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The Government’s Lust to Spy

In 2019, agents of the federal and state governments persuaded judges to issue 99% of all requested intercepts. An intercept is any type of government surveillance — telephone, text message, email, even in-person.

These are intercepts that theoretically are based on probable cause of crime, as is required by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

The 2019 numbers — which the government released as we were all watching the end of the presidential election campaign — are staggering. The feds, and local and state police in America engaged in 27,431,687 intercepts on 777,840 people.

They arrested 17,101 people from among those intercepted and obtained convictions on the basis of evidence obtained via the intercepts on 5,304. That is a conviction rate of 4% of all people spied upon by law enforcement in the United States.

Here is the backstory.

Readers of this column are familiar with the use by federal agents of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to obtain intercepts using a standard of proof considerably lesser than probable cause of crime.

That came about because Congress basically has no respect for the Constitution and authorized the FISA Court to issue intercept warrants if federal agents can identify an American or a foreign person in America who has spoken to a foreign person in another country.

Call your cousin in Florence or a bookseller in Edinburgh or an art dealer in Brussels, and under FISA, the feds can get a warrant from the FISA Court to monitor your future calls and texts and emails.

This FISA system is profoundly unconstitutional; the Fourth Amendment expressly requires that the government — state and federal — can only lawfully engage in searches and seizures pursuant to warrants issued by a judge based upon a showing under oath of probable cause of crime.

The Supreme Court has ruled consistently that intercepts and surveillances constitute searches and seizures. The government searches a database of emails, texts or recorded phone calls and seizes the data it wants.

Thus, when the feds have targeted someone for prosecution and lack probable cause of crime about that person, they resort to FISA. This is not only unlawful and unconstitutional, but also it is corrupting, as it permits criminal investigators to cut constitutional corners by obtaining evidence of crimes outside the scope of the Fourth Amendment. The use of the Fourth Amendment is the only lawful means of engaging in surveillance sufficient to introduce the fruits of the surveillance at a criminal trial.

If the feds happen upon evidence of a crime from their FISA-authorized intercepts, they then need to engage in deceptive acts of parallel construction. That connotes the false creation of an ostensibly lawful intercept in order to claim that they obtained lawfully what they already have obtained unlawfully.

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Even at 100 Percent Accuracy, Facial Recognition Would Still Be Dangerous to Liberty

Over the last couple of years, there has been a strong grassroots push to prohibit or limit facial recognition technology. The fact that facial recognition is extremely inaccurate, especially in identifying African Americans and other ethnicities with dark complexions, has become a central talking point in the case against the technology. But even if facial recognition was 100 percent accurate, it would still pose significant risks to privacy and would still need to be limited or banned.

Facial recognition at the state and local level feeds into the rapidly expanding national surveillance state. The federal government has been developing a massive, nationwide facial recognition system for years. The FBI rolled out a nationwide facial-recognition program in the fall of 2014, with the goal of building a giant biometric database with pictures provided by the states and corporate friends.

In 2016, the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law released “The Perpetual Lineup,” a massive report on law enforcement use of facial recognition technology in the U.S. You can read the complete report at perpetuallineup.org. The organization conducted a year-long investigation and collected more than 15,000 pages of documents through more than 100 public records requests. The report paints a disturbing picture of intense cooperation between the federal government, and state and local law enforcement to develop a massive facial recognition database.

“Face recognition is a powerful technology that requires strict oversight. But those controls, by and large, don’t exist today,” report co-author Clare Garvie said. “With only a few exceptions, there are no laws governing police use of the technology, no standards ensuring its accuracy, and no systems checking for bias. It’s a wild west.”

A key talking point that has come front-and-center in the debate over facial recognition is its inaccuracy, particularly when reading the facial features of non-caucasian populations. During a test run by the ACLU of Northern California, facial recognition misidentified 26 members of the California legislature as people in a database of arrest photos.

This is certainly troubling, but it isn’t the best argument to use against facial recognition. At some point, the technology will undoubtedly improve and become more accurate. If accuracy serves as the primary argument against facial recognition, how do we fight its proliferation once it improves?

Even if facial recognition tech was 100 percent accurate, it would still pose serious threats to our privacy. It would still need to be limited and even banned. Relying primarily on the accuracy argument could undermine efforts to stop the proliferation of this tech down the road once government agencies adequately tweak the algorithms.

The Bigger Problem

This is not to discount the problems with accuracy. This is certainly a major concern considering policing and surveillance disproportionately target minority communities. But there are bigger issues with facial recognition that threaten everybody’s privacy, regardless of their ethnicity. In a nutshell, facial recognition empowers police, and ultimately the Feds, to track and spy on everybody without suspicion, probable cause, or warrants. It is the very definition of dragnet surveillance.

With facial recognition technology, police and other government officials have the capability to track individuals in real-time. These systems allow law enforcement agents to use video cameras and continually scan everybody who walks by. According to the report, several major police departments have expressed an interest in this type of real-time tracking. Documents revealed agencies in at least five major cities, including Los Angeles, either claimed to run real-time face recognition off of street cameras, bought technology with the capability, or expressed written interest in buying it.

In all likelihood, the federal government heavily involves itself in helping state and local agencies obtain this technology. The feds provide grant money to local law enforcement agencies for a vast array of surveillance gear, including ALPRs, stingray devices and drones. The federal government essentially encourages and funds a giant nationwide surveillance net and then taps into the information via fusion centers and the Information Sharing Environment (ISE).

Fusion centers were sold as a tool to combat terrorism, but that is not how they are being used. The ACLU pointed to a bipartisan congressional report to demonstrate the true nature of government fusion centers: “They haven’t contributed anything meaningful to counterterrorism efforts. Instead, they have largely served as police surveillance and information sharing nodes for law enforcement efforts targeting the frequent subjects of police attention: Black and brown people, immigrants, dissidents, and the poor.”

Fusion centers operate within the broader ISE. According to its website, the ISE “provides analysts, operators, and investigators with information needed to enhance national security. These analysts, operators, and investigators…have mission needs to collaborate and share information with each other and with private sector partners and our foreign allies.” In other words, ISE serves as a conduit for the sharing of information gathered without a warrant. Known ISE partners include the Office of Director of National Intelligence which oversees 17 federal agencies and organizations, including the NSA. ISE utilizes these partnerships to collect and share data on the millions of unwitting people they track.

Reports that the Berkeley Police Department in cooperation with a federal fusion center deployed cameras equipped to surveil a “free speech” rally and Antifa counterprotests provided the first solid link between the federal government and local authorities in facial recognition surveillance.

Facial recognition empowers the government to ignore basic privacy rights with impunity. It should be limited or banned – no matter how accurate it becomes.

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The NSA is Refusing to Disclose its Policy on Backdooring Commercial Products

Senator Ron Wyden asked, and the NSA didn’t answer:

The NSA has long sought agreements with technology companies under which they would build special access for the spy agency into their products, according to disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and reporting by Reuters and others.

These so-called back doors enable the NSA and other agencies to scan large amounts of traffic without a warrant. Agency advocates say the practice has eased collection of vital intelligence in other countries, including interception of terrorist communications.

The agency developed new rules for such practices after the Snowden leaks in order to reduce the chances of exposure and compromise, three former intelligence officials told Reuters. But aides to Senator Ron Wyden, a leading Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, say the NSA has stonewalled on providing even the gist of the new guidelines.

[…]

The agency declined to say how it had updated its policies on obtaining special access to commercial products. NSA officials said the agency has been rebuilding trust with the private sector through such measures as offering warnings about software flaws.

“At NSA, it’s common practice to constantly assess processes to identify and determine best practices,” said Anne Neuberger, who heads NSA’s year-old Cybersecurity Directorate. “We don’t share specific processes and procedures.”

Three former senior intelligence agency figures told Reuters that the NSA now requires that before a back door is sought, the agency must weigh the potential fallout and arrange for some kind of warning if the back door gets discovered and manipulated by adversaries.

The article goes on to talk about Juniper Networks equipment, which had the NSA-created DUAL_EC PRNG backdoor in its products. That backdoor was taken advantage of by an unnamed foreign adversary.

Juniper Networks got into hot water over Dual EC two years later. At the end of 2015, the maker of internet switches disclosed that it had detected malicious code in some firewall products. Researchers later determined that hackers had turned the firewalls into their own spy tool here by altering Juniper’s version of Dual EC.

Juniper said little about the incident. But the company acknowledged to security researcher Andy Isaacson in 2016 that it had installed Dual EC as part of a “customer requirement,” according to a previously undisclosed contemporaneous message seen by Reuters. Isaacson and other researchers believe that customer was a U.S. government agency, since only the U.S. is known to have insisted on Dual EC elsewhere.

Juniper has never identified the customer, and declined to comment for this story.

Likewise, the company never identified the hackers. But two people familiar with the case told Reuters that investigators concluded the Chinese government was behind it. They declined to detail the evidence they used.

Okay, lots of unsubstantiated claims and innuendo here. And Neuberger is right; the NSA shouldn’t share specific processes and procedures. But as long as this is a democratic country, the NSA has an obligation to disclose its general processes and procedures so we all know what they’re doing in our name. And if it’s still putting surveillance ahead of security.

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Trump’s Plan to Expand the National Police-State

A draft report from the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice reveals the Trump administration’s plan to further expand the national police state, with an emphasis on supporting and expanding qualified immunity and facial recognition.

The president formed the commission via executive order in January. A federal judge recently blocked the release of the commission’s report due to a lack of diversity on the panel and evidence that it operated in secrecy in violation of public meeting laws.

The court order stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (NAACP LDF). The suit claimed the commission failed to provide proper notice of public hearing and that it gave too much influence to law enforcement interests in violation of laws dictating how federal advisory committees must operate.

According to a Reuters report, “The panel’s 18 commissioners include federal, state and local law enforcement representatives, but no civil rights advocates, defense attorneys or big-city police officials.”

Through an open records request, Reuters obtained a draft of the commission’s report, revealing a plan to further empower law enforcement in the United States. A New York Times op-ed declared, “The president’s commission was considering recommendations that could transform this nation into a dystopian police state.”

The report recommends increasing “due process” protections for police offers facing charges of misconduct, and called on the Justice Department to regularly affirm support for qualified immunity.

Federal courts created the qualified immunity legal defense and applied it across the U.S. through in incorporation doctrine. In practice, the federal courts have cemented a system in place that gives law enforcement officers almost complete immunity and allows them to violate any individual’s rights with virtual impunity. The problem isn’t a lack of due process for cops; it is a system that gives them almost unlimited protections. The commission’s recommendations not only affirms the system but would give even more power to police.

For instance, according to Reuters, “proposals included allowing officers accused of wrongdoing to view body camera footage before speaking to internal investigators.”

The report also calls for increased federal funding for facial recognition technologies even as many states are working to limit or ban their use.

The federal government has been developing a massive, nationwide facial recognition system for years. The FBI rolled out a nationwide facial-recognition program in the fall of 2014, with the goal of building a giant biometric database with pictures provided by the states and corporate friends.

In 2016, the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law released “The Perpetual Lineup,” a massive report on law enforcement use of facial recognition technology in the U.S. You can read the complete report at perpetuallineup.org. The organization conducted a year-long investigation and collected more than 15,000 pages of documents through more than 100 public records requests. The report paints a disturbing picture of intense cooperation between the federal government, and state and local law enforcement to develop a massive facial recognition database.

“Face recognition is a powerful technology that requires strict oversight. But those controls, by and large, don’t exist today,” report co-author Clare Garvie said. “With only a few exceptions, there are no laws governing police use of the technology, no standards ensuring its accuracy, and no systems checking for bias. It’s a wild west.”

There are many technical and legal problems with facial recognition, including significant concerns about the accuracy of the technology, particularly when reading the facial features of minority populations. During a test run by the ACLU of Northern California, facial recognition misidentified 26 members of the California legislature as people in a database of arrest photos.

With facial recognition technology, police and other government officials have the capability to track individuals in real-time. These systems allow law enforcement agents to use video cameras and continually scan everybody who walks by. According to the report, several major police departments have expressed an interest in this type of real-time tracking. Documents revealed agencies in at least five major cities, including Los Angeles, either claimed to run real-time face recognition off of street cameras, bought technology with the capability, or expressed written interest in buying it.

The federal government heavily involves itself in helping state and local agencies obtain this technology. The commission report recommends ramping it up even further.

The commission also wants to strip away privacy protections and make it easier for cops to access encrypted information on your phone.

Not only does the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice propose policies that will expand the ever-growing national police-state, but it also represents a further expansion of unconstitutional federal power. The federal government has no constitutional role in state and local policing. Police powers were among the powers supporters of the Constitution specifically said would remain with state governments.

The federal government has monopolized education, healthcare, environmental regulation, the economy, and more. Now it’s in the process of monopolizing law enforcement. Given the fed’s track record on everything else it controls, we should be wary of this movement to nationalize policing. It won’t end well.

 

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IMSI-Catchers from Canada

Gizmodo is reporting that Harris Corp. is no longer selling Stingray IMSI-catchers (and, presumably, its follow-on models Hailstorm and Crossbow) to local governments:

L3Harris Technologies, formerly known as the Harris Corporation, notified police agencies last year that it planned to discontinue sales of its surveillance boxes at the local level, according to government records. Additionally, the company would no longer offer access to software upgrades or replacement parts, effectively slapping an expiration date on boxes currently in use. Any advancements in cellular technology, such as the rollout of 5G networks in most major U.S. cities, would render them obsolete.

The article goes on to talk about replacement surveillance systems from the Canadian company Octasic.

Octasic’s Nyxcell V800 can target most modern phones while maintaining the ability to capture older GSM devices. Florida’s state police agency described the device, made for in-vehicle use, as capable of targeting eight frequency bands including GSM (2G), CDMA2000 (3G), and LTE (4G).

[…]

A 2018 patent assigned to Octasic claims that Nyxcell forces a connection with nearby mobile devices when its signal is stronger than the nearest legitimate cellular tower. Once connected, Nyxcell prompts devices to divulge information about its signal strength relative to nearby cell towers. These reported signal strengths (intra-frequency measurement reports) are then used to triangulate the position of a phone.

Octasic appears to lean heavily on the work of Indian engineers and scientists overseas. A self-published biography of the company notes that while the company is headquartered in Montreal, it has “R&D facilities in India,” as well as a “worldwide sales support network.” Nyxcell’s website, which is only a single page requesting contact information, does not mention Octasic by name. Gizmodo was, however, able to recover domain records identifying Octasic as the owner.

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Google Responds to Warrants for “About” Searches

One of the things we learned from the Snowden documents is that the NSA conducts “about” searches. That is, searches based on activities and not identifiers. A normal search would be on a name, or IP address, or phone number. An about search would something like “show me anyone that has used this particular name in a communications,” or “show me anyone who was at this particular location within this time frame.” These searches are legal when conducted for the purpose of foreign surveillance, but the worry about using them domestically is that they are unconstitutionally broad. After all, the only way to know who said a particular name is to know what everyone said, and the only way to know who was at a particular location is to know where everyone was. The very nature of these searches requires mass surveillance.

The FBI does not conduct mass surveillance. But many US corporations do, as a normal part of their business model. And the FBI uses that surveillance infrastructure to conduct its own about searches. Here’s an arson case where the FBI asked Google who searched for a particular street address:

Homeland Security special agent Sylvette Reynoso testified that her team began by asking Google to produce a list of public IP addresses used to google the home of the victim in the run-up to the arson. The Chocolate Factory [Google] complied with the warrant, and gave the investigators the list. As Reynoso put it:

On June 15, 2020, the Honorable Ramon E. Reyes, Jr., United States Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of New York, authorized a search warrant to Google for users who had searched the address of the Residence close in time to the arson.

The records indicated two IPv6 addresses had been used to search for the address three times: one the day before the SUV was set on fire, and the other two about an hour before the attack. The IPv6 addresses were traced to Verizon Wireless, which told the investigators that the addresses were in use by an account belonging to Williams.

Google’s response is that this is rare:

While word of these sort of requests for the identities of people making specific searches will raise the eyebrows of privacy-conscious users, Google told The Register the warrants are a very rare occurrence, and its team fights overly broad or vague requests.

“We vigorously protect the privacy of our users while supporting the important work of law enforcement,” Google’s director of law enforcement and information security Richard Salgado told us. “We require a warrant and push to narrow the scope of these particular demands when overly broad, including by objecting in court when appropriate.

“These data demands represent less than one per cent of total warrants and a small fraction of the overall legal demands for user data that we currently receive.”

Here’s another example of what seems to be about data leading to a false arrest.

According to the lawsuit, police investigating the murder knew months before they arrested Molina that the location data obtained from Google often showed him in two places at once, and that he was not the only person who drove the Honda registered under his name.

Avondale police knew almost two months before they arrested Molina that another man ­ his stepfather ­ sometimes drove Molina’s white Honda. On October 25, 2018, police obtained records showing that Molina’s Honda had been impounded earlier that year after Molina’s stepfather was caught driving the car without a license.

Data obtained by Avondale police from Google did show that a device logged into Molina’s Google account was in the area at the time of Knight’s murder. Yet on a different date, the location data from Google also showed that Molina was at a retirement community in Scottsdale (where his mother worked) while debit card records showed that Molina had made a purchase at a Walmart across town at the exact same time.

Molina’s attorneys argue that this and other instances like it should have made it clear to Avondale police that Google’s account-location data is not always reliable in determining the actual location of a person.

“About” searches might be rare, but that doesn’t make them a good idea. We have knowingly and willingly built the architecture of a police state, just so companies can show us ads. (And it is increasingly apparent that the advertising-supported Internet is heading for a crash.)

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Status Report: Nullifying the National Surveillance State

In 2014, the Tenth Amendment Center dove headfirst in the fight against unconstitutional federal surveillance when it spearheaded efforts to turn off the water at the NSA facility in Bluffdale, Utah, and cut off other critical state and local services to other NSA facilities.

We haven’t turned off the water in Utah — yet. But we did win some victories. In 2014, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB828 into law, laying the foundation for the state to turn off water, electricity and other resources to any federal agency engaged in mass warrantless surveillance. In 2018, Michigan built on this foundation with the passage of HB4430. The new law prohibits the state and its political subdivisions from assisting, participating with, or providing “material support or resources, to a federal agency to enable it to collect, or to facilitate in the collection or use of a person’s electronic data,” without a warrant or under a few other carefully defined exceptions. 

Although NSA spying remains the most high-profile warrantless surveillance program, the federal government has created a national surveillance network that extends well beyond the operation of this single agency. In fact, state and local law enforcement have become vital cogs in the national surveillance state. 

State, local and federal governments work together to conduct surveillance in many ways. As a result, efforts to protect privacy at the state and local level have a significant spillover effect to the national level.

While continuing efforts to cut off resources to NSA facilities in recent years, we also focused on other state-federal surveillance partnerships that feed into the national spy-state.

ALPR/License Plate Tracking

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the federal government, via the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), tracks the location of millions of vehicles through data provided by Automatic Licence Plate Readers (ALPRs) operated on a state and local level. They’ve engaged in this for nearly 10 years, all without a warrant, or even public notice of the policy.

Currently, six states have placed significant restrictions on the use of ALPRs. Activists are expected to push several states to consider similar restrictions in the next legislative session.

Facial Recognition and Biometric Surveillance

Facial recognition is the newest frontier in the national surveillance state. Over the last few years, the federal government has spearheaded a drive to expand the use of this invasive technology. At the same time, some state and local governments have aggressively pushed back.

In a nutshell, without state and local cooperation, the feds have a much more difficult time gathering information. Passage of laws banning or restricting the use of facial recognition eliminates one avenue for gathering biometric data. Simply put, data that doesn’t exist cannot be entered into federal databases.

In 2019, California enacted a law that prohibits a law enforcement agency or law enforcement official from installing, activating, or using any biometric surveillance system in connection with an officer camera or data collected by an officer camera. This includes body-worn and handheld devices. This new law had a significant impact. After its enactment, San Diego shut down one of the largest facial recognition programs in the country in order to comply with the law.

Washington state passed a bill that would require a warrant for ongoing and realtime facial recognition surveillance. The bill doesn’t completely ban the use of facial recognition and there is some concern about how police will interpret the statute, but it takes a good first step toward addressing the issue.

New York passed a bill that would place a moratorium on the use of facial recognition in schools. At the time of this report, it is awaiting Gov. Cuomo’s signature.

There have also been a large number of local facial recognition bans implemented in the last year, particularly in California and Massachusetts.

Stingrays and Electronic Data Collection

Cell site simulators, more commonly called “stingrays,” are portable devices used for cell phone surveillance and location tracking. They essentially spoof cell phone towers, tricking any device within range into connecting to the stingray instead of the cell tower, allowing law enforcement to sweep up all communications content within range of that tower. The stingray will also locate and track any person in possession of a phone or other electronic device that tries to connect to the tower.

In 2019, New Mexico barred warrantless stingray spying in its Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The law requires police to obtain a warrant or wiretap order before deploying a stingray device, unless they have the explicit permission of the owner or authorized possessor of the device, or if the device is lost or stolen.

In the 2020 session, New Mexico expanded protections under that 2019 law by limiting the retention and use of incidentally-collected data.

Also in 2020, the Maryland legislature passed a bill to ban warrantless stingray spying by adding provisions to existing statutes limiting warrantless location tracking through electronic devices. The bill addresses the use of cell-site simulators, requiring police to get a court order based on probable cause before deploying a stingray device. The bill also bars police from using a stingray to obtain communication content and spells out explicit criteria law enforcement must meet in order to justify such an order.

Two other states also expanded their restrictions on warrantless government access to electronic data last year.

Utah passed a bill expanding its electronic data protection by barring law enforcement agencies from accessing electronic information or data transmitted to a “remote computing service” without a warrant based on probable cause in most situations. In effect, it prohibits police from accessing information uploaded into the “cloud” without a warrant. The state previously prohibited both the use of stingrays and accessing data on a device without a warrant. 

Illinois also expanded its protection of electronic data in 2019. Under the old law, police were required to get a court order based on probable cause before obtaining a person’s current or future location information using a stingray or other means. The new law removes the words “current or future” from the statute. In effect, the law now includes historical location information under the court order requirement. 

This is an overview of the most recent moves to limit surveillance and chip away at the ever-growing national surveillance state. To get more details on state efforts to undermine government spying, along with other unconstitutional federal actions and programs, make sure you read our latest State of the Nullification Movement report. You can download it for free HERE.

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On Executive Order 12333

Mark Jaycox has written a long article on the US Executive Order 12333: “No Oversight, No Limits, No Worries: A Primer on Presidential Spying and Executive Order 12,333“:

Abstract: Executive Order 12,333 (“EO 12333”) is a 1980s Executive Order signed by President Ronald Reagan that, among other things, establishes an overarching policy framework for the Executive Branch’s spying powers. Although electronic surveillance programs authorized by EO 12333 generally target foreign intelligence from foreign targets, its permissive targeting standards allow for the substantial collection of Americans’ communications containing little to no foreign intelligence value. This fact alone necessitates closer inspection.

This working draft conducts such an inspection by collecting and coalescing the various declassifications, disclosures, legislative investigations, and news reports concerning EO 12333 electronic surveillance programs in order to provide a better understanding of how the Executive Branch implements the order and the surveillance programs it authorizes. The Article pays particular attention to EO 12333’s designation of the National Security Agency as primarily responsible for conducting signals intelligence, which includes the installation of malware, the analysis of internet traffic traversing the telecommunications backbone, the hacking of U.S.-based companies like Yahoo and Google, and the analysis of Americans’ communications, contact lists, text messages, geolocation data, and other information.

After exploring the electronic surveillance programs authorized by EO 12333, this Article proposes reforms to the existing policy framework, including narrowing the aperture of authorized surveillance, increasing privacy standards for the retention of data, and requiring greater transparency and accountability.

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Former NSA Director Keith Alexander Joins Amazon’s Board of Directors

This sounds like a bad idea.

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Does the Third Amendment Have Relevancy for Today?

Probably the least referred to section in the Bill of Rights is the Third Amendment. Though it has been cited by the U.S. Supreme Court, there has never been an opinion based on it. This might suggest that it has little to no relevance today. But some scholars argue that in fact the spirit of the amendment is rooted in the right to privacy.

The Third Amendment states the following:

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Unlike much of the Bill of Rights, it’s difficult for the average American today to understand why the founders included this protection. However, at the time it was written, it addressed an issue that caused profound apprehension. Prior to the War of Independence, British troops were stationed in Boston; under a law known as the Quartering Act, ordinary citizens were required to house soldiers in their homes.

Enduring a hostile occupying force in your community is detestable enough, but to be forced to provide its troops with food and lodging added insult to injury and was a profound intrusion into the private lives of regular Americans. The issue was so troubling for the colonists that Thomas Jefferson included it among the grievances leveled against the British Crown in the Declaration of Independence — “quartering large bodies of armed troops among us.”

Long before the Bill of Rights was drafted, many state constitutions included prohibitions on standing armies and quartering troops. It is for this reason that History Professor Gordon S. Wood at Brown University writes that “there was nothing new about the Third Amendment; it simply declared what had become conventional American wisdom.”

While there have been numerous SCOTUS opinions on other amendments such as the right to free speech or the right to keep and bear arms, the Third Amendment has never received legal scrutiny. Wood writes that despite this, “the amendment has some modern implications. It suggests the individual’s right of domestic privacy—that people are protected from governmental intrusion into their homes; and it is the only part of the Constitution that deals directly with the relationship between the rights of individuals and the military in both peace and war—rights that emphasize the importance of civilian control over the armed forces.”

In that sense, the Third Amendment bears similarities with the Fourth Amendment, which 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.

Incidentally, a 1993 paper by Tom W. Bell published in the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal argues that the Third Amendment’s origins “arguably run deeper than those of any other protection in the Bill of Rights,” calling it a “uniquely British invention, well rooted in Anglo-Saxon law.”

The first known quartering restriction was in London’s charter given by King Henry I in 1131. Bell notes that billeting wasn’t as much of an issue in Anglo-Saxon times because there was no standing army, with military defenses conduct via militia similar to that of Colonial America. It was only with the centralization of political power under William the Conqueror’s reign following the Norman conquest of England that billeting became an issue.

“English law has traditionally held the rights of homeowners in high regard,” Bell writes.

The quartering of troops in private homes was not a minor controversy; Bell credits its with triggering the Glorious Revolution that ousted King James II.

Fears of a standing army and the accompanying involuntary billeting of troops were also used by anti-federalists during debates over the U.S. Constitution. At the Maryland Ratifying Convention, Samuel Chase warned that the new federal government have the authority to house troops in private homes; this complemented other discussions at the time over whether the new federal government would lead to a permanent standing army.

“Although the Anti-Federalists did not ultimately prevail, they gave voice to a widespread concern,” Bell writes. “Eight of the state ratifying conventions sent proposals for a bill of rights to Congress. Five of these proposals contained protections against quartering.”

At the root of the Third Amendment is the principle of separation between private citizens and their property from the government via its armies. It wasn’t just that the soldiers were occupying their space and consuming their resources. Their presence gave them unfettered, unrestricted access to people’s activities, their going abouts, their day-to-day routines. It gave rise to the inability of ordinary people to set boundaries or control what government was privy to.

The whole concept of privacy is to maintain personal boundaries — the ability to keep things to ourselves. Quartering violates this principle. Though it specifically addresses soldiers, the Third Amendment’s essence encompasses more than just the military: government should not have the power to violate people’s hearth and home by placing strangers inside it. In our modern sense, that includes spying and surveillance that tracks Americans everywhere they go, including their homes.

This view is held by other legal minds, including trial attorney Quintus Curtis. In a review of the film Snowden, he remarked that “at least implicit in the Third Amendment is the idea that U..S citizens have a fundamental right to be free of unwanted violations of their privacy and personal spaces.  If so, the NSA’s surveillance programs cut to the heart of what the Constitution is supposed to stand for.”

Federal government surveillance of private citizens not only lacks constitutional authority, it betrays the spirit of the Third Amendment. In principle, there is no difference between a group of soldiers sitting in your living room and the federal government listening in on a variety of devices that allow them to track where you go, what you say, and what you do.

The tragedy is that the Third Amendment’s relevance has dwindled since the Bill of Rights was first ratified. The silver lining is that the lack of prior SCOTUS rulings means there’s no prior legal jurisprudence warping its meaning to grant greater federal power. There’s also an opportunity for its meaning to be rediscovered.

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Since 9/11, the Government’s Answer to Every Problem Has Been More Government

Have you noticed that the government’s answer to every problem is more government – at taxpayer expense – and less individual liberty?

The Great Depression. The World Wars. The 9/11 terror attacks. The COVID-19 pandemic.

Every crisis—manufactured or otherwise—since the nation’s early beginnings has become a make-work opportunity for the government to expand its reach and its power at taxpayer expense while limiting our freedoms at every turn.

Indeed, the history of the United States is a testament to the old adage that liberty decreases as government (and government bureaucracy) grows. To put it another way, as government expands, liberty contracts.

To the police state, this COVID-19 pandemic has been a huge boon, like winning the biggest jackpot in the lottery. Certainly, it will prove to be a windfall for those who profit from government expenditures and expansions.

Given the rate at which the government has been devising new ways to spend our money and establish itself as the “solution” to all of our worldly problems, this current crisis will most likely end up ushering in the largest expansion of government power since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

This is how the emergency state operates, after all.

From 9/11 to COVID-19, “we the people” have acted the part of the helpless, gullible victims desperately in need of the government to save us from whatever danger threatens. In turn, the government has been all too accommodating and eager while also expanding its power and authority in the so-called name of national security.

As chief correspondent Dan Balz asks for The Washington Post, “Government is everywhere now. Where does it go next?

When it comes to the power players that call the shots, there is no end to their voracious appetite for more: more money, more power, more control.

This expansion of government power is also increasing our federal debt in unprecedented leaps and bounds. Yet the government isn’t just borrowing outrageous amounts of money to keep the country afloat. It’s also borrowing indecent sums to pay for programs it can’t afford.

The government’s primary response to this COVID-19 pandemic—flooding the market with borrowed money in the amount of trillions of dollars for stimulus payments, unemployment insurance expansions, and loans to prop up small businesses and to keep big companies afloat—has pushed the country even deeper in debt.

By “the country,” I really mean the taxpayers. And by “the taxpayers,” it’s really future generations who will be shackled to debt loads they may never be able to pay back.

This is how you impoverish the future.

Democrats and Republicans alike have done this.

Without fail, every president within the last 50 years has expanded the nation’s debt. When President Trump took office on January 20, 2017, the national debt—the amount the federal government has borrowed over the years and must pay back—was a whopping $19.9 trillion. Despite Trump’s pledge to drain the swamp and eliminate the debt, the federal debt is now approaching $27 trillion and is on track to surpass $78 trillion by 2028.

For many years now, economists have warned that economic collapse would be inevitable if the national debt ever surpassed the size of the U.S. economy. The government passed that point in June 2020 and has yet to put the brakes on its spending.

In fact, the Federal Reserve just keeps printing more money in order to prop up the economy and float the debt.

At some point, something’s got to give.

As it now stands, the U.S. is among the most indebted countries in the world.

Almost a third of the $27 trillion national debt is owed to foreign entities such as Japan and China.

Most of the debt, however, is owed to the public.

How is this even possible? Essentially, it’s a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

First, the government requires taxpayers to pay a portion of their salaries to the Social Security Trust Fund. The government then turns around and borrows from Social Security to cover its spending needs. Then the government raises taxes or prints more money in order to pay out whatever is needed to the retirees.

It’s a form of convoluted economics that only makes sense to government bureaucrats looking to make a profit off the backs of the taxpayers.

According to the U.S. Debt Clock, each taxpayer’s share of the national debt is $214,000 and growing.

That’s almost five times more than the median income for what Americans earn in a year. That’s also almost five times more than the average American has in savings, across savings accounts, checking accounts, money market accounts, call deposit accounts, and prepaid cards. Almost 60% of Americans are so financially strapped that they don’t have even $500 in savings and nothing whatsoever put away for retirement.

Just the interest that must be paid on the national debt every year is $338 billion and growing. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the fastest growing item in the budget over the next decade will be interest on the debt.

As the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget reported in 2019, before COVID spending pushed the country over the fiscal cliff, “Interest payments will rise from $325 billion last year to $928 billion by 2029, a nearly threefold increase. If tax cuts and spending increases are extended, interest will exceed $1 trillion and set a new record as a share of the economy. The federal government will spend more on interest than on Medicaid or children by 2020. By 2024, interest will match defense spending.

Bottom line: The U.S. government—and that includes the current administration—is spending money it doesn’t have on programs it can’t afford, and “we the taxpayers” are the ones who will have to pay for it.

As financial analyst Kristin Tate explains, “When the government has its debt bill come due, all of us will be on the hook.”

Despite the tax burden “we the people” are made to bear, we have no real say in how the government runs, or how our taxpayer funds are used, but we’re being forced to pay through the nose, anyhow.

We have no real say, but that doesn’t prevent the government from fleecing us at every turn and forcing us to pay for endless wars that do more to fund the military industrial complex than protect us, pork barrel projects that produce little to nothing, and a police state that serves only to imprison us within its walls.

All the while the government continues to do whatever it wants—levy taxes, rack up debt, spend outrageously and irresponsibly—with little thought for the plight of its citizens.

This brings me to a curious point: what the future will look like ten years from now, when the federal debt is expected to surpass $78 trillion, an unsustainable level of debt that will result in unprecedented economic hardship for anyone that does not belong to the wealthy elite.

Interestingly enough, that timeline coincides with the government’s vision of the future as depicted in a Pentagon training video created by the Army for U.S. Special Operations Command.

According to the video, the government is anticipating trouble (read: civil unrest), which is code for anything that challenges the government’s authority, wealth and power, and is grooming its armed forces (including its heavily armed federal agents) accordingly to solve future domestic political and social problems.

The training video, titled “Megacities: Urban Future, the Emerging Complexity,” is only five minutes long, but it provides a chilling glimpse of what the government expects the world to look like in 2030, a world bedeviled by “criminal networks,” “substandard infrastructure,” “religious and ethnic tensions,” “impoverishment, slums,” “open landfills, over-burdened sewers,” a “growing mass of unemployed,” and an urban landscape in which the prosperous economic elite must be protected from the impoverishment of the have nots.

And then comes the kicker.

Three-and-a-half minutes into the Pentagon’s dystopian vision of “a world of Robert Kaplan-esque urban hellscapes — brutal and anarchic supercities filled with gangs of youth-gone-wild, a restive underclass, criminal syndicates, and bands of malicious hackers,” the ominous voice of the narrator speaks of a need to “drain the swamps.”

Drain the swamps.

Surely, we’ve heard that phrase before?

Ah yes.

Emblazoned on t-shirts and signs, shouted at rallies, and used as a rallying cry among Trump supporters, “drain the swamp” became one of Donald Trump’s most-used campaign slogans.

Far from draining the politically corrupt swamps of Washington DC of lobbyists and special interest groups, however, the Trump Administration has further mired us in a sweltering bog of corruption and self-serving tactics.

Funny how the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Now the government has adopted its own plans for swamp-draining, only it wants to use the military to drain the swamps of futuristic urban American cities of “noncombatants and engage the remaining adversaries in high intensity conflict within.”

And who are these noncombatants, a military term that refers to civilians who are not engaged in fighting during a war?

They are, according to the Pentagon, “adversaries.”

They are “threats.”

They are the “enemy.”

They are people who don’t support the government, people who live in fast-growing urban communities, people who may be less well-off economically than the government and corporate elite, people who engage in protests, people who are unemployed, people who engage in crime (in keeping with the government’s fast-growing, overly broad definition of what constitutes a crime).

In other words, in the eyes of the U.S. military, noncombatants are American citizens a.k.a. domestic extremists a.k.a. enemy combatants who must be identified, targeted, detained, contained and, if necessary, eliminated.

Funny how closely fact tracks fiction these days.

Just recently, in fact, I re-watched Escape from L.A.John Carpenter’s 1996 post-apocalyptic action film that imagines a future (2013, in fact) in which the United States has elected a president for life who runs the country according to his own theocratic moral law. Anyone who runs afoul of the president’s moral laws is stripped of their citizenship and either electrocuted or deported to the island of Los Angeles, a penal colony where lawlessness reigns supreme.

As the film’s opening narrator recounts:

In the late 20th century, hostile forces inside the United States grow strong. The city of Los Angeles is ravaged by crime and immorality. To protect and defend its citizens, the United States Police Force is formed. A presidential candidate predicts a millennium earthquake will destroy L.A. in divine retribution. The earthquake measuring 9.6 on the Richter scale hits at 12:59 P.M. August 23rd in the year 2000. After the devastation, the Constitution is amended, and the newly elected president accepts a lifetime term of office. The country’s capital is moved from Washington, D.C., to the president’s hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia. Los Angeles Island is declared no longer part of the United States and becomes the deportation point for all people found undesirable or unfit to live in the new, moral America. The United States Police Force, like an army, is encamped among the shorelines, making any escape from L.A. impossible. From the southeastern hills of Orange County to the northwestern shore of Malibu, the great wall excludes L.A. from the mainland. The president’s first act as permanent Commander in Chief is Directive 17: once an American loses his or her citizenship, they are deported to this island of the damned, and they never come back.

Carpenter is a brilliant filmmaker whose dystopian visions of the future are eerily prescient, but this film is particularly unnerving: environmental disasters; engineered viruses used like weapons to control the masses; riots and looting that leave the populace longing for law and order; religion used like a weapon; martial law; surveillance that keeps every citizen under the government’s watchful eye; and a growing awareness that the only path to freedom left for humanity is to shut down the government and start over again.

We’re almost there now.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, unless we make some effort to reject the sorry excuse for representative government that we have been saddled with, the future that awaits us—whether it’s the future envisioned by the Pentagon in its training video or the future imagined by Carpenter—will be a living nightmare from which there is no escape.

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Cory Doctorow on The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

Cory Doctorow has writtten an extended rebuttal of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff. He summarized the argument on Twitter.

Shorter summary: it’s not the surveillance part, it’s the fact that these companies are monopolies.

I think it’s both. Surveillance capitalism has some unique properties that make it particularly unethical and incompatible with a free society, and Zuboff makes them clear in her book. But the current acceptance of monopolies in our society is also extremely damaging — which Doctorow makes clear.

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All Spying All the Time

During this summer of madness in Portland, Oregon, and sadness over COVID-19, two below-the-radar events occurred implicating the insatiable appetite of the United States government to spy on everyone in America. Regular readers of this column know that the feds have been wearing away at our privacy rights using a multitude of means. Yet, these two below-the-fold events this summer have caught the feds flatfooted.

Here is the backstory.

After the calamity of Watergate, Congress investigated the nature and extent of FBI and CIA spying on Americans as ordered by President Richard Nixon. A Senate committee headed by the late Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, in 1975 made such startling revelations of warrantless and unlawful spying on Americans pursuant to presidential whims — going back to FDR — that it offered legislation to provide judicial oversight.

The legislation is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. It established the FISA Court, with a rotating membership of federal district court judges appointed to it by the chief justice.

FISA is profoundly unconstitutional because it authorizes the judges on the FISA Court to issue search warrants using a lesser standard of proof than what the Constitution requires. The Fourth Amendment requires proof of the likelihood of evidence of crimes in the place to be searched as a precondition for the issuance of search warrants, and it requires specification of the place to be searched or the person or thing to be seized.

When James Madison wrote the Fourth Amendment, his goal was to compel the government to focus its investigative resources on evidence of crimes, not spying on political adversaries, as the British had done to the colonists, and to establish that the natural right to be left alone by the government — privacy — is the default position.

FISA reverses all that. It presumes that the feds can obtain all the business and financial records they want about any person for any reason because they can define “business records” and “financial records” to include anything they want, such as mail from the Post Office or medical and legal records.

FISA also ignores the constitutional requirement of probable cause of crime and substitutes in an amorphous and absurd standard of probable cause of speaking to any person who has spoken to any foreign person. FISA also ignores the specificity requirement of identifying the place to be searched and the person or thing to be seized.

The FISA Court meets in secret in Washington, D.C., and even the judges on the court do not have access to its records. So, the court was hugely embarrassed a few years ago when one of its orders was leaked to the press. It was an order to Verizon directing it to furnish a year’s worth of telephone records to the National Security Agency — America’s 60,000-person strong domestic spy agency — of all 113 million Verizon customers! This was done without the NSA showing probable cause of crime and without identifying a single customer.

The unconstitutional order was granted pursuant to section 215 of FISA. That section purports to permit bulk acquisition of electronic data — print and voice — without identifying whose data is being sought and without requiring any showing of probable cause of crime. Last February, section 215 expired, and Congress made fruitless attempts to revive it.

Last week, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., when he adjourned the Senate for the summer, addressed the issues it will take up in the fall. FISA section 215 was not among them. McConnell’s silence is baffling as he and the intelligence community have been claiming loud and long, for nearly 20 years, that without section 215, the United States is ripe for subversion and invasion.

Was the pro-spying crowd in the government exaggerating all along about its need for section 215, or will the NSA continue to spy without even a tissue of statutory authorization? My friends formerly in the NSA tell me it doesn’t care about the law or the Constitution. Its goal is to spy on all persons all the time.

A few days before the mysterious McConnell silence came a rare public warning from the NSA. These master spies were concerned that military and Department of Homeland Security personnel in the streets of Portland were unwittingly exposing themselves to being spied upon, not by the feds, but by demonstrators in the streets using the same sophisticated spying tools the government uses.

Thus, the NSA warned that the demonstrators were using stingrays — fake cell towers that send signals that lock onto mobile phones permitting the user of the tower to follow the movements of the phones — as many local police departments unlawfully do.

Stated differently, the federal government was not warning Americans about foreign spies or the depth of its own spying. It was warning government employees about the depth of sophisticated Americans spying on them. The failure to abide this warning is surely one of the reasons the feds largely departed Portland’s streets as the demonstrators knew when and where the troops would arrive.

Government spying is a way of life for tens of thousands of government personnel, even outside the NSA. Yet, all of them have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, which guarantees the right to privacy — privacy as a natural right, as the default position, with its invasion strictly limited to collect evidence of crimes from identified persons when authorized by a judge.

We have come full circle from Madison’s America. He was determined to craft a government that could not do to Americans what the British had done to the colonists. He failed.

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Collecting and Selling Mobile Phone Location Data

The Wall Street Journal has an article about a company called Anomaly Six LLC that has an SDK that’s used by “more than 500 mobile applications.” Through that SDK, the company collects location data from users, which it then sells.

Anomaly Six is a federal contractor that provides global-location-data products to branches of the U.S. government and private-sector clients. The company told The Wall Street Journal it restricts the sale of U.S. mobile phone movement data only to nongovernmental, private-sector clients.

[…]

Anomaly Six was founded by defense-contracting veterans who worked closely with government agencies for most of their careers and built a company to cater in part to national-security agencies, according to court records and interviews.

Just one of the many Internet companies spying on our every move for profit. And I’m sure they sell to the US government; it’s legal and why would they forgo those sales?

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DHS Worried Widespread Mask Use Will Thwart Government Facial Recognition

There has been a lot of controversy over masks, but no matter what you think about the efficacy of face coverings in preventing the spread of COVID-19, there is one advantage to masking up. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has expressed concern that widespread use of masks will thwart facial recognition.

A DHS “intelligence note” dated May 22 came to light in the BlueLeaks trove of law enforcement documents. The DHS Intelligence Enterprise Counterterrorism Mission Center in conjunction with a variety of other agencies, including Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement drafted the note. It “examines the potential impacts that widespread use of protective masks could have on security operations that incorporate face recognition systems — such as video cameras, image processing hardware and software, and image recognition algorithms — to monitor public spaces during the ongoing Covid-19 public health emergency and in the months after the pandemic subsides.”

According to The Intercept, the Minnesota Fusion Center distributed the notice on May 26, as protests over the killing of George Floyd were ramping up. “Email logs included in the BlueLeaks archive show that the note was also sent to city and state government officials and private security officers in Colorado and, inexplicably, to a hospital and a community college.”

The note warned, “We assess violent extremists and other criminals who have historically maintained an interest in avoiding face recognition are likely to opportunistically seize upon public safety measures recommending the wearing of face masks to hinder the effectiveness of face recognition systems in public spaces by security partners.”

The note also expresses more general concern about mask-wearing. One header reads, “Face Recognition Systems Likely to be Less Effective as Widespread Wear of Face Coverings for Public Safety Purposes Continue,”

“We assess face recognition systems used to support security operations in public spaces will be less effective while widespread public use of facemasks, including partial and full face covering, is practiced by the public to limit the spread of Covid-19.”

The debate on masking aside, thwarting facial recognition is a good thing because the federal government is aggressively pushing the expansion of its vast and increasingly intrusive facial recognition network.

THE GROWING FEDERAL PROGRAM

recent report revealed that the federal government has turned state drivers’ license photos into a giant facial recognition database, putting virtually every driver in America in a perpetual electronic police lineup. The revelations generated widespread outrage, but this story isn’t new. The federal government has been developing a massive, nationwide facial recognition system for years.

The FBI rolled out a nationwide facial-recognition program in the fall of 2014, with the goal of building a giant biometric database with pictures provided by the states and corporate friends.

In 2016, the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law released “The Perpetual Lineup,” a massive report on law enforcement use of facial recognition technology in the U.S. You can read the complete report at perpetuallineup.org. The organization conducted a year-long investigation and collected more than 15,000 pages of documents through more than 100 public records requests. The report paints a disturbing picture of intense cooperation between the federal government, and state and local law enforcement to develop a massive facial recognition database.

“Face recognition is a powerful technology that requires strict oversight. But those controls, by and large, don’t exist today,” report co-author Clare Garvie said. “With only a few exceptions, there are no laws governing police use of the technology, no standards ensuring its accuracy, and no systems checking for bias. It’s a wild west.”

There are many technical and legal problems with facial recognition, including significant concerns about the accuracy of the technology, particularly when reading the facial features of minority populations. During a test run by the ACLU of Northern California, facial recognition misidentified 26 members of the California legislature as people in a database of arrest photos.

With facial recognition technology, police and other government officials have the capability to track individuals in real-time. These systems allow law enforcement agents to use video cameras and continually scan everybody who walks by. According to the report, several major police departments have expressed an interest in this type of real-time tracking. Documents revealed agencies in at least five major cities, including Los Angeles, either claimed to run real-time face recognition off of street cameras, bought technology with the capability, or expressed written interest in buying it.

In all likelihood, the federal government heavily involves itself in helping state and local agencies obtain this technology. The feds provide grant money to local law enforcement agencies for a vast array of surveillance gear, including ALPRs, stingray devices and drones. The federal government essentially encourages and funds a giant nationwide surveillance net and then taps into the information via fusion centers and the Information Sharing Environment (ISE).

Fusion centers were sold as a tool to combat terrorism, but that is not how they are being used. The ACLU pointed to a bipartisan congressional report to demonstrate the true nature of government fusion centers: “They haven’t contributed anything meaningful to counterterrorism efforts. Instead, they have largely served as police surveillance and information sharing nodes for law enforcement efforts targeting the frequent subjects of police attention: Black and brown people, immigrants, dissidents, and the poor.”

Fusion centers operate within the broader ISE. According to its website, the ISE “provides analysts, operators, and investigators with information needed to enhance national security. These analysts, operators, and investigators…have mission needs to collaborate and share information with each other and with private sector partners and our foreign allies.” In other words, ISE serves as a conduit for the sharing of information gathered without a warrant. Known ISE partners include the Office of Director of National Intelligence which oversees 17 federal agencies and organizations, including the NSA. ISE utilizes these partnerships to collect and share data on the millions of unwitting people they track.

Reports that the Berkeley Police Department in cooperation with a federal fusion center deployed cameras equipped to surveil a “free speech” rally and Antifa counterprotests provided the first solid link between the federal government and local authorities in facial recognition surveillance.

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My Lawsuit Is Over; Here’s the Surveillance Tech the Lexington Police Department Is Hiding

After over two-and-a-half years of legal wrangling, the lawsuit filed against me by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government is over and I am going to reveal what I know about the Lexington Police Department’s super-secret cameras.

After several months of consideration, I have decided not to continue fighting LFUCG in court.

This experience has reiterated what I’ve been saying for years – we can’t trust government agencies to acquire and operate invasive surveillance technology without oversight and transparency. They hide it for a reason. They lie about it for a reason. As Patrick Henry warned:

“The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them. The most iniquitous plots may be carried on against their liberty and happiness.”

In April, Fayette Circuit Court Judge Lucy VanMeter ruled that the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government could withhold documents relating to “mobile surveillance cameras” from public scrutiny. In a nutshell, she bought the city’s argument that revealing information about the cameras would create an undue burden on the city and could jeopardize officer safety.

Quite frankly, I think VanMeter’s reasoning was sloppy, and I’m pretty confident we could get her ruling overturned on appeal. But I think now is the time to end the legal fight. It’s no longer necessary.

The case has proved the point I was trying to make all along — Lexington desperately needs transparency and oversight for its surveillance programs.

Thanks to the LPD’s poor redacting skills, I have known the nature of three of the super-secret cameras since the beginning. The police department gave me a number of heavily redacted documents in response to my initial open records request. They redacted several of these using a magic marker, and I was able to read through the redactions.

According to one set of documents, the Lexington Police Department purchased a “covert utility box camera” in 2014. It’s exactly what it sounds like – a hidden camera disguised to look like a standard utility box.

An email about the new camera referenced two “street light cameras” already owned by the LPD. The email, written by then Lt. Scott Blakely of the Special Investigations Section, said that the utility box application “will provide us with a different application where street lights are not installed.”

I find the fact that the police department secretly installs cameras in street lights extremely troubling. We have no idea when or how they use this technology. We have no idea what privacy protections they have in place. We don’t know how they handle the data they gather, how long they retain it, and how they handle incidentally collected footage unrelated to the investigation. We don’t even know if they require warrants. In fact, some of the testimony during my court case indicates they do not.

The police department also purchased high-resolution Panasonic dome cameras in 2013. They appear to be mounted cameras, and not mobile,  but it’s unclear where they were deployed or how they are used.

Documents released by the Lexington Police Department during legal proceedings reveal lax surveillance policies that could be interpreted to allow surveillance virtually anyplace at any time.

An LPD document titled GO 1975-04 D establishes guidelines for police department technical surveillance. According to the document, Lexington police can conduct surveillance “when a legitimate and reasonable suspicion exists to believe an individual or organization is engaged in, is about to engage in or has the propensity to engage in illegal activity, or to believe an event may provoke community disorder, or for special event security concerns.”

These are extremely subjective criteria, particularly the ability to spy on people with a “propensity” to engage in illegal activities. What exactly does this mean? Minorities? People with particular political views? People who live in a “bad neighborhood?” This criterion could justify surveillance in virtually any situation.

Additionally, the policy for event surveillance is ripe for abuse and opens the door to target political activities or other events in a discriminatory way. This lends credence to unconfirmed rumors we’ve heard about the LPD surveilling the Lexington Roots and Heritage Festival.

The document also allows for surveillance to, “Determine whether there is reasonable suspicion to believe a crime will, has, or may occur,” and, “Obtain probable cause for obtaining search warrants.”

This indicates that the LPD is not obtaining warrants to deploy surveillance. In fact, the department apparently uses warrantless surveillance to gather evidence in order to obtain warrants.

Despite the information I was able to glean from redacted documents, the extent of the LPD’s surveillance programs remains unclear. We know nothing about the other cameras the department owns or operates, or if the city has purchased other surveillance technology since I made my initial records request three years ago.

All of this underscores the need for policies establishing oversight and transparency for all Lexington Police Department surveillance technologies.

Government agencies should have a written plan in place directing and limiting the use of surveillance technology before they acquire or use it. These plans should outline the costs and benefits of the technology, and should include specific policies directing when and under what circumstances it can be deployed, policies on the sharing and retention of data, policies outlining how information incidentally collected on innocent third parties will be handled, and policies to ensure surveillance isn’t directed at people with certain political views or minority communities in a discriminatory way.  Furthermore, the plan should be subject to public scrutiny and council approval at a public meeting – again –  before the agency acquires or begins using this technology.

To this end, a local coalition I formed called We See You Watching Lexington proposes a local ordinance that would establish this kind of oversight and transparency. The language was drafted by lawyers at the ACLU with input from other organizations concerned about privacy in this era of rapidly advancing technology. You can download the model language HERE.

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FedCoin: A New Scheme for Tyranny and Poverty

This article was originally published by Ron Paul at The Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. 

If some Congress members get their way, the Federal Reserve may soon be able to track many of your purchases in real-time and share that information with government agencies. This is just one of the problems with the proposed “digital dollar” or “fedcoin.”

Fedcoin was initially included in the first coronavirus spending bill. While the proposal was dropped from the final version of the bill, there is still great interest in fedcoin on Capitol Hill. Some progressives have embraced fedcoin as a way to provide Americans with a “universal basic income.”

Both the Senate Banking Committee and the House Financial Services Committee held hearings on fedcoin in June. This is the first step toward making fedcoin a reality.

Fedcoin would not be an actual coin. Instead, it would be a special account created and maintained for each American by the Federal Reserve. Each month, Fed employees could tap a few keys on a computer and — bingo — each American would have dollars added to his Federal Reserve account. This is the 21st century equivalent of throwing money from helicopters.

Fedcoin could effect private cryptocurrencies. Also, it would limit the ability of private citizens to protect themselves from the Federal Reserve-caused decline in the dollar’s value.

Fedcoin would not magically increase the number of available goods and services. What it would do is drive up prices. The damage this would do to middle- and lower-income Americans would dwarf any benefit they receive from their monthly “gift” from the Fed. The rise in prices could lead to Congress regularly increasing fedcoin payments to Americans. These increases would cause prices to keep rising even more until we face hyperinflation and a dollar crisis. Of course, we are already on the path to an economic crisis thanks to the Fed. Fedcoin will hasten and worsen the crisis.

Fedcoin poses a great threat to privacy. The Federal Reserve could know when fedcoin is used, who is using it, and what they use it for. This information could be shared with government agencies, such as the FBI or IRS.

The government could use the ability to know how Americans are spending fedcoin to limit our ability to purchase goods and services disfavored by politicians and bureaucrats. Anyone who doubts this should recall the Obama administration’s Operation Choke Point. Operation Choke Point involved financial regulators “alerting” banks that dealing with certain businesses, such as gun stores, would put the banks at “reputational risk” and could subject them to greater regulation.

Is it so hard to believe that the ability to track purchases would be used in the future to “discourage” individuals from buying guns, fatty foods, or tobacco, or from being customers of corporations whose CEOs are not considered “woke” by the thought police? Fedcoin could also be used to “encourage” individuals to patronize “green” business, thus fulfilling Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s goal of involving the Fed in the fight against climate change.

Fedcoin could threaten private cryptocurrencies, increase inflation, and give government new powers over our financial transactions. Fedcoin will also speed up the destruction of the fiat money system. Whatever gain fedcoin may bring to average Americans will come at a terrible cost to liberty and prosperity.

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Detroit Police Chief Admits Facial Recognition Rarely Provides an Accurate Match

DETROIT, Mich. (July 22, 2020) – During a public meeting last month, Detroit Police Chief James Craig admitted that the city’s facial recognition technology rarely provides a direct match and misidentifies people the vast majority of the time.

Detroit paid $1 million for the facial recognition software developed by DataWorks Plus back in 2017. Craig admitted that the system is appallingly inaccurate.

“If we would use the software only [to identify subjects], we would not solve the case 95-97 percent of the time. That’s if we relied totally on the software, which would be against our current policy … If we were just to use the technology by itself, to identify someone, I would say 96 percent of the time it would misidentify.”

This dovetails with other evidence revealing the inaccuracy of facial recognition technology, especially when it comes to identifying non-whites. During a test run by the ACLU of Northern California, facial recognition misidentified 26 members of the California legislature as people in a database of arrest photos.

DataWorks GM Todd Pastorini compared the system to automated fingerprint ID systems that pull up dozens or even hundreds of potential matches. He told Motherboard the system “doesn’t bring back a single candidate.”

“It’s hundreds. They are weighted just like a fingerprint system based on the probe [and what’s in the database].”

As Motherboard pointed out, this means cops are ultimately making the decision to question and investigate people based on what the software returns and a detective’s judgment.

“This means that people who may have had nothing to do with a crime are ultimately questioned and investigated by police. In Detroit, this means, almost exclusively, Black people.”

According to data released by the Detroit Police Department, officers used the facial recognition system 70 times through the first six months of the year. Of the 70 photos fed into the system, 68 were of black people. The race of the individuals in the other two photos were classified as “unidentified”

Of the 70 photos, 31 were pulled from social media accounts and 18 were captured by security cameras.

Detroit’s facial recognition system works with the vast network of cameras known as Project Green Light. The surveillance network utilizes thousands of government and private cameras throughout the city. The cameras are installed at schools, parks, apartment buildings, immigration centers, gas stations, churches, hotels, fast-food restaurants, and even in places such as addiction treatment centers and abortion clinics.

The program was implemented in 2016 and was generally popular due to the promise that it would deter and help solve crime. As the New York Times pointed out, the system is anything but covert. A flashing green light marks the location of every camera linked into a network that feeds directly into the Detroit Police Department’s downtown headquarters.

Detroit’s facial recognition system came under fire last year when Mayor Mike Duggan implied that the Detroit Police Department wasn’t using the technology in order to muddy the waters as information about the controversial program became public. As it turns out, he was using clever wordplay. After all, why would the city spend $1 million for a system it had no intention of using?

In fact, Duggan never claimed the police department wasn’t using facial recognition at all. He just said it wasn’t using it on “live stream video.”

In other words, police aren’t running facial recognition in real-time. But they are using the technology on still images plucked from reams of footage collected by cameras all around the city. As Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center senior policy analyst Daniel Lawrence told the Detriot Free Press, this is a difference without any real distinction.

“In all my experience with facial recognition, the way the process and programming works is that it takes a still image from the video. I’m not knowledgeable of any facial recognition software that’s taking real video. It’s taking a still from a video.”

The issues with facial recognition technology go far beyond their inaccuracy. Even if the technology improves, it still poses a significant privacy threat.

A NATIONAL FACIAL RECOGNITION SYSTEM

recent report revealed that the federal government has turned state drivers’ license photos into a giant facial recognition database, putting virtually every driver in America in a perpetual electronic police lineup. The revelations generated widespread outrage, but this story isn’t new. The federal government has been developing a massive, nationwide facial recognition system for years.

The FBI rolled out a nationwide facial-recognition program in the fall of 2014, with the goal of building a giant biometric database with pictures provided by the states and corporate friends.

In 2016, the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law released “The Perpetual Lineup,” a massive report on law enforcement use of facial recognition technology in the U.S. You can read the complete report at perpetuallineup.org. The organization conducted a year-long investigation and collected more than 15,000 pages of documents through more than 100 public records requests. The report paints a disturbing picture of intense cooperation between the federal government, and state and local law enforcement to develop a massive facial recognition database.

“Face recognition is a powerful technology that requires strict oversight. But those controls, by and large, don’t exist today,” report co-author Clare Garvie said. “With only a few exceptions, there are no laws governing police use of the technology, no standards ensuring its accuracy, and no systems checking for bias. It’s a wild west.”

With facial recognition technology, police and other government officials have the capability to track individuals in real-time. These systems allow law enforcement agents to use video cameras and continually scan everybody who walks by. According to the report, several major police departments have expressed an interest in this type of real-time tracking. Documents revealed agencies in at least five major cities, including Los Angeles, either claimed to run real-time face recognition off of street cameras, bought technology with the capability, or expressed written interest in buying it.

In all likelihood, the federal government heavily involves itself in helping state and local agencies obtain this technology. The feds provide grant money to local law enforcement agencies for a vast array of surveillance gear, including ALPRs, stingray devices and drones. The federal government essentially encourages and funds a giant nationwide surveillance net and then taps into the information via fusion centers and the Information Sharing Environment (ISE).

Fusion centers were sold as a tool to combat terrorism, but that is not how they are being used. The ACLU pointed to a bipartisan congressional report to demonstrate the true nature of government fusion centers: “They haven’t contributed anything meaningful to counterterrorism efforts. Instead, they have largely served as police surveillance and information sharing nodes for law enforcement efforts targeting the frequent subjects of police attention: Black and brown people, immigrants, dissidents, and the poor.”

Fusion centers operate within the broader ISE. According to its website, the ISE “provides analysts, operators, and investigators with information needed to enhance national security. These analysts, operators, and investigators…have mission needs to collaborate and share information with each other and with private sector partners and our foreign allies.” In other words, ISE serves as a conduit for the sharing of information gathered without a warrant. Known ISE partners include the Office of Director of National Intelligence which oversees 17 federal agencies and organizations, including the NSA. ISE utilizes these partnerships to collect and share data on the millions of unwitting people they track.

Reports that the Berkeley Police Department in cooperation with a federal fusion center deployed cameras equipped to surveil a “free speech” rally and Antifa counterprotests provided the first solid link between the federal government and local authorities in facial recognition surveillance.

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REAL ID Ravages Our Liberty

National ID cards have been atop the command-and-control political wish list for decades. In the 1990s, Republican Congresses shot down efforts to move toward national identification cards. However, after 9/11, “everything changed” and politicians seized the chance to unleash far more snooping and create potentially hundreds of millions of dossiers on American citizens.

Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005 as part of an enormous piece of legislation dealing with military appropriations and tsunami relief. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), one of the few opponents, warned that the REAL ID Act granted “open-ended authority to the Secretary of Homeland Security to require biometric information on IDs in the future. This means your harmless-looking driver’s license could contain a retina scan, fingerprints, DNA information, or radiofrequency technology.”

While Ron Paul was often derided by the media as paranoid while he was in Congress, the bandwagon against REAL ID was quickly boarded by both liberals and conservatives. Twenty-five states passed resolutions objecting to the law or signaling that they would not comply. The Electronic Frontier Foundation declared in 2007, “A federal law that aims to conscript the states into creating a national ID system … is precisely the kind of scheme that the framers expected that federalism would guard against.” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff fanned fears after he wrote an op-ed that boasted that “by embracing REAL ID, we can indeed cash a check, hire a baby-sitter, board a plane, or engage in countless other activities with confidence.” But why should federal bureaucrats have any role in certifying babysitters?

The DHS eventually compelled submission by state governments by announcing that the TSA would prohibit Americans from flying unless they have either a REAL ID Act–approved driver’s license or a passport. The Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that the “‘constitutional right to travel from one State to another’ is firmly embedded in our jurisprudence.” However, after 9/11 politicians, bureaucrats, and judges discovered another exemption to the Fourth Amendment. But REAL ID Act policies routinely scorned both the Bill of Rights and Supreme Court rulings.

Most Americans do not possess passports, so federally approved state driver’s licenses are the new de facto internal passports. Almost a hundred million Americans do not have REAL ID–compliant identification as of late 2019, according to the U.S. Travel Association. In Minnesota, fewer than 12 percent of drivers have licenses that will not be rejected at TSA checkpoints starting on October 1. States and individuals are chaotically scrambling to meet the law’s shifting demands. Twitter is echoing with howls of people who spend hours at motor vehicle administration offices only to have their paperwork rejected because of picayune quibbles.

Driver’s licenses

But the REAL ID law poses perils far beyond the airport entrance. Maryland began issuing REAL ID driver’s licenses in 2009. In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security notified the state that its REAL ID licenses were invalid unless Maryland snared more documents for each driver. More than half a million drivers remain at risk of losing their licenses. Maryland is revoking thousands — if not tens of thousands — of driver’s licenses of people who failed to obey the MVA’s latest document demands.

By August 2019, 8,000 Maryland driver’s licenses had been suspended and almost 60,000 others were at risk of being revoked. MVA spokesmen failed to respond to repeated press inquiries seeking the latest number of suspended licenses. Maryland police began seizing the license of any driver whom they stopped whose only offense was failure to hustle to show Maryland bureaucrats his birth certificate, passport, utility bills, Social Security card, or other proof of his identity.

I was one of the Marylanders who received a summons to show up at MVA offices to prove my identity to comply with the REAL ID Act. I would have ignored the summons except that I didn’t want the state to again suspend my license or vehicle registration on frivolous pretexts. The state of Maryland claimed to be unsure who I was though they never hesitate to cash my property tax payments. Nor did my local government doubt my authenticity when they sent me a ticket from a red light camera at an intersection where the yellow light was quicker than a cat’s somersault.

Even though I was aware of REAL ID perils, I showed up at a local MVA at the appointed time. The MVA clerk sifted through my stash of documentation and quickly found a problem.  While my driver’s license and passport identify me as “James,” the IRS Form 1099s I provided her identified me as “Jim” — a well-known ploy by terrorist groups. Luckily, I had brought extra documents and found a few 1099s with “James.” Otherwise, I might still be in Identity Oblivion.

Since the 2005 enactment of the REAL ID Act, the federal government has helped bankroll the license-plate scanner networks that permit tracking any driver on the roads in many parts of the nation. If Maryland decides to target people who received cancellation notices, there are almost 500 license-plate scanners deployed in police cars and elsewhere in the state that compile almost half a billion scans of drivers per year. If the order is given to use the scanners, a thousand people a day could be stripped of their licenses and arrested. MVA spokesmen also failed to respond to inquiries about whether license-plate scanners may be used for enforcing REAL ID compliance demands. The same type of hammer could fall on citizens in other states who are snared by federally funded covert license-plate surveillance.

Keeping us safe

The REAL ID Act specifies a “mandatory facial image capture” for every applicant for a driver’s license, which must be “retained in electronic storage in a transferable format.” As Techdirt recently reported, “Federal investigators have turned state Department of Motor Vehicles databases into the bedrock of an unprecedented surveillance infrastructure.” The FBI is regularly tapping into databases with more than 600 million facial photos. But citizens have nothing to fear because, as the FBI’s Kimberly Del Greco recently testified to Congress, facial recognition technology is critical ‘‘to preserve our nation’s freedoms, ensure our liberties are protected, and preserve our security.’’ Del Greco did not seek to ease apprehensions on potential abuses of facial recognition regimes by invoking the example of China, where the communist regime uses such spying to round out its totalitarian surveillance.

National ID cards will do far more to control than to protect Americans. The REAL ID Act could enable the feds to demand far more information in the future. If Maryland or other states have the prerogative to cancel driver’s licenses because of federal demands for people to show up with their passports or birth certificates, there is nothing to prevent future cancellations of licenses for people who balk at providing DNA samples or submitting to retina scans. The Justice Department proposed in January 2020 to begin collecting DNA from anyone (including U.S. citizens) detained at the U.S. border — an estimated 740,000 people a year. If another major terrorist attack occurs within the United States, politicians will very likely again stampede to grant any biometric-identity demands made by the FBI, DHS, or other federal agencies. And the same people who tell us we have no reason to fear such an abuse previously told us that we had nothing to fear from TSA screeners who were doing routine checks to ensure aviation safety.

The biggest folly would be to presume that data roundups spurred by REAL ID and other federal policies will somehow keep Americans safe. REAL ID “harms national security by creating yet another ‘trusted’ credential for criminals to exploit,” warns the Electronic Privacy Information Center. The New Jersey Civil Liberties Union warned in 2016, “The collection, storage, and sharing of all New Jerseyans’ private identification information will create a treasure trove for cybercriminals and identity thieves. This amassment of sensitive information could easily be abused or misused by government officials as we have seen happen at federal agencies in the past.”

There is no reason to presume that the REAL ID regime will not produce the same type of identity thefts that have long afflicted other federal personal data systems. REAL ID–compliance debacles later this year will be followed by security breaches that bureaucrats and politicians will claim they could never have anticipated. Centralizing personal data in vast databases increases the profits and risks of identity thefts, including thefts committed by state officials entrusted to keep the secrets. More than a dozen Maryland MVA employees have been convicted since 2005 for issuing fraudulent driver’s licenses, in some cases exploiting the names and data of real people to create phony identification. There were so many cases in recent years that the U.S. attorney for Maryland should have considered setting up branch offices at MVA offices to speed the arrest of MVA clerks.

In July 2019, two California Division of Motor Vehicle employees were convicted of bribery and identity fraud for fraudulently issuing licenses to unqualified drivers. In New York, two Department of Motor Vehicle employees were arrested and charged with selling hundreds of “official driver’s licenses with other people’s names to customers, which included convicted sex offenders, a drunk driver, and even someone who said they were on the no-fly list,” NBC News reported.

REAL ID could also be used to undermine Second Amendment rights. The 2020 presidential campaign has spurred repeated promises to seize all privately owned AR-15s and to impose other sweeping prohibitions on peaceful Americans. If an overtly anti-gun candidate becomes president, the federal government might seek to require showing REAL ID papers to purchase firearms. The resulting database could provide a roadmap for future confiscations. California is already restricting purchases of ammunition; the REAL ID Act could make it easy to stretch that nitwit mandate nationwide.

Massive databases of personal data will do nothing to boost the candor of the FBI or the competence of the TSA (which misses up to 80 percent of the weapons and mock bombs testers take through checkpoints). TSA agents are so lunkheaded that they routinely hassle people with driver’s licenses from the District of Columbia — as if that was a foreign country.

The biggest REAL ID fraud is the claim that Americans will be more secure after the feds further overrun their privacy. At the same time that the government is demanding ever more personal information from Americans, it is keeping more secrets than ever before — trillions of pages per year. There is no reason for citizens to trust REAL ID more than Washington trusts American citizens.

This article was originally published in the May 2020 edition of Future of Freedom and on the FFF website.

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ICE Facial Recognition Reveals Interplay Between Federal, State, Local and Private Surveillance

When it comes to the rapidly growing national surveillance state, federal agencies such as the NSA and FBI get most of the attention. But in fact, state and local law enforcement agencies, and increasingly private third-parties, make federal surveillance possible. A careful look at  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facial recognition surveillance reveals just how intertwined federal, state, local and third-party spying has become.

I’ve been arguing for years that the federal government encourages and funds surveillance technology at the state and local levels across the U.S., thereby gaining access to a massive data pool on Americans without having to expend the resources to collect the information itself.

The feds can share and tap into vast amounts of information gathered at the state and local level through fusion centers and a system known as the “information sharing environment” or ISE.

Fusion centers were sold as a tool to combat terrorism, but that is not how they are being used. The ACLU pointed to a bipartisan congressional report to demonstrate the true nature of government fusion centers: “They haven’t contributed anything meaningful to counterterrorism efforts. Instead, they have largely served as police surveillance and information sharing nodes for law enforcement efforts targeting the frequent subjects of police attention: Black and brown people, immigrants, dissidents, and the poor.”

Fusion centers operate within the broader ISE. According to its website, the ISE “provides analysts, operators, and investigators with information needed to enhance national security. These analysts, operators, and investigators…have mission needs to collaborate and share information with each other and with private sector partners and our foreign allies.” In other words, ISE serves as a conduit for the sharing of information gathered without a warrant. Known ISE partners include the Office of Director of National Intelligence which oversees 17 federal agencies and organizations, including the NSA. ISE utilizes these partnerships to collect and share data on the millions of unwitting people they track.

The feds created the infrastructure supporting the national surveillance state, and they supply a lot of the funding, but state and local law enforcement agencies do the grunt-work. And increasingly, private companies are stepping in to fill the gaps.

ICE reveals how this system functions in the real world.

Like most law enforcement agencies, ICE has waded into the world of facial recognition. But as an article published by Nextgov explains “rather than build its own database and biometric apps, the agency opts to use third-party services from the private sector, state and local law enforcement and other federal agencies.”

An ICE division known as Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) conducts all of the agency’s facial recognition services. According to the Nextgov report, third parties including other government agencies and private vendors do all of the actual work.

According to a privacy impact assessment (PIA) issued May 13 and released publicly last week, HSI agents either send photos to the facial recognition service through encrypted email or upload through a third-party website. At no point does HSI manage any facial recognition software or image databases.

The report lists a number of facial recognition “service providers” used by ICE.

  • State and local law enforcement
  • Regional and Subject Matter-Specific Intelligence Fusion Centers
  • Federal Agencies — This includes a number of databases starting with DHS’s Automated Biometric Identification System, or IDENT. This is currently on track to be replaced by the cloud-based Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology, or HART, system. ICE investigators also have access to the State Department’s Consular Consolidated Database allowing it to check images against passport photos. It can tap into the FBI’s Next Generation Identification System (NGI), a massive database that stores photos on more than 38 million convicted criminals. And finally, ICE can access the Defense Department’s Automated Biometric Identity System (ABIS). This is primarily used in support of military operations and could soon be connected directly to the IDENT/HART system, according to the PIA.
  • Commercial Vendors – primarily for open-source collections of publicly available images. Some vendors have also developed facial recognition software that HSI agents can use. In such cases, after an agent uploads an image to the application, the vendor is required to “delete the image immediately upon creation of a face template.” The PIA notes that, “While HSI cannot directly control the means or methods of a vendor’s data collection efforts, if HSI discovers that an FRS violates the privacy settings of an open-source system, HSI will discontinue using that vendor’s FRS.”

All of these existing databases allow ICE to run a facial recognition program without investing in facial recognition technology or expending the manpower to gather the data.

The Nextgov report focuses on ICE and facial recognition surveillance, but federal agencies almost certainly utilize the same strategy to facilitate other kinds of surveillance. It can tap into databases containing location data, cell phone information, license plate data, drone surveillance data and more without having to actually operate stingray devices, ALPRs, or drones. State and local cops gather the data and then dump it into these massive databases that every law enforcement agency in the country can access – including the feds.

The federal government continues to build out a national surveillance state, partnering with state, local and private entities to create a tangled web that becomes increasingly difficult to untangle. This is why it’s critical to limit the use of surveillance technology and data sharing at the state and local levels. Every limit on surveillance in a county or city takes a small bite out of the system. Data that is never gathered can’t be shared.

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Document Unmasks Fusion Center’s Participation in License Plate Surveillance

A document pulled from the BlueLeaks trove reveals the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC) collects automatic license plate reader (ALPR) information and stores it for up to a year, making it accessible to government agencies across the country.

The Tenth Amendment Center has long suspected that fusion centers serve as surveillance data collection hubs. The NCRIC document confirms this and additionally reveals that the center owns surveillance technology it makes available to law enforcement agencies in its region.

NCRIC is one of 78 fusion centers across the United States. Although states own and operate their fusion centers, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security facilitates and coordinates their activities. According to the DHS website, “The National Network of Fusion Centers is the hub of much of the two-way intelligence and information flow between the federal government and our State, Local, Tribal and Territorial (SLTT) and private sector partners. The fusion centers represent a shared commitment between the federal government and the state and local governments who own and operate them.”

The Tenth Amendment Center obtained NCRIC’s ALPR policy through a search of the BlueLeaks database. Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoSecrets) published a 269-gigabyte collection of police department data that includes emails, memos, videos, audio files and law enforcement documents. In a tweet, DDoSecrets said the trove includes “ten years of data from over 200 police departments, fusion centers and other law enforcement training and support resources,”. The searchable database contains over 1 million files.

The NCRIC document confirms that fusion centers serve as a hub for surveillance data, operating as a collection point for information flowing in from various agencies and making it accessible nationwide through the national fusion center network. It also reveals that NCRIC owns ALPR technology of its own.

The NCRIC document specifically outlines the fusion center’s policy on ALPRs. This technology can scan, capture and record thousands of license plates every minute and store them in massive databases, along with date, time and location information. ALPRs empowers law enforcement to track the location of millions of everyday people through pictures of their license plates without a warrant. Police generally configure ALPRs to store the photograph, the license plate number, and the date, time, and location of a vehicle’s license plate, which is bad enough. But according to records obtained by the ACLU via a Freedom of Information Act request, these systems also capture photographs of drivers and their passengers.

According to the NCRIC document:

“To support authorized law enforcement and public safety purposes of local, state, federal, and tribal public safety agencies, the NCRIC utilizes Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) technology, and supporting software, to gather and analyze ALPR data to enable the rapid identification and location of vehicles of legitimate interest to law enforcement. ALPR units are attached to law enforcement vehicles or deployed at fixed locations, where they collect license plate information from vehicles on public roadways and public property.”

NCRIC policy allows ALPR data collected by its own ALPR units or shared from partner agencies to be retained for up to one year. Data can be retained longer if “a reasonable suspicion has been established that the vehicle identified by the ALPR read is connected to criminal activities.” The one-year retention policy also applies to data “obtained with license plate information not appearing on hotlists, and with no immediate reasonable connection to criminal activity.”

In other words, NCRIC can store license plate information on people not even suspected of a crime for up to one year. If law enforcement determines that a vehicle is “linked to a criminal investigation,” NCRIC can store its license plate data for up to five years.

According to its policy, “The NCRIC may disseminate ALPR data to any governmental entity with an authorized law enforcement or public safety purpose for access to such data.” [Emphasis added] This includes any state, local or federal law enforcement agency in the United States.

As we’ve reported for years, the feds can share and tap into vast amounts of information gathered at the state and local level through fusion centers and a system known as the “information sharing environment” or ISE.

Fusion centers were sold as a tool to combat terrorism, but that is not how they are being used. The ACLU pointed to a bipartisan congressional report to demonstrate the true nature of government fusion centers: “They haven’t contributed anything meaningful to counterterrorism efforts. Instead, they have largely served as police surveillance and information sharing nodes for law enforcement efforts targeting the frequent subjects of police attention: Black and brown people, immigrants, dissidents, and the poor.”

Fusion centers operate within the broader ISE. According to its website, the ISE “provides analysts, operators, and investigators with information needed to enhance national security. These analysts, operators, and investigators…have mission needs to collaborate and share information with each other and with private sector partners and our foreign allies.” In other words, ISE serves as a conduit for the sharing of information gathered without a warrant. Known ISE partners include the Office of Director of National Intelligence which oversees 17 federal agencies and organizations, including the NSA. ISE utilizes these partnerships to collect and share data on the millions of unwitting people they track.

The NCRIC ALPR policy proves that fusion centers serve as surveillance collection and dissemination hubs, effectively providing a framework for an integrated national surveillance network. It also surprisingly reveals that fusion centers actively participate in surveillance by providing technology to local law enforcement agencies.

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“Volunteer” Hawaiians Turn “Paradise On Earth” Into An Island Of Snitches

This article was originally published by Mass Private I at Activist Post. 

Travel publications around the world have referred to the Hawaiian islands as “paradise on earth.” But a much darker and more disturbing trend that was once relegated to the continental United States has taken Hawaii by storm.

Much has been written about Nextdoor’s “Karen” problems of reporting on people of color, and now as AP News reports, “volunteer” Hawaiians are turning suspected quarantine rule-breakers into the police.

A former reporter named Angela Keen and her Facebook group of snitches spy on vacationers’ social media pages looking for incriminating pictures.

When members of her Facebook group spot tourists posting about their beach trips on social media, Keen zeroes in on photos for clues like license plate numbers she can run down and distinctive furnishings she can match up with vacation rental listings.

Her group of “volunteer” snitches has spread across the Hawaiian islands, leading to the arrests of 35 vacationers so far.

So far, volunteer sleuths with her group Hawaii Quarantine Kapu Breakers — kapu can mean rules in Hawaiian — has helped find about 13 people on Oahu and 22 people on the Big Island who were later arrested by police, Keen said. Members on other islands assisted with other cases that led to arrests, she said. (To see a depressing 90 minute video of what Angela Keen’s group has done click here.)

Keen claims her group of “sleuths” is told not to approach potential violators and not to profile people because they look like outsiders. Which is misleading on numerous levels.

For a place that bills itself as a vacationers paradise with hotels, restaurants, sightseeing tours and car, boat, and helicopter rentals, it would be extremely easy for “volunteers” to identify vacationers.

Imagine going to Hawaii for a vacation and being arrested because a group of “volunteers” sent your pictures, license plate information, and whatever else they could find about you and your family to the police.

The group also tracked down visitors who had rented a Mustang through a company that loans out private owners’ vehicles. When arriving at the airport, they listed the car owner’s address as where they would spend quarantine, but the group found them at a short-term vacation rental in Waikiki.

I know some of you will say this great if people ignore the 14-day quarantine why shouldn’t “volunteers” report them. But looking at the bigger picture reveals a much more disturbing issue.

For one thing, police can use Keen’s group of volunteers and other groups across the country to do things they could not normally do without a warrant. (I’m looking at you Nextdoor.)

In the continental U.S. bars and restaurants are allowed to reopen only if they agree to snitch on customers.

The Department of Homeland Security and the city of New Orleans are creating a “new normal” by forcing bars and restaurants to collect customers’ personal information.

“We know everyone is eager to reopen. It’s not going back to normal; it’s what we’re calling ‘the new normal.’ It will be the data and not the date that drives not only the decision but the phased approach to reopen the City of New Orleans. Today, we are outlining what those guidelines will be for the City,” said Mayor Latoya Cantrell.

Law enforcement is using bars and restaurants to record detailed lists of customers’ private information. And now in Hawaii, police are encouraging a volunteer group to monitor vacation rentals, record vacationers comings and goings, record their rental vehicle license plates and look into their social media accounts.

Remember in Hawaii and elsewhere “volunteers” or private citizens are giving police all the information they have collected, providing a loophole for police so they cannot be sued. It also has an added benefit of not being discoverable, meaning police do not have to disclose how they got the information.

Combine all of this and it becomes painfully obvious that police can use these groups to circumvent our Bill of Rights.

When a police spokeswoman attempts to justify “voluntarily” spying on vacationers everyone should take notice.

“As a small community here in Hawaii, it takes everybody to be able to keep everybody safe,” she said. “You know, some people say, ‘Oh, you’re snitching on people,’ but that’s not how you see it. It’s seen it as the fact that you want to keep the community safe,” Lt. Audra Sellers, a Maui police spokeswoman said.

Being an island community still does not justify snitching on neighbors as a way to keep the community safe. And it certainly is not a justification for doing an end-run around the Constitution.

Does a pandemic automatically make it OK for police to use volunteers to surveil people of color or monitor vacationers without a warrant?

I for one do not want to see a group of “Karens” turn Hawaii into a mirror-image of mainland America.

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Angela Keen HAWAII Headline News Intelwars island kapu Karen New Orleans oahu pandemic Police quarantine Snitches Social Media Surveillance tattle tales Volunteers

“Volunteer” Hawaiians Turn “Paradise On Earth” Into An Island Of Snitches

This article was originally published by Mass Private I at Activist Post. 

Travel publications around the world have referred to the Hawaiian islands as “paradise on earth.” But a much darker and more disturbing trend that was once relegated to the continental United States has taken Hawaii by storm.

Much has been written about Nextdoor’s “Karen” problems of reporting on people of color, and now as AP News reports, “volunteer” Hawaiians are turning suspected quarantine rule-breakers into the police.

A former reporter named Angela Keen and her Facebook group of snitches spy on vacationers’ social media pages looking for incriminating pictures.

When members of her Facebook group spot tourists posting about their beach trips on social media, Keen zeroes in on photos for clues like license plate numbers she can run down and distinctive furnishings she can match up with vacation rental listings.

Her group of “volunteer” snitches has spread across the Hawaiian islands, leading to the arrests of 35 vacationers so far.

So far, volunteer sleuths with her group Hawaii Quarantine Kapu Breakers — kapu can mean rules in Hawaiian — has helped find about 13 people on Oahu and 22 people on the Big Island who were later arrested by police, Keen said. Members on other islands assisted with other cases that led to arrests, she said. (To see a depressing 90 minute video of what Angela Keen’s group has done click here.)

Keen claims her group of “sleuths” is told not to approach potential violators and not to profile people because they look like outsiders. Which is misleading on numerous levels.

For a place that bills itself as a vacationers paradise with hotels, restaurants, sightseeing tours and car, boat, and helicopter rentals, it would be extremely easy for “volunteers” to identify vacationers.

Imagine going to Hawaii for a vacation and being arrested because a group of “volunteers” sent your pictures, license plate information, and whatever else they could find about you and your family to the police.

The group also tracked down visitors who had rented a Mustang through a company that loans out private owners’ vehicles. When arriving at the airport, they listed the car owner’s address as where they would spend quarantine, but the group found them at a short-term vacation rental in Waikiki.

I know some of you will say this great if people ignore the 14-day quarantine why shouldn’t “volunteers” report them. But looking at the bigger picture reveals a much more disturbing issue.

For one thing, police can use Keen’s group of volunteers and other groups across the country to do things they could not normally do without a warrant. (I’m looking at you Nextdoor.)

In the continental U.S. bars and restaurants are allowed to reopen only if they agree to snitch on customers.

The Department of Homeland Security and the city of New Orleans are creating a “new normal” by forcing bars and restaurants to collect customers’ personal information.

“We know everyone is eager to reopen. It’s not going back to normal; it’s what we’re calling ‘the new normal.’ It will be the data and not the date that drives not only the decision but the phased approach to reopen the City of New Orleans. Today, we are outlining what those guidelines will be for the City,” said Mayor Latoya Cantrell.

Law enforcement is using bars and restaurants to record detailed lists of customers’ private information. And now in Hawaii, police are encouraging a volunteer group to monitor vacation rentals, record vacationers comings and goings, record their rental vehicle license plates and look into their social media accounts.

Remember in Hawaii and elsewhere “volunteers” or private citizens are giving police all the information they have collected, providing a loophole for police so they cannot be sued. It also has an added benefit of not being discoverable, meaning police do not have to disclose how they got the information.

Combine all of this and it becomes painfully obvious that police can use these groups to circumvent our Bill of Rights.

When a police spokeswoman attempts to justify “voluntarily” spying on vacationers everyone should take notice.

“As a small community here in Hawaii, it takes everybody to be able to keep everybody safe,” she said. “You know, some people say, ‘Oh, you’re snitching on people,’ but that’s not how you see it. It’s seen it as the fact that you want to keep the community safe,” Lt. Audra Sellers, a Maui police spokeswoman said.

Being an island community still does not justify snitching on neighbors as a way to keep the community safe. And it certainly is not a justification for doing an end-run around the Constitution.

Does a pandemic automatically make it OK for police to use volunteers to surveil people of color or monitor vacationers without a warrant?

I for one do not want to see a group of “Karens” turn Hawaii into a mirror-image of mainland America.

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Bart Gellman on Snowden

Bart Gellman’s long-awaited (at least by me) book on Edward Snowden, Dark Mirror: Edward Snowden and the American Surveillance State, will finally be published in a couple of weeks. There is an adapted excerpt in the Atlantic.

It’s an interesting read, mostly about the government surveillance of him and other journalists. He speaks about an NSA program called FIRSTFRUITS that specifically spies on US journalists. (This isn’t news; we learned about this in 2006. But there are lots of new details.)

One paragraph in the excerpt struck me:

Years later Richard Ledgett, who oversaw the NSA’s media-leaks task force and went on to become the agency’s deputy director, told me matter-of-factly to assume that my defenses had been breached. “My take is, whatever you guys had was pretty immediately in the hands of any foreign intelligence service that wanted it,” he said, “whether it was Russians, Chinese, French, the Israelis, the Brits. Between you, Poitras, and Greenwald, pretty sure you guys can’t stand up to a full-fledged nation-state attempt to exploit your IT. To include not just remote stuff, but hands-on, sneak-into-your-house-at-night kind of stuff. That’s my guess.”

I remember thinking the same thing. It was the summer of 2013, and I was visiting Glenn Greenwald in Rio de Janeiro. This was just after Greenwald’s partner was detained in the UK trying to ferry some documents from Laura Poitras in Berlin back to Greenwald. It was an opsec disaster; they would have been much more secure if they’d emailed the encrypted files. In fact, I told them to do that, every single day. I wanted them to send encrypted random junk back and forth constantly, to hide when they were actually sharing real data.

As soon as I saw their house I realized exactly what Ledgett said. I remember standing outside the house, looking into the dense forest for TEMPEST receivers. I didn’t see any, which only told me they were well hidden. I assumed black-bag teams from various countries had been all over the house when they were out for dinner, and wondered what would have happened if teams from different countries bumped into each other. I assumed that all the countries Ledgett listed above — plus the US and a few more — had a full take of what Snowden gave the journalists. These journalists against those governments just wasn’t a fair fight.

I’m looking forward to reading Gellman’s book. I’m kind of surprised no one sent me an advance copy.

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