The Skunk, a drone from South African company Desert Wolf, is billed as the first riot-control drone -- it fires dye-balls, pepper spray and rubber bullets at protesters, blinds them with strobes, broadcasts control messages to them, and records them. Its first customers are South African mine-owners wishing to target striking workers.
Rural counties across Indiana have been purchasing Afghanistan-surplus tanks with gunner turrets and heavy armour; most recently, it was Johnson County, whose Sheriff, Doug Cox, justified the purchase by saying, "The United States of America has become a war zone."
The 55,000lb "mine resistant ambush protected" tank (MRAP) was a steal at $5,000 (original price: $733,000), part of a bizarro-world peace dividend from the Afghanistan and Iraq drawdown, which sees the toolsuite of a military occupying force being flogged at knock-down rates to macho shithead sheriffs across the American heartland for deployment against American civilians.
For example, Johnson County SWAT used their MRAP to break up a fight between two drunks, and in Morgan County, the requisition for their MRAP said it was to be used for a variety of purposes, including "drug search warrants and felony arrest warrants." By and large, counties acquiring these tanks have no formal policy about when and how they can be used.
US Marshals swept into the offices of police in Sarasota, Florida to whisk away records related to operation of "stingray" surveillance tools that the ACLU had requested. The records detailed the farcically low standard for judicial permission to use a stingray (which captures information about the movements, communications and identities of all the people using mobile phones in range of them), and is part of a wider inquiry to their use without a warrant at all -- at least 200 Florida stingray deployments were undertaken without judicial oversight because the police had signed a nondisclosure agreement with the device's manufacturer and they decided that this meant they didn't have to get warrants anymore.
The ACLU has seen a lot of shenanigans in respect of its campaign to document the use and abuse of stingrays, but this is a cake-taker: "We’ve seen our fair share of federal government attempts to keep records about stingrays secret, but we’ve never seen an actual physical raid on state records in order to conceal them from public view."
A non-profit search and rescue firm claims sonar data shows more than 127 automobiles at the bottom of the bayous in Houston, Texas, and that police told them to shut their traps about them, even if they may have bodies inside, because it's too costly to deal with them.
From the Houston Chronicle:
(Texas Equusearch's) Tim Miller believes the cars could hold clues to the dozens of unsolved missing persons cases in the area.
"How many could be an alzheimers victim or a guy that was drunk-driving off the road or how many could be homicide? I guarantee there's going to be bodies in some of these cars," Miller said, pointing to recent cases where bodies have been found sometimes years after missing persons reports were filed.
"Three weeks ago a vehicle was found (in North Dakota) after 43 years that had two teenagers in it. In North Texas, a vehicle was found after 31 years that had two bodies in it," Miller said.
Houston police said they do not believe any of the cars contain bodies because of the length of time most have been underwater. (Police spokesperson Victor) Senties said most would fall apart if they tried to remove them and claimed others are too remote or are in locations where it's impractical to make any recovery attempt.
In 2012, a winning combination of lobbying and street protests killed ACTA, a secretive, Internet-punishing copyright treaty. Now, protesters are being water cannoned in Brussels as they fight ACTA's successor, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. It seems like the lesson that the powerful took away from ACTA wasn't to conduct trade negotiations with transparency and public feedback -- instead, they're ruthlessly crushing all protest in the hopes of keeping it from growing.
Michael Abberton, a Green Party activist in Cambridgeshire, was visited by two police officers on Saturday who had been sent by a local councilor from Ukip (a party that lets you express your xenophobia, racism, sexism and homophobia by cloaking it in a respectable "concern about immigration") who objected to a tweet that enumerated some of Ukip's most extreme positions. The police told him that they he wasn't legally obliged to follow their command, and also told him he wasn't allowed to tweet about their visit, but that he wasn't legally obliged to obey that command either. After the police left, a Ukip supporter sent Abberton a threatening tweet that implied that he knew that he'd been visited by the police.
Michael Geist writes, "These stunning disclosures, which were released by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, comes directly from the telecom industry after years of keeping their disclosure practices shielded from public view. Every 27 seconds. Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month. Canadian telecommunications providers, who collect massive amounts of data about their subscribers, are asked to disclose basic subscriber information to Canadian law enforcement agencies every 27 seconds. In 2011, that added up to 1,193,630 requests. Given the volume, most likely do not involve a warrant or court oversight (2010 RCMP data showed 94% of requests involving customer name and address information was provided voluntarily without a warrant).
Photo via Washington Post, courtesy of magistrate judge Stephen Smith: A t-shirt designed by Judge James Orenstein of Brooklyn.
"Judges at the lowest levels of the federal judiciary are balking at sweeping requests by law enforcement officials for cellphone and other sensitive personal data, declaring the demands overly broad and at odds with basic constitutional rights," reports the Washington Post.
"This rising assertiveness by magistrate judges — the worker bees of the federal court system — has produced rulings that elate civil libertarians and frustrate investigators, forcing them to meet or challenge tighter rules for collecting electronic evidence."
Pricenomics revisits the perennial scandal of the 11-99 Foundation, which benefits California Highway Patrol officers and their families in times of crisis. Major donors to the foundation receive a license-plate frame that, drivers believe, acts as a license to speed on California highways. The plates were withdrawn in 2006 after a CHP commissioner's investigation seemed to validate the idea that CHP officers would let off drivers with the frames. The frames are back now, thanks to a funding crisis from 11-99, and some posters on cop-message boards say that the frames themselves aren't enough to get you out of a ticket -- because many of them are counterfeits -- but if you have a member's card, too, well, that's another story, wink, nudge.
A monitor displaying videos and photos uploaded to LEEDIR (Large Emergency Event Digital Information Repository) on April 10, 2014. The app that allows civilians to upload material to law enforcement after a disaster or emergency. Erika Aguilar, KPCC
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department today unveiled a software program that allows US law enforcement agencies who adopt it to solicit and gather videos and photos of "emergency events" from the public.
Under the leadership of disgraced former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, the department is said to have conceptualized the web service and smartphone app, which was built by Citizen Global with Amazon. It's called LEEDIR, an acronym for Large Emergency Event Digital Information Repository. Citizen Global brands it as "public safety through crowdsourcing."
In today's announcement, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, and the Boston Marathon bombings were mentioned as scenarios in which LEEDIR could help law enforcement respond to disasters or large-scale public security threats. One might also imagine large citizen protests like Occupy Wall Street being the focus of such crowdsourced surveillance.
The Los Angeles Police Department is trying to do something about its notoriously bad human rights record: it has equipped officers with belt-worn voice-recorders that feed tamper-evident uploading stations in their cruisers. Unfortunately for anyone who advocates for the basic honesty of the LAPD, these have been widely sabotaged by officers, with more than half of the receiver antennas being vandalized or removed, which sharply reduces the recorders' range. Boston cops reacted the same way when logging GPSes were added to their cars. As Washington University law prof Neil Richards notes, it's a pretty ironic turn, in that the cops apparently feel like being surveilled while going about their normal business is an unreasonable impingement on their freedom.
Christopher E Smith is the white father of a black, biracial son, and it is through his son's experience of being black in America that he has learned just how pervasive and humiliating and violent officialdom is to black Americans, a fact embodied perfectly through New York City's notorious, racist stop-and-frisk program. Smith describes how his son, interning on Wall Street, has been repeatedly stopped by police, once made to lie face down on the filthy sidewalk in his best suit while police went through his pockets (former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg was a staunch supporter of this program). He describes the experience of his black in-laws, who are stopped by police-cars en route to family gatherings, who have guns aimed at their heads, and who are then released with a shrug and a nonsensical excuse. He describes how driving over the US/Canadian border with his son is totally different from driving on his own, and how the customs guards routinely stop the two of them, and make them wait out of sight of their car while it is searched.
As an aside, I've experienced this myself. I've driven across the US/Canadian border literally dozens of times and the only time I was stopped was when I gave Nalo Hopkinson and David Findlay -- who happen to be black -- a ride to a Clarion reunion at Michigan State University. At both border crossings, the car was searched from top to bottom, with officers taking out books and shaking the pages to look for contraband. It's never happened since. The only difference between that drive and all the others was that there were some brown-skinned people in evidence.
Smith proposes a thought experiment in which stop-and-frisk searches were mandatorily applied in keeping with overall demographics, so for every three black people that the NYPD pull over and humiliate without warrant or suspicion or probable cause, they would have to do the same to ten white people -- and suggests that this would end the program of stop-and-frisk in a heartbeat.
When Marlene Yazar's husband Kemal experienced a psychotic episode, she was so scared for her safety and the safety of her children that she called 911. A paramedic arrived on the scene, but fled after Kemal threw a Bible at him. The paramedic called the police, and Harris County, TX Deputy Brady Pullen arrived on the scene. Ten minutes later, he and a colleague shot Kemal ten times, killing him. Then, he sued the Yazar family, naming Kemal's mother-in-law (who wasn't at home when the episode took place) because, according to him, the family were negligent in describing the threat the dead father, husband and breadwinner presented. Now, the family must not only mourn the passing of their dead loved one -- they have to defend themselves against a $100,000 lawsuit brought by the police officer who shot him dead.
Censorship invites abuse. In China, the widespread practice of Internet censorship means that lots of people are authorized to hand down censorship orders and lots more people naturally turn to censorship when something on the Internet bugs them. This week, Chinese authorities prosecuted an "Internet policeman" who took payments from companies in return for censoring unfavorable remarks about them on social media. He's accused of censoring more than 2,500 posts in return for over $300K in payments. He also collaborated with another official to censor critical remarks about government officials. It seems unlikely that Gu, the Internet policeman who was arrested, and Liu, his collaborator, were the only two censors-for-hire in the Chinese system.