Category: Crime

Why visit your boyfriend in the slammer when you can chat online?

Arizona mother Cathy Seymour’s 16-year-old son was arrested in August 2013 for allegedly shooting a detention officer to death and was charged with first-degree murder as an adult and held in a jail.

Now she uses her laptop and a video link to spring him from maximum security detention in the 4th Avenue Jail in downtown Phoenix, take him on a virtual tour of some of his favorite places and visit with family and friends.

“If there’s Wi-Fi and you have a laptop, you don’t have to stay in your home,” she says of the recently installed pay-per-view system that links a video terminal in the jail to her laptop at a cost of $5 for 20 minutes.

“His favorite spot is McDonald’s, so we went to McDonald’s … I’ll show him, like, the street … He gets to see other people … He gets to see my mom and dad and church,” said Seymour, who spoke to Al Jazeera America on the condition that her son not be named.

She is among thousands of family members nationwide using pay-per-view video chats to connect with loved ones who are incarcerated. The technology is gaining traction in jail systems across the U.S. in a push by the for-profit prison industry to monetize inmate contact.

At the end of 2014, 388 U.S. jails — about 1 in 8 — offered pay-per-view video visits, and the service was also available in 123 prisons, according to a study by the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative (PPI).

Since the report was published in January, the PPI has become aware of at least 25 additional jails that have implemented the technology. Once video visitation systems are in place, most jails eliminate in-person family visits, securing a captive market for private firms. Seven companies dominate the market, and for 20 minutes, they charge from $5 in Maricopa County, Arizona, to $29.95 in Racine County, Wisconsin…

For Seymour, the pay-per-view video visits help her maintain a relationship with her teenage son, with whom she shares as many as four video chats a day. “He’s in an ugly place now … I don’t agree with the sheriff on much, but there is benefit to it,” she said of the system…

The boom in for-profit video visitation is also transforming the way lawyers work with their clients. Some criminal defense attorneys, like Marci Kratter in Phoenix, find much to like.

Before the system went live in November, Kratter had to drive to a jail, park, sign in and go to a visitation area to wait for her client in what she described as an “at least a two-hour ordeal.” Now with video visitation, “it’s 20 minutes. You do it from your desk … As far as rapport building goes and trust, when you can check in with [your clients] every week, they know you’re thinking about them.”

RTFA. Many variations on the theme – as you would expect. A predictable number of jailers are more interested in vacuuming every last greenback from the wallets of relatives, friends, lawyers. Some are more interested in security. You ain’t smuggling in smack or a cell phone over an internet connection.

There is a lawsuit started by defense attorneys in Travis County against Securus, the sheriff’s office and other county officials. It charges that video visits were used to illegally record attorneys’ confidential calls with their clients…using the info gained against clients and other prisoners. I’d be shocked, shocked I tell you – if something like that actually happened.

Y’all know how deeply we trust law enforcement in America. Right?

American government’s answer to privacy concerns — Trust us!


Women sense my power and they seek the life essence…But, I do deny them my essence, Mandrake.

The National Security Agency director, Mike Rogers…sought to calm a chorus of doubts about the government’s plans to maintain built-in access to data held by US technology companies, saying such “backdoors” would not be harmful to privacy, would not fatally compromise encryption and would not ruin international markets for US technology products.

Rogers mounted an elaborate defense of Barack Obama’s evolving cybersecurity strategy in an appearance before an audience of cryptographers, tech company security officers and national security reporters at the New America Foundation in Washington…

For most of the appearance, however, Rogers was on the defensive, at pains to explain how legal or technological protections could be put in place to ensure that government access to the data of US technology companies would not result in abuse by intelligence agencies. The White House is trying to broker a deal with companies such as Apple, Yahoo and Google, to ensure holes in encryption for the government to access mobile data, cloud computing and other data…

Rogers admitted that concerns about US government infiltration of US companies’ data represented a business risk for US companies, but he suggested that the greater threat was from cyber-attacks…

US technology companies have bridled at government pressure to introduce weaknesses in encryption systems in order to ensure government access to data streams, and technical experts have warned that there is no way to create a “backdoor” in an encryption system without summarily compromising it. An appearance by Obama at a cybersecurity conference at Stanford University last week to tout cooperation between the government and US tech companies was upstaged by an impassioned speech by Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, who warned of the “dire consequences” of sacrificing the right to online privacy…

“‘Backdoor’ is not the context I would use, because when I hear the phrase ‘backdoor’ I think: ‘Well this is kind of shady, why wouldn’t you want to go in the front door, be very public?’” Rogers said. “We can create a legal framework for how we do this.”

“Legal framework”, eh? Let me remind folks the first mass bombing of civilians had a “legal framework”. Hitler’s Condor Legion was invited into Spain by the fascist dictator, Franco. All perfectly legal. They bombed civilians in Madrid, Guernica, across Republican Spain.

Not that the United States would ever “legally” bomb civilians. Oh.

Texas county refuses to take on border checkpoint drug cases from the Feds

sierra blanca exit

Sierra Blanca county in Texas with two U.S. Border Patrol highway checkpoints is refusing to prosecute drug cases previously sent to it from those checkpoints.

The county—and all four states bordering Mexico—wants funding from Washington, D.C. to handle cases that federal prosecutors decide to send to state courts…

A program that reimbursed California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas for prosecuting federally initiated cases hasn’t been funded since 2013…

You might ask those folks in Congress – the ones who whine the loudest about border security – why they cut back on funding for law enforcement along the border with Mexico.

The straw that broke the camel’s back here was the end of a Drug Enforcement Administration grant in late 2014. The grant helped the county after the Southwest Border Prosecution Initiative ended.

County Judge Mike Doyal is Hudspeth County’s chief elected official. He said his county lost more money than it earned by accepting federally initiated drug cases.

“And they [the DEA] said, ‘We’re not renewing the grant.’ And we said, ‘We’re not taking any of the cases,’” said County Judge Mike Doyal, the chief elected official in Hudspeth County.

And so the county isn’t accepting any federal narcotics cases

There are no current plans in Congress to bolster funding for border states prosecuting federally initiated cases.

The term “Congressional cheapskates” comes to mind. Along with Tea Party “idjits”.

All the fear-mongering in the world ain’t about to get drug traffickers put into the slammer on good looks alone. Someone has to cover the paychecks for law enforcement and counties like Sierra Blanca can’t afford it.

Used to be a regular stop for me when I was on the road from El Paso to visit clients in the Permian Basin. Mostly played-out mines leftover from the last time they had a local economy. Though there still is a working talc mine part way between El Paso and the Sierra Blanca exit off I-10. Think about it next time you powder a baby’s butt.

U.S. and British government spies invaded billions of cellphones

drone watching
“Programming drones to zero in on SIM cards was a great idea!”

U.S. and British spies hacked into the world’s biggest maker of phone SIM cards, allowing them to potentially monitor the calls, texts and emails of billions of mobile users around the world…

The alleged hack on Gemalto…would expand the scope of known mass surveillance methods available to U.S. and British spy agencies to include not just email and web traffic, as previously revealed, but also mobile communications…

All the while, claiming they aren’t snooping without warrants on everyone. Liars.

The report by The Intercept site, which cites documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, could prove an embarrassment for the U.S. and British governments. It opens a fresh front in the dispute between civil liberties campaigners and intelligence services which say their citizens face a grave threat of attack from militant groups like Islamic State…

The Intercept report said the hack was detailed in a secret 2010 GCHQ document and allowed the NSA and GCHQ to monitor a large portion of voice and data mobile communications around the world without permission from governments, telecom companies or users…

The new allegations could boost efforts by major technology firms such as Apple and Google to make strong encryption methods standard in communications devices they sell, moves attacked by some politicians and security officials.

Leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron have expressed concern that turning such encryption into a mass-market feature could prevent governments from tracking militants planning attacks.

You can take that whine and stick it where the sun don’t shine!

High levels of a carcinogen found in fracking waste water

Hoping to better understand the health effects of oil fracking, the state in 2013 ordered oil companies to test the chemical-laden waste water extracted from wells.

Data culled from the first year of those tests found significant concentrations of the human carcinogen benzene in this so-called “flowback fluid.” In some cases, the fracking waste liquid, which is frequently reinjected into groundwater, contained benzene levels thousands of times greater than state and federal agencies consider safe.

The testing results from hundreds of wells showed, on average, benzene levels 700 times higher than federal standards allow, according to a Times analysis of the state data.

The presence of benzene in fracking waste water is raising alarm over potential public health dangers amid admissions by state oil and gas regulators that California for years inadvertently allowed companies to inject fracking flowback water into protected aquifers containing drinking water.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency called the state’s errors “shocking.” The agency’s regional director said that California’s oil field waste water injection program has been mismanaged and does not comply with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

Read it and weep, folks. Shocking, I say – shocking.

Except I’m not shocked. BITD, I worked in and around oil fields in Louisiana and there is no other class of business [in my experience] that spends 24 hours a day looking for ways to circumvent regulations. Especially requirements for environmental health and safety.

The article is the sort of thing LA Times journalists are thorough about. They don’t skimp on excellence. And, no, I don’t think the Feds have any right to be shocked. They should have been watching these sharks like tuna on toast.

UN slams Mexico over citizens who have “disappeared”


“I didn’t notice anyone missing. Did you?”

A U.N. committee accused Mexico of failing to adequately prosecute and convict individuals responsible for enforced disappearances.

The United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances has published its concluding observations…about Mexico’s efforts to combat enforced disappearances at the request of the relatives of the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students…

The experts voiced concern at “impunity regarding numerous cases of enforced disappearances.”

The recommendations from the U.N. panel calls on the Mexican government to adhere to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICCPED), under which all signatory parties are required to fully investigate enforced disappearances and bring all those responsible to justice…

The Mexican government ratified the ICCPED in 2010, which stipulates that all signatory parties’ allow the U.N. Committee on Enforced Disappearances authorization to hear individual cases of alleged disappearances and issue recommendations…

According to official figures, almost 50 percent of the 22,322 disappeared people went missing between 2012 and 2014 under the current administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto.

I’ve said it before. Let me say it, again.

Corruption, the absence of rule by law, the dominance of neighborhood by neighborhood, provincial, regional rule by gangsters, vicious killers wholly insulated from justice by bought-and-paid-for coppers – this is the stuff of daily life in Mexico. It lies at the core of my personal boycott of our southern neighbor. And, yes, it is also key to my contempt for jingoist, Amerika First Republicans, cruel conservatives who don’t understand commerce and base their definition of economic justice on bigotry.

Jailed months awaiting trial, man released after his “drugs” proven to be vitamins

joseph-burrell

A Minnesota man who was arrested in November on drug charges has been released after the “most expensive and most accurate test” available found that the drugs in his possession were over the counter vitamins…

Joseph Burrell was arrested on two felony counts of drug possession on November 14, 2014. According to police, Burrell was initially stopped for driving out of a grocery store parking lot without his lights on. When police searched his vehicle, they found a bag containing powder that a field test determined could be an amphetamine.

Burrell — who acknowledged that he had used drugs in the past, but that he had also just finished in-patient treatment at the New Beginnings drug treatment center in nearby Waverly — insisted that the substance was not illegal, and that he had purchased it to deal with a chronically sore shoulder.

Prosecutors pressured him to plead guilty, but Burrell told the Free Press that he “couldn’t plead guilty [to possessing] something I knew wasn’t a drug. They set my bail at $250,000 for vitamins.”

The charges were dropped after prosecutors used a more sophisticated means of analyzing the powder and discovered that it did, in fact, consist of legally available vitamins.

“I had been sitting in the jail since November with my bail set at $250,000,” Burrell told the Free Press. “Then, two days before trial, they dropped the charges and let me go.”

Accurate field tests, a timely trial, reasonable bail – seems to me I read somewhere these are all part of how a modern police department, justice system, function.

Is that too difficult for Minnesota to comprehend?

Of course, it reminds me of the time I was busted by customs coppers at Prestwick Airport in Scotland. About to be charged for the white powder in a plastic bag in my backpack, I finally convinced the most obstreperous of the lot to snort just the tiniest bit to test for any narcotic effects.

When little bubbles popped out of his nose he finally admitted I was telling the truth when I said it was Woolite! While his mates rolled on the floor laughing.

Thanks, Joseph

It ain’t paranoia if they’re really watching you!

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The U.S. National Security Agency has figured out how to hide spying software deep within hard drives made by Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba and other top manufacturers, giving the agency the means to eavesdrop on the majority of the world’s computers…

That long-sought and closely guarded ability was part of a cluster of spying programs discovered by Kaspersky Lab, the Moscow-based security software maker that has exposed a series of Western cyberespionage operations.

Kaspersky said it found personal computers in 30 countries infected with one or more of the spying programs, with the most infections seen in Iran, followed by Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Mali, Syria, Yemen and Algeria. The targets included government and military institutions, telecommunication companies, banks, energy companies, nuclear researchers, media, and Islamic activists, Kaspersky said.

The firm declined to publicly name the country behind the spying campaign, but said it was closely linked to Stuxnet, the NSA-led cyberweapon that was used to attack Iran’s uranium enrichment facility. The NSA is the agency responsible for gathering electronic intelligence on behalf of the United States.

A former NSA employee told Reuters that Kaspersky’s analysis was correct, and that people still in the intelligence agency valued these spying programs as highly as Stuxnet. Another former intelligence operative confirmed that the NSA had developed the prized technique of concealing spyware in hard drives, but said he did not know which spy efforts relied on it.

Kaspersky published the technical details of its research on Monday, which should help infected institutions detect the spying programs, some of which trace back as far as 2001.

Another opportunity to confirm which politicians and pundits are serious about protecting individual privacy and which consider kissing government spy-butts more important. Let’s see who lines up on which side in coming days discussing this latest revelation.

Meanwhile, our government will continue to tell us the biggest cyber-dangers are script-kiddies dwnloading movies and crooks raiding ATMs. Just ignore wholesale spying on everyone on the planet who owns a computer or a cellphone.

If the NSA gets their way, the Internet of Everything will have your refrigerator telling American spy agencies what you plan to have for lunch.

Dumb crook of the day

Police caught up to a man trying to flee assault charges because he posted a selfie on Facebook while sitting on a Greyhound bus out of town…

We like it when dumb criminals assist us in our investigation,” Ambridge police Chief James Mann told the Beaver County Times…

Mann told The Associated Press that the suspect, 22-year-old Donald Harrison, had been living in the borough about 20 miles northwest of Pittsburgh when he was charged with assaulting a woman and refusing to let her leave her apartment after an argument on Jan. 24.

An hour after the woman called police, police learned that Harrison, who is originally from Spartansburg, South Carolina, posted the Facebook message, “IT’S TIME TO LEAVE PA.”

Police couldn’t find him right away, but Mann said the woman called him Sunday afternoon after she noticed the Facebook selfie with the message saying, “OMW TO SPARTANSBURG SC SAY A PRAYER FOR ME.”

Mann said the picture appeared to show Harrison sitting in a bus or airplane and, acting on a hunch, he called the Greyhound bus terminal in Pittsburgh and learned a bus to Spartansburg had left 15 minutes earlier. After learning it would stop in Youngstown, Ohio, Mann explained the situation to Greyhound and arranged for Youngstown police to arrest Harrison on a warrant he faxed them.

The woman Harrison assaulted has several fractured vertebrae…and Chief Mann expects to add charges of aggravated assault when they complete extraditing his sorry butt from Ohio. He’s already charged with simple assault, unlawful restraint and reckless endangerment.

Creep!

Judge rules perp’s upskirt creative freedom trumps girl’s privacy

An Oregon judge has ruled that a 61-year-old man did nothing illegal when he crouched in the aisle of a Target store and snapped photos up a 13-year-old’s skirt.

It was lewd and appalling, but not outlawed, Washington County Judge Eric Butterfield said.

“From a legal point of view, which unfortunately today is my job to enforce, he didn’t do anything wrong,” the judge said…

Patrick Buono of Portland didn’t dispute using his cellphone to take upskirt photos on Jan. 3 at the store in suburban Beaverton…

But his defense lawyer, Mark Lawrence, argued Buono didn’t violate the laws against invasion of privacy and attempted encouraging child sexual abuse, a child pornography count…

The privacy law bans clandestine photography in bathrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms and tanning booths, but the Target aisle was plainly public, Lawrence said…

The privacy law also specifies nudity, and the girl was wearing underwear, Lawrence said…

“Sure, she’s in a public place. But she had an expectation of privacy that a deviant isn’t going to stick a camera up her skirt and capture private images of her body,” Deputy District Attorney Paul Maloney said…

Maloney said Buono took the photos hoping they would be explicit.

After the ruling, Buono shook his lawyer’s hand and hurried from the courtroom.

The differentiating feature in legal and illegal porn like this has always been participation, permission. And in the case of a minor, even a parent or guardian typically can’t give permission for an illegal act.

Poisonally, I think if the judge had the courage to defend privacy – a scarce enough commodity in 21st Century America – he’d have no shortage of defenders within and without the legal profession.