#BlackLivesMatter? — unless you’re Homeland Security


Click to enlargePeter Marshall

The Department of Homeland Security has been monitoring the Black Lives Matter movement since anti-police protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri last summer, according to hundreds of documents obtained by The Intercept through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The documents, released by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Operations Coordination, indicate that the department frequently collects information, including location data, on Black Lives Matter activities from public social media accounts, including on Facebook, Twitter, and Vine, even for events expected to be peaceful. The reports confirm social media surveillance of the protest movement and ostensibly related events in the cities of Ferguson, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and New York.

They also show the department watching over gatherings that seem benign and even mundane. For example, DHS circulated information on a nationwide series of silent vigils and a DHS-funded agency planned to monitor a funk music parade and a walk to end breast cancer in the nation’s capital.

The tracking of domestic protest groups and peaceful gatherings raises questions over whether DHS is chilling the exercise of First Amendment rights, and over whether the department, created in large part to combat terrorism, has allowed its mission to creep beyond the bounds of useful security activities as its annual budget has grown beyond $60 billion.

Our government thinks anyone who stands up for equal rights is a potential terrorist.

The surveillance cataloged in the DHS documents goes back to August of last year, when protests and riots broke out in Ferguson the day after the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. According to two August 11th, 2014 reports, a DHS FEMA “WatchOps officer” used information from Twitter and Vine to monitor the riots and reproduced a map, originally created by a Reddit user, of conflict zones…

An April 2015 FEMA memo also shows that the DHS appears to have gathered information on anti-police-brutality protests in Philadelphia “organized by members of the Philly Coalition for Real Justice” and in New York on May Day at “Foley Square, start time 1700… Independent factions are being solicited to join in on a full day of demonstration through various open source social media sites, fliers, posters.”…

Baher Azmy, a legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, however, argues that this “providing situational awareness” is just another word for surveillance and that creating this body of knowledge about perfectly legal events is a problem in and of itself. “What they call situational awareness is Orwellian speak for watching and intimidation,” said Azmy. “Over time there’s a serious harm to the associational rights of the protesters and it’s an effective way to chill protest movements. The average person would be less likely to go to a Black Lives Matter protest if the government is monitoring social media, Facebook, and their movements.”

Although DHS spokesman S.Y.Lee says…that the department “does not provide resources to monitor any specific planned or spontaneous protest, rally or public gathering,” some of the documents show that the DHS has produced minute-by-minute reports on protesters’ movements in demonstrations…

The documents also elaborate on DHS’s response to riots and militant protests in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African American man who in April died from injuries sustained while in police custody…the DHS’ Federal Protective Service placed more than 400 officers on duty in Baltimore after Gray’s death…

Raven Rakia, a journalist who investigates state surveillance and policing, said that the DHS’ decision to monitor Black Lives Matter is hardly surprising, given the federal government’s well documented history of spying on and suppressing black social movements and groups like the Black Panthers. “There’s a long history of the federal agencies, especially the FBI, seeing black resistance organizations as a threat to national security,” says Rakia…

Same as it ever was. A government that isn’t serious about equal rights for all Americans, a Congress afraid of attempts to guarantee voting rights, civil rights, expected in a democratic nation – sets the stage for activists to be an automatic target for suppression.

We all get the bill for police brutality


Click to enlargePat Vasquez-Cunningham/Albuquerque Journal

The death of James Boyd in Albuquerque

The cost of resolving police-misconduct cases has surged for big U.S. cities in recent years, even before the current wave of scrutiny faced by law-enforcement over tactics.

The 10 cities with the largest police departments paid out $248.7 million last year in settlements and court judgments in police-misconduct cases, up 48% from $168.3 million in 2010…

Those cities collectively paid out $1.02 billion over those five years in such cases, which include alleged beatings, shootings and wrongful imprisonment. When claims related to car collisions, property damage and other police incidents are included, the total rose to more than $1.4 billion…

City officials and others say the large payouts stem not just from new cases, but from efforts to resolve decades-old police scandals. In 2013 and 2014, for example, Chicago paid more than $60 million in cases where people were wrongfully imprisoned decades ago because of alleged police misconduct.

For some cities, the data show that cases have gotten more expensive to resolve. Philadelphia police have faced criticism for numerous shootings in recent years. Last year, the city settled 10 shooting cases for an average of $536,500 each. In 2010, it settled eight for an average of $156,937. A city lawyer attributes the rise to a few large settlements, not a pattern of questionable shootings…

The rationales for increased costs – coming from police departments and city lawyers – IMHO are crap. Covering their pasty butts, trying to hide from responsibility.

For most of the police departments surveyed by the Journal, the costliest claims were allegations of civil-rights violations and other misconduct, followed by payouts on car collisions involving the police. Misconduct cases were the costliest for New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Washington, Dallas and Baltimore…

The data don’t indicate whether cities are settling such claims more quickly, but some recent cases suggest that might be happening, especially in cases involving video.

In April, less than two weeks after a news helicopter captured video of sheriff’s deputies in San Bernardino County, Calif., kicking and beating Francis Pusok , the county reached a $650,000 settlement with him. Mr. Pusok had been trying to escape from the deputies on a horse he allegedly stole. He hadn’t filed a lawsuit at the time of the settlement and still faces charges.

“They wanted this to go away fast,” says Sharon Brunner, a lawyer for Mr. Pusok, who is fighting the charges. A spokesman for the county said the quick payout was made to avoid costly litigation…

The same is true of New York City under their new mayor, Bill de Blasio.

Not all the departments surveyed showed an increase in misconduct payouts. Phoenix, Los Angeles and Baltimore, for example, showed declines. But insurers and lawyers who defend police say current scrutiny of law enforcement is broadly affecting the resolution of lawsuits.

According to Joanna Schwartz’s study at UCLA, which tabulated civil-rights payouts in 44 large police and sheriff departments from 2006 through 2011, Albuquerque, NM, paid out the most per officer—more than $2,000 a year over that time…

Last October, the city agreed to change how its officers use force in a settlement it reached with the Justice Department, which said it found a widespread pattern of excessive and sometimes lethal force by officers.

Albuquerque officials say the city has been bracing for more settlements and has had to allocate funding it could have spent on raises for employees, parks and other municipal projects to cover the payouts in police cases.

There’s no magic source of blue money to cover increased costs from police department screw-ups. Every ounce of social corruption – from racism, contempt for civilians, ignorance of citizens’ rights, disrespect for constitutional protection – adds up as a charge against the whole budget for every municipality.

You and I get the bill.

Apple and Google invited to debate a confidential summit for spies


Click to enlargeDownton Abbey for spies

At an 18th-century mansion in England’s countryside last week, current and former spy chiefs from seven countries faced off with representatives from tech giants Apple and Google to discuss government surveillance in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s leaks.

The three-day conference, which took place behind closed doors and under strict rules about confidentiality, was aimed at debating the line between privacy and security…

According to an event program obtained by The Intercept, questions on the agenda included: “Are we being misled by the term ‘mass surveillance’?” “Is spying on allies/friends/potential adversaries inevitable if there is a perceived national security interest?” “Who should authorize intrusive intelligence operations such as interception?” “What should be the nature of the security relationship between intelligence agencies and private sector providers, especially when they may in any case be cooperating against cyber threats in general?” And, “How much should the press disclose about intelligence activity?”

The list of participants included:

Richard Salgado, Google’s legal director for law enforcement and information security; Verity Harding, Google’s U.K. public policy manager and head of security and privacy policy; Jane Horvath, Apple’s senior director of global privacy; Erik Neuenschwander, Apple’s product security and privacy manager; Matthew Kirk, Vodafone Group’s external affairs director; and Phillipa McCrostie, global vice chair of transaction advisory services, Ernst & Young…

From the U.S.:

John McLaughlin, the CIA’s former acting director and deputy director; Jami Miscik, the CIA’s former director of intelligence; Mona Sutphen, member of President Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board and former White House deputy chief of staff; Rachel Brand, member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board; George Newcombe, board of visitors, Columbia Law School; David Ignatius, Washington Post columnist and associate editor; and Sue Halpern, New York Review of Books contributor…

The event was chaired by the former British MI6 spy chief Sir John Scarlett and organized by the Ditchley Foundation, which holds several behind-closed-doors conferences every year at its mansion in Oxfordshire in an effort to address “complex issues of international concern.” The discussions are held under what is called the Chatham House Rule, meaning what is said by each attendee during the meetings cannot be publicly revealed, a setup intended to encourage open and frank discussion. The program outlining the conference on surveillance told participants they could “draw afterwards on the substance of what has been said” but warned them “not under any circumstances to reveal to any person not present at the conference” details exposing what particular named individuals talked about…

Investigative reporter Duncan Campbell, who attended the event, told The Intercept that it was a “remarkable” gathering that “would have been inconceivable without Snowden,” the National Security Agency whistleblower.

“Away from the fetid heat of political posturing and populist headlines, I heard some unexpected and surprising comments from senior intelligence voices, including that ‘cold winds of transparency’ had arrived and were here to stay,” said Campbell, who has been reporting on British spy agencies over a career spanning four decades.

He added: “Perhaps to many participants’ surprise, there was general agreement across broad divides of opinion that Snowden – love him or hate him – had changed the landscape; and that change towards transparency, or at least ‘translucency’ and providing more information about intelligence activities affecting privacy, was both overdue and necessary.”

Since none of us were invited to the discussion we’ll have to rely upon “interpretations” leaked over coming weeks. Certainly, some of those attending were on the side of privacy and transparency. Not governed by government-level paranoia or bound by class-dependent arrogance.

ACLU launches iPhone app to record encounters with coppers

Videos like this would be encrypted, automatically uploaded to Cloud

Looking to reduce “over-policing” and surface instances of excessive force, the American Civil Liberties Union of California on Thursday launched a smartphone app that lets users securely document law enforcement encounters.

The app, called Mobile Justice CA, uses Apple’s powerful iPhone platform to securely track law enforcement misconduct, according to the ACLU.

Available to residents of California, Mobile Justice CA records video like any other camera app, but instead of saving the file locally, it automatically uploads the data to an ACLU affiliate for review. This added step is designed to protect against accidental or purposeful device breakage or confiscation resulting from the recorded incident.

In addition to chronicling potential civil rights violations, the app sends out a geotagged alert to nearby Mobile Justice CA users, warning them of the situation. The app also features access to the ACLU’s “Know Your Rights” material and information about upcoming events…

This is a free download at the Apple iPhone/iPad App Store. I hadn’t realize it; but, similar apps are available for Oregon, Missouri and New York. Obviously, folks need something like this for every state – and a nationwide version, a global version.

As it catches on, no doubt there will be comparable apps not necessarily tied to specific organizations. Though, given their history of fighting to defend civil lverties and civil rights, you ain’t exactly harming yourself by using something feeding directly into the hopper at the ACLU.

Indiana says miscarriage is abortion – woman sentenced to 20 years in prison

purvi patel indiana

Depending on trimester, abortion is illegal in the United States. So is having a stillbirth – not officially, perhaps, but thanks to a case in Indiana, we’re halfway there. On Monday, Purvi Patel, a 33 year old woman who says that she had a miscarriage, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for neglect of a dependent and feticide. She is the first woman in the United States to ever be sentenced for such a crime.

In July 2013, Patel went to the emergency room with heavy bleeding. She eventually admitted to miscarrying a stillborn fetus and placing it in a bag in a dumpster. (Patel lived with her religiously conservative parents who did not believe in premarital sex.) After police searched Patel’s cellphone, they found text messages that suggested she bought abortion-inducing drugs online.

Despite the fact that no traces of any abortifacent were found in Patel’s blood work taken at the hospital, the prosecution argued that she had taken the drugs mentioned in her text messages and caused her miscarriage at 23-24 weeks of pregnancy. And, in legal maneuvering that defies imagination, Patel was charged not just with fetal homicide, but with neglecting a child. As the Guardian reported last year, these charges are completely contradictory: neglecting a child means that you neglected a live child, and feticide means that the baby was born dead.

But logic has never been at the center of the draconian laws and arrest policies that target pregnant women: control is. As Lynn Paltrow, the executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told me last year about laws aimed at drug-using pregnant women, this kind of prosecution “is about making pregnant women – from the time an egg is fertilized – subject to state surveillance, control and extreme punishment.”

And, as with other laws that hurt pregnant women, Indiana’s feticide law was not intended (explicitly, anyway) to be a policy that affected women: it was supposedly designed to target illegal abortion providers. But despite the anti-choice insistence that women are “victims” of abortion providers, the history of how similar laws are used show just how much it’s women – and women of color in particular – who are directly impacted by “fetal protection” policies.

We may never know what really happened in Patel’s case. She has repeatedly said that she had a miscarriage which, if true, means that the state is sending a woman to jail for not having a healthy pregnancy outcome. But even if Patel did procure and take drugs to end her pregnancy, are we really prepared to send women to jail for decades if they have abortions? Even illegal ones?

We live in a nation governed almost exclusively by white males led around by the nose by an ideology inspired by the writing of hallucinating white men back in a century not yet up to the level of science and technology required to invent the flush toilet.

Since the first day of a slightly more enlightened Supreme Court ruling on behalf of women’s rights versus theocrats – in Roe v Wade – individuals and groups dedicated to rule by a 14th Century tome produced by royal committee have dedicated millions of dollars, millions of hours, to restoring the subjugation of women.

As a political crime, that commitment stinks on ice. As ideology, cant, rote obedience to patriarchal politics, every progressive tendency in American politics must address this conflict as thoroughly as we confront racism. This is a lifetime commitment. There is no other choice in a nation where political issues still revolve around questions of “stupid or ignorant”.

Purvi Patel is a political prisoner of the state of Indiana.

Senate committee rubber-stamps another surveillance bill

The Senate intelligence committee advanced a priority bill for the National Security Agency on Thursday afternoon, approving long-stalled cybersecurity legislation that civil libertarians consider the latest pathway for surveillance abuse.

The vote on the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, 14 to 1, occurred in a secret session inside the Hart Senate office building. Democrat Ron Wyden was the dissenter, calling the measure “a surveillance bill by another name”.

Senator Richard Burr, the committee chairman, said the bill would create avenues for private-to-private, private-to-government and government-to-private information sharing.

The bill’s bipartisan advocates consider it a prophylactic measure against catastrophic data theft, particularly in light of recent large-scale hacking of Sony, Target, Home Depot and other companies.

Private companies could share customer data “in a voluntary capacity” with the government, Burr said, “so that we bring the full strength of the federal government to identifying and recommending what anybody else in the United States should adopt”…

The bill faces strong opposition inside and outside Congress. Beyond expanding government’s reach into private data outside warrant requirements, it mandates real-time access to that data for intelligence agencies and the military.

Privacy advocates consider the bill to provide a new avenue for the NSA to access consumer and financial data, once laundered through the Department of Homeland Security, the initial public repository for the desired private-sector information. Campaigners consider the emphasis placed by the bill’s backers on DHS’s role to be a misleading way of downplaying NSA access to win congressional support…

But Burr admitted the bill would still allow companies to share directly with the NSA, and…While the NSA has labored to convince the public to move on from international condemnation of its digital dragnets – though Congress has passed no legislation to curtail them – acrimony within the tech sector at the surveillance giant persists.

Wyden declined to comment to reporters, saying as he left the meeting: “You guys know I like talking about this stuff but I can’t say anything.”

He later articulated his dissent in a statement: “The most effective way to protect cybersecurity is by ensuring network owners take responsibility for security. Strong cybersecurity legislation should make clear that government agencies cannot order US hardware and software companies to build weaker products, as senior FBI officials have proposed.”

As long as I have been a political and social activist, I have had to confront the gamut of ethically-challenged creeps on the payroll of one or another bureaucracy supposedly chartered to provide security for Americans. They are backed up by Congressional fools who slaver over their trite slogans like a hound for a lamb chop. They have never done a damned thing that bettered the lives of ordinary working families. Mostly, they only exist to threaten those who stand up against domestic and international bullies, bigots and apologists for thievery.

American coppers have had some kind of Red Squad since before the name became popular. Their solution to what they call sedition usually is a club or a bullet. Today’s national and international coppers are somewhat more sophisticated; though, Cheney and Bush reminded us that torture is still the first choice of the completely demented and drunk with power.

It might be nice – once in a while – if our elected officials considered legislating on our behalf instead of contriving lies to secure their patriarchal wet dreams.

You haven’t the freedom to know who is spying on you for the NSA

The U.S. doesn’t have to disclose the telecommunications companies helping it collect phone call records or turn over a secret surveillance court’s orders, a federal judge ruled, saying the information would reveal methods used in terrorism investigations.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based civil liberties advocacy group, sued under the Freedom of Information Act for access to information on the government phone record collection program. The group argued the government confirmed the participation of telecommunications companies in the National Security Agency’s surveillance program after the existence of the program was leaked.

NSA surveillance programs, disclosed by former security contractor Edward Snowden, are being challenged in a number of lawsuits. EFF’s lawsuit, which preceded the Snowden leaks, was filed on the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Patriot Act, passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The collection of information relevant to a federal investigation, when authorized by a secret court, is allowed under a statute in the act. The EFF freedom of information lawsuit sought secret court orders from 2005, 2006 and 2008 to learn more about what the government was collecting and the legal justification for it…

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in Oakland, California, today said declassification of general information about the call-record collection program didn’t justify forcing the government to reveal the companies’ names to EFF. Disclosing orders of the Washington-based Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court could provide a road map for targets to evade surveillance, she said in her ruling…

The judge accepts every lie, every blanket rationale our government uses to defend spying on all of us. That doesn’t take courage. That takes obedience. That takes complicity.

Telecommunication companies were granted immunity by Congress in 2008 from privacy lawsuits over surveillance programs.

Understand the arrogant creeps who demanded this law be passed. Inhale the bipartisan stink of spineless Democrats and paranoid Republicans who passed this law.

The whole so-called Patriot Act is structured to conceal collaborators in the loss of our constitutional freedoms. We not haven’t the right to know who is complicit – there can be no whistleblowers. If your personal banker tells you the Feds have snooped through your bank account, he is breaking the law. If some cop who went to high school with you tells you over a beer the Feds want to know who plays baseball with your kids, he is breaking the law. Cripes, I imagine your dentist can be asked to put a gps tracker in your new crown – and he would be breaking the law if he refused.

Obama’s vision of constitutional freedoms are as distorted by fear and arrogance as Dick Cheney and George W. Bush. Tiny differences of degree and interpretation are meaningless compared to what we have lost.

Independent review says NSA program is illegal and should end

An independent executive branch board has concluded that the National Security Agency’s long-running program to collect billions of Americans’ phone records is illegal and should end.

In a strongly worded report to be issued today, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board said that the statute upon which the program was based, Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, “does not provide an adequate basis to support this program…”

The board’s conclusion goes further than President Obama…The board had shared its conclusions with Obama in the days leading up to his speech…

The divided panel also concluded that the program raises serious threats to civil liberties, has shown limited value in countering terrorism and is not sustainable from a policy perspective.

“We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation,” said the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. “Moreover, we are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack.”

The politicians and pundits who say otherwise are liars, egregious and gutless, fools dedicated to Cold War ideology.

RTFA for beaucoup details, analysis – albeit as stodgy as expected.

From Obama to Mike Rogers, the conformity of cowards who prefer Overlords to oversight, continues as freely under John Brennan as it did in the CIA under Allen Dulles. From liberals to anal retentive conservatives, allegiance to anything-but-liberty is their only solution to the fear ruling their political lives as thoroughly as their dedication to corporate wealth.

Euro Parliament has invited Edward Snowden to testify via video

A European parliament committee has invited Edward Snowden to testify via video link in its investigation of US surveillance practices.

The justice and civil liberties committee voted 36-2 with one abstention on Thursday to seek testimony from the former NSA contractor, who has exposed the reach of the US secret surveillance apparatus…

No date has been proposed and it was not immediately clear if Snowden would accept the invitation.

The investigation is aimed at drafting policy recommendations to better protect the privacy of European citizens and improve IT security in EU institutions.

Obama and his Homeland Insecurity flunkies can use this as an excuse to further justify their spying on millions of friends — for every single enemy of freedom. The hypocrisy of American “democrats” is matched only by the indecent way in which they toss billions of dollar$ to the winds of fear and cowardice in the name of security.

Someone mail me a penny postcard when they decide to spend a comparable sum and effort on poverty and education.