Favorite Quotes

"Once you walk into a courtroom, you've already lost. The best way to win is to avoid it at all costs, because the justice system is anything but" Sydney Carton, Attorney. "There is no one in the criminal justice system who believes that system works well. Or if they are, they are for courts that are an embarrassment to the ideals of justice. The law of real people doesn't work" Lawrence Lessig, Harvard Law Professor.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

DHS/ICE bypassed privacy office to spy on motorists license plates

After DHS canceled a plan for broad law enforcement access to a national license-plate tracking system in February, officials established a policy that required similar plans be vetted by department privacy officers to ensure they do not violate Americans’ civil liberties.
Two months later, however, officials with DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency bypassed the privacy office in purchasing a one-year subscription for a commercially run national database for its Newark field office, according to public contract data and department officials. In June, ICE breached the policy again by approving a similar subscription for its Houston field office. The database contains more than 2.5 billion records.
The policy was created after Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who oversees ICE, canceled a solicitation that could have given ICE field offices across the country — more than 12,000 personnel — access to a national license-plate database.
That solicitation had prompted a backlash from privacy advocates who have raised concerns that the information can be abused to track the past and current movements of ordinary citizens who are under no criminal suspicion. Advocates said the failure to follow procedures fits a pattern in which concerns over privacy are overlooked as law enforcement officials clamor for subscriptions to massive license-plate tracking databases.
“From what I can tell, this data is collected privately and used by law enforcement without the public’s knowledge,” ICE privacy officer Lyn Rahilly wrote in a January 2011 e-mail to an official in ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations division. “There is no accountability to the public as to how the data is collected, how much is collected, how long it is retained, how it is used or what rights affected users might have.”
Officials at ICE say the field office use is limited, involves ongoing criminal investigations for which they had earlier access to the database, and is not related to civil immigration enforcement. They said the breach of the new policy was inadvertent and a result of a miscategorization of the contracts.
The commercial databases draw information from readers that scan the tags of every vehicle crossing their paths. Records, for instance, can be obtained from repossession companies, whose drivers mount cameras on their cars and capture images of license plates of passing or parked cars, along with the time and location of the photo.
For federal officials, the information has become a critical tool to help the agency locate suspects who could pose a threat to public safety. But they acknowledged that they have not imposed privacy safeguards on use of the database, such as rules limiting how long the data agents look at may be kept.
In a statement, ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said over the past six months, the agency, its privacy office and the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties have been reviewing ICE’s practices and policies governing the use of license-plate-reader databases. Officials said a privacy impact assessment is being prepared.
Christensen added that agency attorneys in 2012 concluded there were no legal obstacles “with respect to privacy and data retention laws” to using the database “particularly given its widespread use by other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in the furtherance of ongoing criminal investigations and fugitive cases.”

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Colleges are spying on students fitness activities

UCLA uses an app called GymFlow that allows students to see how crowded specific areas in its recreation center are before they go and avoid long waits, says Mick Deluca, assistant vice chancellor of campus life. UCLA also offers employee memberships, which helps explain last year’s visitor tally.
Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., recently replaced its half-century old rec center with a $98 million, 470,000-square foot facility. Usage surged. But Purdue officials noticed another trend using data from students scanning in their ID cards when they entered the facility: Those who exercised more got better grades.
Colleges are now spying on students to see if they exercise! This is truly disturbing and makes George Orwell's 1984 book look like a kids fairytale.
Students in fall 2013 who made no visits to recreation facilities averaged GPAs of 3.07, while those making 64 visits or more in a semester averaged 3.20, officials said. Students completing their first semester at Purdue who visited rec facilities 15 times or more earned 3.08 GPAs, compared with 2.81 for those who made no visits.
A separate study by assistant professor Christopher Slaten in Purdue’s college of education compared 100 students enrolled in semester-long yoga or kickboxing classes with 100 students similar in gender, class year and race who made no visits to the rec center. After 16 weeks, the fitness-class students showed significantly lower stress levels than their peers and higher confidence in managing their social lives.
The fitness-class students also improved their grades significantly over the semester, meaning that even previously strong students made gains. Dr. Slaten and his research team are preparing to submit the study to a peer-reviewed academic journal.
Renovations to Purdue's facility are part of a national trend. The National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association reports that more than $1.7 billion dollars has been spent or is allocated for new construction, renovations or expansions for U.S. college recreational facilities in 2010-2015.
"Universities are making this investment to improve student life and retain students, but we think something more is happening," Zelaya says. "Some might assume time at a gym is a distraction from academics, but it is really part of the learning landscape."
"College students all over the world tend to be among the most mobile and digitally connected," said David Gorodyansky, CEO of AnchorFree. "On top of that they are more frequently targets of online hackers and identity thieves because of their limited credit and employment histories.  It is critical that they take control of their personal information online."
On a recent weekday afternoon in Columbus, students queued up for a circuit cycle class that alternated between stationary cycling and strength exercises. Total visits to group-fitness classes at OSU jumped 68% between 2012 and 2014, while enrollment rose 3%.
About 75% of U.S. students use on-campus rec centers, facilities or programs in a given year, according to NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation, the group formerly called the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association.
Some university recreation departments have just recently met the demand for fitness classes from female students, now the majority on most campuses. At North Carolina State University in Raleigh, more students participate in group fitness classes than in traditional fare like intramural teams. N.C. State tripled the number of its weekly fitness classes to 150—far more than many commercial health clubs—two years ago.
University of Florida graduate students started complaining a few years ago that they weren’t getting enough from their required student-activity fee. They wanted to stop paying it.
The school examined the data from student-ID scans and noticed that a significant share of people at the main recreation center’s 7 a.m. opening were graduate students. Officials moved up the opening to 6 a.m. The complaints died down, says Pam Hightower, an assistant director of administrative services for UF recreational sports.
“We weren’t just moving the people from one hour to the next,” Ms. Hightower says. “We were attracting new, unique people.”

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

U.S. Postal Service spied on at least 50,000 people last year

The United States Postal Service reported that it approved nearly 50,000 requests last year from law enforcement agencies and its own internal inspection unit to secretly monitor the mail of Americans for use in criminal and national security investigations.
The number of requests, contained in a little-noticed 2014 audit of the surveillance program by the Postal Service’s inspector general, shows that the surveillance program is more extensive than previously disclosed and that oversight protecting Americans from potential abuses is lax.
The Postal Service takes pictures of every piece of mail processed in the United States – 160 billion last year – and keeps them on hand for up to a month.

The audit found that in many cases the Postal Service approved requests to monitor an individual’s mail without adequately describing the reason or having proper written authorization.
In addition to raising privacy concerns, the audit questioned the efficiency and accuracy of the Postal Service in handling the requests. Many requests were not processed in time, the audit said, and computer errors caused the same tracking number to be assigned to different surveillance requests.
“Insufficient controls could hinder the Postal Inspection Service’s ability to conduct effective investigations, lead to public concerns over privacy of mail and harm the Postal Service’s brand,” the audit concluded.
The audit was posted in May without public announcement on the website of the Postal Service inspector general and got almost no attention.
The surveillance program, officially called mail covers, is more than a century old. At the request of state or federal law enforcement agencies or the Postal Inspection Service, postal workers record names, return addresses and any other information from the outside of letters and packages before they are delivered to a person’s home.
Postal Service computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces last year. It is not known how long the government saves the images.
The Postal Service also uses a program called Mail Imaging, in which its computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail sent in the United States. The program’s primary purpose is to process the mail, but in some cases it is also used as a surveillance system that allows law enforcement agencies to request stored images of mail sent to and received by people they are investigating.
Another system, the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking Program, was created after anthrax attacks killed five people, including two postal workers, in late 2001. It is used to track or investigate packages or letters suspected of containing biohazards like anthrax or ricin. The program was first made public in 2013 in the course of an investigation into ricin-laced letters mailed to President Obama and Michael R. Bloomberg, then New York City’s mayor, by an actress, Shannon Guess Richardson.
Law enforcement officials say this deceptively old-fashioned method of collecting data provides a wealth of information about the businesses and associates of their targets, and can lead to bank and property records and even accomplices. (Opening the mail requires a warrant.)
Interviews and court records also show that the surveillance program was used by a county attorney and sheriff to investigate a political opponent in Arizona — the county attorney was later disbarred in part because of the investigation — and to monitor privileged communications between lawyers and their clients, a practice not allowed under postal regulations.
Theodore Simon, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said he was troubled by the audit and the potential for the Postal Service to snoop uncontrolled into the private lives of Americans.
“It appears that there has been widespread disregard of the few protections that were supposed to be in place,” Mr. Simon said.
Bruce Schneier, a computer security expert and an author, said whether it was a postal worker taking down information or a computer taking images, the program was still an invasion of privacy.
“Basically they are doing the same thing as the other programs, collecting the information on the outside of your mail, the metadata, if you will, of names, addresses, return addresses and postmark locations, which gives the government a pretty good map of your contacts, even if they aren’t reading the contents,” he said.
“It’s a treasure trove of information,” said James J. Wedick, a former F.B.I. agent who spent 34 years at the agency and who said he used mail covers in a number of investigations, including one that led to the prosecution of several elected officials in California on corruption charges. “Looking at just the outside of letters and other mail, I can see who you bank with, who you communicate with — all kinds of useful information that gives investigators leads that they can then follow up on with a subpoena.”
But, he said: “It can be easily abused because it’s so easy to use and you don’t have to go through a judge to get the information. You just fill out a form.”

Monday, October 27, 2014

Amtrak's B.S. 'suspicious activity list' where everyone's a suspect

When you get off a train, do you get off ahead of passengers? Or do you get off behind passengers?
When you're going on a trip, do you come off as nervous? Or are you an unusually calm traveler?
How about if you make a phone call at a station, do you look around? Or do you stare straight ahead?
If you don't know the answers to these questions, you'd better figure them out now. Because unless you get off in stride with other train passengers, live at the elusive intersection between anxiety and tranquility, and close your eyes during phone calls, you're a suspicious person subject to questioning by Amtrak police.
According to the Guidelines for Amtrak Customer Service Employees in Texas, which the ACLU has received as a result of a FOIA request, ticket agents may come in contact with travelers whose conduct is "indicative of criminal activity." Amtrak says supposed indicators of such activity should immediately be reported to trained law enforcement personnel.
They include:
  • Unusual nervousness of traveler
  • Unusual calmness or straight ahead stare
  • Looking around while making telephone call(s)
  • Position among passengers disembarking (ahead of, or lagging behind passengers)
  • Carrying little or no luggage
  • Purchase of tickets in cash
  • Purchase tickets immediately prior to boarding
Not only does Amtrak ask its ticket agents to alert the cops to such dangerous activity as, say, a spontaneous romantic trip with your honey, Amtrak also urges its customers to report suspicious activity to Amtrak police themselves. In its "See Something, Say Something... Hopefully It's Nothing" campaign, customers are asked to report such activity as taking photos of equipment -- including trains -- and "loitering, staring, or watching employees and customers."
Amtrak's dragnet approach on what makes someone suspicious is standard operating procedure at DHS/Amtrak etc.
As we have seen with Suspicious Activity Reports and the TSA's SPOT program, reporting based on broad categories of "suspicious" behavior is problematic because it almost always results in racial and religious profiling, as well as the targeting of perfectly innocent activity. Most importantly, building mountains of irrelevant data is ultimately an ineffective law enforcement tactic. (See here and here.)
The ACLU has received reports from individuals wrongfully searched and arrested on Amtrak trains.

"While we're particularly interested in how Amtrak is collecting, tracking, and sharing our data -- including through new technologies -- we have yet to receive information relevant to those questions. But we do know that Amtrak police has not reported a single instance of finding and catching a potential terrorist or serious threat as a result of its suspicious activity reports. Instead, it has filled its trophy case with victories like arresting a black woman because passengers felt she was speaking too loudly on the phone, arresting a black man because another passenger falsely stated he threatened her, and even arresting a photographer because he was taking pictures of a train for the annual Amtrak "Picture our Train" competition (update here).
We have reason to believe that Amtrak's policies also provide grounds for civil asset forfeiture, a process that effectively allows cops to engage in highway robbery, and often results in racial profiling. The documents we received include agreements between Amtrak and the Las Vegas Police Department, Reno Police Department, and Louisiana state police.
The agreements not only officially enable a practice of confiscating money and property from passengers without due process, but also mandate "equitable sharing of forfeited assets;" in other words, state agencies get a cut of assets seized by Amtrak police. Reports of asset forfeiture indicate that the police target those they associate with criminal behavior and drug trafficking - black and Latino men."

Friday, October 24, 2014

Police/DHS want residents to purchase SKYCOP cameras for their neighborhoods

OH - The Toledo Police Department and DHS is marketing a new surveillance tool you pay for!
A fund will make it possible for residents to purchase SkyCop cameras for their neighborhoods.
City council gave TPD the green light Tuesday to accept contributions from residents who want to purchase their own SkyCop camera and put it where they see fit.
From the SkyCop website:
"The SkyCop ® communications platform allows for unlimited expandability to multiple cameras and sensing devices that greatly increase your ability to conduct complete and total environmental surveillance. You will see increased public safety and crime detection since options using communications technology allow you to place surveillance monitoring equipment in crime hot zones. Our advanced technology increases responsiveness and leads to greater arrest and conviction rates."

SkyCop boasts many all-weather, 360 surveillance recording, data and intelligence gathering products and even area gunshot detection.
Memphis, Tennessee-based ESI Companies, Inc. is behind a quite creepy technology platform they call SkyCop, capable of enabling widespread, long-term surveillance across entire cities.
Ohio has deployed SkyCop as part of their Observation Research Intelligence Operations Network (ORION), and has plans to double the number of cameras to a total of 150 according to the Toledo Free Press.
Sergeant Joe Heffernan says there are specific requirements for where cameras can go. First, they need a signal, so they can't be placed near trees or buildings. They also must be put where electrical work can be done.

A camera can costs between $3,000 and $10,000. Sgt. Heffernan says they've been proven to help reduce crime.

"It will use our equipment. The camera will have a blue flashing light on it and it will feed to our Real Time Crime Center where our officers are monitoring them according to what's going on," Heffernan said. "It's a great way to reduce any type of criminal activity."

Sgt. Heffernan says the cameras require monthly maintenance. That responsibility, which runs up to $100 a month, will fall on the residents that purchased the camera.
Thanks to DHS grants Toledo houses its own 24/7 real time neighborhood crime center!

Others who have picked up SkyCop technologies include the city of Millington, Tennessee, Shelby County, Tennessee, Olive Branch, Mississippi and Brownsville, Texas.
If DHS/police have their way, we'll have our very own neighborhood fusion centers spying in rural Americans homes.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bluetooth spying beacons uncovered in LA & Chicago

Devices identical to those secretly planted in New York City phone booths have been installed in public spaces in Los Angeles and Chicago.
The Bluetooth devices known as “beacons” were installed in bus benches in Los Angeles and train stations in Chicago. Additional information obtained suggests that the devices were also installed in San Francisco, though BuzzFeed News was unable to independently confirm that allegation.
In Los Angeles, beacons have been installed in “less than 5%” of the city’s more than 5,000 bus benches, according to Randall Smith, CEO of Martin Outdoor Advertising. (Five percent of 5,000 would be 250 benches.) Martin announced the program publicly for the first time via press release  after BuzzFeed News contacted the company regarding beacons.
Read: They were forced to admit they're profiting while illegally spying on citizens, can anyone say license plate readers, red-light camera etc.

The beacons are manufactured by Gimbal Inc., the San Diego company that made the 500 beacons that were removed from New York City phone booths earlier this month, after a BuzzFeed News investigation revealed their existence.
Taken together, the programs reveal a broad initiative by Gimbal to quietly partner with outdoor advertising companies in major American cities. And they clarify the extent to which technology companies, cities, and brands have begun experimenting with new forms of commercial persuasion, with scant public notice.
Beacons emit simple, self-identifying signals. Although beacons do not collect any information themselves, they play a central role in Gimbal’s phone-tracking technology. Gimbal requires smartphone apps that use its software to get users’ “opt-in” permission before collecting data and sending beacon-triggered notifications. When a Gimbal-enabled, customer-approved app “sees” a Gimbal beacon, the phone sends information about the encounter — including the phone’s “unique identifier”, its location, and the time of day — to Gimbal’s servers.
The Tribeca Film Festival app used the phone booth beacons earlier this year to send festivalgoers notifications about nearby happenings. ShopAdvisor, a mobile shopping app, touted a “pilot program” collaboration with Qualcomm in Manhattan in a solicitation to brands: “There are 500 beacons outdoor beacons placed in Manhattan across all key shopping districts. The ShopAdvisor platform is integrated to work with these beacons.” And a promotional image now deleted from Gimbal’s website includes what appears to be heat map of beacon-phone interactions in a wide swath of Manhattan:
From Gimbal's website:
Not All Beacons Are Created Equal, "It Should Read, Not All Surveillance Beacons Are Created Equal":
"Gimbal has the world's largest deployment of industry-leading Bluetooth Smart beacons. Our engineers are consistently resetting the standards by which all other beacons are judged and we are currently deploying our fifth-generation beacon hardware.
  • Bluetooth® Smart
  • Configurable over the air
  • Secure firmware upgradable over the air
  • Different form factors for different use cases with battery life up to 3 years*
  • Gimbal Manager is a state-of-the-art way of managing all beacons in your network, even beacons not purchased from Gimbal

Venues: Changing the Game:
Understanding each fan's specific interests and precise location within your venue allows you to more effectively engage with them while they are in your stadium, arena, concert venue or theater. Each fan should have a personalized mobile experience created just for them. Gimbal will allow you to:
  • Send personalized greetings
  • Direct them to the shortest lines
  • Point out interesting facts or history
  • Provide special access for sponsors
  • Deliver games, contests or trivia to keep them engaged during the event
  • Expand engagement with your app before and after the event
  • Send geo-targeted and proximity notifications in real-time

Agencies & Advertisers: Break through the Mobile Clutter:
Mobile devices are increasingly proving to be the most effective and personalized marketing platform for driving sales. Gimbal can help you find new ways to leverage mobile's ability to:
  • Deliver timely content based on "actual location," rather than "inferred location"
  • Reduce "digital chatter" by filtering out spam, delivering content they care about when they want it
  • Increase the impact of mobile advertising
  • Provide new data points and tools for your analytics platform
  • Turn traditional marketing assets into digital experiences
Developers: Revolutionize Your Mobile App:
Gimbal provides developers with a suite of tools including beacon hardware, a SDK, a manager portal as well as APIs for both iOS and Android to help you enhance your mobile applications. Gimbal proximity beacons communicate over Bluetooth Smart and are built and configured to Apple's iBeacon specifications so you can:
  • Manage and connect beacons to your app
  • Incorporate precise user location data and deliver proximity notifications
  • Use our analytics to learn user trends and analyze foot traffic
  • Incorporate and manage an unlimited number of geofences and beacons
  • Enroll non-Gimbal beacons on the Gimbal Manager

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

DHS/COPS grants give police millions in taxpayer dollars to pay for overtime

COPS developed the Homeland Security Overtime Program (HSOP) to increase the amount of overtime funding law available to support community policing and homeland security efforts. As state, local, and tribal law enforcement embrace the challenges of securing our homeland, this is now

more important than ever. HSOP supported programs that increased community safety  and security and reduced public fear. HSOP grants supplemented the selected agencies’ state- or locally-funded officer overtime budgets, increasing the amount of funding available for these critical functions. 

Law enforcement agencies could apply for funding amounts based on the size of the population they served or the size of their budgeted sworn strength at the time of application, according to the table below. 

Agencies serving populations: Or budgeted sworn force:  Could apply for a federal share of up to:

less than 24,999                                 1-49                                               $25,000

from 25,000 to 49,999                       50-99                                              $50,000

from 50,000 to 99,999                       100-199                                          $100,000

from 100,000 to 249,999                   200-499                                          $250,000

from 250,000 to 499,999                   500-999                                          $500,000

from 500,000 to 999,999                   1,000-1,999                                    $1,000,000

more than 1,000,000 above               2,000                                               $3,000,000


Massachusetts to use $2.1 million in taxpayer dollars to settle state trooper overtime suit:

The Patrick administration has agreed to pay $21.5 million to nearly 2,000 current and retired state troopers, and grant some of them extra time off, to settle a legal claim by the troopers who said they were shortchanged when they worked overtime from 2001 through 2013.

During those years, troopers who worked extra hours received, in some cases, compensatory time at a rate of one hour off for every hour of overtime worked.

The union that represents the troopers filed a grievance in 2005 saying they should receive 1.5 hours in compensatory time for every hour of overtime worked, based on federal labor law that mandates a higher rate of pay after employees work 40 hours in a one-week period.

“It was a long-standing practice that we stopped, as a matter of good fiscal management and public safety,” Colonel Timothy P. Alben, superintendent of the State Police, said in an interview. “This clearly is a lot of money and it’s taxpayers’ dollars,” he said. “I get that.”

Under the terms of an eight-page settlement, signed on Aug. 7, troopers are eligible to receive additional paid time off for work they performed before the date the grievance was filed and extra pay for work after that date.

The settlement provides an average of about two weeks of additional paid time off to 304 troopers included in the pregrievance period. It also provides some very large pay days for those who were denied the federal overtime rate after the grievance was filed.

The top five State Police troopers will receive $154,646, $121,052, $117,533, $114,614, and $112,149, State Police said. The average payout to approximately 1,800 recipients is $11,600, the state said.

The union representing the troopers declined comment. The state also agreed to pay the union’s $350,000 in legal expenses in the case, according to the settlement.