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ACLU: Police Use of Face-Recognition Tech is ‘Violating Americans’ Civil Rights’

in Liberator Online by Alice Salles Comments are off

ACLU: Police Use of Face-Recognition Tech is ‘Violating Americans’ Civil Rights’

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The American Civil Liberties Union, along the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, sent a letter to the Justice Department expressing concerns over federal, state, and local police use of facial recognition technology.

FaceThe letter claims that a recent study carried out by the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law shows that “law enforcement use of face recognition technology is having a disparate impact on communities of color, potentially exacerbating and entrenching existing policing disparities.”

Adding that said systems are powerful, the letter explained that a Federal Bureau of Investigation study from 2012 shows that the technology is “5 to 10 percent less accurate on African Americans than Caucasians.” By reaching out to the Justice Department, the ACLU plus over 50 other groups are asking the government to investigate police practices associated with the technology because of the system’s inaccuracies.

While the ACLU has not argued for an end to the use of the technology, the organization’s legislative counsel, Singh Guliani, said that, unless “meaningful safeguards are in place,” the use of the technology could be putting the privacy of Americans at risk.

Mentioning the fact that half of all U.S. adults are in government face recognition databases, Guliani added that allowing law enforcement to use these technologies without clear policies may lead to abuse.

According to the Georgetown report mentioned by the ACLU, abuse may come in different shapes and sizes.

Because many law enforcement agencies employ the technology in a continuous fashion, scanning individuals on real-time, researchers believe that this type of approach may violate people’s privacy simply because law enforcement is collecting footage of law-abiding citizens without seeking a warrant beforehand. In the report, the Center on Privacy & Technology team explains that this type of use is “generalized and invisible.” In many instances, the research team adds, abuse may lead to stifling of free speech.

Out of the 52 agencies using the system, the research team found at least one department using the face recognition tool to track individuals engaged in political, religious, or other type of “protected free speech.” But because of the lack of oversight, many departments do not have access to data on the use of the technology, making it difficult for researchers to identify other instances of abuse.

All of these problems are “unprecedented and highly problematic,” researchers added in the report.

In the group’s letter, the ACLU argued that the problems raised by the Georgetown study are “particularly disturbing” when we consider that federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies have been using these technologies for routine investigations without any oversight.

Considering law enforcement has been under heavy scrutiny recently over the use and abuse of “voodoo science,”  it’s easy to see how the ACLU has reason to mistrust law enforcement with the use of such a powerful tool.

Police Caught Framing Open Carry Activist at DUI Checkpoint

in Gun Rights, Liberator Online, News You Can Use by Alice Salles Comments are off

Police Caught Framing Open Carry Activist at DUI Checkpoint

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

As America discusses yet another deadly police shooting, the name Terence Crutcher becomes a “viral” hashtag. And as many argue that yet another hashtag won’t make a dent in helping to put an end to the systemic violence associated with law enforcement, Washington Post’s Radley Balko continues to report on all kinds of police abuse cases, bringing certain stories to light that seldom get any air time due to their less than dramatic developments.

open carry

According to Balko, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Connecticut filed a lawsuit against the local police on behalf of Michael Picard, an open carry gun rights activist.

Picard was targeted by the local police while he was protesting a DUI checkpoint in September of 2015. He positioned himself ahead of the checkpoint, holding up a sign that read “cops ahead, remain silent.”

ACLU of Connecticut Legal Director Dan Barrett explained that, as soon as the police was made aware of Picard’s silent and legal protest, state officers working the checkpoint approached the protester and proceeded to slap the camera out of his hand. As the officer carries on, believing the camera had been broken, Picard is searched.

As an open carry activist, Picard had been carrying a gun in plain sight all along, making it easy for officers to find it immediately. Nevertheless, the officer in question announces he found a gun as loud as possible. As the officers check his permit and run a check on his records, Picard picks up his camera, prompting the officer to say “taking my picture is illegal.”

Nonsense, Barett says.

As Picard debates the officer over his constitutional rights, the officer “snatches” the camera from Picard’s hands and places it on top of the police cruiser.

Thankfully, the camera was still recording.

What happens next is why Picard is now suing the Connecticut police.

According to the footage, three troopers are caught talking about what they should do next. As they see Picard’s permit is valid, they say “oh crap. … we gotta punch a number on this guy.” Meaning they should “open an investigation in the police database.” The officer then says, “we really gotta cover our a*ses.”

They proceed, discussing what to do about Picard without facts to back their story. During at least eight minutes, they attempt to get to a conclusion as to how better they will “cover their” butts.

At no time, Balko explains, did the cops think of giving Picard his camera back and telling him he was free to go.

Toward the end of this ordeal, the officers get to the conclusion of charging Picard with two criminal infractions: “reckless use of a highway by a pedestrian,” and “creating a public disturbance.”

Thanks to Picard’s camera, we know the officers discuss how to support the public disturbance charge until a supervisor comes up with a plan.

“What we say,” he tells the other officers, “is that multiple motorists stopped to complain about a guy waving a gun around, but none of them wanted to stop and make a statement.”

After filing a complaint that led to nowhere, the ACLU took on the case.

Regardless of where Americans stand on gun rights or law enforcement, Picard’s right to protest the checkpoint in peace while carrying a weapon should always be upheld.

The same way pulling over and reaching out to the police with your arms raised should not give officers an excuse to practice target shooting over your helpless body.

Oakland Officers Fail to Find Suspect Through Surveillance so Feds Step In—All Without a Warrant

in Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty, Property Rights by Alice Salles Comments are off

Oakland Officers Fail to Find Suspect Through Surveillance so Feds Step In—All Without a Warrant

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

In Oakland, California, feds were caught helping local police departments to spy on suspects without warrants. And in at least one instance, the individual targeted, Purvis Ellis, wasn’t even the main suspect in the murder case that led to his capture.

OaklandAccording to Tech Dirt, court documents obtained by Ars Technica show that the Oakland Police Department used stingray technology without seeking a warrant first against Ellis in 2013. The use of the device was deployed in order to catch the suspect who had been associated with the attempted murder of officer Eric Karsserboom.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), stingrays “are invasive cell phone surveillance devices that mimic cell phone towers and send out signals to trick cell phones in the area into transmitting their locations and identifying information.”

Oakland police attempted to use an older version of the device in 2013 to find one of the suspects in the attempted killing of a police officer, but officials were unsuccessful. They then reached out to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), asking federal agents to step in. Promptly after, FBI officials were able to locate the suspect using a more advanced stingray technology.

But despite the successful operation, state and federal officers failed to follow the constitution, ignoring the need for a warrant.

During the suspect’s trial, both the FBI and the Oakland PD stated that they didn’t need to obtain a warrant at the time due to “exigent circumstances.” In the FBI case, officials also claim the warrant requirement was not in place at the time of the operation, making the evidence obtained through surveillance tactics less likely to be tossed by a judge.

Nevertheless, news sources were finally able to report on this story since the judge presiding over the suspect’s prosecution ordered the government to submit detailed information on how Ellis was located. But despite the commotion surrounding Ellis, he has not been accused of actually shooting the officer, prompting privacy advocates to wonder whether the police has used the same surveillance tactics in other similar cases, targeting individuals who have not been accused of a crime and going to the lengths both the FBI and the Oakland PD went to keep this a secret.

Two years after the 2013 incident, the Oakland Police Department tried to secure a grant from the Department of Homeland Security in order to upgrade their stingray technology, suggesting that local police had been invested in this type of surveillance tactics long after the Ellis case. The technology local officials had at the time was unable to locate the suspect, but the latest system used by the FBI got the job done pretty quickly.

But details regarding why the suspect was targeted and why only his phone was intercepted were never revealed. All we know up until now is that two law enforcement agencies suspended the potential suspect’s rights to privacy, even as they knew that he hadn’t shot the officer.

Whether Ellis was directly involved in the attempted murder remains a mystery. But what should also be addressed in this case is the fact that individuals who haven’t been formally accused of a crime nor charged are being targeted by both local and federal law enforcement agents who continue to ignore the unconstitutionality of their actions.

States have been pushing their own anti-federal surveillance laws as the nullification movement initiated by groups like the Tenth Amendment Center gains more ground. But the American individual’s privacy rights won’t be truly upheld until federal agencies have been stripped of their surveillance powers.

New FBI Report: Savage U.S. Marijuana War Continues, Despite Majority Support for Re-Legalization

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 20 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

A solid majority of Americans now favor re-legalizing marijuana. Many states have eased laws War on Drugspersecuting marijuana smokers, and four states and the District of Columbia have even re-legalized it.

Yet governments at all levels continue to wage a costly, pointless, and ferocious war against peaceful marijuana users.

In early November the FBI released its annual Uniform Crime Report, which gives the best look at marijuana arrests and related statistics. It covers the latest year for which figures are available, 2013.

Among the findings:

  • The good news: arrest numbers are down, slightly. In 2013, there were 693,481 arrests for marijuana charges. In 2012, there were 749,825. However, despite years of growing support for re-legalization, there were actually fewer arrests back in 1998 (682,885).
  • As always, the vast majority of these arrests — a whopping 88% — were for simple possession. 
  • The remaining 12% of arrests were for “sale/manufacture,” a broad category that includes all cultivation offenses — even those where the marijuana was being grown for personal or medical use. 
  • Marijuana arrests make up 40.6% of all drug arrests, making it clear that the War on Drugs is, in reality, largely a War on Marijuana Possession.
  • Nationwide, police make an average of one arrest for marijuana possession every minute.
  • Nationwide, 51.9% of violent crimes and over 80% of property crimes went unsolved or did not result in arrest. Is there a connection?
  • Arrests for mere possession of marijuana cost, at a minimum, roughly half a billion dollars, says NORML, using an ACLU estimate of cost-per-arrest ($750). Other estimates range to several billion dollars. 
  • The effects of an arrest can be devastating, notes Paul Armentano of NORML: 

“Probation and mandatory drug testing; loss of employment; loss of child custody; removal from subsidized housing; asset forfeiture; loss of student aid; loss of voting privileges; loss of adoption rights…” and of course, for some, time behind bars.

Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, summed it up nicely:

“Arresting even one adult for using a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol is inexcusable.

“Law enforcement officials should be spending their time and resources addressing serious crimes, not arresting and prosecuting adults for using marijuana. Every year, these statistics show hundreds of thousands of marijuana-related arrests are taking place and countless violent crimes are going unsolved. We have to wonder how many of those crimes could be solved — or prevented — if police weren’t wasting their time enforcing failed marijuana prohibition laws.”

Are You on the Fed’s Terrorist Watchlist?

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 14 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

You can be pulled into the NSA’s database, put on a terrorist watchlist, and receive discriminatory treatment from local, state, and national law enforcement agents — without warning or notice, and for something as innocent as a Facebook or Twitter post.

So reports journalist Arjun Sethi in a shocking story in The Guardian, August 30, entitled, appropriately enough, “The US government can brand you a terrorist based on a Facebook post.”

“Through ICREACH, a Google-style search engine created for the intelligence community, the NSA provides data on private communications to 23 government agencies. More than 1,000 analysts had access to that information. …

“It was confirmed earlier this month that the FBI shares its master watchlist, the Terrorist Screening Database, with at least 22 foreign governments, countless federal agencies, state and local law enforcement, plus private contractors…

“The Terrorist Screening Database watchlist tracks ‘known’ and ‘suspected’ terrorists and includes both foreigners and Americans. It’s also based on loose standards and secret evidence, which ensnares innocent people. Indeed, the standards are so low that the U.S. government’s guidelines specifically allow for a single, uncorroborated source of information — including a Facebook or Twitter post — to serve as the basis for placing you on its master watchlist.”

Indeed, according to the investigative journalism website The Intercept, the Terrorist Screening Database has about 680,000 people on it — and more than 40 percent are described by the government itself as having “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.” That’s a whopping 280,000 people.

Continues the Guardian: “These eye-popping numbers are largely the result of the US government’s use of a loose standard — so-called ‘reasonable suspicion’ — in determining who, exactly, can be watchlisted.

“Reasonable suspicion is such a low standard because it requires neither ‘concrete evidence’ nor ‘irrefutable evidence.’ Instead, an official is permitted to consider ‘reasonable inferences’ and ‘to draw from the facts in light of his/her experience.’”

Further, the loose rules allow watchlisting without even the minimum standard of  reasonable suspicion. Non-citizens can be watchlisted just for being associated with a watchlisted person, even if the relationship is totally innocent. If a source or tipster describes a non-citizen as an “extremist,” a “militant,” or some similar term, and the FBI can make some vague connection, this could be enough to watchlist a person. The watchlist designation is secret, so no one is able to challenge these allegations.

But being on the watchlist can bring terrible consequences, notes the Guardian:

“Life on the master watchlist can trigger enhanced screening at borders and airports; being on the No Fly List, which is a subset of the larger terrorist watchlist, can prevent airline travel altogether. The watchlist can separate family members for months or years, isolate individuals from friends and associates, and ruin employment prospects.

“Being branded a terrorism suspect also has far-reaching privacy implications. The watchlist is widely accessible, and government officials routinely collect the biometric data of watchlisted individuals, including their fingerprints and DNA strands. Law enforcement has likewise been directed to gather any and all available evidence when encountering watchlisted individuals, including receipts, business cards, health information and bank statements. …

“A watchlist based on poor standards and secret processes raises major constitutional concerns, including the right to travel freely and not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law.”

Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, agrees: “We’re getting into Minority Report territory when being friends with the wrong person can mean the government puts you in a database and adds DMV photos, iris scans, and face recognition technology to track you secretly and without your knowledge. The fact that this information can be shared with agencies from the CIA to the NYPD, which are not known for protecting civil liberties, brings us closer to an invasive and rights-violating government surveillance society at home and abroad.”

The Guardian concludes with a question you’re probably already asking yourself:

“Indeed, you can’t help but wonder: are you already on the watchlist?”

Read the next article from this issue here.

Go back to the full issue here.

Marijuana Shockers Propel New Re-Legalization Effort

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 11 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

“The Uncovery” is a new online program by the American Civil Liberties Union designed to facilitate mass online activism in support of marijuana re-legalization.

The UncoveryThe Uncovery website lets users select facts about the failures of marijuana prohibition, both national and state by state, and convert these facts into customized graphic messages they can share on social media and send to legislators — all in sixty seconds or less.

Among the sobering facts offered by The Uncovery:

  • Police in the U.S. make a marijuana arrest every 37 seconds.
  • Police made over 8 million marijuana arrests total nationwide between 2001 and 2010.
  • 88% of all marijuana arrests are for marijuana possession.
  • States spent an estimated $496 million incarcerating people for marijuana possession in 2010.
  • States spent an estimated $1.4 billion adjudicating marijuana possession cases in 2010.
  • States spent an estimated $3.6 billion enforcing marijuana laws in 2010.
  • States spent over $1.7 billion on police enforcement of marijuana laws in 2010.
  • In 2010, police made 889,133 marijuana arrests — 300,000 more arrests than they made for all violent crimes.
  • Between 2002 and 2011, the government spent billions enforcing marijuana laws. In that time, marijuana use increased from 6.2% to 7%.
  • 9 out of 10 U.S. adults believe people who possess or use small amounts of marijuana should not face jail time.
  • 52% of Americans support legalizing marijuana.
  • Since legalizing marijuana in 2012, Washington State projects it will raise more than $500 million in marijuana-related revenues annually.
  • More than 42% of all Americans report having tried marijuana in their lifetime.
  • The world’s largest jailer, the U.S. has only 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prison population.
  • Black people and white people use marijuana at similar rates, but Blacks are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.
  • In New York and Texas in 2010, 97% of all marijuana arrests were for possession.
  • 62% of all marijuana arrests in 2010 were of people 24 years old or younger.
  • Between 1995 and 2010, police increased the number of marijuana arrests they made nationwide by 51%.
  • 52% of all drug arrests in 2010 were for marijuana.
  • If current trends continue, the government will spend almost $20 billion enforcing marijuana laws in the next five years.

Learn more at

TIME Magazine: The War on Drugs Is a Real War

in Communicating Liberty by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 10 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

TIME MagazineFrom “This Is Why Your Local Police Department Might Have a Tank,” TIME Magazine, June 24:

“Forget Officer Friendly. A new report finds that local police departments are becoming excessively militarized, equipped with weapons, uniforms and even vehicles formerly used by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. …

“As the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have wound down, police departments have been obtaining military equipment, vehicles and uniforms that have flowed directly from the Department of Defense. According to a new report by the ACLU, the federal government has funneled $4.3 billion of military property to law enforcement agencies since the late 1990s, including $450 million worth in 2013. Five hundred law enforcement agencies have received Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, built to withstand bomb blasts. More than 15,000 items of military protective equipment and ‘battle dress uniforms,’ or fatigues worn by the U.S. Army, have been transferred. The report includes details of police agencies in towns like North Little Rock, Ark., which has 34 automatic and semi-automatic rifles, a Mamba tactical vehicle and two MARCbots, which are armed robots designed for use in Afghanistan.

“‘More Americans are becoming aware of the militarization of policing, but the use of paramilitary tactics to fight the war on drugs has been going on for a very long time,’” says the ACLU’s Kara Dansky. Throughout the 1980s, law enforcement agencies got more aggressive in how they served drug warrants …

“As police departments have added military gear, they’ve also upped the number of SWAT deployments, especially for use in drug warrants. Eighty-nine percent of police departments serving populations of 50,000 or more had SWAT teams in the late 1990s, twice as many as in the mid-1980s. In the mid-2000s, 80% of smaller police agencies — those serving between 25 and 50,000 people — had SWAT teams, up from 20% in the mid-1980s.

“Those squads are increasingly being deployed for drug searches. Almost two-thirds of SWAT deployments between 2011 and 2012 were for drug raids. Many of those units base their strategy and tactics on military special operations like Navy SEALs. …

“Using military-style equipment has an effect on the behavior of police officers as well, adds Kraska. ‘It changes the culture of the police department,’ she says. ‘It gets them into a much more intense, paramilitary mindset rather than thinking about a community-oriented approach to policing.’”