Category Archives: Police State/Big Brother USA

Despite Obama’s Pledge to Curb It, NSA Mass Surveillance Wins Rubber Stamp

Dustin Voltz reports for The National Journal:

Took them long enough.‘In the face of congressional inaction, a federal court on Friday renewed an order allowing the government to collect phone records on virtually all calls within the United States.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved the Justice Department’s request for another 90-day extension of the National Security Agency’s controversial mass surveillance program, exposed publicly last summer by Edward Snowden and authorized under Section 215 of the post-9/11 Patriot Act. The spying authority is next set to expire on Dec. 5.

[...] The extension marks the third of its kind since President Obama pledged in January to reform how the NSA spies on Americans during a major policy speech delivered amid withering scrutiny of the nation’s intelligence-gathering practices. Obama outlined a series of immediate steps to reform government surveillance and boost transparency, but noted he would wait for Congress to deliver him a bill before ending the bulk collection of U.S. call data.’


Dropbox Reports 80% of Gov’t Subpoenas Contain Gag Request

Michael Mimoso reports for Threat Post:

dropbox1‘Most U.S. government subpoenas for data on Dropbox users are accompanied with a request not to inform the user in question. Dropbox legal counsel Bart Volkmer said those gag orders are repelled unless there is a valid court order.

The revelation accompanied the release of the cloud storage service’s Transparency Report, which going forward will be released twice a year. Yesterday’s report covered January to June of this year, a period during which Dropbox received 268 requests for user information from law enforcement agencies. There were zero data request for Dropbox for Business users, the company said.’


Yahoo $250,000 daily fine over NSA data refusal was set to double ‘every week’

Dominic Rushe reports for The Guardian:

‘The US government threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 a day if it refused to hand over user data to the National Security Agency, according to court documents unsealed on Thursday.

In a blogpost, the company said the 1,500 pages of once-secret documents shine further light on Yahoo’s previously disclosed clash with the NSA over access to its users’ data. The size of the daily fine was set to double every week that Yahoo refused to comply, the documents show.

The papers outline Yahoo’s secret and ultimately unsuccessful legal battle to resist the government’s demands for the tech firm to cooperate with the NSA’s controversial Prism surveillance programme, revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden last year.’


Tech industry signs on to USA Freedom Act, gets expansive immunity for aiding US gov’t spying

Marcy Wheeler (@e) reports for Salon:

‘President Obama just announced war (of sorts) in the Middle East — but he’s not going to wait for Congressional authorization to go to war. But that’s not the only area where the president is threatening to make Congress an afterthought.

In spite of  reports that the bill may not get a vote before November’s elections, supporters of the  USA Freedom Act have done several interesting things to push its passage in the last weeks.

Last week, the bill’s author, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy released a letter from James Clapper and Eric Holder. A number of news outlets incorrectly  reported the letter as an unambiguous endorsement of Leahy’s bill.

It wasn’t.’


Reagan’s FEMA head wrote thesis on potential internment of millions of black Americans

Matthew Cunningham-Cook reports for Jacobin Mag:

Embedded image permalink‘After filing a FOIA request, I finally got my hands on the thesis. Giuffrida’s paper, written at the US Army War College, is a pseudophilosophical, historical analysis of the origins of racial prejudice that then offers a proposal: the establishment of concentration camps to imprison potentially millions of black Americans in the event of a revolutionary uprising in the United States.

The thesis, which has never been published or excerpted, speaks for itself.’


Obama Faces Calls to Reform Reagan-Era Mass Surveillance Order

Ryan Gallagher reports for The Intercept:

Featured photo - Obama Faces Calls to Reform Reagan-Era Mass Surveillance Order‘A coalition of civil liberties groups and members of Congress are calling on President Obama to urgently review a controversial executive order being used by the National Security Agency to conduct mass surveillance.

Executive Order 12333, a Reagan-era authority, allows the NSA to covertly sweep up vast amounts of private data from overseas communication networks with no court oversight. Last week, The Intercept revealed how 12333 underpins a secret search engine the NSA built to share more than 850 billion records on phone calls, emails, cellphone locations, and internet chats with other U.S. government agencies, including domestic law enforcement. The search system, named ICREACH, contains information on the private communications of foreigners as well as, it appears, millions of Americans not accused of any wrongdoing.

Now, more than 40 organizations and rights groups – including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the American Civil Liberties Union – are calling on Obama and his surveillance review panel to ensure there is no “disproportionate or unnecessary collection” taking place under 12333.’


Mysterious Fake Cellphone Towers Are Intercepting Calls All Over The US

Jack Dutton reports for Business Insider:

Cellphone tower‘Seventeen fake cellphone towers were discovered across the U.S. last week, according to a report in Popular Science. Rather than offering you cellphone service, the towers appear to be connecting to nearby phones, bypassing their encryption, and either tapping calls or reading texts.

[...] The towers were found in July, but the report implied that there may have been more out there. Although it is unclear who owns the towers, ESD found that several of them were located near U.S. military bases.’


Police barge into woman’s home to serve a warrant over grass length

Miami Police caught using emergency lights on way to breakfast

How DoD flawed algorithms are the basis for drone ‘Kill List': Interview with Nafeez Ahmed

‘Abby Martin features an interview with author and journalist Nafeez Ahmed, discussing his four-part investigation into the Pentagon’s mass social science project called The Minerva Research Initiative, as well as his latest book ‘Zero Point’.’ (Breaking the Set)

How Cops and Hackers Could Abuse California’s New Phone Kill-Switch Law

Kim Zetter writes for Wired:

kill-switch‘Beginning next year, if you buy a cell phone in California that gets lost or stolen, you’ll have a built-in ability to remotely deactivate the phone under a new “kill switch” feature being mandated by California law—but the feature will make it easier for police and others to disable the phone as well, raising concerns among civil liberties groups about possible abuse.

The law, which takes effect next July, requires all phones sold in California to come pre-equipped with a software “kill switch” that allows owners to essentially render them useless if they’re lost or stolen. Although the law, SB 962, applies only to California, it undoubtedly will affect other states, which often follow the Golden State’s lead. It also seems unlikely phone manufacturers would exclude the feature from phones sold elsewhere. And although the legislation allows users to opt out of the feature after they buy the phone, few likely will do so.’


Pentagon Sale: Everything Must Go!

NSA Created Search Engine Tool To Share Communication Records With Government Agencies

Cat Zakrzewski reports for TechCrunch:

‘A set of classified documents published by The Intercept on Monday shows how the National Security Agency (NSA) makes more than 850 billion records about various forms of communications available to other U.S. governmental agencies through a portal similar in look and feel to a traditional web search engine.

The search tool, called ICREACH, provides access to all communications records collected under a Reagan-era executive order, known as executive order 12333, that targets foreign communication networks. The purview of 12333 has recently attracted negative attention due to the lack of oversight of its surveillance, and the lack of public information regarding its use and breadth.

In the wake of the revelations sourced from documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, much public discourse has focused on how the government uses, and shares data that it collects — which agencies have access to specific information, and how privacy is treated have been key topics of discussion. The Intercept’s most recent report throws light onto one way NSA-collected metadata is shared inside of the larger U.S. intelligence and law enforcement communities — simply, widely, and often, it appears.’


For sale: Systems that can secretly track where cellphone users go around the globe

Craig Timberg reports for The Washington Post:

‘Makers of surveillance systems are offering governments across the world the ability to track the movements of almost anybody who carries a cellphone, whether they are blocks away or on another continent.

The technology works by exploiting an essential fact of all cellular networks: They must keep detailed, up-to-the-minute records on the locations of their customers to deliver calls and other services to them. Surveillance systems are secretly collecting these records to map people’s travels over days, weeks or longer, according to company marketing documents and experts in surveillance technology.

The world’s most powerful intelligence services, such as the National Security Agency and Britain’s GCHQ, long have used cellphone data to track targets around the globe. But experts say these new systems allow less technically advanced governments to track people in any nation — including the United States — with relative ease and precision.’


Ferguson Police Profiling of Blacks a Major Funding Source for City Budget

Putting Body Cameras On Cops Won’t Fix Misconduct, But It’s A Good Start

Tim Cushing writes for Techdirt:

‘Prompted by the fatal shooting of Ferguson resident Mike Brown, a We the People petition asking the federal government to require body cameras for all law enforcement officers has roared past the 100,000 signature threshold required for a White House response. (Theoretically.)

The petition asks for the creation of the “Mike Brown Law,” which would mandate the use of body cameras and ensure agencies are supplied with funding needed to comply. The usual caveat about bad laws being named after deceased persons aside, the use of body cameras by police officers is nearing inevitability, what with police misconduct now being a mainstream media topic.

It’s not a complete solution, but it is a very valuable addition. Dash cams, which have been in use for years, only capture a small percentage of interactions with civilians. While the use of body cameras will prompt new privacy concerns, the presence of the unblinking eye has been shown to make both police and the public behave better.’


Ferguson: Taser International and Digital Ally Continue To See Huge Market Gains

John Seward reports for Benzinga:

‘Taser International and Digital Ally continued their stock market run-up Monday driven by civil unrest that began August 9 in Ferguson, Missouri. Both companies manufacture small cameras worn by police officers, and unrest in Ferguson was touched off by the police shooting of civilian Michael Brown in an incident that police did not record. Taser, up three percent Monday, has gained 44 percent since August 1. Digital is up 228 percent in the same period, picking up more than 57 percent Monday.

Taser is touting a two-year study by the Rialto, California police department in collaboration with a researcher from Cambridge University which found that police wearing the cameras were 60 percent less likely to use force. Digital Ally put out a press release last week saying that orders for its cameras have surged since unrest in Ferguson began. Taser entered the law enforcement video business in 2012 and the segment’s revenue doubled in the second quarter to $3.6 million of Taser’s total revenue of $32 million. Digital launched a police body camera in December and the product now accounts for 36 percent of recent second-quarter revenue of $3.4 million.’

The LAPD Thinks It’s at War and Now It Has Drones

Charles Davis writes for VICE:

‘Police hate the word “drone” because they know the idea of flying robots patrolling the skies is, to many people, a bit too reminiscent of a cyber-punk dystopian hellscape. So when the Seattle Police Department announced that its two drones had gone off to Southern California “to try to make it in Hollywood,” it never used that word, calling them “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” and “mini-helicopters,” hoping that might help its friends at the Los Angeles Police Department avoid a public relations disaster like the one that had forced their department to give away its high-tech surveillance toys.

Yeah, it didn’t work.

Soon after news of the gift-wrapped drones spread, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck was forced to declare that his department wouldn’t actually be using them—not just yet, anyway. “I will not sacrifice public support for a piece of police equipment,” he proclaimed, saying he would seek input from the public before ever allowing a drone to fly over the city. As of now, the city’s drones are stashed away in a warehouse owned by the Department of Homeland Security.

Still, the LAPD insists the fear over drones is much ado about nothing, with a spokesperson telling the Los Angeles Times that if the department ever does decide to deploy them, it will only be for “narrow and prescribed uses.” But on Thursday, outside City Hall, a coalition of community groups and civil liberties advocates offered some feedback: hell no.’


Military Training Exercise Over Twin Cities Has Some Residents Asking Questions

Kim Johnson reports for CBS Minnesota:

‘A military training exercise has some in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul looking to the skies and asking questions. It’s a scene that looks straight out of an action movie. This week, a handful of low-flying black helicopters are buzzing just over rooftops and in between buildings.

They’re called Night Stalkers, or more formally, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment out of Fort Campbell Kentucky. But what they’re training for here in Minnesota is as stealth as their choppers appear.

The Department of Defense is in charge of the operation while Minneapolis and St. Paul police are playing a supportive role. But none of the departments will comment on the mysterious mission, only apologizing for “any alarm or inconvenience the training may cause,” according to statement by Minneapolis police.’


County officials refuse to pay medical bills for toddler burned by SWAT grenade

California college campus put on lockdown after man’s umbrella gets mistaken for rifle

Lee Moran reports for The New York Daily News:

Reporter Matt Rascon holds up an umbrella of the type that caused a campus lockdown at Cal State University San Marcos in California.‘A California college campus was put on lockdown after a man carrying an umbrella was mistaken for waving around a rifle. Cops received reports that a bald suspected gunman was roaming Cal State’s San Marcos campus shortly before 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Officers swept the area and searched room by room — as people were ordered to shelter and barricade themselves into secure places. Traffic en route to the university, north of San Diego, was also diverted, reports KPBS. But the campus was given the all-clear at 9:38 a.m. after the alleged weapon-wielder was discovered to be only carrying an umbrella.’


How companies are profiting from police crackdowns

Alex Kane writes for AlterNet:

Ferguson is big business: How companies are profiting from police crackdowns‘The tear-gas, rubber bullets and smoke bombs fired in Ferguson, Missouri have fed outrage over police militarization in the U.S. In response to the shocking images, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill said, “We need to de-militarize this situation.” Journalists reporting live on the demonstrations sparked by the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown expressed befuddlement as to why the police needed high-caliber weapons better suited for war zones than protests in an American city.

But one group of people is decidedly happy about the militarized response in Ferguson: those who work in the weapons industry. The array of police forces–the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the St. Louis county and city police and local Ferguson officers–that descended on the largely black Missouri city have used the products these corporations are selling in abundance. Tear gas, rubber bullets, smoke bombs, stun grenades, armored personnel carriers, sound cannons and high-caliber rifles have all been deployed to quell the unrest, though they have contributed to anger over police tactics.

The police response is the perfect showcase for the companies that manufacture military equipment for law enforcement use. They can point to the police tactics to sell their products to other law enforcement agencies preparing for demonstrations. And in Missouri, the police’s massive use of armaments like tear gas mean that their stock is becoming depleted and they will need to re-up their purchases. These companies will profit from the tension in Ferguson, and could fuel even greater militarization of the police, a trend that began with the war on drugs and has accelerated in recent years with the advent of the war on terror.’


The World’s Most Repressive Regimes Delight In U.S. Crack Down In Ferguson

Hayes Brown writes for Think Progress:

Police advance after tear gas was used to disperse a crowd of protesters in Ferguson, MO on Sunday‘After years of being critiqued for its own crackdowns against dissidents, China has begun to use the ongoing clashes between police and protesters and police in Ferguson, MO as a way to lambaste the United States for hypocrisy, joining other repressive regimes in expressing no small amount of schadenfreude at the current situation.

The Chinese government either directly owns or oversees all media within the country, including the Xinhua news service. As such, the op-ed published on Monday from commentator Li Li can be read as being an unofficial statement from Beijing. In the article, Li takes the United States to task for not yet realizing Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream, noting that “despite the progress, racial divide still remains a deeply-rooted chronic disease that keeps tearing U.S. society apart, just as manifested by the latest racial riot in Missouri.”’


Obama Orders Review of Police Use of Military Equipment

NBC News reports:

‘President Barack Obama has ordered a review of federal programs and funding that allow state and local law enforcement to acquire military equipment — a concern following the use of such gear during the recent unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. Obama has directed that the review consider whether dissemination of the military guns and armor to local law enforcement agencies is appropriate, according to a senior White House official. The review will also analyze whether local officials are properly trained to use the weapons and whether the federal government properly audits the use of the supplies, the official said.

Local law enforcement agencies around the U.S. are eligible to receive surplus military equipment through the Defense Department’s 1033 program. But there was outrage after photos and videos taken in Ferguson over the past week showed officers on tanks brandishing military-style firearms during protests over the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a police officer. The review will be led by White House staff and relevant U.S. agencies — including the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and Treasury — and will be carried out in coordination with Congress, the official said.’

Militarized policing in Canada under scrutiny following Ferguson protests

Tyler Dawson reports for the Edmonton Journal:

‘Heavily armed and armoured American police responding to protests in the city of Ferguson, Missouri, has punted to the national — and international — stage questions about police tactics and the militarization of police forces. Here in Canada, some observers are warning that there are lessons to be learned from the American experience.

“If you don’t keep something like this in check, it’s like a cancer, it will spread, it will metastasize into the justice system,” said Darryl Davies, a professor of criminology at Carleton University in Ottawa. “We can learn from what’s happening in the U.S. by making sure it does not happen on the same level.”

Police militarization, explained by journalist Radley Balko, who wrote a book on the subject, encompasses everything from swapping blue shirts for black uniforms, to police using military-grade equipment and the development of a military mindset among officers. While critics of police see the ramped-up matériel as overkill, police say it’s necessary for fighting crime.’


Researchers Easily Slipped Weapons Past TSA’s X-Ray Body Scanners

Andy Greenberg reports for Wired:

tsa-scans-pistol‘Two years ago, a blogger named Jonathan Corbett published a YouTube video that seemed to show a facepalm-worthy vulnerability in the TSA’s Rapiscan full-body X-ray scanners: Because metal detected by the scanners appeared black in the images they created, he claimed that any passenger could hide a weapon on the side of his or her body to render it invisible against the scans’ black background. The TSA dismissed Corbett’s findings, and even called reporters to caution them not to cover his video.

Now a team of security researchers from the University of California at San Diego, the University of Michigan, and Johns Hopkins plans to reveal their own results from months of testing that same model of scanner. And not only did they find that Corbett’s weapon-hiding tactic worked; they also found that they could pull off a disturbing list of other possible tricks, such as using teflon tape to conceal weapons against someone’s spine, installing malware on the scanner’s console that spoofed scans, or simply molding plastic explosives around a person’s body to make it nearly indistinguishable from flesh in the machine’s images.’


Cornel West on Ferguson, Missouri: “Obama reeks of political calculation not moral conviction”

Police often provoke protest violence, UC researchers find

Kurtis Alexander reports for The San Francisco Chronicle:

Demonstrators supporting protesters in Ferguson, Mo., hold up mirrors to police during a march Wednesday in Oakland. Photo: Scott Strazzante, The Chronicle‘The violence that turns a small-town protest into a fiery national spectacle like the one that has played out this month in Missouri is often unwittingly provoked by police, according to researchers at UC Berkeley. The research team, which studied clashes between police and activists during the Occupy movement three years ago, found that protests tend to turn violent when officers use aggressive tactics, such as approaching demonstrators in riot gear or lining up in military-like formations.

Recent events in Ferguson, Mo., are a good example, the study’s lead researcher said. For nearly two weeks, activists angered by a white police officer’s fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager have ratcheted up their protests when confronted by heavily armed police forces. “Everything starts to turn bad when you see a police officer come out of an SUV and he’s carrying an AR-15,” said Nick Adams, a sociologist and fellow at UC Berkeley’s Institute for Data Science who leads the Deciding Force Project. “It just upsets the crowd.” Adams said many law enforcement agencies aren’t aware that they set the tone of a protest and end up inflaming it.’


Ferguson and The Media

‘Listening Post examines racial conflict and social divisions in the US and how those issues are reported. Helping us to understand how the media reported Ferguson are: Mikki Kendall, a writer; Lizz Brown, a columnist for the St Louis American; Byron Tau, a reporter for Politico; Rashad Robinson, the executive director of Color of Change; and Ash-har Quraishi, a correspondent for Al Jazeera America.’ (Al Jazeera)

ACLU: Ferguson police report on Michael Brown’s death violates law

Jason Sickles reports for Yahoo News:

Click image to read entire report.‘A police report on the death of Michael Brown is missing key information and violates Missouri open records laws, an ACLU attorney told Yahoo News on Friday. The two-page document, which the Ferguson Police Department released only after pressure from journalists and civil liberties advocates, is largely redacted or left blank. The most egregious omissions are the victim’s name and a description of the offense – the fatal shooting of Brown. “They are breaking the law,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.

The report, obtained by Yahoo News through the Missouri Sunshine Law, lists only the date, time and location. Fields for the type of incident, name of the complainant, and a summary of the circumstances are redacted. “I’ve never seen an incident report that didn’t contain a description of the incident, at least on some basic level,” said Don Tittle, a veteran Texas civil and criminal attorney. “It makes you wonder if they don’t want to commit to a story.” The report comes nearly two weeks after Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, in broad daylight in the middle of a residential street.’