Thursday, July 4, 2013

Dear Leader's Week in Fail

Dear Leader has failed. This is, in and of itself, not news in America anymore, because Dear Leader is good at getting elected against middling opposition from a Republican Party that can't be bothered to mount effective resistance. As it stands, this week saw several stunning setbacks for President Obama, who finds his Administration embroiled in various scandals and beset by calls for impeachment by his own partisan stalwarts.

First, Dear Leader had to abandon the employer mandate.  Employers no longer face a January 2014 deadline for providing universal healthcare coverage to their employees in 50 person or larger companies.  No more will they worry about the impending realities of a $2,000 per employee fine for their failure to provide the coverage.  What Dear Leader and his minions realized was that the $2,000 per employee fine is too low to be an effective deterrent for employers.  In fact, it's cheaper to pay the fine than it is to provide the universal health coverage Dear Leader insisted the Affordable Care Act would provide.

And so Americans in 50 person or larger companies get to keep their employer provided health insurance until after the midterm elections in 2014, and the Democrats get to try and avoid the political fallout of their legislation.  Never mind that the President has no statutory authority whatsoever to suspend the employer mandate, or to even delay it.  As the Wall Street Journal pointed out, Section 1513 of the Affordable Care Act states that the effective date begins on months after December 31, 2013.  Nowhere in the legislation is the President given the authority to impose the mandate at another time.

The Republicans should sue to force the ACA's implementation.  They won't, of course, because they're woefully incapable of mounting anything resembling ruthlessly effective opposition.  President Obama will be able to sidestep a disaster of his own making, and even money says that he'll continue to postpone the employer mandate until after he leaves office.  As much as he complained about his inheritance, he'll leave the next president quite an inheritance to deal with.

Second, Dear Leader's regime of choice has fallen in Egypt.  Mohammed Morsi was removed from power by the military and 12 of his aides were placed under arrest with him.  The Muslim Brotherhood's television stations were all taken off of the air, as was Al-Jazeera Misr Mubasher, a branch of Al-Jazeera that has supported Morsi's government in the past.  Muslim Brotherhood chief Mohammed Badie was place under arrest, as was Saad el-Katatni, the head of the Brotherhood's political arm the Freedom and Justice Party.  The Islamist constitution was suspended.  Nearly 50 people were killed in clashes between the military, the police, and Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

Marines in Southern Europe were put on alert for a possible deployment to Egypt, even though President Obama couldn't be bothered to send in the Marines to Benghazi when the U.S. consulate was under attack for hours on end.  More Marines are in Jordan, primed to assist the Syrian rebels who managed to behead a Franciscan priest this past week.

Finally, Dear Leader is getting fragged by his own partisans.  The pages of the Nation, the oldest leftist weekly in the United States, held a call for the impeachment of President Obama this past week over his role in the NSA scandal.  The New York Times referred to the NSA as criminal, and the House Government and Oversight Committee has uncovered more revelations involving improper awarding of IRS IT contracts to a company run by a friend of an IRS official, as well as improper use of employee credit cards.

Dear Leader's Week in Fail hasn't reached the weekend yet, and on balance, it hasn't been his best week. His staunchest defense of the past week came from Tucker Carlson's online rag the Daily Caller, which referred to impeachment as "extreme" in its review of the Nation article outlining the case for Dear Leader's impeachment.  Again, Republican partisans are ineffective precisely because they're too busy entertaining preserving Obama's unwarranted expansions of executive power for the next Republican to hold the Oval Office. Statism is as statism does, and the Week in Fail rolls on this July 4th.  Happy Independence Day, everybody, and as you shoot off fireworks and drink beer, think back fondly to a time when our forefathers fought, killed, and died to establish a government of limited powers.  How quaint their ideas must seem to Dear Leader, who entertains no such ideas of limitation on his powers.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Police State USA

Over at Photography is Not a Crime, Carlos Miller details the overreach of various police departments around the country.  In one of the more recent posts, Miller examines Suzanne Matteo's experience at the hands of Pulaski Township police officer Randall Courson. Matteo was recording a public meeting on her iPad, when Officer Courson approached and confiscated the iPad.  Matteo alleges that she was taking notes on the township meeting, and that she had previously documented various conflicts of interest relating to two supervisors.  When Courson approached, another attendee at the meeting stood up and recited the sunshine law, only to be threatened with arrest.  In Pennsylvania, the state's sunshine law and its wiretap law exception for recording on-duty police officers would seem to cover Matteo's recording.

Matteo objected to Courson's confiscation of her iPad, and she says that Courson's response was "It's my iPad now. You ain't getting it back."  Matteo further claims that she told Officer Courson that the iPad had images of her breastfeeding her daughter, and another woman at the meeting came to her defense only to be told by Officer Courson that he might just have to have a look at the pictures.  According to witnesses, Courson refused to issue Matteo a receipt for her iPad, and Matteo claims that her email and personal pictures were accessed.

Read more at Libertariate

The Why in the Spy IV: Surveillance Creep

Government agencies continue advance the surveillance state, even in the wake of ongoing revelations about the NSA's PRISM program, and other assorted surveillance programs that illegally and unconstitutionally collect the communications of every American.  Every single one of these programs has one thing in common: they begin in secret, away from any informed debate in Congress, and away from any process to attain the informed consent of the American citizens who will be surveilled.  It's fundamentally undemocratic, because the agencies who devise these surveillance programs know that Americans won't consent to the programs in advance.

The strategy of those government agencies enabling surveillance creep has the following pattern:

1. Create a new surveillance program to vastly expand the State's ability to intrude on private communications, or to identify citizens with greater ease.
2. Implement this program in secret, away from the eyes of the public and their elected officials.
3. When the program is revealed, claim secrecy privileges or national security interests and stonewall any inquiry under the Freedom of Information Act accordingly.
4.  Force any citizen or advocacy group to go to court to obtain information about the programs their tax dollars are being used to develop.
5.  Plead with the court to keep the details a secret under the guise of national security.

Surveillance creep is real, it is happening now, and it is expanding in ways that you cannot imagine.  Everything about you from your face to your DNA to your fingerprints to your credit cards to your consumer habits to your emails and telephone calls is being collected, collated, and stored.  You never consented to this.  Your elected officials usually did not vote on the specific tactics or programs.  There was never any public or informed debate.

Private companies collect this information precisely because they wish to commoditize it and manipulate you as a consumer.  Public agencies collect this information in order to do the same, only they wish to manipulate you as a citizen.  Both private and public entities collaborate in surveillance creep because there is a great deal of money involved.  These programs are rarely about security; instead, they are almost always about power.  The only security public and private entities engaged in surveillance creep seek is security from an informed consumer, an activist citizen, and an individual empowered by information and the knowledge of his or her rights to act against private and public interests seeking to erode his or her rights and freedoms.

So Much Creep

Investigating surveillance creep presents a special problem: which programs and why? Surveillance is ubiquitous in our society, and the surveillance programs are multitudinous.  The first program to examine is that of the FBI's Next Generation Identification program, or NGI.  NGI purports to aggregate the fingerprints, facial patterns, and biometric data of millions of American into a database.  Voice recognition will also be incorporated into the database, as well as intelligence about scars, tattoos,  and other uniquely identifiable marks.

NGI will not be populated exclusively by the data of criminals; it will consist of data mined from every imaginable source. If your face is captured on a surveillance camera at a crime scene, even if you aren't complicit in the crime, your face will be stored in NGI.  If the surveillance at the crime scene includes audio, then your voice will be stored in the NGI. Any ascertainable intelligence from the surveillance footage, such as marks, scars, and tattoos, will also be stored in NGI's database.

If you are arrested, or taken in for questioning as a suspect in a crime, your irises will be scanned as part of the routine administrative processes. Your DNA can be collected from a mouth swab at the time of arrest thanks to the Supreme Court's recent decision in Maryland v. King.  You don't have to be suspected of a violent crime, or even a felony.  A simple moving violation will suffice to enable law enforcement to collect your biometric data, which will then be shared with the FBI and entered into NGI's database.

Even if you are just standing around on the street, you may find yourself accosted by the local police, who will use a portable fingerprint scanner to collect your fingerprints and run them against existing databases to see if there are any warrants out for your arrest.  You don't have to be engaged in suspicious behavior, or illegal conduct.  There is no probable cause.   The Mobile Offender Recognition and Information System (MORIS) enables the police to collect a permanent record of your biometric information using an attachment on a cellphone.  It can scan and identify you based on your fingerprints, your irises, or your face.

By law, states are required to share the information they collect with the Department of Homeland Security under the Secure Communities program.  If you are arrested at a protest, and you refuse to submit to an iris scan, you might have bail denied or you might face a significant increase in the amount of bail in order to coerce you to provide your biometric information.  Instead of bail being used to ensure that a defendant shows up for their next hearing, it is being used to aid and abet the growing accumulation of biometric data for federal and state databases which will be used to track Americans.  It's a fundamental perversion of the purpose of bail.

In Pinellas County, Florida, a high school student faces the intrusion of a vein recognition scan to purchase their lunch.  Brian Hunt, the Army's chief of the future applications branch in the Biometrics Identity Agency, refers to such private sector programs in glowing terms:

"What we are seeing is shining points of light, organizations moving out and doing things within the current policy that will enable future policy to be written. If you can show you can do it and you've respected all the policy concerns, systems of records notices and if you have safeguarded identity, you've opened the door for policy makers to relax a bit and to write policies [that keep up with technology]."
Government agencies rightly recognize that the private sector's use of biometrics will pave the way for a conditioned population, one that won't protest when far more invasive future policies are written.  What is more, their elected representatives won't object, because the norms will have changed.  Those students in Pinellas County will grow up to be adults who see vein recognition scans as something they grew up with.

Facedeals is illustrative of this trend. It's an application used by businesses, who take the footage of customers from their surveillance cameras, run it through facial recognition software, and then target those customers on Facebook with coupons.  Redpepper, Facedeals' parent company, is testing the program in Nashville with plans to roll it out nationally.  While the creators of the app insist that customers will have to sign up in order to use Facedeals, the question of what happens to their facial data when the NSA or the FBI comes knocking is an unanswered question. We already know that the FBI and the NSA routinely mine the communications data of Americans without their consent or knowledge, often without so much as a warrant or even probable cause to suspect wrongdoing.

The likelihood that the FBI would resist the temptation of a target like Facedeals is virtually nil.  The information is there, ready to be aggregated into the FBI's NGI database, along with the biometric data of millions of other Americans who aren't even aware of their inclusion into the NGI database.  Indeed, an agency powerpoint presentation addressed the issue directly by saying that the FBI could mine   "public datasets."

Additionally, through its "Rap-Back" program, the FBI allows your employer to keep your biometric information on file after you've submitted it for a criminal background check, for the ostensible purpose of alerting your employer if you're arrested in the future.  This has the effect of enabling the FBI to store the biometric data from criminal background checks, which is normally destroyed after the FBI verifies that you've passed your background check.  The information from NGI will be stored with 18,000 local, state, federal, and international agencies.  The government will be disseminating your biometric information abroad.

Immigration Incompetence

What is more, programs like Secure Communities have a documented history of failure that directly implicates the civil liberties of American citizens.  In one study, 82 people detained in Arizona for periods as long as a year were freed after a judge determined they were U.S. citizens.  If the DHS databases don't contain a record of your citizenship, or if you've been flagged for something as innocuous as entering the United States on a foreign passport (which is possible if you have dual citizenship), then you can face deportation even though you're a citizen.

The New York Times reported on Romy Campos, an American college student with citizenship in both the United States and Spain, who was detained in the Los Angeles County jail on a federal detainer because she had once entered in the United States using her Spanish passport. Her public defender could do nothing, because he was a state attorney and immigration was a federal concern.  Until the ACLU intervened by presenting ICE Campos's Florida birth certificate, Campos was detained for four days.

Antonio Montejano, born in Los Angeles, was mistakenly deported to Mexico in 1996.  After his 1996 deportation was resolved, immigrations officials never removed the arrest from the database.  Montejano was arrested on a misdemeanor shoplifting charge over a $10 bottle of cologne he says he mistakenly put into a bag of items he'd already purchased while Christmas shopping with his daughters.  Though he had his drivers license and legal identification, and a criminal court judge canceled the charges and ordered the police to let him go, the earlier deportation triggered a federal detainer.  Montejano was detained for two nights, in accordance with the legal power federal immigration officials have to detain those suspected of illegal entry or residence for up to 48 hours through local law enforcement. After the ACLU presented Montejano's birth certificate to the authorities, he was released.

Anthony A. Clarke of Minneapolis, Minnesota, a 53 year old house painter who had been a naturalized U.S. citizen since 1975, was detained for 508 days by federal immigration officials.  Clarke had been arrested on a marijuana charge in 1996 that was stayed and eventually dismissed, but it was still in the ICE database when he was arrested in May 2008.  Federal agents knew that Clarke was a U.S. citizen, but they did not stop their detention of Clarke.

In 2004, Clarke had been arrested for driving without a license, and two federal immigration agents had interviewed him. After running a criminal background check, they noticed that the database indicated that Clarke was a permanent resident rather than a citizen. The database was in error.  The agents filled out paperwork classifying Clarke as a permanent resident, and then alleged that he had committed a drug offense and an unidentified felony in order to go before Immigration Judge Kristin Olmanson in January 2005, who issued a deportation order.

Clarke was never convicted of either offense, and his immigration status was in error within the database.  For three years, ICE did nothing after Olmanson issued her order.  In May 2008, Clarke went to obtain documentation of his citizenship, and marked himself on a form as a U.S. citizen.  Two weeks later, ICE agents came to his sister's house and told her through the door that there was an "issue" in the neighborhood. They then broke into the house, engaged in an illegal search, and arrested Clarke.

Though an ICE agent ran a check of Clarke's citizenship on the day of his arrest that identified Clarke as a citizen, he was still detained for 508 days.  By late June, he was moved to an unidentified facility in South Dakota, and even though another ICE officer ran a second check that verified Clarke's citizenship which resulted in an order for his release six days afterwards, he was still detained until mid-December 2009.  CIS had finally issued what Clarke had sought in May 2008: a certificate of citizenship.  Clarke sued ICE for $1 million.

Some 20,000 American citizens were wrongfully detained or deported by ICE from 2003 until 2010, including an Army veteran from Washington state who was awarded $400,000 after ICE wrongfully held him in custody for seven months while deportation proceedings were initiated.  He received a letter of apology from the government.  Rennison Castillo served for seven years in the U.S. Army, and as an immigrant facing deportation proceedings, he was not entitled to a court-appointed attorney, nor could he afford to retain a private attorney.  The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project took up his case on appeal, assisted by the firm K&L Gates, who represented Castillo pro bono.  

Mark Lyttle, a 33 year old mentally disabled man, was first sent to prison for 100 days in August 2008 for inappropriately touching a female orderly at a psychiatric hospital.  He was misidentified while in custody, and he signed documents he did not understand due to his cognitive disabilities. Those documents identified Lyttle as a citizen of Mexico and contained an agreement for Lyttle to be deported to Mexico. Instead, Lyttle wound up in prisons in Guatemala and Honduras before the issue was resolved and his citizenship was confirmed.  Authorities did not bother to check Lyttle's birth certificate before initiating deportation proceedings.

This is the government, with its record of deporting American citizens or detaining them for extended periods of time in error, and it wants more power to surveil its citizens and more power to collect their biometric information for federal databases.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed Freedom of Information Act requests on three separate occasions in 2012 seeking information about the Next Generation Identification program, specifically touching on the FBI's plans to merge civilian and criminal biometric information.  The FBI never replied, making it an law enforcement agency that refused to comply with the law under the FOIA.  By July 18, 2012, the FBI had said that the NGI program was 60 percent deployed, and admitted to finding  7,380 records that were "potentially responsive" to the EFF's FOIA requests.  They never delivered any of the records, which led to the EFF filing a lawsuit in federal court to procure the records.  In April 2013, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed its complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia over the FBI's failure to comply with its FOIA requests.

EPIC attorney Ginger McCall detailed the chilling implications of the FBI's use of NGI databases, particularly its tendency to put peaceful protesters in its databases while classifying them as terrorists. The complaint also highlighted the FBI's ambition to make NGI work with surveillance cameras around the country, of which there are over 30 million in use, not to mention the airborne drones that are being used to surveil Americans in a rollout of some 30,000 drones over the coming years.  EPIC also raised concerns that the FBI would aggregate its NGI database to work with programs like TrapWire, which would enable real-time monitoring of protesters via their biometric information.  TrapWire, which was created by ex-CIA agents who founded a company named Abraxas, has been deployed in major U.S. cities such as Washington, D.C. and Seattle via grants from the Department of Homeland Security.  

The system was revealed in a Wikileaks leak of Stratfor emails detailing the scope and purpose of TrapWire.  There was no public debate over TrapWire's deployment; indeed, people in the United States didn't even know about TrapWire until after it had been rolled out.  They would never have known about TrapWire if it were not for Wikileaks.  TrapWire wasn't just marketed to governments, it was rolled out to multinational corporations and sold to the likes of Wal-Mart, Dell, and other such companies.

In many cases, law enforcement agencies are providing TrapWire as a service to private companies. The Las Vegas Police Department provided TrapWire to at least 14 area casinos and hotels, all at taxpayer expense.

While the U.S. public is being fed PRISM as a surveillance program of communications metadata, the truth of surveillance creep is far more frightening and pervasive than a single NSA program or group of programs. Surveillance is omnipresent in our lives, often without our informed consent, rolled out by federal agencies whose operations are funded by our tax dollars.  Those agencies aren't targeting terrorists, or even lawbreakers.  They're targeting every American citizen, including those who aren't suspected of any wrongdoing and especially those who are engaged in political activism that might erode their ability to infringe civil liberties.

The question is why?

The Why in the Spy: Money. Money. Money.  

The publication of a 2008 paper by Arindrajit Dube, Ethan Kaplan, and Suresh Naidu highlighted the reality of U.S. coups throughout history, particularly those involving the CIA.  The paper examined four coups: the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh of Iran in 1953, the two Guatemalan coups that eventually led to the ouster of Jacobo Arbenz Guzman in 1952 and 1954, the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961, and the overthrow of Salvador Allende of Chile that began in 1970.  Their conclusions were damning:

Using an event-study methodology, we find that private information regarding coup authorizations and planning by the U.S. government increased the stock prices of expropriated multinationals that stood to benefit from the regime change. The presence of these abnormal returns suggests that there were leaks from the CIA or others in the executive branch of government to asset traders or that government officials with access to this information themselves traded upon it. Consistent with theories of asset price determination under private information, this information took some time to be fully reflected in the stock price. Moreover, the evidence we find suggests that coup authorization information was only present in large, politically connected companies which were also highly exposed.

We find that coup authorizations, on net, contributed more to stock price rises of highly exposed and well connected companies than the coup events themselves. These price changes reflect sizeable shifts in beliefs about the probability of coup occurrence.

Our results are robust across countries, except Cuba, as well as to a variety of controls for alternate sources of information, including public events and newspaper articles. The anomalous results for Cuba are consistent with the information leaks and inadequate organization that surrounded that particular coup attempt.
The findings are simple enough: politically connected companies traded on insider information about CIA coups in order to drive up stock prices.  This information, as analyzed by Naked Capitalism, has chilling implications for the present time given what we know about the NSA, TrapWire, the NGI program of the FBI, and other such government surveillance programs that operate in tandem with private industry and private contractors, many of whom, like TrapWire's creator Abraxas, are former members of the U.S. intelligence community:

Now sports fans, given the fact that there’s reason to believe that people in the intelligence with access to privileged information weren’t above leaking it to people who could take advantage of it, why should we expect things to be different now? And given what has already been revealed about the NSA’s data gathering, if you were a clever trader and had access to this information, how would you mine it? How would you go about finding patterns or events to exploit?

The purpose of surveillance creep has never been national security. As outlined in the earlier posts within this series, the government didn't intercept many notable terrorist attacks such as 9/11, the Boston Bombings, the Mumbai Bombings, the 7/7 attacks in London, or the Madrid train bombings, despite the comprehensive surveillance apparatus the NSA had assembled since the 1950s.  That apparatus suctioned up every telegraphic communication in the United States with the full cooperation of Western Union, ITT, and RCA.  It aggregated that information into stored databases via magnetic tapes, and eventually evolved into Echelon by the 1970s, and finally into today's surveillance creep reality.

The motive is profit and continuity of operations for a government that is so intertwined with the private corporations who provide it services as to be inseparably interlinked.  The business of America is business, as Calvin Coolidge put it, and that has never been more true than it is today.  The surveillance apparatus of the United States is more likely to be deployed against the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street than it is to be deployed against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.  As our government arms terrorist organizations in Syria to overthrow that country's government, it seeks to limit our access to certain types of weapons and ammunition.

Far from keeping Americans safe, the United States government plies the Mexican drug cartels with assault weapons which are later used to kill federal law enforcement officers like Brian Terry and Jaime Zapata, not to mention the hundreds of Mexican civilians who have died at the hands of those weapons.    For the American government and its corporate partners, many of whom receive vast revenues from government spending, or outright subsidies to lower their borrowing costs as financial institutions, the real threat is a politically activist population seeking to upend the status quo and restore limits on government authority.

Every single one of these programs begins in secret, continues without a public debate or anything resembling informed consent by the American people who exist under this surveillance apparatus, and every single one of these programs only grows over time.  The reason is money.  That's the why in the spy, and the reason for surveillance creep.

Roundup: Thinking Police Serve and Protect is Stupid

Below is a video of the unfortunate drivers who refuse a breathalyzer in the Atlanta Metro area.  In Gwinnett County, the police have resorted to obtaining warrants in order to forcibly obtain blood from the suspects. The procedure is legal, and the evidence is admissible in court.  Former Gwinnet County prosecutor and current defense attorney David Boyle characterizes the procedure as ridiculous, but in order to get a Georgia license you have to consent to undergo a breathalyzer test or lose your license for a year. Your decision to avoid the test can be used against you in court.

In Douglas County, the police obtain blood from every suspect in a DUI stop. Mandatory blood tests have been the norm for three years, and Douglas County is encouraging every other county to follow their exam.  In Gwinnett County, every forcible blood draw is preceded by strapping the suspects, whether they resist or not, to the gurney and putting their head in a restraint.  The Georgia legislature passed a law in 2006 that allowed the police to request a warrant from a magistrate from any DUI suspect.

|Atlanta News, Weather, Traffic, and Sports | FOX 5

This follows on the heels of the Supreme Court's decision in Maryland v. King, where the court ruled that the police could obtain your DNA as part of your arrest, enter it into a national database to run it against unsolved crimes, and then use any match against you in court. No probable cause for the DNA search was necessary, and you didn't even have to be suspected of another crime beyond the one you were arrested for at the time your DNA was taken.

In Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Assistant Chief Barry Roundtree, who was due to be sworn in as the Chief of Police this past Sunday, managed to shoot a woman in the thigh with his .40 caliber pistol. He was aiming at her dog, but missed and the ricocheting bullet hit Tamara Whitt in the thigh instead.  Instead of running to assist Whitt after the shooting, Roundtree allegedly backed away from her and reached for his cell phone.

In Rock Hill, South Carolina, the York County Sheriff's Office is paying $90,000 to settle a wrongful death suit after Deputy Clifton Conant killed 74 year old Anton Hornung with his patrol car. Hornung was walking on the side of the road and Conant wasn't paying attention.  Hornung's family sued for negligence, and Conant resigned in 2011.

In Cincinnati, two ABC News reporters investigating the IRS scandal were escorted around the Cincinnati IRS office by a member of the Federal Protective Service as they attempted to ask IRS employees questions.  IRS employees have repeatedly told reporters that they have been banned from speaking to the press, even as the D.C. office of the IRS denied that there was a ban.  In any event, having federal law enforcement tail two reporters seeking answers was intimidating enough to deter any IRS employees from talking to ABC News.

In Rochester, New York, Sylvester Pritchett attempted to intervene in an altercation involving his daughter in order to pull her away.  A Monroe County probation officer attacked him, and was followed by 10 to 15 Rochester police officers jumped in, hitting Pritchett with batons and kneeing him on the ground.  While Pritchett lay on the ground, the probation officer tased him. The officers managed to tase one of their own in the melee as well, according to Pritchett's wife.

In Putnam County, Tennessee, Officer Larry Bates pulled over George Reby, a New Jersey insurance adjuster. Reby was speeding, and Bates asked him if he had any money.  Reby answered yes, and said that he was using the money to buy a car on Ebay. Bates didn't put that information in his affidavit, which was filed ex parte before a judge, meaning that Reby didn't get to weigh in with his side of the story. Officer Bates took more than $20,000 in cash from Reby, who finally got his money back four months later after being forced to sign away his constitutional right to sue Putnam County.

The Institute for Justice graded states on their civil asset forfeiture programs, with nearly 30 states getting a D or worse.  What do the police do with all of the money they seize? Why, they use it to purchase sports cars and boats to the tune of $90,000 and $79,000, respectively.  Employees' personal vehicles get full tanks of gas, free tuition is doled out, and jail inmates are paid to work on property belonging to law enforcement officials. That was the case in Camden County, Georgia, where 23 year Sheriff Bill Smith presided over the seizure of $20 million in a 15 year period.

Smith was unseated in a 2008 election, but he should have been thrown in jail for theft.

That's the Roundup for today, and if you still think the police exist to protect and serve, stop being stupid.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Daily Caller Covers President Obama's Flank

In its latest DC World Exclusive, which consists of noting what leftist weekly the Nation has already printed, Tucker Carlson's online rag The Daily Caller noted that Elizabeth Holtzman, Democrat of New York and member of the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate, has called for President Obama's impeachment.  Holtzman has done so unqualifiedly over the President's wiretapping program at the NSA, and she joins a groundswell of critics on the Left who aren't buying the President's argument that the NSA's behavior isn't criminal or unconstitutional.

As Jennifer Stisa Granick and Christopher Jon Sprigman point out in their New York Times op-ed, "[n]o statute explicitly authorizes mass surveillance," and Section 215 of the Patriot Act was to be used for intelligence community access "targeted information for specific investigations."  The NSA isn't accessing targeted information for any specific investigation with its PRISM program or any of the other assorted programs it operates. It is accessing everything, and it has built the capability and capacity to access and store it for later as well.

Granick and Sprigman go on to eviscerate the argument that the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, specifically Section 1881a, legalizes PRISM and other such NSA programs, because the Act specifically bars the government from accessing or acquiring “any communication as to which the sender and all intended recipients are known at the time of the acquisition to be located in the United States.”  PRISM does just that, and is therefore illegal.

Granick and Sprigman concluded their review of the NSA's surveillance efforts by pointing out existing Supreme Court precedent and the Fourth Amendment, and then wrote the end paragraph of their op-ed to cap it all off:

We may never know all the details of the mass surveillance programs, but we know this: The administration has justified them through abuse of language, intentional evasion of statutory protections, secret, unreviewable investigative procedures and constitutional arguments that make a mockery of the government’s professed concern with protecting Americans’ privacy. It’s time to call the N.S.A.’s mass surveillance programs what they are: criminal.

Criminal.  That's the word used to describe the NSA's mass surveillance programs, and by extension the President's justification of those programs.  That was followed by Elizabeth Holtzman, a Democratic partisan who helped to impeach Richard Nixon, calling for President Obama's impeachment in the pages of the oldest leftist weekly in the United States.  Holtzman points out that while President Obama has surveilled millions of Americans who aren't even suspected of wrongdoing, President Nixon was impeached in part for his role in ordering the wiretapping of 17 journalists, largely because he didn't like what they were reporting about his Administration's secret programs.

And so what does the Daily Caller conclude at the end of their "world exclusive?"  They conclude the following:

At this juncture, The Daily Caller is not prepared to endorse the extreme measure Holtzman advises.
Impeachment of a President who illegally surveilled every American man and woman's phone calls, emails, and virtually all other forms of communication, and whose own CIA director bragged about his agency's capabilities in surveilling you through your home appliances, is an "extreme measure" that the Daily Caller is not prepared to endorse at the moment. Ladies and gentlemen, Tucker Carlson's online magazine, a digital fishwrap if there ever were one, is covering President Obama's flank on the NSA's illegal surveillance programs.  Impeachment is an extreme measure, even in the face of extreme overreach from the Oval Office.

For once, Screed of Momus is prepared to embrace the extreme left's proposed language and solutions for the Obama Administration's behavior: yes, it was criminal; and yes, President Obama should be impeached for his conduct.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Why in the Spy III: Coincidences

Edward Snowden, the former Booz Allen Hamilton employee who blew the lid off of the NSA's PRISM spying program, is currently somewhere in the Moscow Air Transit zone, awaiting Ecuador's decision on asylum.  While initial reports indicated that Snowden had downloaded information about NSA programs onto thumb drives, new reports are indicating that Snowden has entire laptops full of information.  In fact, Snowden is alleged to have four such laptops in his possession, which would mean the potential NSA security breach is staggeringly large, in the range of terabytes rather than gigabytes.

As such, Snowden's travels through customs in foreign countries like Hong Kong are particularly worrisome, because his laptops would likely be automatically subjected to imaging by foreign governments at the point of entry.  It is likely that the hard drives are encrypted, but encryption can be broken.  If the rumors about Snowden and the four laptops are in fact true, the security breach at the NSA is even more significant than originally expected.  The most pressing question is how Snowden managed to get four entire laptops worth of secret NSA material out of his secure facility in Hawaii, and how he managed to flee the country given that NSA employees and contractors have to give 30 days notice for any foreign travel.

Moreover, the news has emerged that Edward Snowden's background check may have been flawed, as the contractor who conducted that background check, USIS, was under investigation for flawed background checks even before Snowden was hired at Booz Allen Hamilton.  USIS has been under investigation since at least 2011, and yet the company still has the contract to conduct sensitive background checks on NSA employees like Edward Snowden.

Snowden was an advocate of online privacy, a man whose personal laptop contained stickers supporting the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Tor Project, both initiatives whose purpose is fighting government intrusion.  It would seem strange indeed for a man who advocated for limiting government intrusion or surveillance of online communications to be employed as an NSA contractor, but that's exactly what happened with Edward Snowden.

Booz Allen Hamilton isn't going to lose its NSA contract, even though one of its employees managed to join their team with the specific purpose of revealing NSA secrets and later managed to procure four laptops full of NSA secrets.  No officer or official within the NSA will lose their jobs for their failure to detect Snowden's breach.  Snowden gave 30 days notice of his intent to travel abroad to a communist nation's territorial holding, with four laptops that would have gone through airport security and customs in his possession.  Yet he was not stopped. He was not intercepted.  Presumably, his bank accounts and financial information could have yielded behavioral patterns which would have indicated his intent to permanently flee the United States.

Yet the agency that has allegedly tapped the phones of sitting U.S. Senators like Strom Thurmond, while surveilling the phone conversations of then-Senate candidates like Barack Obama, and current Supreme Court justices, did not detect the man who will likely become the biggest leaker of intelligence strategies, tactics, and secrets in U.S. history.  The NSA, and the CIA, which has a station just down the street from Snowden's Hong Kong hotel, did not stop Snowden as he went from Hong Kong to Russia.  In fact, Snowden's departure apparently caught the United States completely by surprise, which ought to strain the credibility of the credulous.  Apparently, his phone wasn't tapped, his metadata wasn't known, and no one at the NSA was able to locate and intercept a man with four laptops full of confidential information.

Despite the fact that Edward Snowden was an NSA employee who begged off work for an extended period of time to deal with epilepsy, it raised no warning bells when he fled Hawaii for Hong Kong.  It apparently raised no warning whatsoever when he submitted his 30 days notice that he was leaving the United States. When he showed up at the airport with four laptops for a foreign trip, no alert was triggered.  For an all-encompassing surveillance apparatus designed to keep us safe, the NSA's programs, which can intercept the calls and whereabouts of senators and judges, could not or did not stop one of their own employees from walking out of a secure facility with four laptops full of Top Secret information.  What is more, no Senator or Representative is calling for the head of any Booz Allen Hamilton executives or NSA officials who presided over the biggest known breach in agency history.

The official story simply does not make sense.

But the larger context of the story, one in which we live in a world where we are surveilled by private corporations daily without any issue whatsoever,  does not make sense either.  John Stossel made the point that Facebook couldn't execute him with a drone strike, or rendition him to a foreign country, as a way of lessening what Facebook does.  Facebook may not be able to execute or rendition citizens, but they can certainly aid and abet our government with the information they compile on their users, information which goes far beyond mere advertisement targeting.

A Private Surveillance Apparatus: Facebook and Google

Facebook is ubiquitous in our culture these days, with nearly everyone using it to connect to friends and loved ones.  It is the equivalent of an online diary you share with others of your own volition, but even if you don't sign up, sign in, or join, Facebook can and has siphoned your information. Take that Android phone in your hand, with its handy preinstalled Facebook app that you've never used.  According to software provider Symantec, it's still leaching your phone number and sending it to Facebook's servers. Once Symantec reported the issue, Facebook characterized it as a flaw in its app and pledged to delete the numbers and fix the app to prevent future issues.

This had the handy consequence of eliminating any possibility of knowing how many people had their phone numbers forwarded to Facebook's servers. While the emergence of the Facebook phone gave rise to renewed concerns, most mainstream blogs simply presented Facebook's surveillance as routine. Your phone calls wouldn't be record; only the data of the call, such as the person you called, the amount of time you spoke to them, and how frequently you called people would be collected by Facebook.

This overlooks the fact that anyone who has used the Facebook app and reviewed the permissions or terms of service knows that Facebook can use your microphone to record, and your camera as well, without your permission.  Facebook's own language in its app permissions gives it the ability to surveil your location, and use your phone's camera and microphone at any time without your permission or without your awareness. When confronted with this language, a spokesman for Facebook insisted that the language was part of Google's legalese for accessing your phone. As Business Insider Australia reports:

While it is technically possible for the Facebook app to record video and audio without your knowing, the spokesperson said Facebook won’t do that. has an overview of the Facebook for Android app that is utterly chilling:

In Read Battery, Facebook obtains detailed information about which apps you use.
In Camera, this permission allows the app to use the camera at any time without your confirmation.
In Phone Calls the app can determine the phone number and device ID, whether a call is active, and the remote number connected by a call.
In Social Info, your agreement to use the app "allows the app to modify data about your contacts, frequency you've called, emailed or communicated in other ways with specific contacts. This permission allows apps to delete contact data."
The Facebook for Android app also "reads your phone's call log, including data about incoming and outgoing call and allows app to read data about your contacts stored on your phone including the frequency with which you've called, emailed or communicated in other ways with specific individuals."
Under Network Communication it states the app can "download files without notification."
You don't have to be a Facebook customer. You don't have to have an account.  If you talk to an individual with a Facebook app on their phone, your information is being mined.  What's more, even if the app on your phone hasn't been activated, your phone number has been sent to Facebook's servers.  Through these methods, Facebook effectively compiles a shadow profile on non-users by aggregating their contact with Facebook users into its servers.

Everything from your location to who you talk to and for how long can be accessed. Your camera and phone audio can be accessed without any notification.  Your non-user friends and family can be accessed, and the information Facebook gleans from your contacts with them can be used to construct a shadow profile on those non-users. You and your phone are effectively transformed into an unwitting spy to defeat the consent of those who don't even use Facebook.

The reality is that private corporations and the government have set up cooperative ventures, whereby the private corporation shares customer information with the government in a way that circumvents the Fourth Amendment.  In the Why in the Spy II, this was detailed in the FBI's non-profit ventures to facilitate these kinds of private-public partnerships and exchanges:

The story of this partnership begins in 1997, with FBI agent Dan Larkin, who set up a non-profit in Pittsburgh to "[function] as a conduit between private industry and law enforcement." The members of the partnership, consisting of banks, ISPs, telecommunications companies, pharmaceutical companies, and others, hand over information to the non-profit, the National Cyber Forensics and Training Alliance (NCFTA), in order to avoid the legal obstacles to sharing the information directly with the FBI.  The FBI itself has an entire unit, the Cyber Initiative and Resource Fusion Unit, located in the NCFTA's office.
The NCFTA shares information about servers, IP addresses, or content from emails that the private companies see in their networks.  The information is supposedly purged of the names and addresses of those linked to the servers, IP addresses, and emails before it is passed on to the FBI... 

The NCFTA was designed to facilitate such information-sharing between the FBI and corporations, but that wasn't enough.  In fact, the FBI set up Infragard, so that individuals could join and facilitate such exchanges in violation of customer and non-customer privacy alike:

The year before Dan Larkin started up the NCFTA 501(c)(6) in Pittsburgh, the FBI set up Infragard out of its Cleveland, Ohio office.  Infragard is different than the NCFTA and the ISACs in that it is open U.S. citizens at no cost, and its focus has broadened from information technology to activities involving what the FBI deems as critical infrastructure.  Infragard is a means for the FBI to ensure that even if the corporate partners of the NCFTA don't share information, their individual employees can.  It includes representatives from private industry, the academic community, and the public sector, but any U.S. citizen can join.
Even if the company does not see fit to share certain information, one of its individual employees can.  What's more, if that company is Facebook or Google, you consented the arrangement when you signed up. You allowed Facebook to collect your information, and even to turn on your phone's recording capability and camera when you aren't aware of the fact that they're even operational. Your consent is sufficient to ensnare your friends and relatives who haven't consented, too.

In the end, a magistrate does not determine whether or not your communications are suspicious. A Facebook or Google employee can, and they can pass off your communications and the data thereof, including location, time of communication, and the metadata associated with others you communicated with, to a nonprofit set up by the FBI.  That nonprofit can in turn hand the information directly to the FBI.  There are no warrants. There is no probable cause.  There are no limits on government power.  The information is a tip, and you signed it away by casually agreeing to the terms of service of an app, or by conversing with someone who uses the app.

In a society with surveillance so pervasive, and so ubiquitous, that the very applications we use to communicate privately with each other are the means of bringing our communications to public light; we are expected to believe that Edward Snowden, a man with EFF stickers on his laptop and a girlfriend who had a by now well publicized blog, eluded surveillance.  His plan to flee the country was undetected. His departure from the NSA's secure Hawaii facility with four laptops was undetected.  His departure through the airport with the laptops was undetected by the NSA.

Adam Lanza had less of an online footprint than Edward Snowden, but they both have one thing in common: people around them knew or should have known, but supposedly did not.  In a society where everything is known, and everything beyond what is necessary to sell us something is also known, it makes no sense to insist that one individual evaded detected with Top Secret information spread out over four laptops he stole from an NSA facility.  If Edward Snowden talked to a Facebook user, even if he himself did not use Facebook, he had no real privacy.

Neither do you.