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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Today in the Surveillance State: If You Give Them Toys, They Will Play

Posted by on Thu, Mar 13, 2014 at 11:39 AM

Stop me if you've heard this one before: A city gets money from the Department of Homeland Security to buy anti-terrorism equipment (in this case, a device that indiscriminately sucks data out of all nearby cell phones) but is using it for routine, non-terrorist-related police work.

Details from ABC News10:

At least seven law enforcement agencies in California are using controversial technology that allows them to secretly collect data from cellphones and track people, News10 has learned.

Hundreds of pages of documents, from grant applications to purchase orders, show that the technology has been here for years and it's been used in dozens of arrests. In Oakland, a device called a StingRay allows police to track people and collect real-time data from every cell phone within a certain radius. The city's Targeted Enforcement Task Force II used a Stingray to make 19 arrests in 2009, according to an Oakland Police Criminal Investigation Division report.

StingRays are being paid for mostly by Homeland Security grant money distributed by the California Emergency Management Agency, under programs such as the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) or the State Homeland Security Program (SHSP). Grant applications from several agencies show local law enforcement are justifying the purchase of StingRay technology as an anti-terrorism tool, but it's being used to apprehend and prosecute suspects in routine crimes, from robberies to homicides.

None of the 19 arrests made using the StingRay in Oakland in 2009 were related to terrorism.

Sound familiar? DHS has been doling out "security" grants to cities across the US since shortly after 9/11—ours have purchased drones, surveillance cameras, and the wireless mesh network—typically without serious public discussion about what the money will buy or how it will be used.

Earlier this week, Seattle city council member Kshama Sawant bucked that trend with her standalone "no" vote on a bill that would authorize the city to accept $1.6 million from the Department of Homeland Security which will purchase, among other things, facial-recognition technology for the Seattle Police Department.

The vote was 7-1, so we're going to get it anyway.

In the past year, after repeated news stories and public hubbub about the SPD drones, Seattle city council has become one of the first in the nation to draft public policies, with guidance from the ACLU, for how new surveillance technology will be used.

But critics say mission creep (like using anti-terrorism cell-phone tracking devices for routine police work or monitoring who's at protests, which is what the Miami-Dade police wanted their StingRay for) is inevitable.

It'll be interesting to see, five years from now, how Seattle's facial-recognition technology is being used.


Comments (10) RSS

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treacle 1
Call me paranoid or prescient, but it sure sounds like the "powers that be" are gleefully putting into place all the monitoring and weaponry (Cf. "militarization of the police") that they need to ensure the next great uprising (à la Ukraine, Arab Spring, etc.) will never, ever take place here. No matter how hard working conditions get for the proles slaving away in e-commerce "Fulfillment Centers", or migrants laboring in the fields.

Cross-reference that with the ongoing political tactic to encourage America's various sub-groups to vehemently dislike each other (Limbaugh, FOX,, the very limited functional political discourse in this country, and the fact that the federal USA is simply too big to functionally organize a "nationwide" resistance anyway, and you have a recipe for Happy Societal Self-Control (TM) ... :D

Now, where's my Soma?
Posted by treacle on March 13, 2014 at 12:27 PM · Report this
Looks like we will get $15 an hour, but at the expense of all the terrible legislation the council can pass, because Sawant has burned up all of her political capital on a single issue, instead of leveraging her position to become an actual participant in government. But, hey, at least the salt mines will pay a living wage.
Posted by hmmmmm on March 13, 2014 at 12:51 PM · Report this
There are some benefits to this when someone is murdered and the police need to track down the killer. That's going to be the argument that gets these kinds of surveillance tools in place. There needs to be a simple rule here that can be easy to enforce due to simple clarity. Something like: Police can only access this tech/surveillance in the case of violent felonies. Anything outside that is strictly verboten.
I know it's easy to rail against this stuff, but this is here and a better solution is to make sure that the rules of its use or even access to it are simple and strictly enforced so they can't be used against the rest of us.
Posted by SPG on March 13, 2014 at 1:11 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 4
Congratulation on living in East German police state, America!
Posted by Will in Seattle on March 13, 2014 at 1:49 PM · Report this
One simple rule we could impose to reasonably constrain use of SPD's facial recognition technology: Prohibit use when the location of the person depicted in the image is known or can easily be discovered.

Police should not be allowed to use this technology to identify people standing before them who are not required to identify themselves. If they know where the person in the picture is and wish to know who he is, detain him for questioning. If a person the police wish to identify is not required to identify herself and police are unable to identify her on sight alone, transmitting her image back to the Photo Unit at SPD HQ for analysis is unacceptable. If 100 people are reasonably suspected of the crime of pedestrian interference during a political demonstration, secretly photographing each person and transmitting each image to the Photo Unit where a trained technician will use a computer in an attempt to identify each person using facial recognition technology, then transmitting back information about any matches so that police can selectively enforce the law against known "troublemakers" is unacceptable.

Use of facial recognition technology exclusively for identifying people whose location is not known should cover most or all use cases that the public are likely to find acceptable.
Posted by Phil M on March 13, 2014 at 2:26 PM · Report this
treacle 6
@3 - Let's put RFID trackers and 24/7 lapel cameras on all police officers. With a full punitive inquiry if they ever get turned off whilst on shift.

Who watches the watchmen? Let it be All of us. Surveillance tools deployed against all, not just "some", ie., those without power.

We can start with Eric Schmidt.
Posted by treacle on March 13, 2014 at 2:26 PM · Report this
treacle 7
@4 - The Stasi vs the NSA, a gentle comparison
Posted by treacle on March 13, 2014 at 2:28 PM · Report this
treacle 8
@5 - "...mitting each image to the Photo Unit where a trained technician will use a computer in an atte..."

This isn't 1986, my friend. All that sort of business, assuming any particular PD has it deployed at all, is already fully automated. There is no "trained technician"; it's an app on the cops lapel camera conversing directly with their photos-database (probably linked to the main FBI database) to determine who you are. In only a few short years, your full profile will be then available on the cop's "Google Glass" variant product.
Posted by treacle on March 13, 2014 at 2:35 PM · Report this
@8: See Seattle Police Manual section 12.045 Booking Photo Comparison Software.

2. Only Department Trained Photo Unit Personnel Will Use BPCS

I'm well aware that those trained personnel likely need only watch the requests roll in and across the screen to "use" the BPCS system.
Posted by Phil M on March 13, 2014 at 5:39 PM · Report this
I worked on a job with Booz Allen implanting microphones under the floors of every seat in the NAS Oceana training auditorium. We even spy on our military leaders. Wonder if the spys have the classified security clearance our generals do? Snowden didn't. We are not more secure giving law enforcement carte banche license to violate the Constitution as well as state and federal laws. We are all in for a less profitable, less secure America. How's your future look to you? You could be a neighbor of an power grubbing law enforcement agent & find out your life has been destroyed so he could impress his friends. I was implanted with a biochip - See A Note on Uberveillance by MG & Katina Michael or Safeguards in a World of Ambient Intelligence by Springer. We are all doomed by the Senate "unIntelligent" Committee.
Posted by JBSmith on March 19, 2014 at 10:41 AM · Report this

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