Category Archives: Uncategorized

How Massachusetts’ Congressmembers Stack Up On Mass Surveillance


At this point in the election cycle, 99% of the oxygen in the room is taken up by the presidential campaigns. But Massachusetts has nine House members and two Senators, and their views on mass surveillance matter. Next year, the main authority for the government’s mass surveillance programs, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, expires, and Congress will crucially shape what comes next. This pair of articles from Just Security give you an idea of what’s at stake:

Unprecedented and Unlawful: The NSA’s “Upstream” Surveillance
Correcting the Record on Section 702: A Prerequisite for Meaningful Surveillance Reform

The Democrats have a lock on the congressional delegation, but this is an issue where elected officials within the same party often differ sharply; so without further ado, here’s where they stand: (For the full list for all states, check out Decide The Future, our scorecard site.)

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Big Brother Is Not Fit To Hold My Data


[By Tamarleigh Grenfell]

Let’s say my brother and I are out on the town. He insists on holding my purse for me while I use the restroom, but then leaves my purse sitting in plain sight right on the bar, and some creep steals it. Should I trust my brother with my purse, ever again?

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) sent me a letter this month informing me that my personal information was stolen in a “malicious cyber intrusion” earlier this year. My personal data (such as my SSN, name, address, date of birth, place of birth, residency history, employment history, educational history, personal foreign travel history, immediate family members, business acquaintances, personal acquaintances, medical history, criminal history, financial history, and more!) is all now somewhere out there in cyberspace, and like extinction and herpes, the Internet is forever.

This leak alone affected 21.5 million people, including 5.6 million people’s fingerprints,including mine. I provided that information, and my fingerprints, to the federal government long ago when I applied for a job as a research assistant at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. What started as an actual folder, somewhere along the line, got connected to Skynet – sorry, the Internet, and my fingerprints, which I can never change, were digitized and uploaded along with everything else.

What if I had found my brother two years ago photocopying my diary and circulating it to his friends for laughs, and that when confronted he just muttered something about it being to “keep me safe” because “there are dangerous people out there”? What if he then went out on the street with a bullhorn, telling everyone who will listen that we need to give him special keys to unlock all their stuff, because if we don’t, the Terrorists Will Win? What if he decided all on his own to break every lock in town, so he could access any document at any time? How much should I trust him then?

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The Year In Mass Surveillance

(Crossposted at The Dig)


I run a sturdy volunteer group of cypherpunks, Democrats, libertarians, Republicans, and anarchists that meets weekly in Cambridge to plot ways to undermine the surveillance state. You’d be better off using divination sticks than relying on TV to find out what’s going on regarding these matters, so we keep track of it all. Here’s a brief overview of this year’s surveillance-related news in the Commonwealth.

In Massachusetts, we now have no fewer than 65 agencies focusing on homeland security and terrorism. Our local surveillance center (BRIC) operates out of Boston Police Department headquarters, and keeps tabs on Black Lives Matter, peace activists, local Muslim groups, and journalists and activists who oppose their tactics. Along with the FBI, BRIC monitors social media, especially around public events, for inappropriate content. Generally, these technologies and practices are focused sharply on poor and high-minority communities, leaving wealthier and whiter communities to enjoy a less intrusive style of surveillance. One exception to that would be Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPRs), which DigBoston discovered are still being used by BPD despite the department claiming years ago that they stopped tracking drivers en masse. Furthermore, until said Dig discovery, troves of the data collected via ALPR—more than a million license plate numbers tied to location and other information including home addresses in some cases—were left exposed online by the third-party company contracted to store plate information.

Knowing these facts, we advocated for bills this year on Beacon Hill to undermine police militarization (H. 2169) and mandate data collection on police stops and bodycams for all police statewide. along with strong privacy controls (H. 2170), and for Senate Majority Leader Harriette Chandler’s fusion center reform bill (S.734) which, among other things, would make it so “no state or local law enforcement agency, prosecutorial office, criminal intelligence system, police or peace officer, or agent thereof [could] track, collect or maintain information about the political, religious or social views, associations or activities of any individual, group, association, organization, corporation, business or partnership or other entity unless such information directly relates to an investigation of criminal activities.”

On the ground, activists Segun Idowu, Shekia Scott, and Muska Nassery worked throughout the year to bring bodycams to Boston, an idea which Commissioner William Evans greeted with all the enthusiasm of a vegetarian asked to model Lady Gaga’s meat dress. This while activists pried loose proof that BPD lied about not having a “stingray,” a device that spoofs cellphone towers and sucks up call data, likely mostly used in drug investigations. BRIC tarred journalists from the Bay State Examiner as security threats, lied when asked whether they had files on those journalists, steadily refused to meet with civil liberties groups, and awarded themselves an A+ for “Privacy, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties” in their annual DHS report. Of course, we’d know none of this without the Commonwealth’s battered old public records law, which the legislature is currently trying to update so that agencies like BRIC have longer to respond to requests.

At year’s end, the Paris attacks, the San Bernardino mass shooting, and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s call for unreasonable immigration restrictions have everyone on edge, but especially the Muslim community. There are swastikas on mosques and hit pieces in the press on local Muslims and those who defend their rights. The pressure of surveillance makes everything worse, accentuating suspicion across classes, religions, and races—all without doing anything to actually thwart attacks.

In consequence of all this, black, Jewish, LGBT, anarchist, progressive, and Somali groups came together with the ACLU to hold a standing-room-only session in Roxbury on surveillance, race, and policing. Meanwhile, BPD officials, including a representative from BRIC, hold meetings with local Muslim leaders at their headquarters, and wonder why attendance is below expectations.

If you’d like to join our efforts in 2016, we recommend you use Tor, Signal, and Protonmail to protect your communications, and join our listserv at

BONUS: For months, the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, along with many of their followers on social media, have been documenting surveillance around Greater Boston to make up for the fact that there is no master list of all camera locations. We need your help! All you have to do is snap a picture of a camera on your cell phone and post it on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #BINJbrother. If you’re a surveillance skeptic and don’t want to use your GPS for location, please just tag the city (e.g., #Boston) and building (e.g., #MGH) or intersection (e.g., #MassAve and #Boylston). Try not to mess up, you’re being watched. -Chris Faraone

The NSA Aims For There To Be No “U. S. Persons”: Traffic Shaping and the Legacy of Verdugo-Urquidez



In 1990, the Supreme Court fatefully ruled 6-3 in Verdugo-Urquidez that the Fourth Amendment did not exist for foreign nationals who had not established a sufficient nexus with the United States to be part of its “people.” In a blistering dissent, Justices Brennan and Marshall (peace be upon them) argued that “If we expect aliens to obey our laws, aliens should be able to expect that we will obey our Constitution when we investigate, prosecute, and punish them.” Brennan and Marshall argued that Constitutional rights apply whenever the U. S. government seeks to exert its authority; it is not possible for it to be legal for the U. S. government to act outside the boundaries of the very Constitution that created it.

Time has shown us all how right Brennan and Marshall were.

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If You Want Privacy, Put A Ring On It? RI Supreme Court Rules No Expectation of Privacy in Text Messages on Girlfriend’s Phone

Being all of 36, I’m not down with the young’uns and their “hippety-hop” and “texting”. But I glanced up from my afternoon’s abacus calculations of the expected height of the Nile floods and saw that the Rhode Island Supreme Court has declared that a criminal defendant has no expectation of privacy in “text messages” that they send to another party (viz. a girlfriend with which said defendant had a daughter), and that police found when they searched said girlfriend’s “telephone.”

If they had been married, presumably the law would recognize a spousal communications privilege. But gee whillikers, it’s 2014, not 2064, and staunchly Catholic Rhode Island will be blowed if it starts making exceptions for mere “girlfriends”. If you wanted privacy, then you should have PUT A RING ON IT.

Beyonce has nothing on the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

Beyonce has nothing on the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

Michael Patino, the Providence Journal reports, is accused of murdering a son he had by a prior girlfriend. The Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled certain kinds of evidence inadmissible – a confession that was the fruit of a coercive interrogation, and evidence from the warrantless search of Patino’s own phone.

Once again, then, the police got themselves in a heap of trouble by not going through the (fairly trivial) process of obtaining a warrant – something that, in the context of a child murder investigation, would almost certainly have been given – and now want the courts to correct a defect that arises from their unwillingness to dot the is. How much has this case cost the state, when simply obtaining a warrant would have removed any ground for Patino to object and would have made it more likely that justice would be done?

This is what I don’t get about warrants. Warrants are almost never refused. They’re simply an external check that the police are doing what they should. Yet police departments fight warrants tooth and nail, and act like the Apocalypse will come if they have any external oversight of their work. The truth is that in this country, we sometimes very literally let police get away with murder, even when caught on video. Officers routinely break the laws they expect the rest of us to follow. City governments are terrified of offending their police chiefs, and those who do offend them sometimes risk their lives.

So the question is not whether oversight is already so onerous that a little more of it will lead to a crime wave. The question is whether we allow to grow up in our midst an unaccountable paramilitary force able to hold our civilian government to ransom.

Clock Ticks Down on MA Electronic Privacy Act: Call Now!

Our phone records and our email metadata convey a lot of information. It’s because of this that the Supreme Court has just ruled unanimously that the police need a warrant to search your phone when making an arrest. But, thanks to the third-party doctrine, the same rule doesn’t yet straightforwardly apply when the police request your information from your phone company, from Dropbox, or from Google.

A quick canter through my own Google records, for example, would disclose communications with political radicals, pirates, hackers, criminal suspects and foreigners of all kinds (hey guys! love you all!). The fact that Gmail holds my contact lists rather than my writing them down with a quill pen in a vellum notebook, should not mean that law enforcement should be able to access them without getting a warrant. Seriously, I’ll buy the vellum if you make me, but have you seen how much that stuff costs? It’s like 35 bucks a sheet. Plus, it would take around ten years for the monastic scriptorium to write them all out.

This alone took over a month.

This alone took over a month.

So there’s a bill – we’ve reported on it before – which would solve this problem, and apply ordinary warrant protections to your phone records and electronic records held by neutral third parties. It’s a good bill, and the Massachusetts Judiciary Committee just reported it out favorably. The legislative session ends at the end of July, so if this bill is to pass, we need a lot of calls to go out in the next couple of weeks. The ACLU of Massachusetts has sent out an appeal for people to call their legislators:

Massachusetts residents: Take action now! Call your state senator and Senate president Therese Murray. Tell them you want your privacy, and to quickly pass the Electronic Privacy Act! Like the Supreme Court said, if police want to spy on us, they should get a warrant!

This is the twenty-first century, not the sixteenth century, and it’s way past time for our communications to be protected, whatever form they are written in. So get out there and make the call!

Digital Fourth Thwarts Mass AG’s “Top Priority” Wiretap Bill

Digital Fourth’s first and longest-running campaign was against a bill that Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts attorney-general and now gubernatorial candidate, described as her “top legislative priority” for the 2013-14 legislative session. On June 30, we succeeded: The Judiciary Committee killed S. 654, the “Act Updating the Wire Interception Law”.

When it was proposed, this bill could hardly have had more heavyweight support. The then-Senate Chair of the Judiciary Committee, Katherine Clark, co-sponsored it, as did the House Chair. The AG, the DAs, and the police were all behind it. So what happened?

We happened.

We happened.

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The Blackmail Power: Mass Surveillance and Senators’ Secrets

Couple weeks ago, I was on WEMF’s “Young Jurks” radio show, talking (as usual) a whole lotta seditious stuff about the surveillance state. The hosts asked me about the next wave of revelations from the Snowden documents. Glenn Greenwald, who is overseeing the order and timing of the disclosures, is publicly previewing that the next wave will consist of lists of Americans who have been targeted for NSA surveillance.

If that sounds like a Nixon-style “enemies list” to you, well, you’re not altogether wrong. Read on!

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Animal welfare clashes with the Fourth Amendment in Lynn

In April, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts expanded the circumstances under which police could enter a home without a search warrant.

The facts of the case are of a nature almost calculated to extinguish sympathy with the defendant. As reported in the Lynn Daily Item, the Duncan family mistreated their dogs and left them outside in January of 2011.

Massachusetts in a typical January is no picnic.

Massachusetts in a typical January is no picnic.

A neighbor called the police, and the police found two dogs dead in the front yard and a third starving to death.

Normally, the Fourth Amendment prevents access to the home or the “curtilage” (surroundings) of a home without a warrant based on probable cause. However, the Fourth Amendment is also honeycombed through with two centuries’ worth of exceptions and special circumstances driven by facts such as these. Here, the court ruled that the already-existing “exigent circumstances” exception to needing a warrant in order to save human life, also applied to animal life. The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, among others, were pleased at the outcome.

We are not altogether so pleased at the implications of this ruling. Let me explain why.

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