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.
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.
Some crypto-Marxist at the Jamaica Plain Gazette decided to ask this week why we were busy tracking the activities of local peace activists and the Occupy movement, instead of, say, paying attention to intelligence reports we had received from Russia about some guy called Tsarnasomethin Whatshisface.
God, you people! It’s like you think that just because we’ve taken billions of your dollars and told you we’ll use it to prevent terror attacks, you expect us to actually prevent them!
Allow us to break it down for you point-missing morons.
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.
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:
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!
Have you ever wondered why your Mondays have become an unending bliss of delight, falling upon you like Zeus visiting Danae in a shower of gold? It must surely be because of Microscope Monday, your weekly look at notable surveillance-related bills on Beacon Hill.
This week’s bill, tying in with our new Campaign to Close the Fusion Centers, is “An Act to protect freedom of speech and association”, more conveniently referred to as the “Free Speech Act”. The bill updates last legislative session’s “Act to protect privacy and personal data”, covered in October 2012 on this blog here. It was proposed by Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester) and Rep. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester). Its basic purpose is to deal with the fallout from the Policing Dissent scandal, where the Boston Police Department, in concert with the Boston Regional Intelligence Center, was found to have been spying on peaceful groups like Veterans for Peace and defining them as “extremists.” Protesters, including one person I knew, were hauled in and interrogated about their associates, without any actual crime having been committed.
We’re glad to see some action being taken to deal with these problems. But, what does the bill actually say?
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.
The long-running case Panagacos v. Towery deals with the two-year-long infiltration by fusion center employee John Towery of peace groups including Students for a Democratic Society, the Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace, the Industrial Workers of the World, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and an anarchist bookstore in Tacoma (probably this one). Towery is technically a military employee, and courts are typically highly deferential to the military. However, the most recent ruling at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals allows the plaintiffs from these organizations to continue with their First and Fourth Amendment claims against the military. The National Lawyers Guild, which is involved in the case, believes this to be “the first time a court has affirmed people’s ability to sue the military for violating their First and Fourth Amendment rights”.
There are obvious analogies here to the Boston PD’s gross violations of protesters’ rights documented in the ACLU of Massachusetts’ Policing Dissent report this fall. Again, we see the fusion centers act as a nexus for the investigation and disruption, not of actual terrorist plots, but of peaceful opponents of the military-industrial complex here at home.
Protests worldwide tomorrow against the surveillance state.
As Joseph Heller once put it, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you.”