From 2008 to 2010, Boston and eight surrounding cities and towns installed surveillance cameras provided by a grant through the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Urban Areas Security Initiative. DHS’ website describes the cameras as part of a system that has “nine, independent and interoperable nodes tied together through a central hub and is made up of over 100 cameras.” The cameras were justified for the protection of “critical infrastructure” from terrorist attack, but their use has faced scrutiny from citizens concerned about threats to civil liberties. In Brookline and Cambridge, two municipalities covered by the grant, residents are using local governments to attempt to ban surveillance cameras.
Posts Tagged ‘accountability’
Between October 25 and the 28, an intimidating list of over 150 police departments, federal law enforcement agencies and private corporations participated in a series of militarized war games using the city of Oakland California as if it was their personal playground.
“In past years, Urban Shield has featured hostage-taking scenarios involving animal rights activists, and the bombing of an oil platform by Anarchists. In an interview, Sheriff Ahern said the scenarios are sourced from threats made to law enforcement and government agencies over the past five to ten years that have been documented by the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center. “Many of those threats have used the formats of anarchy, in the form of white supremacy, of Muslim extremism,” Ahern said. “We simply use threats we’ve received over the last five to ten years that have been documented through our regional intelligence center.” (Eastbay Express)
Fight for The Future, in partnership with the BORDC, Restore the Fourth NYC, Demand Progress and other privacy groups in the Stop Watching Us coalition debuted their new film The NSA Video this week in Manhattan, New York.
BORDC Legal Fellow Matthew Kellegrew joined the crowd as it gathered under the Grand Arch in Washington Square Park in the cool air of New York in the fall. At first, only a few people milled about unsure what to do but before long the few strangers became an unmistakable crowd. The organizers donned NSA costumes, handed out popcorn and briefed the crowd on what was to come.
Every 90 days for the past seven years, the government has acquired the full billing records of every American’s daily telephone calls. Though the use of of secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court orders, the FBI has forced telecommunications companies to hand over records revealing such details as who individuals call, the length of those phone calls, and the locations of the callers. As the ACLU explains in a new report titled, “Unleashed and Unaccountable: The FBI’s Unchecked Abuse of Authority,” these secretive, unconstitutional, and ineffective invasions of privacy have become a mainstay in the post-9/11 domestic surveillance enterprise.
Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, several significant changes in law and policy have vastly expanded the power of the FBI, enabling it to conduct widespread warrantless surveillance and utilize broad investigative authority. The passage of the Patriot Act and the accompanying secret interpretation of Section 215 have allowed the FBI to spy on Americans and gather an unprecedented amount of information about their personal lives.
The New York Police Department (NYPD) has been scrutinized following the revelation one month ago that it designated entire mosques as “terrorism enterprises.” This allowed them to conduct surveillance on anyone praying at these mosques, including sending undercover informants into them. NYPD confidential documents even peddled the idea of placing agents in leadership positions at mosques and Arab cultural organizations. Such actions are part of a national context in which police departments violate the first amendment rights of citizens in the name of fighting terrorism. A prime example is the lack of accountability or explanation from the Boston Police Department (BPD) one year after its surveillance of local anti-war organizations became public.
In October 2012 it was revealed that the BPD placed local anti-war groups under surveillance with no plausible connections to criminal activity. One year later many questions remain about the scope of the BPD’s breach of privacy. What was the purpose of such surveillance and how was it done? Are antiwar activists continuing to have their protected free speech rights violated? Has information on antiwar groups been passed on to national databases, perhaps stored permanently?
This Sunday, September 21, the New York Times published an editorial, “Close the N.S.A.’s Back Doors,” supporting a piece of legislation that the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, alone among national advocacy organizations, has endorsed since August.
The Times editorial board wrote:
[T]he [NSA] has never met an encryption system that it has not tried to penetrate. And it frequently tries to take the easy way out. Because modern cryptography can be so hard to break, even using the brute force of the agency’s powerful supercomputers, the agency prefers to collaborate with big software companies and cipher authors, getting hidden access built right into their systems.
The New York Times, The Guardian and ProPublica recently reported that the agency now has access to the codes that protect commerce and banking systems, trade secrets and medical records, and everyone’s e-mail and Internet chat messages, including virtual private networks. In some cases, the agency pressured companies to give it access….
These back doors and special access routes are a terrible idea, another example of the intelligence community’s overreach….If back doors are built into systems by the N.S.A., who is to say that other countries’ spy agencies — or hackers, pirates and terrorists — won’t discover and exploit them?
Representative Rush Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, has introduced a bill that would, among other provisions, bar the government from requiring software makers to insert built-in ways to bypass encryption. It deserves full Congressional support.
The bill introduced by Rep. Holt is the “Surveillance State Repeal Act” (H.R. 2818). If enacted into law, the bill would entirely repeal both the USA PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008.
On Monday, August 12, New Yorkers won a historic victory with a federal court ruling that the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) use of stop and frisk policing violated the constitution. Judge Shira Scheindlin found the tactic, as had been argued by the plaintiffs and their attorneys, the Center for Constitutional Rights, violated both the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
To remedy the violations of rights that the court found had affected thousands of New Yorkers between 2004 and 2012, the Judge mandated a number of court supervised changes. The order imposes important reforms on the NYPD related to stop and frisk. The court appointed an independent monitor to oversee the process of bringing the NYPD’s tactics in line with the constitution, required trials of officer worn body cameras in each borough and mandated community input into the reform process. Police body worn cameras have shown excellent results reducing the use of force by police officers and complaints against them. In Rialto, California the use of cameras resulted in a 60% drop in the use of force by police officers.
However, to ensure better policing for all New Yorkers, it will still be crucial for the New York City Council to overturn the mayor’s veto on the two bills championed by Communities United for Police Reform. These bills will greatly expand profiling protections to insure that New Yorkers are not targeted by police for their identity and establish an Inspector General for the NYPD. The council is scheduled to vote on the veto override on August 22.
On July 29th, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), received a letter from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) responding to his questions around the Bureau’s use of drones. Sen. Paul made it clear that he will not pursue his inquiry further at this time, clearing the way for the eventual confirmation of James Comey to lead the Bureau.
But while the FBI’s letter does provide some meager answers, what is more notable about the correspondence between the Senator and the FBI is the lack of real information it reveals.
Much like National Security Agency (NSA) spying, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts, and other secret law, the government has made clear yet again that policies and procedures that purportedly protect civil liberties will not be revealed to the public. Perhaps the secrecy is because those policies do not, in fact, include adequate protections.
As we reported a few weeks ago, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, current FBI director Robert Mueller admitted that the FBI uses drones to conduct domestic surveillance. When questioned further, he admitted that the Bureau was only “in the initial stages” of developing policies and procedures for the drone program.
The day after the hearing, Senator Paul issued an open letter to Director Mueller asking for specifics on the program by July 1. He requested transparency on the secretive program, including the number of drones the FBI has, whether they are (or could be) armed, and what privacy protections are or will be in place. Unsurprisingly, the FBI declined to respond. Senator Paul sent a follow up letter on July 9th again requesting a response.
Last week, current and former intelligence officials spoke anonymously with the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to reveal that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) is wielding even more power than Edward Snowden’s leaks imply. According to the New York Times, the court is not simply processing requests for surveillance authority. Instead, it is “regularly assessing broad constitutional questions and establishing important judicial precedents, with almost no public scrutiny, according to current and former officials familiar with the court’s classified decisions.”
Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), access to business records requires an application to the FISC that includes “facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation.” While the law around relevance and reasonable grounds to believe is somewhat unclear, the Wall Street Journal reports:
The court’s interpretation of the word enabled the government, under the Patriot Act, to collect the phone records of the majority of Americans, including phone numbers people dialed and where they were calling from, as part of a continuing investigation into international terrorism.
In addition to an extremely broad definition of what is relevant, the officials revealed that the court has issued opinions that “have expanded the use in terrorism cases of a legal principle known as the ‘special needs’ doctrine and carved out an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of a warrant for searches and seizures.”
In the past few years, the United States military has crossed a major threshold and entered a new kind of war. This new war is more covert than wars past, characterized by attacks occurring in many countries, away from front-lines and far from the reach of accountability.
Earlier this year, Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta submitted a budget to Congress that illustrated this new kind of war, constituted by a large increase in special clandestine operations. These clandestine operations will largely depend on unmanned attacks, through the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), more commonly known as drones. The use of drones has been validated by President Obama, who has argued that they are “notable for their precision.” Senator Dianne Feinstein (CA-D) “forcefully insisted” that drone strikes only killed “single digits” of civilians annually. However, a new report released by Larry Lewis, a principal research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses, and Sarah Holewinski of the non-governmental organization Center for Civilians in Conflict, presents findings that stand in direct opposition to President Obama and Senator Feinstein’s statements. (more…)