known as “parallel construction,” in which law enforcement illegally obtain evidence and then hide the illegality through legally obtaining supporting evidence.
From April 2016 to October 2017, HRW suspected 95 criminal cases of parallel construction. The group also utilized interviews, court records, documents disclosed by the government and media reports to prove the practice. The nature of secrecy for the illegal activity makes it hard to prove.
HRW says the practice violates the Fourth Amendment righs to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. Activities include the use of “stingrays” [Guardian report] that mimic cell phone towers to obtain information from cell phone users, wiretaps and telephone records [Reuters report] and facial recognition software, which the group accuses of being faulty.
“Parallel construction … render[s] … agents’ actions invisible to courts and defendants, and the resulting lack of accountability risks turning constitutional rights into little more than words on paper,” according to the report
The group says parallel construction is most prevalent with drug and immigration activities, and that information tends to stem from intelligence operations. The Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Operations Division is accused in the report of tipping off law enforcement with the expectation that those tips will remain confidential.
The government has reportedly justified the practice through exceptions to the “exclusionary rule,” which was a court-developed doctrine that judges should not introduce illegally obtained evidence, and through some prior cases which allowed the government to conceal the identities of human informants.