Tag Archives: Martha Coakley

Midterms & Mass Surveillance, Part IV: Surveillance Doesn’t Pay in MA

Martha Coakley and Maura Healey

Martha Coakley and Maura Healey

Poor Martha Coakley. Oceans of ink have now been spilled on why outgoing Massachusetts Attorney-General Martha Coakley lost her bid for Governor. Arguments have included that she’s a poor campaigner, that many Democrats resented bitterly her loss to Scott Brown back in 2010, that she was a female candidate facing a somewhat sexist electorate.

I’m not going to argue that surveillance issues alone swung the race against Coakley. However, I would like to draw attention to a broader reason, to which her support for expanding wiretapping contributed, that fueled Democratic base disaffection with her.

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During 2013, Exactly Zero MA Wiretaps Resulted In Arrests Or Convictions

garthvolbeck

The official system of electronic wiretaps in the US predates and is separate from the unconstitutional mass surveillance conducted by the NSA and other surveillance agencies. Typically, electronic wiretaps comply fully with the Fourth Amendment by requiring an individualized warrant based on probable cause before the wiretap begins. But it’s still interesting to look at how they operate and what they target, and this week’s Wiretap Report 2013 from the Administrative Office of the U. S. Federal Courts allows us to do exactly that.

The first thing that jumps out from the data is how much the electronic wiretaps system is an instrument of the War on Drugs. Though the report’s categories allow for many types of crime (“Conspiracy”, “Corruption”, “Gambling”, “Homicide and Assault”, “Kidnapping”, “Larceny, Theft and Robbery”, “Narcotics”, “Racketeering” and “Other”), fully 87% of the 3.576 wiretaps across the country were for drug investigations.

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

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

MA-05: In their only debate, Clark and Addivinola spar over surveillance

Democratic nominee Katherine Clark and Republican nominee Frank Addivinola spent a substantial portion of their only televised debate sparring over privacy and surveillance. It has been great to see these issues playing such an important role in a Congressional campaign. However, there have been two less good outcomes, independent of who wins. First, it’s still not clear that either the Republican or the Democratic candidate will be skeptical enough about the claims of law enforcement and the intelligence agencies. Second, given that that’s so, it is unfortunate that the debate excluded the voices of the two independent candidates, Jim Aulenti and Jim Hall.

Here’s a transcript of the relevant section of the NECN debate, which is no longer available online. Our comments and fact-checking are in italics, and any significant commitments made by the candidates are in bold.

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Clark Primary Victory May Be Good For Digital Privacy

In a seven-way primary with an all-star cast, Sen. Katherine Clark won the nomination for Democratic candidate for the U. S. House in my own district of MA-5, one of the most Democratic districts in the nation (D+22).

clark_wins

She now faces Boston resident Frank Addivinola in the general, but it would essentially take a meteor strike for her to not head to Congress.

Here at Digital Fourth, we’ve been tough on Sen. Clark for her cosponsorship of Martha Coakley’s proposal to expand electronic wiretapping. Our #MassWiretap campaign gathered over 4,000 signatures against that bill, and it became an issue in the campaign, producing third-party negative ads against her from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

Curiously, though, there’s an argument that Sen. Clark’s victory in the primary may be positive for digital privacy. Let me explain.

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Commonwealth v. Marcus Mitchell: When Can You Use What You Learn From A Wiretap?

sjc

The second Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case coming down the pike is Commonwealth vs. Marcus Mitchell. This deals with our favorite law here at Digital Fourth, Massachusetts’ electronic wiretapping statute, which forms part of the forbiddingly named Mass. General Laws Chapter 272: CRIMES AGAINST CHASTITY, MORALITY, DECENCY AND GOOD ORDER.

Electronic wiretapping was never intended to become a routine day-to-day tool of the police; now, this case asks whether the police can use electronic wiretaps to prosecute offenses outside the wiretapping statute.

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Mass Judiciary Committee Holds Privacypalooza, Will Report Out Bills By March 2014

Alex Marthews (Digital Fourth), Pat Scanlon (Veterans for Peace), Kit Walsh (Harvard Law) and Carol Rose (ACLUm) testifying at Judiciary hearing

Alex Marthews (Digital Fourth), Pat Scanlon (Veterans for Peace), Kit Walsh (Harvard Law) and Carol Rose (ACLUm) testifying at Judiciary hearing

Yesterday, starting at 1pm and stretching long into the night, the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing on pending legislation, including on many privacy and surveillance-related bills. Members of the public started lining up more than an hour beforehand, trying to get on the list to testify not just on the privacy bills but on domestic violence protections, transgender rights, immigrant rights and animal cruelty. By 1pm, the crowd numbered in the hundreds, and the room was obviously not going to hold all of us, so we got moved to the much larger Gardner Auditorium which (just about) held everybody.

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#MassWiretap: The AG’s Office Responds

After I posted an article giving Digital Fourth’s view on the wiretapping law on Blue Mass Group, Massachusetts’ largest Democratic blog, we got some attention from Mr. Brad Puffer, Director of Communications for the Mass Attorney General’s office. They seem put out. Maybe they didn’t like the lede, “Coakley Channeling the NSA?” :-)

The above blog post includes inaccuracies that are highly misleading about the changes our office has proposed to the currently outdated Massachusetts wiretap law. Updating the wiretap law is a critical tool to combatting gang violence, gun violence, human trafficking, and many other violent crimes that undermine public safety in our communities. And equally important to what it does, is what it does not do. One thing it does not do is alter in any way the many safeguards already put in place under the current wiretap statute to protect against abuse.

I will explain some of the benefits of this new law further below, but first want to correct some of the inaccuracies in this blog post:
1) The proposed update to the wiretap law does not legalize mass interception of telecommunication switching stations. Each wiretap must be applied for and authorized individually by a Superior Court judge.
2) Marijuana possession is not eligible for a wiretap. Only serious designated felonies in the statute would be covered. According to federal law, only crimes with a minimum one year prison sentence are eligible for a wiretap.

The current wiretap law has not been updated since 1968, back when criminal activity and technology was vastly different. In 1968, the law was focused on “organized crime.” A 2011 SJC decision that upheld the suppression of statements obtained by a wire interception during a murder investigation stated very clearly that the investigation and prosecution of some of today’s most destructive crimes, including street violence, are hampered by this antiquated statute. The SJC urged an update to the law.

The updates we seek are common-sense and concise, including:

• Bringing the law up to date with technology: The legislation acknowledges that today communication is largely electronic and wireless. By updating the definition of “wire communication,” the bill makes explicit the law’s application to cellular and text technology without tailoring the definition so narrowly as to foreclose future technological developments.
• Removing the organized crime requirement: Currently, criminal activity that is the subject of a wiretap must have a connection to organized crime. The majority of street violence and gun crimes today, though often tied to looser organizations, nevertheless lack the traditional hallmarks of organized crime.
• Including additional violent or egregious crimes as designated offenses: Prior to seeking a warrant for a wiretap, law enforcement must establish probable cause that a “designated offense,” as defined in the statute, has been committed. The current list of designated offenses does not include some of the most violent and egregious crimes that law enforcement must investigate and prosecute today—and that the Legislature has correctly passed since the law’s inception— including human trafficking; firearms offenses; and child pornography offenses.

The law also maintains extensive safeguards that already exist under current law. First, any wiretap must be requested and signed by either the elected Attorney General or District Attorney and then authorized by a Superior Court judge. The judge can only authorize a wiretap for serious felonies where there is probable cause that a designated offense has been committed, and after all other investigative techniques have been exhausted or will not be successful. There are additional safeguards that ensure that only the conversations with direct correlation to the alleged crime are recorded and then permissible in any legal action.

For all of these reasons, these updates are supported by district attorneys, police, mayors, and many other community leaders who know that the only way that we will be able to better keep our communities safe is to give our investigators effective tools, with proper safeguards, to take the most dangerous criminals off the streets.

You can find more information about the proposed bill here:

http://www.mass.gov/ago/news-and-updates/press-releases/2013/2013-01-28-wiretap-legislation.html

Sincerely,
Brad Puffer
Director of Communications
Office of Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley

Did we hit a nerve here?

Let’s take the assertions in the Puffer piece one by one.

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Major Crimes Plunge, But AG’s Office Still Pressing To Wiretap All The Things

One Catch-22 of criminal justice reform is that law enforcement will always ask for more powers, whether crime is down or crime is up. If crime is up, they need more powers to deal with criminals who have “gotten the upper hand.” If crime is down, they need more powers to keep it from rising again.

The Globe reports that major crimes in Boston are sharply down in the first three months of 2013 compared to 2012. In case you think this is a momentary glitch in the overall statistics, let’s look again at how crime per head in Massachusetts has been falling for a long time:

Martha Coakley's terrifying crime wave

Martha Coakley’s terrifying crime wave

Mayor Menino attributes the drop to community policing and neighborhood watch groups, assisted by the more severe winter. It’s almost as if militaristic and confrontational policing is actually less effective at reducing crime than people like to think.

So, we have a simple challenge for Attorney-General Martha Coakley. How far does crime have to fall, before you back off on your biennial demand for vastly expanded powers to take out electronic wiretaps when investigating minor crimes? Lazy, “one crime is too many” thinking is not enough when our Fourth Amendment rights are on the line. We don’t just need better community policing; we need an AG’s office that is willing to look at criminalization as a problem rather than looking at every person drawn into the criminal justice system as a victory for them.

“Time to Get Smart on Crime”: New Report Pans Massachusetts’ Criminal Justice Practices

Getting tough on crime, 1756-style

Getting tough on crime, 1756-style

The Boston Globe is publicizing a new report from Community Resources for Justice and MassInc, focusing on Massachusetts’ unexpectedly draconian and wasteful criminal justice policies.

We heartily recommend that you read the whole thing, but here are the striking take-aways.

We are spending 6% more on incarceration than we are spending on education. Low-level drug offenders sentenced under mandatory minimum laws are driving a substantial portion of the costs. Offenders are routinely overclassified into higher and more expensive levels of security than they really need. And Massachusetts is not being strategic about its incarceration spending to make sure that it is getting the least reoffending for a given budget.

A very human desire to lock everybody up for ever takes no account of the costs, or of how doing that crowds out investment in other things we might like more of, like better education, lead abatement or public transportation, which also in turn have a positive effect on crime down the road.

I wonder if the Lege and the AG’s Office are listening? Or will they keep wasting our taxes on strategies that don’t work?

[VIA: Sentencing Law and Policy]

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