[We welcome our newest contributor, Gregg Housh, an activist focused on internet freedoms, censorship, over-prosecution and Anonymous. This article is cross-posted at 0v.org. – Alex.]
It was February 6th, 2011 that I had to give some bad news to my wife. Her pseudonym (one she calls “as subtle as John Zeus”) was on the list of supposed “lieutenants of Anonymous” that Aaron Barr of HB Gary Federal had compiled. Barr’s intention was to identify the people involved in various projects on the AnonOps IRC network by connecting them to real social network profiles, and then to somehow parlay this data into brownie points with the FBI. And there she was, in the cross hairs.
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:
With speeches, flyers, and some family friendly songs, a few dozen protesters joined outside the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC) yesterday to push back against what they said were increasingly invasive government intrusions into individuals’ privacy.
The event was dubbed an Orwell Day protest, after George Orwell’s 1984 (the date was 8/4), a novel about a totalitarian regime that maintains control largely through an aggressive surveillance program.
“I believe in the constitution, I believe in the Fourth Amendment,” said Alex Marthews, founder of Digital Fourth, a non-profit which advocates for strong Fourth Amendment protections and a strong emphasis on privacy. He blasted BRIC as an ineffective institution that wasted time and money investigating peace activists and graffiti artists rather than more serious threats.
“An agency that does no good and wastes your money should be closed,” he said.
Join #MassOps, Restore the Fourth, and the Massachusetts Pirates on Sunday, August 4th (19-8/4) in the SW Corridor Park behind Boston Police HQ and the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC), just round the corner from the Ruggles T stop on the Orange Line. There will be food, training in cryptographic techniques, barbecue, and a series of great speakers.
Confirmed speakers include: Alex Marthews – President, Digital Fourth (that’d be me); Kinetic Theorist – Founder, MassOps; Chris Faraone – Journalist, Author, Mensch; Nadeem Mazen – Candidate, Cambridge City Council; Kade Crockford – ACLU activist; Jeffrey Nunes – Occupy activist; (Name withheld by request) – Activist targeted by the BRIC; Steve Revilak – Quartermaster, Mass Pirate Party; Joan Livingston – Veterans for Peace; Dan Consigli – Student; + Gabriel Camacho of the American Friends Service Committee.
From 5pm-6pm, the Mass Pirates will hold a “Cryptoparty”. Bring your laptops and find out how to protect yourself and your data from the surveillance state; if you have them, bring binoculars (quis custodet ipsos custodes?).
For background on the fusion centers issue, and on how they spy on innocent Boston residents and label them as extremists, see our previous reporting here.
#MassOps, supported by the Defend the Fourth Coalition and Digital Fourth, are putting together a protest rally at the Boston Regional Intelligence Center. This is located at the headquarters of Boston PD, at One Schroeder Plaza, Roxbury, MA 02120. The rally is at 2:30pm, and there’s a pub crawl starting around 6:00-6:30pm.
For background on fusion centers and why they are so dangerous to our liberty, check out this prior article. If you want to RSVP, you can contact the organizers directly here.
If you are in the BU area on Wednesday evening, come by to hear interesting speakers talking about privacy and security in the wake of the Boston Marathon attacks. Panelists will include Alex Marthews (that’s me!), James O’Keefe of the Massachusetts Pirate Party, and Gregg Housh. RSVP here.
[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 7277 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 7277 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?
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”.
May I take a moment? [Sips glass of water] Thank you. [Deep breath]
On Saturday, a new civil rights group called “Defend the 4th” conducted a successful protest against the TSA. Despite the bitter cold, over 200 people turned out, marching from various points on the MBTA system and congregating on Boston Common. People attending included folks from Anonymous, Occupy Boston, the Pirate Party, the Republicans, the Ron Paul folks, the Socialists and a most righteous quantity of press organizations. Congratulations to organizers Garret Kirkland, Tamarleigh Grenfell, Frank Capone, Petey Bouras, Elvis Rodriguez and Joshua Chance Scafidi.
I was impressed to see that even in the depth of winter, 150 people in the Boston area were willing to turn out to defend the Fourth Amendment. That’s the equivalent of 1,500 in the summer.
Why were we so upset about the TSA’s activities on the MBTA? Since 2006, the TSA has been conducting “random” bag searches on the MBTA, where they scrape bags for explosives. They are “random” because federal law requires suspicionless searches to be random in order to pass legal muster, but the TSA can (and has) selected, say, Dudley Square T station (in a mostly-black neighborhood) rather than Symphony station (in the tony South End), as their base of operations, and then “randomly” chosen one out of five travelers. If a traveler doesn’t consent to a search, they have to go to another station (or sometimes simply a different entrance to the same station). Oh, and the TSA doesn’t work shifts on the MBTA at weekends.
The TSA must think that terrorists are the dumbest people on Earth. It requires only a minimal amount of intelligence for an explosives-carrying terrorist to decide that this policy makes Sunday the best possible day for a terrorist attack.
What does this remind me of? Oh yes…
This is pure security theater. It’s designed to make the TSA look as if it’s doing something. Not coincidentally, it also extends the authority and reach of the TSA over our ordinary lives, and to justify expanded budgets. No evidence has ever been made public that any terrorist entity is targeting the MBTA. But even if there were such evidence, we have the right to travel freely around our country. The authorities, whether TSA or anyone else, must have probable cause before targeting any of us for a search. We’re not a country that does internal passports, random checkpoints, or asks citizens to show their papers without cause.
More specifically, the demonstrators’ constitutional concerns have at least some merit. In ten states (Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming), sobriety checkpoints and therefore also these kinds of random bag checks are explicitly unconstitutional. In Massachusetts, the state Constitution’s Article XIV suggests strongly that random bag searches would also be unconstitutional here:
Art. XIV. Every subject has a right to be secure from all unreasonable searches and seizures of his person, his houses, his papers, and all his possessions. All warrants, therefore, are contrary to this right [cp. are unconstitutional], if the cause or foundation of them be not previously supported by oath or affirmation, and if the order in the warrant to a civil officer, to make search in suspected places, or to arrest one or more suspected persons, or to seize their property, be not accompanied with a special designation of the persons or objects of search, arrest, or seizure; and no warrant ought to be issued but in cases, and with the formalities, prescribed by the laws.
Got that? To be constitutional, a search “in suspected places” must “be accompanied with a special designation of the persons or objects of search”. Random bag checks don’t do this.
This should serve notice to the TSA. People are beginning to wake up to the TSA’s disrespect for long-established rights. There’s no evidence of a threat to the MBTA; there’s no evidence that random bag checks are effective; and the checks are of doubtful legality. Without some pushback, every agency will want a piece of the homeland security pie, till our every move in public becomes the object of surveillance by a newly and aggressively militarized police presence. We can afford a gentler and more civilized way of life.