The investigation by the Reader and Lucy Parsons Labs into the Chicago Police Department's use of civil forfeiture money began with a single, tantalizing detail in a single FOIA'd document.
Lucy Parsons Labs is a Chicago-based nonprofit made up of technologists and activists dedicated to government transparency. In September 2014 we began looking into CPD's use of IMSI catchers, powerful surveillance devices commonly called by their brand name, Stingray. These devices mimic cell-phone towers and force any cell phones in the area to give up personally identifying information—including phone numbers and unique device identifiers—all without an owner's knowledge or consent.
In the purchasing memo for one such device, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, we saw a reference to an account name we hadn't previously seen.