This Is Mass Justice: SJC Requires Warrants For Cellphone Tower Data

by Alex Marthews on February 26, 2014

On February 18, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declared that here in Massachusetts, state cops actually do have to get a warrant if they want to access your cellphone location data.

This is what an independent judiciary looks like. The Justices of our Supreme Judicial Court have withstood over half a century of New England winters. They have endured the long decades of the Curse of the Bambino. Their knotted muscles are carved from whalers’ scrimshaw. They are not to be messed with. The obsequious servants of the surveillance state on the FISA Court could learn a thing or two from them.

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Google’s “Zeitgeist” List of Top 100 Search Terms of 2013 Includes Snowden; WP Writes Whole Article About How It Didn’t

by Alex Marthews on February 16, 2014

Brian Fung, on the Washington Post’s “The Switch” blog, “reported” recently on Google’s “Zeitgeist” list of the top 100 search terms for 2013. His main interest in it, it appears, was to make the point that “Edward Snowden” wasn’t one of them, and therefore that the public really doesn’t care that much about the surveillance abuses uncovered by his whistleblowing.

A picture of Snowden courtesy of a Kerala, India newspaper - because the world don't care, right?

A picture of Snowden courtesy of a newspaper in south India – because the world doesn’t care, right?

You know what’s funny? Snowden is on the list. True, he’s at #97. But you’d think that if you were going to write a whole article about how unimportant this silly little man is, and if you were going to use presence on Google’s list as the sole determinant of what people care about, then you’d actually bother to find out whether he was on it first.

Not, clearly, if you’re Brian Fung of the Washington Post. Facts are for the little people. So if you actually want to know what’s on the list – you won’t find the full list anywhere else on the Internet – keep reading.

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The Day We Fought Back: Here’s what comes next

by Alex Marthews on February 12, 2014

Photo credit: theintercept.org

Photo credit: theintercept.org

Yesterday, the Internet lit up in protest against mass surveillance. In the US, Congress got over 85,000 phone calls from people frustrated by mass surveillance, and urging their legislators to support the USA FREEDOM Act. Here in Massachusetts, we worked with the ACLU of Massachusetts to target the specific legislators who had not cosponsored. Our heartfelt thanks go out to Rep. Joseph Kennedy (MA-04) and Rep. Katherine Clark (MA-05), who cosponsored over the last week. Our puzzled and insistent glare turns to Rep. Niki Tsongas (MA-03), who has not cosponsored yet and is still considering the matter. The USA FREEDOM Act is currently listed at 134 cosponsors (though that doesn’t yet officially include Rep. Clark, and there may be, after yesterday, other “undeclared cosponsors”).

What’s next? Well, There is a real-deal NSA reform bill, that would repeal the infamous PATRIOT Act altogether, along with the FISA Amendments Act, forbid mandatory software backdoors, and give whistleblower protections to government contractors as well as employees. It’s called the Surveillance State Repeal Act. One of its nine cosponsors is none other than Rep. Richard Neal (MA-01), who has not yet cosponsored the USA FREEDOM Act either, it seems because it is not strong enough. We applaud his commitment, but would argue that it’s not an either-or – we’d love to see him cosponsor both. It’s great to see that two other Massachusetts legislators – Rep. James McGovern (MA-02) and Rep. John Tierney (MA-06) – are also among the nine cosponsors, putting Massachusetts at the forefront of efforts to restore freedom and the Fourth Amendment.

So let’s keep moving, and let’s encourage our legislators to cosponsor both of these good bills. And meanwhile, check out our awesome calendar (right) of surveillance-related events coming up in Massachusetts!

Turns out, MBTA has plenty of dollars – for surveillance.

by Alex Marthews on February 7, 2014

Kade Crockford reports that DHS has awarded the MBTA $7 million to refit its buses with fancy new surveillance cameras. Why? Oh, no reason in particular. But the MBTA is at pains to point out that they spent none of their own money on the project. What’s wrong with free money?

Let me tell you what’s wrong with free money. Whether it’s coming from MBTA, DHS, the NSA or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, it all comes from you and me in the end, and I care just the same about whether it’s being spent wisely.

I understand the politics. MBTA, being a local agency, tends to come under fire if it, say, has a massive budget crisis and hikes fares by 23% to help make up the shortfall. DHS, on the other hand, won’t be protested, and this one grant is a drop in the bucket. Nobody’s going to lose their job at DHS if the money does no good.

Crockford rightly comments:

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One Ring To Rule Them All: Surveillance and the Massachusetts Governor’s Race

by Alex Marthews on February 5, 2014

While most Massachusetts voters are digging out from a ferocious winter storm, state politics goes on. In particular, ten brave souls are running for this November’s election for Massachusetts governor – five Democrats, two Republicans and three Independents. It seems recently that candidates campaigning against the surveillance state have been getting some traction, probably because most people think there aren’t enough constraints on invasive government surveillance and like candidates better who promise to do something about it.

So, it’s worthwhile for us to do again what we did in the MA-05 race, and question the candidates closely on the kinds of surveillance topics the governor can affect. Notably, we’ll be covering the wiretapping expansion, state monitoring of social media, state retention of an array of data on people not suspected of any crime, the militarization of law enforcement, and warrant requirements.

We’ll report back here on the responses we receive, covering Republicans, Independents and Democrats separately. When all candidates of one affiliation have responded, we will post a comparison of their views.

Meanwhile, here are all of the candidates’ websites, for you to assess their positions on other issues. Enjoy!

Republicans: Baker, Fisher.
Independents: Falchuk, Faraone, McCormick
Democrats: Avellone, Berwick, Coakley, Grossman, Kayyem

Alex Marthews Appointed Interim National Coordinator of Restore The Fourth

by Alex Marthews on February 1, 2014

I have been appointed as interim national coordinator of Restore The Fourth, a civil liberties advocacy group created in 2013 in response to Edward Snowden’s revelations about mass surveillance. Our state-level activities will continue at the same pace, but as ever, we welcome volunteers!

DA Whitewashes Killing of Lynn Resident By Armed Intruders

by Alex Marthews on January 29, 2014

After months of pressure, Essex County District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett has completed his investigation into the Sept. 5, 2013 killing of Army Specialist Denis Reynoso at his home in Lynn. Yesterday, he released his finding that police were justified in killing him. His findings could be summed up as, “Sure, he hadn’t committed any crime, and sure, the police came into his home without a warrant, but he was acting all cray-cray, so we’re good.”

DA Blodgett’s elaborate work of speculative fiction provides several specific reasons making it justifiable for armed intruders to have killed Spc. Reynoso in his home.

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The Day We Fight Back: Join the resistance against mass surveillance!

by Alex Marthews on January 28, 2014

The Internet is organizing to oppose mass surveillance on February 11, the anniversary of Aaron Swartz’s passing. We’re calling it The Day We Fight Back. This is what we’re doing and how you can get involved.

Call Your Congressmember
Both of our Senators here in Massachusetts and four of our Congressmembers (Tierney, McGovern, Capuano, Keating) have co-sponsored the USA FREEDOM Act, which represents the best near-term chance of meaningful reform of the surveillance state. Now would be an excellent time for newly minted Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-Malden) to follow through on her pledge during the campaign to oppose mass surveillance. We’ll be coordinating calls with the ACLU of Massachusetts and others to try to get all nine of our U. S. House members to support it. We need volunteers for all nine congressional districts, so if you can, please sign up to help below.

UPDATE: Courtesy of PrivacySOS, we have news that Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA08) has signed on as a cosponsor. That now makes a majority of Massachusetts representatives cosponsoring the USA Freedom Act.

Cryptoparty at Northeastern
Cryptoparties train members of the public in techniques that go some way toward protecting your communications and your personal data from intrusion by outsiders (non-governmental or governmental). In collaboration with the Tor Project, the Massachusetts Pirate Party, the ACLU of Massachusetts, the National Lawyers’ Guild and others, we’re putting on a cryptoparty at Northeastern University:

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Smart Meters On Your Home: Where Does The Data Go?

by Alex Marthews on January 21, 2014

smartmeter

Patricia Burke of local activist group Halt MA Smart Meters brings to our attention an effort by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities to study how to achieve universal adoption of smart meters on residential homes in Massachusetts. This implicates the Fourth Amendment because electricity usage within a home, if gathered many times over a 24-hour period and transmitted to a government agency, may constitute a warrantless search of that home to which the home’s resident has not consented. The IT Law Wiki provides an excellent overview of the constitutional issues here.

It is unclear from the documents provided by DPU whether any plan actually exists for what to do with the data gathered by utility companies such as National Grid. It is possible that the data would remain with the utilities, and would be used to implement peak pricing that in turn would both increase profits and reduce stress on the grid at peak times. However, as we have seen with the NSA scandals, it is very easy for government agencies to get court orders requesting the ongoing release of such records by utilities to law enforcement. The records would, under the “third-party doctrine,” probably be considered to be the property of the utility company, and therefore law enforcement would typically not seek either the permission of the resident or a duly executed warrant from a judge before accessing this data.

Long-time readers of this blog will know where we’re going with this. Yes, it’s fusion centers.

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