Posts Tagged ‘homeland security’

How fear mongering is destroying our rights

Wednesday, September 24, 2014 at 12:10 pm by
Last Thursday, BORDC’s executive director, Shahid Buttar, appeared on Uprising Radio. When speaking about fear mongering with regard to ISIS and homeland security, he said:

“It’s eerie to see the resurgence of many of the same dynamics in the public debate that we saw ten years ago, namely, fears of national security threats justifying overbroad counterterrorism policies…. There were very important reforms moving through Congress that have been all but derailed…due to the fear mongering about ISIS….

The fact of the matter is the FREEDOM act wouldn’t impact the NSA’s foreign signals intelligence capabilities at all. It would only keep [the NSA] from spying on Americans. The idea that somehow fears about ISIS should justify insulating the NSA from accountability for years of lies and deception to Congress and the American people — and documented abuses violating [legal limits on] its powers, and breaking the Federal statutes that were set up in the first place to keep it from doing these things — is preposterous. We should all expect much more from our public officials.”
Listen to the full interview here.

NSA collects biometric data, prompting creative countermeasures

Tuesday, June 3, 2014 at 7:27 am by

Along with investigative journalist Laura Pointras, James Risen from the New York Times (who is facing prosecution for protecting the confidentiality of his sources in the face of yet another whistleblower investigation) produced a report this Sunday based on the latest among the Snowden revelations. In particular, Poitras & Risen reveal that the NSA is collecting and maintaining a vast image database of faces for use with facial recognition software.

As they explain in their report:

The agency intercepts “millions of images per day” — including about 55,000 “facial recognition quality images” — which translate into “tremendous untapped potential,” according to 2011 documents obtained from the former agency contractor Edward J. Snowden. While once focused on written and oral communications, the N.S.A. now considers facial images, fingerprints and other identifiers just as important to its mission of tracking suspected terrorists and other intelligence targets, the documents show.

“It’s not just the traditional communications we’re after: It’s taking a full-arsenal approach that digitally exploits the clues a target leaves behind in their regular activities on the net to compile biographic and biometric information” that can help “implement precision targeting,” noted a 2010 document.

Facial recognition software deployed for surveillance and intelligence gathering is not merely constitutionally questionable, it is also really, really creepy. Your face is not “data,” it is you. More than any personal email or racy text message, your biometric information is the most personal data you possess. By rendering faces into ones and zeros, the NSA objectifies and commodifies the body itself.


News Digest for 11/13/13

Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 5:00 pm by

Current News

11/13, Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, Why Does Anyone Trust the National-Security State?

11/12, Kevin Gosztola, Fire Dog Lake, The Next Homeland Security Chief: What Senators Will Ignore During Jeh Johnson’s Nomination Hearing

11/12, Joshua Keating, Slate, Peak Drone?

11/12, Rowena Mason, The Guardian, John Kerry: world leaders have been understanding about NSA leaks

11/12, Shane Harris, Foreign Policy, Senate to Start Sweeping Intel Review This Month

11/12, Rebecca Kaplan, CBS News, Contentious issues loom over upcoming defense bill

Face the Future

Wednesday, August 28, 2013 at 7:08 am by

POLICE SURVEILLANCEThe New York Times recently reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is developing a 3-D facial recognition surveillance system. According to documents released through a FOIA request by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the technology is intended to allow the government to collect, store, and compare images in a variety of situations in order to identify persons on federal watch lists. In a test last fall, the Biometric Optical Surveillance System (BOSS) had not achieved the level of speed and accuracy required. However, researchers are confident that the system will be ready for use in only a matter of time.

This is the latest in a steady stream of technologies employed by the government to record and monitor ever-expanding aspects of Americans’ lives. Initially intended for military use, the DHS is now developing the technology for domestic police use. It raises significant questions, as Americans become increasingly distrustful of the federal government’s surveillance practices, particularly in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency’s  (NSA) vast electronic surveillance programs. Perhaps most troubling, and yet unsurprising, is that privacy safeguards are not mentioned once in the documents.

Once fully optimized, a few clicks of these cameras would allow police to capture quality images of masses of people from distances of 100 meters. We already know that the FBI monitors constitutionally protected activities such as protests and religious gatherings.  And the NYPD is being sued for spying on Muslims at school, work and play. BOSS would vastly enhance law enforcement officers’ abilities to track countless residents, encompassing ever more individuals who choose to engage in their communities. Locally, it promises to add to an already spectacular level of surveillance, as frighteningly illustrated in Oakland’s forthcoming Domain Awareness Center.

Faster and more accurate surveillance technology will serve to further chill political and religious speech, as people are forced to expose themselves to scanners, cameras, and soon BOSS, whenever they leave their homes. That’s not to mention the illegal monitoring already happening in the home, of the public’s phone, email and other internet-based communications. Without adequate restrictions, this new technology will fundamentally violate Americans’ constitutional right to privacy and widen the door for federal agencies and the police to continue profiling and targeting select communities without reasonable suspicion.

Although it may be years before BOSS comes to a police department near you, now is the time for communities to demand strong safeguards for civil liberties. As the New York and Oakland examples illustrate, local law enforcement is certainly not waiting to up its surveillance efforts. The Bill of Rights Defense Committee developed the Local Civil Rights Restoration (LCRR) toolkit, which provides model legislation that cities across the country can adopt to restrict local law enforcement’s ability to surveil residents. It’s a powerful way to reverse encroaching state surveillance, and join the movement to reclaim our civil rights.

News Digest 3/04/13

Monday, March 4, 2013 at 5:00 pm by

Will Obama’s second term finally fulfill his 2008 promises? (Part I)

Friday, November 9, 2012 at 10:17 am by

This is the first part in a series examining opportunities for the Obama administration to return, in the wake of the 2012 election, to the president’s promises from the 2008 campaign to restore liberty and security. Part II and part III are also available.

President Obama’s reelection has sparked an onslaught of analysis attempting to define the agenda for his second term. Will it reflect the vision of restoring liberty and security on which the president ran in 2008, or the disappointing passivity towards the national security state that characterized his first term?

More to the point, will President Obama’s legacy include emerging American authoritarianism, or instead the recovery of constitutional freedoms lost over the past decade? While machinations in Washington will of course influence the answer, We the People will play a crucial role, well beyond the 2012 election, in determining the outcome.

Obama’s legacy of constitutional violations

With the broad strokes that history affords the past, any president’s legacy usually shrinks within a decade to two or three elements. For instance, Clinton is remembered for presiding over the tech boom and resulting federal surplus, dismantling welfare and escalating mass incarceration, and surviving a partisan impeachment effort prompted by sophomoric sexual indiscretion.

George H. W. Bush’s legacy includes the first Iraq war, failing to energize the economy, and a premature pledge not to raise taxes. We remember Ronald Reagan for overcoming the Soviet Union and its satellites (even if his methods ensured the contemporary budget crisis, created al-Qaeda, and emboldened Iran), heralding “morning in America” to end a recession, and after surviving an assassination attempt, conveniently growing unable to recall more or less anything about compounding scandals that stained his second term.

In these broad strokes, President Obama’s legacy will likely include memories of the historic debate over healthcare policy in 2009, and the recurring budget crises that, combined with GOP intransigence, have periodically brought Washington to a standstill under his administration. The most enduring part of his legacy, however, will be the entrenchment of the national security state on his watch.

Beyond merely failing to reverse the trajectory of the Bush-Cheney administration, Obama’s first term extended it, pioneering new abuses while entrenching old ones.

Unlike Obama, Bush & Cheney never asserted the authority to kill US citizens based on their speech.

Unlike Obama, Bush & Cheney never signed into a law a statute granting the military the power to detain any American without evidence or proof of crime.

While Bush & Cheney violated international law by authorizing torture, it took the Obama administration to decide  that such criminal acts would go unpunished (or even investigated), ensuring their recurrence and nailing the coffin of international human rights.

The Obama administration’s prosecution of whistleblowers who sacrifice their jobs to defend the public interest has reached unprecedented levels, as have deportations of undocumented workers, their families, and occasionally, even US citizens. Rather than repudiate the Bush & Cheney paradigm, Obama has unfortunately perpetuated it.

A former President’s warning

50 years ago, a president with the deepest military roots among any who has held office since then–no mere General, but the Supreme Allied Commander during World War II, Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower — issued a disturbing warning about a threat to our democracy posed by “an immense military establishment and a large arms industry” that, together, he described as “the military-industrial complex.” President Eisenhower said, in no uncertain terms, that:

“[W]e must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence…by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Ike observed the larval stages of a dynamic that has grown only more pernicious since he left office. In the decade since 9/11, under Presidents Bush and Obama alike, our military-industrial complex has initiated not only various military conflicts abroad, but also a domestic war on the constitutional rights of the American people.

Secret and increasingly immune to public accountability, if not above the law altogether, and insulated from accountability by elected leaders from each of the major political parties, an alphabet soup of federal agencies has emerged to pursue a duplicative, wasteful, and constitutionally abusive national security agenda.


News Digest 8/28/12

Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 5:05 pm by

8/28, David A. Patten,, Unprecedented Security in Place for GOP Delegates

8/28, Brock Parker,, Homeland Security tests to begin at T stops in Cambridge, Somerville

8/28, Fern Sidman,, Muslims Plan 3-Day Jumah Event to Pressure Democratic Convention

8/28, Robert Gearty, Daily News (NY), NYPD stop-and-frisk race case set for 2013 trial date

8/27, Aden Fine, ACLU, Twitter Appeals Ruling in Battle Over Occupy Wall Street Protester’s Information

8/27, Len Levitt, Huffington Post, The NYPD’S Intelligence Division: It’s Gone Rogue

News Digest 7/16/12

Monday, July 16, 2012 at 5:00 pm by

7/16, Roberto Rodriquez, TruthOut, The Face of “Reasonable Suspicion”: Arizona’s Freedom Summer Continues

7/15, Karen Graham,, Florida to use Homeland Security list to purge illegal voters

7/15, Editorial, New York Times, Sheriff Joe on Trial

7/13, Dave Lindorff, Nation of Change, Information Overload: Driving a Stake Through the National Security State

7/13, Peter Maass & Megha Rajagopalan, Pro Publica, That’s No Phone. That’s My Tracker

7/12, Amanda Beadle, ThinkProgress, U.S. Citizen Sues After Erroneously Being Held As An Undocumented Immigrant

A decade after 9/11, all Americans are victims

Monday, September 12, 2011 at 10:16 am by

Ten years ago on September 11, 2001, the United States suffered the worst terrorist attack in the nation’s history. In the panic of the weeks that followed, the American government began changing its counterterrorism policies in ways that undermined constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties, culminating in the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act on October 26, 2001. Within two weeks of that law’s passage, on November 10, 2001, organizers in Massachusetts founded the Bill of Rights Defense Committee to fight against that dangerous law and others that followed.

To mark the tenth anniversary of these pivotal events in American history and of our organization itself, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee is running a series of articles looking back on the last ten years. This post is part of that series.

On September 11, 2001, America woke up to a beautiful fall morning. Only hours later, those blue skies were marred with smoke in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. And the American psyche, too, was marred by the ensuing trauma. Fear understandably pervaded this country on that day ten years ago and the days that followed. Unfortunately, the government only encouraged that fear, and a decade later, our nation is still firmly in its grasp.

9/11 duskNearly 3,000 victims died in the terrorist attacks, but sadly, they have not been the only victims. Thanks to the US government’s expansion of counterterror policies—beginning with the USA PATRIOT Act just six weeks after the attacks and continuing with new policies as recent as this year—every American is now a victim of the loss of liberty in this new national security state.

From the infamous PATRIOT Act to the warrantless wiretapping program to airport body scanners to the FBI’s undercover infiltration of activist groups and religious organizations, all of us are losing our rights to privacy—whether we know it or not. And though they would not be justifiable even if they did, none of these violations of our most fundamental civil liberties—those guaranteed to all Americans in the Constitution and Bill of Rights—have made us more secure.

In fact, as revealed in Dana Priest and William Arkin’s Top Secret America series and many other books and articles over the years, the massive surveillance programs now in place are so unwieldy that they actually make it more difficult to identify real threats. Monitoring millions of emails and setting up extensive no-fly lists (including everyone from toddlers to actor Mark Ruffalo) just adds hay to the haystack, making finding a needle that much more unlikely.

Further, there’s so much secrecy surrounding the surveillance and national security programs that the government itself doesn’t have a good grasp on the size, breadth, power, and cost of the military-industrial-surveillance complex. Without transparency into the realities of what government agencies are really doing behind closed doors, We the People are denied the power to stand up for our rights and liberties—a power supposedly guaranteed to us in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Ten years later, nearly every American has lost civil freedoms to one degree or another. Is that really the legacy this country wants for the September 11 attacks and their victims? In another ten years, what will have happened to the rule of law and constitutional liberties our country’s founders set out for all Americans?

If we are to change the course of history once again, to put it back on track and restore the full promise of our Constitution, We the People must take action. A movement is already building to set things right. In the years immediately following the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, more than 400 cities and 8 states across the country stood up against it by passing resolutions supporting the Bill of Rights and opposing laws and policies that infringed upon those liberties. Today, Americans of all walks of life in dozens of cities and towns from New England to the Deep South, from the Midwest to the West Coast, are standing up once again, organizing for accountability and mobilizing to protect privacy and civil liberties. Momentum is building. Progress is being made. The movement is growing. And that should be the true legacy of 9/11.

News Digest 9/9/11

Friday, September 9, 2011 at 5:00 pm by