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Michael from Muckrock sez, "Through FOIA requests, MuckRock users have been helping keep watch on the watchers, and recently Todd Feathers's FOIA request to the DHS resulted 91 pages worth of the agency's social media searches, from the occult (seeking the "devil" in August) and creepy ("happy camp") to downright terrifying ("black market ebola")."
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We've covered Checkpoint Refusal videos before (1, 2, 3) -- these are videos recorded by people who object to the DHS's internal checkpoints, where you are asked (but can refuse) to state your citizenship and allow your car to be searched -- but I missed the most prolific, funniest, and weirdest checkpointer of them all: Robert Trudell.
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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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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.
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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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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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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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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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]
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.
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]
$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.
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.
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.
The Disaster Preparedness Plan prepared by the local DHS for Union County NC explains what steps you should take if you have to evacuate and take your pet fish: "Your name and where you will be located should be on an ID tag and taped to the fish bowl. This should include your description of all your fish and pictures of them with you in the pictures for identification purposes."
Disaster Preparedness (Thanks, Kkennedy!)
An October, 2011 Department of Homeland Security memo on Occupy Wall Street warned of the potential for violence posed by the "leaderless resistance movement." (via @producermatthew).
Update: Looks like there's a larger Rolling Stone feature on this document:
As Occupy Wall Street spread across the nation last fall, sparking protests in more than 70 cities, the Department of Homeland Security began keeping tabs on the movement. An internal DHS report entitled “SPECIAL COVERAGE: Occupy Wall Street [PDF]," dated October of last year, opens with the observation that "mass gatherings associated with public protest movements can have disruptive effects on transportation, commercial, and government services, especially when staged in major metropolitan areas." While acknowledging the overwhelmingly peaceful nature of OWS, the report notes darkly that "large scale demonstrations also carry the potential for violence, presenting a significant challenge for law enforcement."
Two U.K. tourists landing in L.A. were detained and deported because of tweets joking about "diggin' up" Marilyn Monroe and "destroying" America.
According to DHS paperwork, Leigh Van Bryan was matched to a "One Day Lookout" list, placed under oath, and ultimately denied entry and put on a plane back to Europe.
"[He wrote] on his tweeter[sic] website account that he was coming to the United States to dig up the grave of Marilyn Monroe," DHS officials wrote on his charge sheet. "Also on his tweeter[sic] account Mr. Bryan posted that he was coming to destroy America."
Interviewed by highly-respected British newspapers such as The Sun and The Daily Mail, Leigh Van Bryan says that the tweet — "Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America" — referred merely to partying. Added a friend: "He would not hurt anyone. He is gay."
Bryan has now made his Twitter account private, thereby ending the DHS's ability to track his terror plans.
"Boing Boing correctly points out (via Alkon) that this is silly—but the reason we know this is silly is because you and I and Boing Boing are racially profiling."
We know the deportation is silly not because of Van Bryan's innocuous whiteness—that's in your head, Ted—but because the methodology is dumb. It's silly because search alerts for keywords on Twitter will never catch a terrorist on his way to the airport; it will merely impose pointless burdens on travelers regardless of national origin.
This poses an interesting question: of all our posts on DHS shenanigans, why was it this one that got noticed today by some conservatives? Actually, it's a boring question: it's because it offered them an opportunity to project their inclination toward racial profiling onto others. It creates the impression that everyone is at it regardless of agenda, and that inconvenience to innocents is therefore the price of our collective failure to recognize that racial profiling is common sense. "We want [the] DHS to have the flexibility to detain hypothetical Islamic fundamentalist Mohammed Abbasi if he were to make a similar threat on the Internet that is less likely to be a joke," writes Frank.
On the contrary, I don't want the DHS wasting its time on any of this nonsense.
(Frank also mistakenly attributes the non-sequitur "He is gay" quote from Van Bryan's friend to us. Why? Perhaps, like the DHS, his attention is tuned in to the wrong things.)
Homeland Security Internet Watch List leaked; Boing Boing omitted from list of must-read sites for domestic spying
I am outraged that our blog once again failed to make it on to the list of websites the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's command center routinely monitors. The grandfather of all rogue leak sites, Cryptome, published a copy of the 2011 edition of the government document (PDF link to document copy). Apparently, there's a new 2012 version some have seen, on which a current round of news coverage is based.
A "privacy compliance review" issued by DHS last November says that since at least June 2010, its national operations center has been operating a "Social Networking/Media Capability" which involves regular monitoring of "publicly available online forums, blogs, public websites and message boards." The purpose of the monitoring, says the government document, is to "collect information used in providing situational awareness and establishing a common operating picture."
The document adds, using more plain language, that such monitoring is designed to help DHS and its numerous agencies, which include the U.S. Secret Service and Federal Emergency Management Agency, to manage government responses to such events as the 2010 earthquake and aftermath in Haiti and security and border control related to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"This is a representative list of sites that the NOC will start to monitor in order to provide situational awareness and establish a common operating picture under this Initiative," the document reads.
Oh fine, so, the imminent Yeti invasion isn't something that needs to be monitored? The anal probe menace posed by illegal Martian invaders? No concerns about the toxicity of homemade sauerkraut as a biological weapon?
I mean, fucking MySpace and Hulu are on the list! Really? I'm surprised Friendster was omitted. And they're watching Flickr and YouTube and Huffpo! But our hard-hitting coverage of steampunk watches and DIY spaceships doesn't merit a click? Whatever, DHS. We don't want those ill-gotten clicks.
But there's still hope. "Initial sites listed may link to other sites not listed. The NOC may also monitor those sites if they are within the scope of this Initiative."
U.S. govt's General Services Administration wants $113,680 to respond to FOIA request for internal discussion of iPads
ಠ_ಠ Anyone got any spare change for the anonymous submitter?