Tag Archives: Cellphones

White Flags On The Brooklyn Bridge: Massive Surveillance Can’t Even Stop Minor Crimes

On July 22, at 3:30am, in place of the Stars and Stripes that usually fly over the Brooklyn Bridge, bleached-out American flags appeared instead. Despite three surveillance cameras and allegedly round-the-clock police surveillance, four or five people, their identities still unknown, were able to cover up the lights trained on the flags, take them down, and hoist up their own.

Credit: James Keivom/New York Daily News

Credit: James Keivom/New York Daily News

What interests us here is not so much the action itself, as the police reaction.

“If they had brought a bomb up there, it would have been over,” said a high-ranking police source. “If they were able to bring something large enough to cover the lights, then they would have been able to bring some kind of explosive up there.” […] A police helicopter on Wednesday made repeated passes around the Brooklyn Bridge. NYPD radio cars patrolled the spans’ roadways, and police boats scoured the span from the water. New security cameras were also installed, and numerous officers – some from the Intelligence Division and Counterterrorism Bureau – were assigned to foot patrols, walking back and forth between Manhattan and Brooklyn. [CBS]

New York police are so determined to catch the vandals who replaced the American flags atop the Brooklyn Bridge that they’re using an investigative technique known as “tower dumping” to examine all of the cell phone calls made near the bridge around the time the flags were replaced. […] The NYPD is also using social media data, video, facial recognition technology and approximately 18,000 license plate pictures in trying to solve the case. [IBT]

Horrified at the exposure of a security lapse, the NYPD turned its immense resources toward finding the people who had embarrassed them. The local press described them as “vandals” and quoted local residents as wanting them to be “punished to the fullest extent of the law.”

What law?

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Are Boston Police Using Stingrays? Help MuckRock Find Out

Today’s news in Wired that the federal government is willing to send in the US Marshals to prevent disclosure of how local police departments are using stingrays, makes it seem that what they’re hiding is pretty important.

Our friends at public information service Muckrock.com are launching a new research project to find out exactly what police are doing with this kind of data. Shawn Musgrave describes their project below. We strongly encourage supporters of Digital Fourth to help them fund this important work. We don’t know yet whether any police departments in Massachusetts are using this secrecy-laden technology – wouldn’t you like to find out?

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NH: Warrants now likely to be required for cellphones

doormat

Following on from February’s ruling by Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court that law enforcement needs a warrant to obtain cellphone location information, New Hampshire is now strengthening its laws relating to cellphone searches.

A short and simple bill introduced by Reps. Kurk, Sandblade and O’Flaherty, all of Hillsborough County, NH, provides that a warrant, “signed by a judge and based on probable cause,” is required for “information contained in a portable electronic device”. It’s not clear to me whether that would include cellphone location information or not, because that could be interpreted to not be “contained in” the phone. The House version includes misdemeanor penalties for a “government entity” which violates the act, as well as civil liability. The Senate version keeps civil liability, allowing a person to sue for damages, while removing the criminal penalties. This difference is what will be worked out in a joint committee in the coming week, before it heads to the Governor’s desk.

This is great news for the Fourth Amendment, and it’s good evidence that we can get meaningfully greater protections for our personal data by working through state legislatures.

UPDATE: A warrant is required only for phones that are password-protected. If you live in NH, or are visiting for the weekend, add that password!

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

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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Sauce for the Gander: Boston Police Officers Apparently Don’t Like Being “Followed All Over The Place”

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From the ACLU of Massachusetts:

Boston Police Department bosses want to install GPS monitoring devices in every patrol car, to enable dispatch to more efficiently process 911 calls. But police officers and their union are outraged, saying that the ubiquitous tracking is too invasive of their personal privacy. Tracking the location of officers as they go about their days would reveal incredibly detailed information about their lives, the officers say.

It must be just awful to go about your daily life looking over your shoulder, conscious that your every movement and activity is being recorded and could be used against you. Oh, wait. That’s what the entire American public is already dealing with, in this age of mass electronic surveillance. But the way the police union is hissing’n’flapping about it, it’s almost as if there was something wrong with that. Don’t they know that you have nothing to fear, if you have nothing to hide?

The ACLU’s tack is that if the police don’t like the feeling of being followed, they shouldn’t be pushing for technologies like mass tracking of license plates or cellphone locations. That’s fair enough, but there’s a larger point here also.

Police officers are public employees, and they would be monitored during, and only during, the performance of their duties as public officials employees. We require elected officials to disclose their votes publicly, and require secrecy for private individuals at the ballot box, even though that’s inconsistent, because public disclosure of how public business is conducted is vital to maintain democratic accountability. In the same way, close monitoring of law enforcement is vital, to ensure that police don’t abuse the vast and special powers society gives them. When you put cameras on cops, complaints about police misbehavior and brutality drop like a stone. We have the right – affirmed by the federal courts in the First Circuit and across America – to record the police in the commission of their duties. The Fourth Amendment constrains the actions of the government, not the actions of members of the general public.

The Boston police may not like it – last week’s PINAC case shows that they’re willing even to threaten people with felonies to avoid public embarrassment over misconduct – but they are not entitled to a high level of privacy protection in their capacity as police officers. That distinction matters. Doxxing police officers’ personal names and phone numbers and addresses is not cool. But recording them, having them record themselves, and encouraging people to call their office numbers and hold them accountable to the public, is vitally important in order to preserve freedom for the rest of us.

SJC Reviewing Warrant Requirement for Historic Cell Phone Location Data

apple-location-tracking

Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court is soliciting amicus briefs from interested parties in two cases highly relevant to electronic privacy.

First up is Commonwealth vs. Shabazz Augustine, where they seek to establish:

“whether there is a warrant requirement for cell phone records collected and held by the phone company, namely historic cell site location information, sought by police to establish a person’s location at various times.”

The case is attracting heavyweight legal attention from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who have already filed an amicus brief, assisted by local information activist, Harvard legal scholar and all-around side-of-the-angels guy Kit Walsh. It will most likely be argued on October 10.

The question underlying the case is whether we all have a reasonable expectation of privacy in our movements as recorded by a third party. In the context of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, this depends on whether the person moving can be said to have abandoned all proprietary interest in the record of their movements that is held by their cell phone company. Supreme Court precedents from the 1980s indicate that people have no reasonable expectation of privacy in this kind of telephonic “metadata”, but those rulings look increasingly out of date in a technological context where cellphone metadata can reveal a great deal more about you than the metadata associated with a 1980s landline could. EFF’s amicus brief reports that the lower court ruled that cellphone subscribers cannot be said to have “voluntarily conveyed” their interest in data on their movements to a third party simply because that party holds the data, and asks the SJC to let that part of the lower court ruling stand.

As is the case with the Supreme Court, it is worrying that the Supreme Judicial Court has accepted the case for review. The best outcome for defenders of digital privacy would have been for it to allow the lower court ruling to stand, and their acceptance indicates a significant risk of its being overturned. We urge the Supreme Judicial Court to heed the arguments of EFF’s amicus brief, and to err, if they err, on the side of liberty.

Can You Hear Us Now? Colonial-Style General Warrants Return To America

Glenn Greenwald in the British newspaper The Guardian has published a leaked Top Secret order dating from the day of the Boston Marathon bombings providing evidence of intrusive cellphone surveillance dating from at least 2007. In the order, the NSA directs Verizon to send to it daily the metadata on ALL CELLPHONE CALLS – the calling number, the receiving number, and the location and duration of each call.

Gone now are the pathetic pretences that the NSA “doesn’t target Americans”, or that warrantless wiretapping is just about foreign terrorists. Nobody can claim ignorance any longer. The NSA is spying on all of us, and has careened far out of the control of the Constitution.

The text of the Fourth Amendment reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Why was this important to the Founders? Because royal administrations in the early and mid-18th century would take out “writs of assistance” to suppress dissent. Writs of assistance imposed no limitations on law enforcement, and could cover a whole town. Colonial agents could ransack everyone’s houses, looking for evidence of any lawbreaking. Writs of assistance also effectively suppressed the political activity of people who had done nothing wrong. So when the time came to write state constitutions and then the federal constitution, the Founders were very anxious to make sure that nothing like this kind of general warrant would ever be allowed in the United States.

Today’s news proved that they failed. The Writ of Assistance has returned, and the airwaves are full of fearful authoritarians justifying it. Do we really love our chains that much?

The NSA order, justified under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, doesn’t even pretend to limit the order’s scope. There’s no particular target. There’s no limitation of place. Calls between two grandmothers in Peoria are covered just as much as calls between members of suspected terrorist cells. The NSA doesn’t care. They want everything, so that they can criminalize us via algorithm.

Do you think this order is the only one? Sucker. This is merely the tip of the iceberg. The NSA has prepared an enormous data center in Utah to hold precisely this kind of data on your communications. Why should we suppose that they limited these orders to Verizon Wireless in particular?

Stand up! Call your senators and representatives, and get involved with Digital Fourth. If not now, when?

Stingrays Can Do More Than You Ever Imagined: Law Enforcement, Cellphone Interceptions, and Countermeasures

Previously, we reported on the existence of stingrays, also known as `IMSI catchers’, which are used by law enforcement as mobile cellphone towers. Stingrays intercept location and other data from all cellphones in the area, redirecting the traffic from regular cellphone towers. They can be used to get cellphone data without having even to go through phone companies to get it.

Thanks to the case US v. Rigmaiden and terrific reporting from Kim Zetter on the Threat Level blog at Wired, we now have a much more comprehensive picture of how they work and what they can do. It turns out that Stingrays have been around for longer, can do much more and are much more widespread than we might have supposed, and that how much they are really used may well be unknown to the courts.

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Microscope Monday: Massachusetts’ proposed Electronic Privacy Act (S. 796 / HD 1014)

microscope

Howdy and good morning, lovers of the Internet freedoms!

It’s time for another in our “Microscope Mondays” series, where we take a good hard look at pending legislation here in Massachusetts relevant to surveillance. Previously, we’ve covered a praiseworthy effort to restrict the use of drones for law enforcement purposes and Martha Coakley’s should-be-better-known “Let’s Wiretap All Of The Things Even Though Crime Is Down” bill. This week, it’s the turn of S. 796 / H. 1684, “An Act Updating Privacy Protections for Personal Electronic Information”, sponsored by Senator Karen Spilka and departing Representative Marty Walz.

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