High Over Compton: “Wide Area Surveillance” Surveils Entire Town

The Atlantic picks up on a story from the Center for Investigative Reporting that in 2012, the LA County Sheriff’s Department secretly tested a civilian surveillance aircraft by flying it over a town in their jurisdiction and taking high-resolution footage of everything visibly happening there, over a period of up to six hours (highlights are ours):

If it’s adopted, Americans can be policed like Iraqis and Afghanis under occupation – and at bargain prices:

McNutt, who holds a doctorate in rapid product development, helped build wide-area surveillance to hunt down bombing suspects in Iraq and Afghanistan. He decided that clusters of high-powered surveillance cameras attached to the belly of small civilian aircraft could be a game-changer in U.S. law enforcement.

“Our whole system costs less than the price of a single police helicopter and costs less for an hour to operate than a police helicopter,” McNutt said. “But at the same time, it watches 10,000 times the area that a police helicopter could watch.”

A sergeant in the L.A. County Sheriff’s office compared the technology to Big Brother, which didn’t stop him from deploying it over a string of necklace snatchings.

The town they chose? Compton. Yes, that Compton, but it’s not the same Compton as yesteryear. Its boosters are now touting it as the hip, countercultural Brooklyn of the LA area. It has an inspirational new Millennial mayor, Aja Brown, who has garnered comparisons to Cory Booker. Its crime rate is down sixty percent, and it’s now majority-Latino. But it still has a median household income of $42,335, and still, even after all its struggles, somehow found itself the first city selected for mass surveillance, over, say, majority-white, tony Santa Clarita (median household income $91,450). Well, blow me down with a post-racial colorblind goddamn feather.

In related news, the NSA, under its MYSTIC and RETRO programs, was revealed last month to have been collecting the contents of the phone communications of an entire country (unnamed, but probably Iraq).

Believe it or not, this is the program's actual logo.
Believe it or not, this is the program’s actual logo.

These two stories are essentially the same. Developments in technology allow law enforcement surveillance to sweep past legal constraints intended for an era where collecting, storing and analyzing so much data was inconceivable. In luckless Compton, the Supreme Court’s 1989 decision in Florida v. Riley renders “wide area surveillance” presumptively constitutional. In luckless Iraq, the expansive powers of Executive Order 12333 and the FISA Amendments Act impose effectively no constraints on the NSA in intercepting the communications of foreign nations.

May I draw your attention to three salient points?

Continue reading High Over Compton: “Wide Area Surveillance” Surveils Entire Town

Cities around the country say: fusion centers are wasteful, fraudulent, and ineffective

[Guest post from Adwoa Masozi of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.]

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 10.48.20 PMThursday, April 10, 2014 was a National Day of Action against Fusion Centers. Diverse, multiracial grassroots coalitions from around the country held rallies, press conferences, and creative actions to challenges civil liberties by fusion centers, which coordinate the surveillance activities of local police alongside federal agencies like the NSA and FBI. Fusion centers have operated at unknown cost, failed to meaningfully serve a public benefit, and drawn critics including Senators across the partisan spectrum, the ACLU, environmentalists, Muslim Americans, peace activists, and Ron Paul supporters.

Participating cities in yesterday’s action included: Boston, Charlotte, Dallas, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, and Washington DC. Below the jump are quotes from organizers, as well as photos and videos from several of the sites.

Continue reading Cities around the country say: fusion centers are wasteful, fraudulent, and ineffective

No Way To Complain = No Complaints = No Problem!

Boston’s fusion center, the Boston Regional Intelligence Center, no longer hosts their privacy policy on their website – I was told that it was “under review” and that the new policy will be posted when it’s ready – so it’s lucky for all of us that the ACLU of Massachusetts has a copy of the policy. And it’s a doozy.

If you’re worried about the fusion center’s privacy practices, and that it may have gathered information on you that it shouldn’t, then you’re essentially out of luck. Sure, you can write to them (the address is Boston Regional Intelligence Center, Boston Police Department, Privacy Committee, One Schroeder Plaza, Boston, MA 02120, (617) 343-4328), but the Privacy Policy specifies that the only complaints they will accept or review are those where:

… an individual has a complaint with regard to the accuracy or completeness of terrorism-related protected information that:
(a) Is exempt from disclosure,
(b) Has been or may be shared through the ISE [Information Sharing Environment], or
(c) (1) Is held by the BRIC and
(2) Allegedly has resulted in demonstrable harm to the complainant

So, in essence, before a complaint can even be reviewed about a given piece of information, the complainant has to know what information the fusion center holds on them, and has to be able to make an allegation of “demonstrable harm” – harm, that is, in the eyes of the BRIC. And there’s no procedure for complaining about the collection of monstrous quantities of data in the first place – only for circumstances where they have collected, and acted upon, something provably false about you personally.

That’s some catch, that catch-22.

Wonder how many people have successfully complained?

And by definition, if nobody’s complaining, they must be respecting our privacy, right?

In fact, they’re respecting our privacy so much, that they are aggregating data from the following sources (this is just the ones they’re acknowledging, summarized from the list in the appendix of their privacy policy):

“Telephone analysis software”, state crime information systems, national crime information systems, the state drivers’ license database, the Lexis-Nexis “Accurint” database, Thomson-Reuters’ “CLEAR” database [now integrated with Palantir!], “intelligence data” [up to and possibly including unminimized data collected via FISA], the Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISS) System, the Law Enforcement Online system, the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) System, jail management databases, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) System, state sex offender registries, “crime-specific listservs”, RSS readers, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) Program database, EPIC hospital records, the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) database, state corrections/probation databases systems, and juvenile justice databases.

Based on information provided by BRIC employees on their LinkedIn profiles (thanks, guys!), we can also determine that the BRIC has access to gang databases, information from the Department of Youth Services, and “medical intelligence”, defined by the Department of Defense as “That category of intelligence resulting from collection, evaluation, analysis, and interpretation of foreign medical, bio-scientific, and environmental information that is of interest to strategic planning and to military medical planning and operations for the conservation of the fighting strength of friendly forces and the formation of assessments of foreign medical capabilities in both military and civilian sectors.”

So if you’ve never made an electronic financial transaction, never used the phone, never had a drivers’ license, never communicated with somebody abroad, never been in trouble with the law, never used drugs, and never been to a hospital abroad for treatment, then congratulations: you’re probably not in the fusion center’s database, and you still have a Fourth Amendment. And for the rest of us, they have records on you, that they aren’t going to allow you to review, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Why should you be concerned?

In related news, the BRIC is changing its slogan to “Share and Enjoy.”

Commonwealth Fusion Center Violates Constitution, New Report Says

minorityreport

Massachusetts has two “fusion centers”, mostly state-funded, which aggregate enormous amounts of data on innocent Massachusetts residents, with the notion of preventing terrorist attacks. When you call the “See Something, Say Something” line, the information goes into “Suspicious Activity Reports.” The ACLU of Massachusetts documented that the Boston fusion center (“BRIC”) had actually spent its time harassing peaceful activists rather than thwarting terrorism, which is one of the reasons why there will be nationwide protests against fusion centers on April 10, including in Boston.

In response to the ACLU revelations, Rep. Jason Lewis (now the newly elected Sen. Jason Lewis) filed a fusion center reform bill on Beacon Hill. Disconcerted at the prospect of more sunshine on their work, the Commonwealth Fusion Center, the fusion center in Maynard, offered him and other legislators a courtesy tour of their facility, to try to explain what good work they were doing. As an example of that work, they cited their First Amendment-violating harassment of an Arlington man who was not actually planning any violent crime, but who had tweeted about it being a good idea to shoot statists. They also provided to Rep. Lewis copies of various policies that they follow, including their Privacy Policy (updated 06.13.2013) and their policy on First Amendment investigations. Rep. Lewis then asked Digital Fourth to evaluate the policies they had provided, to assess whether they were constitutional. We enthusiastically agreed, and the resulting report is here.

Here are our main recommendations:

Continue reading Commonwealth Fusion Center Violates Constitution, New Report Says

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

Smart Meters On Your Home: Where Does The Data Go?

smartmeter

Patricia Burke of local activist group Halt MA Smart Meters brings to our attention an effort by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities to study how to achieve universal adoption of smart meters on residential homes in Massachusetts. This implicates the Fourth Amendment because electricity usage within a home, if gathered many times over a 24-hour period and transmitted to a government agency, may constitute a warrantless search of that home to which the home’s resident has not consented. The IT Law Wiki provides an excellent overview of the constitutional issues here.

It is unclear from the documents provided by DPU whether any plan actually exists for what to do with the data gathered by utility companies such as National Grid. It is possible that the data would remain with the utilities, and would be used to implement peak pricing that in turn would both increase profits and reduce stress on the grid at peak times. However, as we have seen with the NSA scandals, it is very easy for government agencies to get court orders requesting the ongoing release of such records by utilities to law enforcement. The records would, under the “third-party doctrine,” probably be considered to be the property of the utility company, and therefore law enforcement would typically not seek either the permission of the resident or a duly executed warrant from a judge before accessing this data.

Long-time readers of this blog will know where we’re going with this. Yes, it’s fusion centers.

Continue reading Smart Meters On Your Home: Where Does The Data Go?

Be Afraid: The Surveillance State Is Powered By…Bing?

Ever feel that the surveillance state can’t be beaten? Have no fear. The cure is here, in the form of this case study. Authored by our friends at the world’s most popular, innovative and dynamic tech company, it shows that well before the XBox Kinect “let’s deploy real-time surveillance technology in every American home” debacle, Microsoft was busily trying to get its hands on a thrilling avalanche of federal dollars, available only to companies shameless and lickspittle enough to develop an entire suite of software dedicated to handling data collected without a warrant on millions of Americans.

Behold! [Fanfare.] The Microsoft Fusion Framework!

Continue reading Be Afraid: The Surveillance State Is Powered By…Bing?

Thou Shalt Not Connect The Dots: FBI Flat-Out Refusing All FOIA Requests From MIT PhD Candidate, Because He Might Learn Too Much

eco-enigma

Item #2 on the NSA’s Official Talking Points to Justify Mass Surveillance (see p. 3) is “The NSA And Its Partners Must Make Sure We Connect The Dots So That The Nation Is Never Attacked Again Like On 9/11.” The government is fighting furiously against any attempt to restrict, say, its collection of metadata on all US telephone calls, because they argue that only collecting everything enables them to detect patterns and conduct analyses that would otherwise be impossible.

But what happens if instead of the government, the public starts using the same tools on the government? What happens when the burning eye of the surveillance state is turned back on itself?

Mother Jones reports that that’s what MIT PhD candidate Ryan Shapiro is doing. He has long been active in the field of animal rights, and became interested in the FBI’s characterization of “the eco-terrorism animal rights movement” as “the number one domestic terrorism threat” that we face. He has figured out a way of getting responses to FOIA that is so effective that the FBI is going to court to stop him.

Continue reading Thou Shalt Not Connect The Dots: FBI Flat-Out Refusing All FOIA Requests From MIT PhD Candidate, Because He Might Learn Too Much

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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