UPDATE: To reflect substantive changes in information received from the Addivinola campaign, the title of this article and portions of the analysis have been changed to more accurately reflect Councillor Addivinola’s positions.
We gave the same questionnaire to all seven Democratic primary candidates, but the strongest opponents of government surveillance (Long, Sciortino and Spilka) did not make it through the primary. Here are the results for the remaining two candidates.
Here in the heavily Democratic Fifth District of Massachusetts, we know that the winner of October 15th’s Democratic primary will reliably win the general and go to Congress. The seat was last open almost 40 years ago. Bearing that in mind, we at Digital Fourth thought it pretty important to assess the Democratic candidates’ positions on the hot issue of surveillance, while the district’s registered Democrats still have a chance to affect the outcome.
We sent a standard questionnaire to all seven candidates running in the primary. We asked about whether the candidate supported requiring warrants for searches of digital data (ECPA reform); whether they would defund the “fusion centers” that capture data and generate reports on peaceful activists; whether they support the Mass. Attorney-General and Senator Clark’s proposal to expand electronic wiretapping; whether they would vote for the Amash-Conyers Amendment reining in the NSA; and finally, whether they would support Rep. Rush Holt (D-PA)’s “Surveillance State Repeal Act”, which would repeal the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act and provide protection for government whistleblowers.
All except Sen. Karen Spilka and Mr. Paul John Maisano were kind enough to respond in detail, and we have done our best to reconstruct the positions of these two candidates from past votes and public statements.
UPDATE: Sen. Spilka has provided answers to the questionnaire that place her in equal first place on surveillance, along with Rep. Carl Sciortino and Mr. Martin Long.
So, for your reading pleasure, here’s the Surveillance Voter’s Guide to The Democratic Field in MA-5!
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.
Corcoran lives in Arlington, Mass., and till July 4 of this year, the self-described “anarcho-capitalist” made his living running comic book store Heavy Ink. He first ran into trouble after the shooting of Congressman Gabby Giffords, when he posted the following:
In response, the police apparently temporarily took Corcoran’s firearms license, and some customers of Heavy Ink organized a boycott.
On July 4, in an apparent response to the heavy security measures proposed for the Esplanade, he made another violently-themed tweet:
Unlike with the Long Island case, Corcoran was not simply searching for something that someone malevolent might also search for: anybody could do that. He was fantasizing about violence, but in a way that is not specific to any named individual. So let’s have a look at the law on such threats, and then I’ll let you know what has happened to Corcoran. I’d welcome your thoughts on what should have happened.
Long Island freelance writer Michele Catalano reported two days ago on a deeply disturbing incident where six officers from an undisclosed agency came to her family home:
At about 9:00 am, my husband […] saw three black SUVs in front of our house; two at the curb in front and one pulled up behind my husband’s Jeep in the driveway, as if to block him from leaving. Six gentlemen in casual clothes emerged from the vehicles and spread out as they walked toward the house, two toward the backyard on one side, two on the other side, two toward the front door. […] He could see they all had guns holstered in their waistbands. “Are you [name redacted]?” one asked while glancing at a clipboard. He affirmed that was indeed him, and was asked if they could come in. Sure, he said. They asked if they could search the house, though it turned out to be just a cursory search.
The “gentlemen” pepper her husband with questions about pepper cookers and backpacks; about where he’s from, about his wife, about their parents and their reading habits. They say that “they do this about 100 times a week. And that 99 of those visits turn out to be nothing.”
It appears that Suffolk County CID had received a tip from “a Bay Shore based computer company” about the Google searches of a former employee, Ms. Catalano’s husband, who had searched while at work for terms including “pressure cooker bombs” and “backpacks” – the former because he was curious about how the Boston Marathon bombing had happened, and the latter because they were in the market for new backpacks.
It’s still unclear exactly what agency the “gentlemen” were from. The FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force are both denying involvement. Nor do we know exactly why such Google searches triggered a full-court press from no fewer than six officers. But there are two important points that arise out of this story.
One is how blunt the tools of Internet surveillance are. Your Google search for “pressure cooker bombs” tells the authorities only that you are interested in pressure cooker bombs at that moment. As part of my research for this article, I just put it into Google myself. It doesn’t tell them why, and by itself is not evidence of any criminal intent. Nor does separately searching on the word “backpacks” help to establish such an intent. If we were still operating in a world where the Fourth Amendment were consistently applied, this evidence alone would not be nearly enough to demonstrate probable cause to a judge that the person in question was engaged in or planning criminal activity. Instead, we’re operating in an environment of high governmental paranoia about people’s search activity, where agencies have to find ways of justifying an over-muscled and over-funded security state.
The second point is that we don’t know whether a warrant was issued, or whether the “gentlemen” felt that one was needed, because Ms. Catalano’s husband did not assert his Fourth Amendment rights (and may in fact have been afraid to do so). He could have refused them entry without a warrant; they may or may not have complied; but he had every right to refuse. It’s just not something many people think of doing, and in consequence law enforcement feels able to intrude on our homes at will. Like the “gentlemen” in Buffy, their success depends on our silence.
UPDATE: The author of this testimony has taken it down. Whether it was false, he had deeply misunderstood what was going on, or he was scared into withdrawing it, it can no longer be considered reliable.
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;
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.
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.
Over 150 people are already coming to the rally to Restore the Fourth tomorrow in Boston. Thousands more will be rallying across the country. But this is Massachusetts. We invented the Fourth Amendment, and people will be watching Boston more than any other city tomorrow. Come with us and let the government know that we don’t need their fearmongering, and will not allow them to take our liberties.
09:00 – 10:00: Gathering outside the Old State House in preparation for the day.
10:00 – 11:00: Listening reverently to the Declaration of Independence. Be respectful: save the protesting for after.
11:00 – 12:00: Talking with the crowds that gathered for the reading, followed by a peaceful “Cease and Desist” action at mobile stores to protest at their cooperation with the NSA. Then to Boston Common.
12:00 – 13:00: We’ll be demonstrating on the Common, as well as gathering signatures against the upcoming MA wiretapping bill. This bill aims to expand the Commonwealth’s use of electronic surveillance against its residents.
13:00 – 14:00: Make our way to Dewey Square.
14:30 – 17:00: March throughout Boston including Faneuil Hall and the Esplanade.
What to bring
Water (in clear plastic containers)
Fliers if you can print them (don’t print too many, they’ll likely get thrown away)
SIGNS. Lots of signs. Here are some ideas we came up with for some slogans.
Restore the Fourth!
No Warrant, No Search
Repeal the Patriot Act / NDAA
Don’t Spy on Me
No “Random” Searches
Save Edward Snowden
No Secret Courts
Here at the Boston Regional Intelligence Center, we have watched in sorrow as misinformation about our work to defend America and keep Americans safe here in America has appeared in certain scurrilous publications. We felt it was important to get the truth out about what we do and why we do it.
#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.