Tag Archives: Dhs

The Executive’s Humpty-Dumpty Terrorism Watchlisting Policy: Lessons from People v. Morales

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The Intercept’s publication of the criteria for the terrorism watchlists throws some light at least on what the government tells itself a terrorist is. This is a matter of keen interest to many of us, since a close reading of the following text tells you a lot about the values and priorities of our new-minted surveillance state overlords.

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Not to go all mise en abyme about it, but this definition is, well, abysmal. Let’s take it a step at a time.

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

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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Democratic process challenges use of DHS surveillance cameras

This is a guest post by Adam Weiss of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.

camera-500x333From 2008 to 2010, Boston and eight surrounding cities and towns installed surveillance cameras provided by a grant through the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Urban Areas Security Initiative. DHS’ website describes the cameras as part of a system that has “nine, independent and interoperable nodes tied together through a central hub and is made up of over 100 cameras.” The cameras were justified for the protection of “critical infrastructure” from terrorist attack, but their use has faced scrutiny from citizens concerned about threats to civil liberties. In Brookline and Cambridge, two municipalities covered by the grant, residents are using local governments to attempt to ban surveillance cameras.

Four members of Brookline’s Town Meeting, the two hundred and forty-five member legislature of the town government, are co-sponsoring a resolution calling on Brookline’s Board of Selectmen to remove all DHS-provided cameras. The resolution is expected to be voted on by Thursday, November 21. While the Town Meeting cannot set binding policy on the use of surveillance cameras, which is left to the Board of Selectmen, its role as the voice for public opinion can have major impact. In 2009, the Town Meeting passed a similar resolution, which led to a compromise with the Brookline Police Department that the cameras would only operate from 10 pm to 6 am. However, the Brookline police are seeking to implement a policy of 24-hour surveillance following the Boston Marathon bombing, which now has prompted four Town Meeting members to co-sponsor another resolution.

The proposed resolution states that mass surveillance is not appropriate for a free society, and further declares:

“Permanent surveillance cameras are another step in the wrong direction toward radically changing our sense of being a free society…While public places may not, in a technical legal sense, be places where we have an ‘expectation of privacy,’ the right to be let alone and not identified or tracked by the police is a fundamental aspect of a free society.”

One of those co-sponsors, Clint Richmond, expressed concern about the chilling effect surveillance cameras can have on the First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly, specifically citing that one camera is located at a popular site in Brookline for political activity. Richmond stated his belief that when people know they are under surveillance, their “behavior becomes inhibitive, impairing the right to free speech.”

Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty program at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts (ACLUM), has worked with Brookline PAX, a progressive organization of Brookline residents, providing community organizing support against the DHS cameras. Crockford conveyed her belief that the mass use of surveillance cameras foregoes more effective alternatives to reducing crime, since they do not deter crime and when perpetrators are caught after the fact, the vast majority of cases are for minor crimes, such as petty theft. She said it is thus “misleading” to claim that cameras can be effective at stopping terrorism. Another fear Crockford discussed was the “centralization of surveillance” provided by the cameras, since they are part of a larger network throughout Greater Boston, meaning they could potentially allow a person to be followed over a large geographical area.

Residents of Cambridge have thus far achieved the most success in limiting camera use of the nine Greater Boston municipalities that have them. As with Brookline, the Cambridge Police Department (CPD) also supports turning the cameras on twenty-four hours a day. However, in response to pressure from the Cambridge City Council, they have not been turned on at any point, despite being installed in 2009. The CPD recently published a draft policy for the use of the cameras, which was discussed at a public hearing on September 26, 2013. The ACLUM provided a statement at this meeting, which addressed the larger context of surveillance camera use, stating

“After 9/11, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security catalyzed a transfer of funds, technologies, strategies, and tactics from the military and intelligence worlds down to the state and local levels. These transfers are part of a larger, dangerous trend of powerful and largely unaccountable federal agencies conscripting local police to act as eyes and ears for the national surveillance state.”

The City Council is waiting for the CPD to release its final draft of a policy before voting again on the issue, which is likely to happen in early 2015. Melissa Gonzalez, a member of Cambridge’s Human Rights Commission, the town government agency responsible for investigating unlawful discrimination, said there was great concern that cameras were placed in neighborhoods that could be profiling people of specific ethnicities and religion. She also expressed concern that there was insufficient accountability for camera use if activated, because the CPD cites only its own internal review procedures to ensure appropriate usage.

The fate of the cameras in both municipalities remains uncertain, as the impact of the Boston Marathon bombing has affected many people’s attitudes towards surveillance cameras. Richmond says he expects the vote in Brookline this week to be very close. In Cambridge, it is unclear how the City Council will react to a final CPD policy on camera use. Nonetheless, both municipalities exemplify how the democratic process can be used to limit the growing surveillance state.

StopWatchingUs DC rally rocks out: 3,000+ people call for NSA reforms

This Saturday, DC saw something it had never seen before.

A city that treats the superficial hatreds of party politics as its lifeblood, saw thousands of people from across the political spectrum gather to denounce NSA mass spying. We heard, and roared approval for, the words of feminist Naomi Wolf, Dennis Kucinich (Democrat), Justin Amash (Republican), and Gary Johnson (Libertarian). Kymone Freeman spoke movingly about the impact of surveillance on minority communities and the civil rights movement. Whistleblowers Thomas Drake and Russell Tice were there, and Edward Snowden sent a message to be read by leading whistleblower-protecting attorney Jesselynn Radack. Tea Party people up from Richmond, VA, proudly put on Code Pink stickers labeled “Make Out Not War”. The press reported wonderingly that it was not put together “by any of the “usual” well-connected DC organizers.” I should know: I’m proud to say that, in a small way, I was one of them, and this was the first time most of us had done anything like this.

That wasn’t all. Here in Boston, activist Joan Livingston put together a solidarity rally at Park Street Station:

and ACLU organizer Raquel Ronzone arranged for the rally to livestream at the Digital Media Conference in Cambridge.

If you want updates on the StopWatchingUs campaign going forward, text “PRIVACY” to 877877. Stay tuned for the next stage of the campaign, which will be to pass the “USA FREEDOM Act.” Personally, just to hammer home the point, I’d have preferred the “USA FREEDOM Fourth Amendment Restoration – Objective: Undermining Tyranny Act of 2013″, because I too can do acronyms, but such frivolity is apparently frowned upon in the legislature that gave us the Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 in the first place.

UPDATE: Oh yeah, I nearly forgot. I’m the tall guy to the left of Rep. Amash!

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David House lawsuit sheds light on border laptop searches

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Cambridge resident David House got a nasty shock back in December 2010, when on his way back from vacation in Mexico he landed in Chicago, and found himself in a Homeland Security interrogation room. What was House’s crime? Being involved with the Bradley Manning Support Network. He was generally sympathetic to Wikileaks’ efforts to publicize the war crimes revealed by the Bradley Manning leaks. Or, as the “lookout” alert put it, he was “wanted for questioning re leak of classified material.”

 

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The IRS Is Up In All Of Your Email, Warrantlessly; but Fret Not, Peons, It Is For Your Own Good

What kind of hippy would object to spending half of our taxes on war anyways?

What kind of hippy would object to spending half of our taxes on war anyways?

The ACLU reported on Wednesday that the IRS may be reading Americans’ emails without a warrant, because all Americans are now terrorists tax evasion is just like terrorism look because they can OK jeez you people with all your Constitution this and Constitution that shut up already!

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Close the Fusion Centers, Free the American People

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[Artwork adapted slightly from Leo Reynolds on Flickr]

After the 9/11 attacks, a traumatized nation considered whether the attacks could have been thwarted by coordinating intelligence-gathering better between the FBI and CIA. From that impulse grew the fusion centers, of which there are now at least 72 77 86 across the country. Us lucky SOBs here in Massachusetts get two, the Boston Regional Intelligence Center at One Schroeder Plaza, Roxbury, MA 02120 and the Commonwealth Fusion Center at 124 Acton Street, Maynard, MA 01754. The idea was that they would be able to thwart terrorist attacks before they occur, by gathering representatives from different agencies, and in some cases the military and the private sector, together to report on “suspicious activity”. In practice, it has not worked.

Thing is, actual terrorists are relatively thin on the ground. A network of 72 77 86 fusion centers might handle three genuine cases of terrorism between them in any given year. That’s not enough to enable each fusion center to show that it’s doing anything at all. What’s a good bureaucrat to do?

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By 2020, Stingray Will Be Launched! New Doohickey Allows Police To Get Everybody’s Cellphone Locations Without Going Through the Telcos

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Yes, since you ask, that is a “Terror Fish”.

We continue our series updating you on the exciting new world of mass surveillance you should expect in a few short years (previous posts include discussions of real-time life recording, terahertz surveillance and indoor cellphone tracking), by bringing you the Stingray.

The Stingray: essentially a cellphone tower that can move around.

The Stingray (image courtesy of the Wall Street Journal)

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Joined-Up Government Can Be A Bad Thing

The National Counterterrorism Center is now being allowed access to all governmental databases to trawl for suspicious activity. The Wall Street Journal (“U.S. Terrorism Agency to Tap a Vast Database of Citizens”) and the Volokh Conspiracy (“DHS Dresses Up A Turf Fight as a Privacy Issue While Ignoring the Lessons of 9/11″) both report on this development, from opposing perspectives.

Just because one part of the government has a certain set of data, doesn’t mean that all other parts of the government should have it. Your tax return is kept privately within the IRS; records of your immigration applications stay with USCIS; Medicare keeps your health records private; and so on. This kind of data confidentiality used to be routine; but once again, in the service of terrorism, the normal limitations on government power are considered expendable.

This is what happened.

NCTC asked the Department of Homeland Security for access to a database on terror suspects. DHS gave NCTC the disks, on the condition that NCTC, within 30 days, remove information regarding “innocent US persons” (innocent non-US persons are apparently fair game).

Possibly terroristic non-US person Malala Yousafzai.

NCTC couldn’t do it. In fact, after 30 days they had barely been able to download the database from the disks. Even with another 30-day extension, they couldn’t do it, and in response to this failure, they have demanded, and gotten, even broader access to even more government databases. The only constraint is that any time they access a new database, they have to publish that fact in the Federal Register.

Their problems in removing “innocent US persons”‘ data are completely understandable, because NCTC was anxious that today’s innocent person may not turn out to have been innocent tomorrow. How do you remove innocent people, when nobody is provably innocent?

Your government, protecting you. With science!

From a resource standpoint, how could NCTC possibly deploy enough skilled analysts to prove the innocence of the (at minimum) hundreds of thousands of people this one database contained? And that’s just one of the many databases to which they will now have access!

This is an example of what, over at EFF when I was interning there in 2000, we used to call “Data Valdez”. The amount of data being created is enormous and essentially impossible to thoroughly analyze. The federal government has, in its various parts, access to data on every part of our lives, but no matter how fast its computers, it will never, ever have the human resources necessary to process it properly. Demanding access to ever greater oceans of data is not going to help. It’s a processing problem, not a data problem.

That’s why, at Digital Fourth, we recognize the wisdom for law enforcement of aggressively applying the constraints identified in the Fourth Amendment. Even if you have the ability to collect more data, it works better to consciously commit to collecting less. Law enforcement should, for its own sanity and ours, collect, retain and use in investigations only data that is related to investigations of actual, well-defined crimes committed by previously identified people. Only then will the volume of data collected be low enough that law enforcement will be able to process it thoughtfully and intelligently. Yes, that means that connections will be missed that will only become apparent after the fact of an attack. But we cannot insure perfectly against the probability of future attacks. We have to invest our resources rationally, and we have vastly over-invested in preventing terrorist attacks relative to other things that kill many more Americans.

DHS: All Your Blogs Are Belong To Us

Who is the Department of Homeland Security tracking online? EPIC brings the results of a Freedom of Information Act request that discloses a Department of Homeland Security contract with General Dynamics to monitor comments on websites.

DHSblogsmonitored

Thanks for the tips, DHS snooping guys! If I hadn’t been reading some of these before, I certainly will now!

Aside from the regular sites here that monitor and translate foreign news sources relating to threats to national security, there is a heavy emphasis on sites that take a critical view of the surveillance state (especially Wikileaks, Cryptome and Wired). Amusingly for my pedantic soul, Homeland Security Watch is listed twice.

Back in the days of J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO, government agents often had to physically impersonate civil rights activists if they wanted to be privy to their communistic conspiracies. Indeed, Occupy shows that they still do. But if J. Edgar Hoover had had the technological tools available to today’s FBI/DHS, there might have been no civil rights movement at all. The ability to plan dissent in secret, without fear of arbitrary imprisonment, torture and trial, was much on the mind of the insurgents we now call the Founders, and underlies the protections of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendments. The Founders, in fact, were keen in principle to safeguard the right to behave in ways the government of the day emphatically disapproves of.

I’m not saying that we can’t expect the government to snoop on people online. Comments on websites are in public view, and those who make them have no reasonable expectation of privacy in what they say. However, I am letting you know that (a) they are doing it, (b) that they provably have a priority focus on undermining opposition to the surveillance state, and that (c) if you’re interested enough in these issues to be reading this stuff, you’re probably right to be feeling watched.

Happy surfing!

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