Cambridge debates switching on its surveillance cameras after Marathon attacks

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The city of Cambridge, MA is considering whether to switch on its network of surveillance cameras. Councillor Craig Kelley, who chairs the Public Safety Subcommittee [UPDATE: and whom, I should make clear, is skeptical about the merits of surveillance camera systems, scheduled seven public hearings on the newly proposed Security Camera Policy, but like most subcommittee hearings, they were relatively poorly attended]. The City Council voted unanimously on July 2 to ask the Mayor and the City Manager to arrange a better-publicized meeting to discuss the Policy.

ORDERED:
That Her Honor the Mayor and the City Manager be and hereby is requested to arrange a community meeting with other stakeholders to discuss the proposed Security Camera Policy submitted by the Police Department for implementation.

The minutes of the July meeting are here.

This is the history.

Continue reading Cambridge debates switching on its surveillance cameras after Marathon attacks

Ray of Light in Massachusetts: Supreme Judicial Court Rules in Commonwealth v. Rousseau that GPS Tracking Requires Probable Cause, Mere Fact of Surveillance Establishes Standing

In a week of devastating disclosures about government surveillance, here’s one ray of light.

The ACLU of Massachusetts reports the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court‘s verdict in Commonwealth v. Rousseau. In separate trials, John Rousseau and Michael Dreslinski were each convicted of four charges relating to a spree of burning and vandalizing properties. As part of their case, law enforcement had obtained a warrant to place a GPS tracker on Dreslinski’s truck for 15 days, which was then renewed twice. Two issues came up: whether GPS tracking needed a warrant anyway, and whether Rousseau had standing to challenge the warrant as he had no property interest in Dreslinski’s car.

Continue reading Ray of Light in Massachusetts: Supreme Judicial Court Rules in Commonwealth v. Rousseau that GPS Tracking Requires Probable Cause, Mere Fact of Surveillance Establishes Standing

Can You Hear Us Now? Colonial-Style General Warrants Return To America

Glenn Greenwald in the British newspaper The Guardian has published a leaked Top Secret order dating from the day of the Boston Marathon bombings providing evidence of intrusive cellphone surveillance dating from at least 2007. In the order, the NSA directs Verizon to send to it daily the metadata on ALL CELLPHONE CALLS – the calling number, the receiving number, and the location and duration of each call.

Gone now are the pathetic pretences that the NSA “doesn’t target Americans”, or that warrantless wiretapping is just about foreign terrorists. Nobody can claim ignorance any longer. The NSA is spying on all of us, and has careened far out of the control of the Constitution.

The text of the Fourth Amendment reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Why was this important to the Founders? Because royal administrations in the early and mid-18th century would take out “writs of assistance” to suppress dissent. Writs of assistance imposed no limitations on law enforcement, and could cover a whole town. Colonial agents could ransack everyone’s houses, looking for evidence of any lawbreaking. Writs of assistance also effectively suppressed the political activity of people who had done nothing wrong. So when the time came to write state constitutions and then the federal constitution, the Founders were very anxious to make sure that nothing like this kind of general warrant would ever be allowed in the United States.

Today’s news proved that they failed. The Writ of Assistance has returned, and the airwaves are full of fearful authoritarians justifying it. Do we really love our chains that much?

The NSA order, justified under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, doesn’t even pretend to limit the order’s scope. There’s no particular target. There’s no limitation of place. Calls between two grandmothers in Peoria are covered just as much as calls between members of suspected terrorist cells. The NSA doesn’t care. They want everything, so that they can criminalize us via algorithm.

Do you think this order is the only one? Sucker. This is merely the tip of the iceberg. The NSA has prepared an enormous data center in Utah to hold precisely this kind of data on your communications. Why should we suppose that they limited these orders to Verizon Wireless in particular?

Stand up! Call your senators and representatives, and get involved with Digital Fourth. If not now, when?

Microscope Monday: Analysis of Massachusetts’ proposed License Plate Privacy Act, H 3068 / S 1648

steampunk_microscope

One of the curious things about digitization is that it allows data to be circulated and shared almost effortlessly. New, cheap ways of sharing and storing data can turn data collection that was previously quite innocent into a serious threat to our ability to be free from government surveillance.

Historically, the law has recognized no constitutional issue with law enforcement collection of license plate numbers, because cars are normally out in public when the numbers are collected. But what happens if cop cars can collect every license plate from every car they pass, moving or parked; check the plate against a database of outstanding warrants; link them to GPS coordinates; and retain the records of which car was where forever, so that they can retrospectively construct a map of your movements?

Well, folks, that bright new day is here. The devices are called “automated license plate readers”, or ALPRs for short. And the ACLU of Massachusetts is supporting a bill that tries to grapple with their implications, and that received its first Joint Committee on Transportation hearing on May 16.

Continue reading Microscope Monday: Analysis of Massachusetts’ proposed License Plate Privacy Act, H 3068 / S 1648

Stingrays Can Do More Than You Ever Imagined: Law Enforcement, Cellphone Interceptions, and Countermeasures

Previously, we reported on the existence of stingrays, also known as `IMSI catchers’, which are used by law enforcement as mobile cellphone towers. Stingrays intercept location and other data from all cellphones in the area, redirecting the traffic from regular cellphone towers. They can be used to get cellphone data without having even to go through phone companies to get it.

Thanks to the case US v. Rigmaiden and terrific reporting from Kim Zetter on the Threat Level blog at Wired, we now have a much more comprehensive picture of how they work and what they can do. It turns out that Stingrays have been around for longer, can do much more and are much more widespread than we might have supposed, and that how much they are really used may well be unknown to the courts.

Continue reading Stingrays Can Do More Than You Ever Imagined: Law Enforcement, Cellphone Interceptions, and Countermeasures

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Continue reading Microscope Monday: Massachusetts’ proposed Electronic Privacy Act (S. 796 / HD 1014)

Raytheon’s “Riot” Software: Big Data Analytics and Data Security for Activists

I run the Campaign for Digital Fourth Amendment Rights out of an incubator in Cambridge, Mass. Many startups at the incubator base their innovative products around “big data”, and the concept attracts substantial academic attention locally as well.

It’s natural that law enforcement would be interested in employing the same techniques, accessing information that people put on the Internet and on their devices about themselves, their location and their habits. Massachusetts-based Raytheon, the world’s fifth-largest defense contractor, has developed a product for law enforcement called “Riot”. Riot acts as a search engine, gathering information about people from Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and other places. Raytheon refers to Riot as “extreme-scale analytics”, possibly because “wicked awesome analytics” was already trademarked. The Guardian has found a video from inside Raytheon demonstrating the software’s capabilities.

Continue reading Raytheon’s “Riot” Software: Big Data Analytics and Data Security for Activists

By 2020, Stingray Will Be Launched! New Doohickey Allows Police To Get Everybody’s Cellphone Locations Without Going Through the Telcos

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Yes, since you ask, that is a “Terror Fish”.

We continue our series updating you on the exciting new world of mass surveillance you should expect in a few short years (previous posts include discussions of real-time life recording, terahertz surveillance and indoor cellphone tracking), by bringing you the Stingray.

The Stingray: essentially a cellphone tower that can move around.
The Stingray (image courtesy of the Wall Street Journal)

Continue reading By 2020, Stingray Will Be Launched! New Doohickey Allows Police To Get Everybody’s Cellphone Locations Without Going Through the Telcos

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