Tag Archives: Nypd

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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At HOPE X: Artist Essam Attia, cool research, and Restore The Fourth!

The tenth biennial Hackers on Planet Earth Conference starts today and runs through Sunday at the Hotel Pennsylvania in NYC.

We’ll be there as part of the Restore The Fourth delegation (I’m the national chair of Restore The Fourth). I and Zaki Manian will be hosting a radio show 10am-11am on Radio Statler, the HOPE community radio station. We’re honored to have on our show controversial Maine-born artist Essam Attia. If you can’t be at the conference, check out the stream on radio.hope.net!

You can also check out the Restore The Fourth booth (I’ll be covering it Saturday afternoon), sign up as a member here ($60 individual/$20 student), or come hear a talk on our research into the effects of the Snowden revelations on search engine behavior.

See below the fold for more on the Attia case!

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Racial profiling, Muslim surveillance, and the NYPD

NYPDOn Tuesday, April 15 the New York City Police Department (NYPD) announced it was disbanding a controversial unit that had been spying on Muslims since its inception in 2003. The NYPD’s “Demographics Unit” specifically gathered intelligence on Muslims living in New York City, New Jersey, and even as far away as Philadelphia. It sent plain clothed detectives to cafes, restaurants, and other community centers frequented by Muslims with the stated purpose of identifying potential centers of terrorist activity. Detectives were told to speak with the employees at such establishments about political issues in attempt to identify anti American sentiment. The NYPD also sent informants to Muslim student groups on various college campuses. Despite the wide breadth of surveillance, even the NYPD acknowledged that the program has failed to create a single lead.

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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.

By 2020, Americans May Have Started Talking About The Right To Obscurity

Shepard Fairey's artwork for Internet anti-censorship campaign

Shepard Fairey’s artwork for Internet anti-censorship campaign

Americans are used to thinking of ourselves as “rights pioneers.” But the American constitution is particularly difficult to amend, and is therefore slower than most to respond to a rapidly changing technological and cultural landscape. Justice Brandeis’s 1890 law review article on “The Right to Privacy” conceived of the Constitution as embodying a central, unarticulated “right to be let alone”, expressed as the “right to an inviolate personality.” Such a right was eventually recognized in the context of marriage by the US Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), famously arguing in much-mocked language that “specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance.” The difficulty with embodying privacy as a right consists in the fact that nobody can define it clearly in a way that is not highly contingent on time-specific cultural and generational norms; we cannot say now, in 2013 and after the passage of (to name only two) marital rape laws and gay marriage laws, that the norms governing marital privacy are the same now as when Griswold was decided. Thus, culture and technology continually gallop ahead, while the law is still getting saddled up. In this post, we explore some innovative efforts to help the law catch up.

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By 2020, Terahertz Surveillance Will Be Here, and the NYPD Will Love It

Once again, Mayor Bloomberg’s private army is in the vanguard of new surveillance technologies. The NYPD has just taken delivery of a portable machine capable of detecting the terahertz radiation emitted by every human being. It allows them to remotely detect guns or other inorganic illegal materials being concealed under people’s clothing. Suspects! We meant suspects’ clothing! We didn’t mean accidentally to suggest that the NYPD would search people just for standing around and not being guilty of anything. That would be ridiculous.

ure, it looks clunky now, but by 2020 it'll be handheld and have ten times the resolution.

Sure, it looks clunky now, but by 2020 it’ll be handheld and have ten times the resolution.

This raises some fascinating Constitutional issues, and as usual, Fourth Amendment legal superstar Orin Kerr is right on top of it:

Use of this technology raises two primary Fourth Amendment questions. First, does it constitute a search under Kyllo v. United States? More specifically, does Kyllo apply when the device is used to obtain details from inside a person’s clothes rather than inside a home? And second, if use of the device is a “search” under Kyllo, what is the standard for when such a search is reasonable? Do you match the Fourth Amendment standard for a “virtual frisk” with the existing standard for a physical frisk? Or is the virtual frisk more or less invasive than the physical frisk in a way that would require more or less cause? Interesting questions. […] A fair starting point would be to treat the virtual frisk just like they treat a physical frisk — allowing it and forbidding it in the same circumstances. Using the scanner would be a search that is reasonable only if there are specific and articulable facts to believe that the suspect is armed and dangerous. That way, the new technology does not considerably alter the preexisting balance of government power and individual rights. The government’s counterargument presumably would be that scanning to detect a gun is less invasive than actually patting someone down to find a gun: Scanning is less obtrusive because it does not involve any physical invasion or retrieval. But Kyllo suggests that this sort of more or less intrusive analysis may not apply in the case of sense-enhancing devices. And given the fact that the scanning technology itself can change over time, it’s problematic to generate a constitutional rule that may only apply to the current version of the technology — assuming that it does for that.

The problem here is that, as is the case with many digital technologies, the individual scan may be less intrusive than a hands-on frisk; but that the low cost and simplicity of digital frisking may result in mass scanning, which would pose (we think) a Fourth Amendment issue separate from and much more serious than whether a single scan was constitutional. The courts may not be ready to grapple with it, but it’s coming, so the people better be ready.

Thanks to The Volokh Conspiracy and the New York Daily News for materials used in this post.

Free Essam Attia, Political Artist

Hey, kids! Worried about law enforcement using drones for surveillance? Well, maybe you oughta just shut your goddamn piehole on that, because here in the New America, complaining about that shit can get you arrested.

That’s right. In the home of the First Amendment (my third favorite Amendment, after the Fourth (obvs) and the Ninth (link provided)), if the NYPD doesn’t like you challenging their use of drones by, say, putting up satirical posters on a few phone booths in downtown Manhattan, they’ll throw the book atcha.

essam-attia-drone-poster

After a no doubt thorough tossing of his apartment, Maine-born artist and former military geospatial analyst Essam Attia has been charged with “56 counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument, grand larceny, possession of stolen property and weapons possession after allegedly having an unloaded .22-caliber revolver under his bed“.

I’m just guessing here, but “forged instrument” presumably means “satirical posters using the NYPD logo for First-Amendment-protected political speech”. The most serious charge, for possession without a license of a small-caliber unloaded handgun, wouldn’t even be a crime in most jurisdictions; Attia claims that the gun is an antique, which under New York state law would not require a permit.

Let’s sum up. The NYPD, in the course of an investigation into an extremely minor crime (described as “kiosk vandalism”, though the kiosks were not in fact damaged), go through every inch of the suspect’s apartment, and find material that under current laws can be used to support over fifty criminal charges. There’s no word from the NYPD or any press source about what the alleged stolen property is. If Attia is correct that the gun is an antique, there’s no basis for the charge. And yet they are still able to launch in, lock him up, and submit him to all the terror and trouble of the criminal justice system, because he embarrassed them in public. They have loaded him up with charges purely to serve as a deterrent to others thinking about criticizing the NYPD – and this is even before the NYPD has any actual drones out in the field.

cartman-autorita

Maybe this is just the NYPD’s artistic response to Attia’s artistic critique. And maybe they should just drop the charges, already. Jeez, people.

UPDATE: My own Congressman, Ed Markey, has just introduced the Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act. It’s surely a good idea; but note that even one of the House’s most liberal members can offer up only that law enforcement agencies should be careful about their use of drones, not that we should stop or reverse the process of approving the use of drones for domestic law enforcement purposes.

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