Help Muckrock scour DHS social media spying guidelines and figure out what to FOIA next

Michael from Muckrock sez, "With a Freedom of Information Act request, MuckRock has received copies of two of the guides Homeland Security uses to monitor social media, one on standard procedures and a desktop binder for analysts. Now we're asking for help to go through it: See something worth digging into? Say something, and share it with others so we know what to FOIA next."

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Make your own DHS threat-level chart


Personalthreatlevel lets you create your own custom DHS-style threat-level that will serve you well as a means of frightening the people in your life with nebulous, ill-defined scariness. Here's Bruce Sterling's Tumblr version.

The Current Threat Level is...

What it's like to come home to America if your name is "Ahmed"


Ahmed Shihab-Eldin is a respected journalist who holds US citizenship. Every time he returns to his home in New York, he is detained for many hours by the DHS, subjected to humiliating questioning and detention without evidence or charge, because he fits a "profile" that seems to consist entirely of "brown dude with Arabic name who visits the middle east." He recently returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos and found himself detained for hours, despite having been assured that his name had been removed from the DHS's watch-list.

His story of harrowing treatment at JFK airport stands in sharp contrast to his experiences at checkpoints in the middle east, where security risks are much more immediate and more grave. As he points out, America has spent billions creating an aviation security system and system of border checks that have had no material impact on security, but have nonetheless enmiserated, alienated, and harassed millions of people who committed no crime and posed no threat,

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MPAA and ICE admit they yanked an innocent man out of a movie for wearing Google Glass

Representatives of the MPAA and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency confirmed that they worked together to yank a Google Glass wearer out of a movie theater, detain him in a small room against his will, confiscate and inspect his electronics (including his phone) and coerce an interview out of him with legal threats. They believed, incorrectly, that their victim had been recording the movie with his gadget. The Google Glass set he wore had been fitted with prescription lenses and he was watching the movie through them because they corrected his vision.

The MPAA's and ICE's statements are bland and anodyne (ICE says that the interview was "voluntary," though the man's account contradicts this). Neither of them explain how it is that a movie theater employee can call an MPAA hotline, and how the MPAA can then command ICE law-enforcement officials to drop everything and rush down to a multiplex to roust a potential camcorderer and treat him like a presumptive criminal.

The problem for the MPAA of camcordering is that they would like to stagger the release of their films -- first to the theatrical exhibition channel, then to airplanes and hotel rooms, then to pay-per-view and streaming services and DVD, etc. This makes them more profitable, but only if they can keep each channel discrete. Lots of businesses struggle with their profit-maximization strategies, but only the MPAA gets to command the forces of federal law-enforcement in the service of their business-model, putting the cost of that strategy onto the tax-payer.

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Petition: kill the Oakland "Domain Awareness Center" spy-program


Eddan sez, "The Oakland City Council is in the final stretch of approving the funding of the Domain Awareness Center to be built in Oakland. Though there has been a great deal of public outcry at the City Council itself, it just keeps going forward especially because they're now trying to pitch this as a crime-fighting law enforcement tool. Which is especially important to be on the right side of in Oakland during a City Council/Mayor election year. The Public Safety Committee to meet Jan. 28 is made up of most of the City Council members that are most skeptical and least supportive of the way this Department of Homeland Security new gadget funding is dangled before a resource-poor and embattled police department."

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Judge rules TSA no-fly procedures unconstitutional

Despite a series of disgraceful dirty tricks, the TSA has lost its case against Dr Rahinah Ibrahim, a Malaysian academic who had been wrongly put on the no-fly list. The DHS engaged in witness tampering (denying Dr Ibrahim and her witnesses access to the courtroom by putting them on the no-fly list) and argued that neither Dr Ibrahim nor her lawyers should be allowed to see the evidence against her (because terrorism).

Lowering the Bar does a great job of summing up the ruling, which held the no-fly list unconstitutional because citizens are "entitled to a remedy that requires the government to correct its lists and records... and to certify under oath that such correction(s) have been made."

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DHS stops NYT reporters at border, lies about it

Two New York Times reporters are suing the DHS, because the agency stopped them and questioned them extensively at the border, typing their answers into a computer, and then later insisted first that they weren't required to search for records, and then that they had no records at all on the men. Cory 14

DHS stalls no-fly list trial by putting witness on no-fly list

Phil writes, "Edward Hasbrouck of the Identity Project is doing a fantastic job of reporting on-site from Ibrahim v. DHS, the first legal challenge of United States government's no-fly list that has ever seen a courtroom. On the first day of trial, the judge learned that the plaintiff's daughter, scheduled to testify, was delayed because she had been denied boarding of her flight because she was put a Department of Homeland Security no-fly list. DHS staff deny this. The government's lawyers told the judge that the daughter is lying. The airline provided documentation of the DHS no-fly order. The subject matter of this trial is intense---restriction of movement based on blacklists---but there's no sign of an end to the jaw-dropping entertainment."

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DHS on border laptop searches: we can't tell you why this is legal, and we won't limit searches to reasonable suspicion

The DHS has responded to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the ACLU asking when and how it decides whose laptop to search at the border. It explained its legal rationale for conducting these searches with a blank page:

On Page 18 of the 52-page document under the section entitled “First Amendment,” several paragraphs are completely blacked out. They simply end with the sentence: “The laptop border searches in the [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and [Customs and Border Protection] do not violate travelers’ First Amendment rights as defined by the courts."

More excellence from "the most transparent administration in American history." Also, the DHS rejected claims that it should limit searches to situations where it had reasonable grounds for suspicion, because then they would have to explain their suspicion:

First, commonplace decisions to search electronic devices might be opened to litigation challenging the reasons for the search. In addition to interfering with a carefully constructed border security system, the litigation could directly undermine national security by requiring the government to produce sensitive investigative and national security information to justify some of the most critical searches. Even a policy change entirely unenforceable by courts might be problematic; we have been presented with some noteworthy CBP and ICE success stories based on hard-to-articulate intuitions or hunches based on officer experience and judgment. Under a reasonable suspicion requirement, officers might hesitate to search an individual's device without the presence of articulable factors capable of being formally defended, despite having an intuition or hunch based on experience that justified a search.

Feds say they can search your laptop at the border but won’t say why [Cyrus Farivar/Ars Technica]

Politely refusing to talk to DHS checkpoints

Hugh sez, "Apparently DHS checkpoints nowhere near the border are a new thing. This video cuts together recordings of such encounters and citizens' polite refusal to answer questions."

Top quote: "Am I being detained?"

Checkpoints (some would say illegal checkpoints) have been popping up quite frequently in the USA. As you see in this video, you DO NOT have to comply with their question's or demands. Don't forget, you have rights.

Top DHS checkpoint refusals (Thanks, Hugh!)

DHS watchdog: DHS can search all your devices within 100 mi of US border

The DHS office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties -- a watchdog that's supposed to keep the DHS in check -- has concluded that it's fine for the DHS to stop anyone within 100 miles of the US border, without any suspicion or warrant, and search all the data on all their devices. But they won't say why:

“There should be a reasonable, articulate reason why the search of our electronic devices could lead to evidence of a crime,” Catherine Crump, an ACLU staff attorney, said in a telephone interview. “That’s a low threshold.”

The DHS watchdog’s conclusion isn’t surprising, as the DHS is taking that position in litigation in which the ACLU is challenging the suspicionless, electronic-device searches and seizures along the nation’s borders. But that conclusion nevertheless is alarming considering it came from the DHS civil rights watchdog, which maintains its mission is “promoting respect for civil rights and civil liberties.”

“This is a civil liberties watchdog office. If it is doing its job property, it is supposed to objectively evaluate. It has the power to recommend safeguards to safeguard Americans’ rights,” Crump said. “The office has not done that and the public has the right to know why.”

Toward that goal, the ACLU on Friday filed a Freedom of Information Act request demanding to see the full report that the executive summary discusses.

DHS Watchdog OKs ‘Suspicionless’ Seizure of Electronic Devices Along Border [David Kravets/Wired]

Congress: The DHS's "fusion centers" full of bad intelligence, lies, and imaginary buildings

A bipartisan report on the DHS's much-vaunted, scorchingly expensive "fusion centers" that were supposed to be the future of American security. The Congressional investigators who wrote the report don't mince words, and accuse the DHS of uncontrolled spending, poor, false and even lying intelligence reporting, illegal intelligence gathering, and even making up four imaginary fusion centers that were never built, but were reported to Congress as open for business and bustling with activity. (via Techdirt) Cory

Leaked DHS memo: Pornoscanners don't work


$90 million later, after a series of humiliating demonstrations, and critical analysis, an unclassified memo shows that the DHS suspects what everyone else knows: pornoscanners don't work. Here's David Kravets in Threat Level:

Meanwhile, an unclassified version of the Inspector General report, unearthed Friday by the Electronic Information Privacy Center, may give credence to a recent YouTube video allegedly showing a 27-year-old Florida man sneaking a metallic object through two different Transportation Security Administration body scanners at American airports.

The TSA agreed with all of the Inspector General’s recommendations. The Inspector General did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In March, meanwhile, a TSA spokeswoman said “These machines are safe” when asked to address a video by Jonathan Corbett, of Miami Beach, who allegedly had discovered a method tobeat the body scanners, which number 600 and are in about 140 U.S. airports. A brief YouTube video allegedly shows Corbett, who had sewn a pocket to the side of his shirt, getting past two body scanners with a metallic object in that pocket.

Homeland Security Concedes Airport Body Scanner ‘Vulnerabilities’

Buying DVDs just got worse thanks to obnoxious new anti-piracy warnings (pirating movies remains unchanged)


The MPAA and the DHS have teamed up to increase the punishment meted out to people who buy their DVDs instead of downloading the same movies for free from the Internet. Now when you buy a DVD, you'll get twice as many unskippable anti-piracy warnings, including one with a Homeland Security Investigations “special agent” badge next to the FBI badge, as well as a screen telling you that "digital theft harms the economy" and inviting you to visit a taxpayer-funded website that parrots a bunch of unsubstantiated lobbynomics numbers that the MPAA pulled out of its ass.

Only MPAA members are licensed to use these government logos, because other studios are apparently not entitled to a share of whatever imaginary protection the DHS is extending here.

Here's ThreatLevel's David Kravets:

That screen, like the others, presumably will be made unskippable during viewing. The warning says, “Piracy is not a victimless crime. For more information on how digital theft harms the economy, please visit www.iprcenter.gov.” The center’s logo is tough, too, with a hawk clenching a banner that reads “Protection Is Our Trademark”.

Oddly, such warnings are rarely included in versions uploaded and downloaded via P2P networks.

Pirates Beware: DVD Anti-Piracy Warning Now Twice as Fierce

Why the DHS's pre-crime biometric profiling is doomed to fail, and will doom passengers with its failures


In The Atlantic, Alexander Furnas debunks the DHS's proposal for a "precrime" screening system that will attempt to predict which passengers are likely to commit crimes, and single those people out for additional screening. FAST (Future Attribute Screening Technology) "will remotely monitor physiological and behavioral cues, like elevated heart rate, eye movement, body temperature, facial patterns, and body language, and analyze these cues algorithmically for statistical aberrance in an attempt to identify people with nefarious intentions." They'll build the biometric "bad intentions" profile by asking experimental subjects to carry out bad deeds and monitoring their vital signs. It's a mess, scientifically, and it will falsely accuse millions of innocent people of planning terrorist attacks.

First, predictive software of this kind is undermined by a simple statistical problem known as the false-positive paradox. Any system designed to spot terrorists before they commit an act of terrorism is, necessarily, looking for a needle in a haystack. As the adage would suggest, it turns out that this is an incredibly difficult thing to do. Here is why: let's assume for a moment that 1 in 1,000,000 people is a terrorist about to commit a crime. Terrorists are actually probably much much more rare, or we would have a whole lot more acts of terrorism, given the daily throughput of the global transportation system. Now lets imagine the FAST algorithm correctly classifies 99.99 percent of observations -- an incredibly high rate of accuracy for any big data-based predictive model. Even with this unbelievable level of accuracy, the system would still falsely accuse 99 people of being terrorists for every one terrorist it finds. Given that none of these people would have actually committed a terrorist act yet distinguishing the innocent false positives from the guilty might be a non-trivial, and invasive task.

Of course FAST has nowhere near a 99.99 percent accuracy rate. I imagine much of the work being done here is classified, but a writeup in Nature reported that the first round of field tests had a 70 percent accuracy rate. From the available material it is difficult to determine exactly what this number means. There are a couple of ways to interpret this, since both the write-up and the DHS documentation (all pdfs) are unclear. This might mean that the current iteration of FAST correctly classifies 70 percent of people it observes -- which would produce false positives at an abysmal rate, given the rarity of terrorists in the population. The other way of interpreting this reported result is that FAST will call a terrorist a terrorist 70 percent of the time. This second option tells us nothing about the rate of false positives, but it would likely be quite high. In either case, it is likely that the false-positive paradox would be in full force for FAST, ensuring that any real terrorists identified are lost in a sea of falsely accused innocents.

Homeland Security's 'Pre-Crime' Screening Will Never Work

(Image: Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from double-m2's photostream)