• China vs. U.S.: Privacy for Whom?

    September 13, 2022 // 3 Comments »

    The New York Times ran an article on the use of surveillance tech in China. One wishes they would do the same for the U.S.

    The NYT article came to some scary conclusions about autocratic China. Chinese authorities implement facial recognition tech everywhere they can, the police seek to connect electronic activity (making a call) to physical location, biometric information such as fingerprint and DNA is collected on a mass scale, and the government wants to tie together all of this data to build comprehensive profiles on troublesome citizens. The latter is the Holy Grail of surveillance, a single source to know all there is known about a person.

    Should the Times (or China) wish to expand its review of invasive government surveillance technology, particularly those technologies which integrate multiple systems, it need look no further than its hometown police force, the NYPD, and data aggregated into the little-known Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) by the U.S. State Department.

    Prior to 2021, when the New York City Council passed the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act, citizens were left to piece together the various technologies used to surveil them based on scattered media reports. We know now the NYPD deploys facial recognition surveillance (and can retroactively employ facial recognition against video saved from one of 20,000 cameras), x-ray vansStingraysShotSpotters, and drones, among others, equipment all originally deployed in the Iraq and Afghan wars. But we still don’t know how many of these technologies are used in coordination with each other, and, as in China, that is the key to understanding their real effectiveness.

    POST reporting and other sources offer some clues. The NYPD uses the smartphone-based Domain Awareness System (DAS), “one of the world’s largest networks of cameras, license plate readers, and radiological censors,” all created by Microsoft with video analytics by IBM. DAS also utilizes auto­mated license plate read­er (ALPRs) devices attached to police cars or fixed on poles to capture the license plates of all cars passing by. ALPRs can also capture photo­graphs of cars, along with photos of the driver and passen­gers. This inform­a­tion is uploaded to a data­base where it can be analyzed to study move­ments, asso­ci­ations, and rela­tion­ships. Facial Iden­ti­fic­a­tion can then run photos, includ­ing from data­bases of arrest photos, juven­ile arrest photos of chil­dren as young as 11, and photos connec­ted to handgun permits. The system analyzes an image against those data­bases and gener­ates poten­tial matches in real-time.

    Included in DAS is a translator application which helps officers communicate with community members who do not speak English, while of course also recording and storing their remarks. DAS ties in to ShotSpotter, a technology developed for the Iraq War which pinpoints the sound of gunfire with real-time locations, even when no one calls 911. This technology triangulates where a shooting occurred and alerts police officers to the scene, letting them know relevant information, including the number of shots fired, if the shooter was moving at the time of the incident (e.g., in a vehicle), and the direction of the shooter’s movement. DNA data can also be accessed, so wide-spread collection is a must. One area of activity outlined in Chief of Detect­ives Memo #17 instruc­ts on how to collect “aban­doned” DNA samples from objects such as water bottles, gum, and apple cores. For example, police officers are taught to wait for the suspect to take a drink or smoke, and collect the sample once a suspect throws the cup or butt away.

    What is deployed in New York to aggregate sensor and bio data (including social media monitoring and cell phone locator services, which when tied to facial recognition can identify individuals, say who attend a protest, visit an AIDs clinic, etc.) will no doubt be coming soon to your town as the weapons of war all come home. The next step would be to tie together cities into regional and then state-wide networks. The extent to which inform­a­tion obtained from DAS is shared with federal agen­cies, such as immig­ra­tion author­it­ies, remains unknown. What we do know is the phrase “reasonable expectation of privacy” needs some updating.

    Perhaps the largest known data aggregator within the Federal government is the innocent-sounding Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) administered by the U.S. Department of State. Originally a simple database created in the 1990s to track visa and passport issuances, the CCD is now one of the largest global databases of personal information, growing at a rate of some 35,000 records a day. The system collects data from both foreign visa applicants and American citizens to include but not limited to imagery for use with facial recognition, biometric data such as ten-fingerprint samples, home/business addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, financial information, race, gender, social security and alien registration numbers, passport information, certain Federal benefits, medical information, legal information, education information, family information, travel history, arrests and convictions, and social media indicators.

    The CCD is especially valuable in that it is a database of databases, pulling together information collected elsewhere including abroad, as well as from some commercial databases and public records, and making the aggregate available both for individual search by identifiers like name, social security number or facial recognition, but also for very large scale analytic searches to identify patterns and trends. This massive pool of data is then made accessible to the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Office of Personnel Management, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and “other interagency partners” to include potentially intelligence services. In addition to the State Department, information is regularly input into the CCD by the FBI, the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, DEA, ICE, IRS, DOD, Treasury, Health and Human Services (HHS), DHS, Interpol, and U.S. Marshal Service (USMS.)

    Numbers of records held by CCD are not available, with the last public tallies documented in 2016 showing 290 million passport records on American citizens, 25 million records pertaining to American citizens living abroad, 184 million visa records of foreigners, and over 75 million photographs. Some 35,000 records are added to the CCD daily, so do the math given the existing tallies are up to 13 years old. As a point of comparison, Google’s database of landmark photos holds only five million records. The Library of Congress database lists 29 million books.

    The New York Times article about surveillance in China is scary, showing what a vast, interconnected system is capable of doing in exposing a person’s life to scrutiny. The Chinese authorities are, however, realistic about their technological limitations. According to one bidding document, the Ministry of Public Security, China’s top police agency, believed one of their biggest problems was data had not been centralized. That Chinese problem appears well on its way to resolution inside the United States, and that is also quite scary.

    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    First Amendment Under Assault, Again

    February 4, 2016 // 8 Comments »

    firstamendment_0

    When we speak of the government’s ongoing assault against the First Amendment, it is typically in the context of Freedom of Speech. That is indeed primarily the focus, using the tools of The State to silence its critics. But not if you are a Muslim.

    For many Muslims, the clause inside the First Amendment most often violated is that of Freedom of Religion. One of the latest battles in that war is playing out now in New York City.


    Because the worst of the 9/11 attacks happened in New York, the city has always claimed a kind of de facto exemption from having to follow the rule of law. Under its former mayors, the NYPD actively conducted blanket surveillance of the Muslim community, to include sending undercover cops into mosques and Muslim social events for “intel.” Though no obvious terror attacks were identified or thwarted, the NYPD insisted the program was critical (see the same tired arguments expelled as “torture worked, though we won’t tell you how.”)

    NY’s current mayor, Bill Blasio, promised in April of 2014 to dismantle the so-called NYPD Demographics Unit, which was responsible for singling out one religious group among all others, apparently based on the twisted post-9/11 logic of “Muslim –> Likely Terrorist –> Spy on all Muslims.”


    However, despite the promise, the NYPD has continued its spying in violation of the First Amendment.

    The most recent example was discovered when the website The Gothamist wrote about an NYPD undercover detective who converted to Islam to spy on students at a local college. The police admitted to the spying, but claimed it did not violate the First Amendment in that it was “targeted” and not “overarching blanket surveillance.” The undercover cop developed intimate ties with the students she met, even attending bridal showers and weddings. She also joined the school’s Islamic Society to gather information on Muslim students.

    Glenn Katon, legal director for Muslim Advocates and a lead attorney in Hassan v. City of New York, which alleges that the NYPD engaged in a program of “blanket, suspicionless surveillance” that discriminated on the basis of religion, recently won a small victory when the Third Circuit court found that the Hassan plaintiffs had standing and raised valid constitutional concerns, and reversed the suit’s previous dismissal. The courts had previously in that dismissal required the plaintiffs to prove on an individual and personal basis that they had been surveilled, a difficult request given that while the NYPD admitted blanket surveilling the Muslim community, it would not confirm individual cases (see “Catch-22” in the dictionary.)


    An attorney in another ongoing lawsuit against the NYPD, Handschu v. Special Services Division, stated that for a police officer to be placed undercover for as long as in the current case, there would have to be a terrorism enterprise investigation in place, which would require permission from the Commissioner of Intelligence and proof of an ongoing criminal conspiracy. No such terrorism enterprise or ongoing criminal conspiracy has even been alleged by the NYPD. They conducted the spying anyway based on the idea that terrorists are Muslims so therefore all Muslims must be treated as potential terrorists.


    Indeed, Handschu originally dates back to 1985, when the courts prohibited the NYPD from investigating political and religious organizations and groups unless there was “specific information” that the group was linked to a crime that had been committed or was about to be committed. Following 9/11, the NYPD has counter-sued, sought to modify and/or ignored what are known as the Handschu Guidelines as they wished.

    NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller said, without apparent shame, that the need to prevent terrorist attacks sometimes comes into conflict with the need to respect the constitutional rights terrorists in theory are attacking. “We have two sets of tensions that pull against each other every day, and the hardest thing to have to do is find a balance.” Um, no. Our freedoms are ensured by the Constitution John Miller, that document you are sworn to uphold and protect.


    Miller might want to run his ideas by the Supreme Court, and perhaps a few of the innocent Muslim students whose religion alone put them under surveillance. They might argue that what the cops call the need for public safety indeed puts them outside the scope of Americans who qualify for that safety.




    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Family Settles Suit with City for $3.9m After Cop Walks Free in Shooting

    February 21, 2015 // 5 Comments »

    kid


    In case you’re in a hurry, here’s the express version of this story:

    — African-American teen killed by a white cop;
    — Grand jury won’t indict, cop walks free;
    — Family wins wrongful death lawsuit;
    — Taxpayers lay out $3.9 million to pay for their killer cops on the loose.

    Read, repeat.


    And now, the details.

    The family of slain Bronx teen Ramarley Graham accepted $3.9 million in taxpayer money from the city to settle their wrongful death lawsuit.

    Police had claimed that Graham was suspected of purchasing an amount of marijuana small enough that its possession is now decriminalized in New York.

    Cops chased him into his home without a warrant. The cop who shot the teen, Officer Richard Haste, claimed that he had heard over the police radio that Graham was armed. No gun was found.

    After Graham was gunned down in his own bathroom, the cops threatened to shoot his grieving grandmother, according to the suit.

    “Why did you shoot him? Why you killed him?” the grandmother allegedly asked the officer who had just fired a fatal bullet into her grandson’s chest.

    “Get the f*ck away before I have to shoot you, too,” the suit said Haste shouted after pushing the 58-year-old grandmother backward.

    The elderly woman was detained at the local precinct for seven hours and forced to give a statement against her will.

    Officer Richard Haste, who fired the fatal shot, was initially indicted for manslaughter, but a judge threw out the case on a legal technicality.

    A second grand jury declined to indict the cop.

    “This was a tragic case,” said a spokesman for New York City.

    An ongoing federal investigation into possible civil rights violations by the NYPD moves into the third year since the killing. The lawsuit itself took two years after the teen’s death to reach settlement.


    As best I can tell Officer Haste, below, is still patrolling the streets as I write this.




    Read, repeat.

    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    New York Cops

    November 29, 2011 // Comments Off on New York Cops

    Over the weekend I re-found my DVDs of the The Concert For New York City. The Concert was a benefit that took place on October 20, 2001 at Madison Square Garden in New York City in response to the September 11 attacks. It was an attempt to honor the first responders from the New York Fire and Police Departments, their families, and those lost in the attacks.

    Performer after performer singled out individual members of the NYPD to thank them, and famous rock stars competed with each other to wear police caps that were thrown on stage. It was a very warm, very moving show, as many of the performers and all of the cops lived in New York and shared a sense of tragedy, place and survival. The cops were us, we were the cops.

    Then I made the mistake of hitting the news, which showed scenes from Occupy Wall Street, where those same NYPD “heroes” from 9/11 were acting like storm troopers to clear peaceful protesters out of Zuchotti Park.

    If anyone needed an image of how far things had changed after ten years of warring, there it is.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America