Tag Archives: Prosecutorial Abuse

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

humpty-dumpty

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.

terrorism_definition

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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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

#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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Microscope Monday: Analysis of Massachusetts’ proposed Liberty Preservation Act, H. 1428

steampunk_microscope

The newly formed Massachusetts chapter of PANDA is bringing forward legislation on Beacon Hill to prevent the indefinite detention of American citizens under the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA.

The notion that the President should be allowed to detain US citizens without trial and without limit in time of war is a horrifying idea, but not a new one. President Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War. President Roosevelt interned Americans of Japanese descent during the Second World War. It had seemed by the early 1990s that we were recognizing that shameful past and leaving it behind. Then came 9/11.

In the aftermath of the attack, 1,200 Muslim Americans were detained on `material witness warrants’ and interrogated, often without any evidence beyond their religion. American citizen and civilian Jose Padilla was arrested in 2002, committed to a military brig for three and a half years, tortured and possibly driven insane, before being transferred to civilian court and sentenced to 17 years in prison in 2008, for conspiracy to conspire to commit terrorist acts abroad.

The US government in these cases was exceptionally anxious to preserve authority to detain anyone for any length of time, provided they could be vaguely associated with al-Qaeda. Many people expected that President Obama would abandon such arguments and restore the rule of law. In reality, he has allowed the power of indefinite detention to pass into law. In 2012, he issued a signing statement to that year’s NDAA (it’s an annual thing), claiming that he would never use the power of indefinite detention. That’s not even legally binding on him, let alone on his successors. In 2013’s bill, even that signing statement has disappeared from view. Hence, people in many states have been proposing bills like the Liberty Preservation Act.

Over the fold, for the details of what the Liberty Preservation Act would do!

[Previous Microscope Mondays covered: the Free Speech Act; the Electronic Privacy Bill; the Drone Privacy Bill; and the infamous Act Updating the Wire Interception Law.]

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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 Gut CFAA Like The Rotten Fish It Is: Protests and Reform Proposals for Computer Crime, with Added Matthew Broderick

It’s not usually our dealio here at Digital Fourth to weigh in on federal digital rights, because terrific organizations like EFF, Fight for the Future, Demand Progress and the ACLU generally do that heavy lifting for us. But so much has happened regarding prosecutions under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act that it’s worth focusing on what this law is, why it’s in such a mess, and what can usefully be done about it.

When originally passed way back in 1986, the intent of the CFAA was to ban hacking. This kind of hacking:

Wait, Ally Sheedy was in this? I must watch it again.

Wait, Ally Sheedy was in this?

In other words, what they were concerned about was access to “Federal interest computers”, namely computers belonging to the government, or at certain designated utilities like nuclear power stations or financial institutions. Now, however, the law covers pretty much any computer held by anyone.

Why is that a problem? Read on!

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The Theory of Surveillance: The Panopticon and the Stainless Steel Rat

As we residents of Massachusetts gambol heedlessly downward from the Mountains of Liberty toward the Swamps of Oppression, let’s take a brief breather to consider a more general commentary on surveillance.

Philosophical examinations of governmental surveillance powers center on eighteenth-century founder of utilitarianism Jeremy Bentham and twentieth-century philosopher Michel Foucault. The key concept used to inform their thinking is Bentham’s notion of the Panopticon:

The Panopticon: the ideal prison

According to Bentham, the ideal prison

The Panopticon was a prison with the cells in the outside circle and the guard tower in the center. Each prisoner was, at all times, perfectly visible to the guards. The guards were invisible to the prisoners, so prisoners had to assume that they were being permanently watched.

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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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The God of Vengeance is Still Thirsty: Feds Charge Reuters Social Media Editor Matthew Keys with Aiding Anonymous, Threaten 25 Years in Jail & $750,000 Fine

Prosecutorial discretion has a long history on the American continent.

Prosecutorial discretion has a long history on the American continent.

Just in case you thought that the federal government would be satisfied with massively overcharging Aaron Swartz and Barrett Brown, we now have the case of Reuters social media editor Matthew Keys (@TheMatthewKeys).

Seems that a grand jury indictment has been filed in Sacramento, alleging that Keys participated in an online chat where he gave Anonymous hackers login credentials for his former employer, the Tribune Company, possibly in exchange for access to the IRC channel where Anonymous hackers were discussing future exploits, and possibly out of disapproval of the Tribune Company using paywalls. The indictment alleges that he told the channel to “go f*** some sh** up”. A hacker then used those credentials to alter, for about half an hour, a story on the Tribune website, so that it claimed that a hacker called “Chippy 1337″ was about to be “elected head of the [U.S.] Senate”, to which Keys apparently responded “Nice”.

Enemy of the state #957,141

Enemy of the state #957,141

May I take a moment? [Sips glass of water] Thank you. [Deep breath]

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Microscope Monday: Massachusetts’ new drone privacy bill

A microscope, steampunk style.

A microscope, steampunk style.

Since our earlier analysis of the repellent new bill expanding electronic wiretapping was well-received, we’re starting an official series analyzing proposed Massachusetts legislation, called “Microscope Monday”.

In honor of the efforts to organize a new drone privacy group here in Massachusetts, this week’s bill is S. 1664 (Hedlund) / H. 1357 (Garry), “An act to regulate the use of unmanned aerial vehicles”.

State Senator Robert Hedlund is introducing this legislation in the Massachusetts Senate. Hedlund is a Republican and is the Assistant Minority Leader. His district covers Cohasset, Duxbury, Hingham, Hull, Marshfield, Norwell, Scituate and Weymouth. State Representative Colleen Garry is introducing the legislation in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. She is a Democrat, and her district covers Dracut and Tyngsborough.

This is not a long bill, but it’s a good one, and we at Digital Fourth commend the sponsors for introducing it. It’s currently in the Committee on the Judiciary (House) and the Committee on Transportation (Senate).

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