Policing the Internet (UPDATED)

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Ironically from the Guardian:

My family’s Google searching got us a visit from counterterrorism police

It was a confluence of magnificent proportions that led to six agents from the joint terrorism task force to knock on my door Wednesday morning. Little did my husband and I know that our seemingly innocent, if curious to a fault, Googling of certain things were creating a perfect storm of terrorism profiling. Because somewhere out there, someone was watching. Someone whose job it is to piece together the things people do on the internet raised the red flag when they saw our search history.

Most of it was innocent enough. I had researched pressure cookers. My husband was looking for a backpack. And maybe in another time those two things together would have seemed innocuous, but we are in “these times” now. And in these times, when things like the Boston bombing happen, you spend a lot of time on the internet reading about it and, if you are my exceedingly curious, news junkie 20-year-old son, you click a lot of links when you read the myriad of stories. You might just read a CNN piece about how bomb making instructions are readily available on the internet and you will in all probability, if you are that kid, click the link provided.

Which might not raise any red flags. Because who wasn’t reading those stories? Who wasn’t clicking those links? But my son’s reading habits combined with my search for a pressure cooker and my husband’s search for a backpack set off an alarm of sorts at the joint terrorism task force headquarters.

That’s how I imagine it played out, anyhow. Lots of bells and whistles and a crowd of task force workers huddled around a computer screen looking at our Google history.

This was weeks ago. I don’t know what took them so long to get here. Maybe they were waiting for some other devious Google search to show up, but “what the hell do I do with quinoa” and “Is A-Rod suspended yet” didn’t fit into the equation so they just moved in based on those older searches.

I was at work when it happened. My husband called me as soon as it was over, almost laughing about it, but I wasn’t joining in the laughter. His call left me shaken and anxious.

What happened was this: At about 9am, my husband, who happened to be home yesterday, was sitting in the living room with our two dogs when he heard a couple of cars pull up outside. He looked out the window and saw three black SUVs in front of our house; two at the curb in front and one pulled up behind my husband’s Jeep in the driveway, as if to block him from leaving.

Six gentleman in casual clothes emerged from the vehicles and spread out as they walked toward the house, two toward the backyard on one side, two on the other side, two toward the front door.

A million things went through my husband’s head. None of which were right. He walked outside and the men greeted him by flashing badges. He could see they all had guns holstered in their waistbands.

“Are you [name redacted]?” one asked while glancing at a clipboard. He affirmed that was indeed him, and was asked if they could come in. Sure, he said.

They asked if they could search the house, though it turned out to be just a cursory search. They walked around the living room, studied the books on the shelf (nope, no bomb making books, no Anarchist Cookbook), looked at all our pictures, glanced into our bedroom, pet our dogs. They asked if they could go in my son’s bedroom but when my husband said my son was sleeping in there, they let it be.

Meanwhile, they were peppering my husband with questions. Where is he from? Where are his parents from? They asked about me, where was I, where do I work, where do my parents live. Do you have any bombs, they asked. Do you own a pressure cooker? My husband said no, but we have a rice cooker. Can you make a bomb with that? My husband said no, my wife uses it to make quinoa. What the hell is quinoa, they asked.

They searched the backyard. They walked around the garage, as much as one could walk around a garage strewn with yardworking equipment and various junk. They went back in the house and asked more questions. Have you ever looked up how to make a pressure cooker bomb? My husband, ever the oppositional kind, asked them if they themselves weren’t curious as to how a pressure cooker bomb works, if they ever looked it up. Two of them admitted they did.

By this point they had realized they were not dealing with terrorists. They asked my husband about his work, his visits to South Korea and China. The tone was conversational.

They never asked to see the computers on which the searches were done. They never opened a drawer or a cabinet. They left two rooms unsearched. I guess we didn’t fit the exact profile they were looking for so they were just going through the motions.

They mentioned that they do this about 100 times a week. And that 99 of those visits turn out to be nothing. I don’t know what happens on the other 1% of visits and I’m not sure I want to know what my neighbors are up to.

Forty-five minutes later, they shook my husband’s hand and left. That’s when he called me and relayed the story. That’s when I felt a sense of creeping dread take over. What else had I looked up? What kind of searches did I do that alone seemed innocent enough but put together could make someone suspicious? Were they judging me because my house was a mess (oh my God, the joint terrorism task force was in my house and there were dirty dishes in my sink!). Mostly I felt a great sense of anxiety. This is where we are at. Where you have no expectation of privacy. Where trying to learn how to cook some lentils could possibly land you on a watch list. Where you have to watch every little thing you do because someone else is watching every little thing you do.

All I know is if I’m going to buy a pressure cooker in the near future, I’m not doing it online.

I’m scared. And not of the right things.


Does it surprise you to learn that I am okay with this?

There are bad people out there. That’s why we need cops. But we need to balance our liberty and privacy with the legitimate needs of law enforcement.

I don’t want the government watching every move I make. But if I start looking for information on how to make explosives out of fuel oil and fertilizer it would be nice if that triggered a warning somewhere.

Back when I was working retail security we used to get a weekly report showing which employees had the highest numbers of refunds, “no-sales” and transaction voids. The reason for that is those are all methods for stealing. So then we would pull the paperwork and review the transactions. 99% of the time everything checked out. Less than 10% of the time would we talk to the employee to find out what happened. But every once in a while we found a thief.

If the cops are monitoring certain topics and websites to see who is searching/visiting that is a reasonable police investigatory technique. It’s like monitoring who is buying meth-making chemicals.

Start searching for child porn on the internet and I guarantee you will trigger government attention. If you start downloading it or viewing it and you can expect a visit from your local cops.

Not every suspicion is enough to trigger an investigation. But combine a couple flagged search terms and maybe you might arouse a little more interest. So if the cops run your IP address to get your name and then run your name against their other data bases, they might see you made a few overseas visits to China and South Korea (which are both neighbors of North Korea) and then decide you are worthy of more scrutiny.

At this point they do not have probable cause to get a warrant but they don’t need one to knock on your door and ask questions. Depending on the answers you give they may thank you and go away or maybe they might take you away with them.

Yes, it can be scary and intimidating to have the cops show up at your door. It has happened to me more than once. Once they even had a warrant. I always cooperated. (Usually the cops left me behind when they departed and they never did find anything incriminating.) But those cops were just doing their jobs.

Or as some people say, “That’s good lookin’ out.”


UPDATE:

The Suffolk County Police Department released a statement this evening that answers the great mystery of the day.

Suffolk County Criminal Intelligence Detectives received a tip from a Bay Shore based computer company regarding suspicious computer searches conducted by a recently released employee. The former employee’s computer searches took place on this employee’s workplace computer. On that computer, the employee searched the terms “pressure cooker bombs” and “backpacks.”

After interviewing the company representatives, Suffolk County Police Detectives visited the subject’s home to ask about the suspicious internet searches. The incident was investigated by Suffolk County Police Department’s Criminal Intelligence Detectives and was determined to be non-criminal in nature.


So the cops were acting on a tip. They weren’t monitoring anything.


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About Myiq2xu™

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64 Responses to Policing the Internet (UPDATED)

  1. Klown says:

    FYI: Your IP address is like your phone number. The cops don’t need a warrant to find out who it is registered to.

    • Klown says:

      FYI II: I assume that using IP masking/blocking programs and services are useless against the government. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn the government operates them just like they run most child porn sites.

      That’s what you call a sting operation.

      • 1539days says:

        Foreign proxy servers are a little harder, since they can tell the US to screw themselves. IP addresses are more like a party line, since routers can multiply an IP address to multiple devices. what we know, however, is that ISPs like Verizon are fully willing to hand over all their customer ID data for a price.

  2. DeniseVB says:

    I’m not fussed with internet security spying on me. Nor am I concerned with Obama’s goons at OFA, I don’t donate to the GOP either.

  3. Carmelo Clandestine says:

    I love that part, “Do you have any bombs, they asked.”

    As if anyone who did have bombs would come right out and admit it: “Sure, I got three in the shed ready to go. Wanna see ’em?” 🙄

  4. Klown says:

    The Atlantic is trolling for traffic:

  5. DeniseVB says:

    Ergggh, The Rent is Too Damn High guy just endorsed Weiner for Mayor, via my FB newsfeed.

  6. Klown says:

    My nephew who lives in Nashua sent me this link:

    http://bit.ly/13q90kR

  7. insanelysane says:

    No. Totally inappropriate. I have a right to my privacy. Unless you have some reason to specifically suspect ME for some crime…
    then get out of my business.
    I will never agree that this behavior by our Gov’t is acceptable.

    Never.

  8. Klown says:

    So you think you have neighbor trouble?

    • helenk3 says:

      a good powerwash hose would be useful

    • Anthony says:

      I want to go drinking with her

      • Klown says:

        When should I tell mom to expect you?

      • Somebody says:

        You buying Anthony? Then I’m there rhubarb martinis!

        PS….I’d love to meet your parents, LMAO!

        • Anthony says:

          Of course I’ll buy. You would have to be all liquored up to survive meeting my folks. They’re a little hard to take unless you have a high blood-alcohol level. Think George and Lucille Bluth

    • Erica says:

      Slang uses for the word rhubarb:
      A spirited, contentious fight (no kidding!)
      A loan, or advance on pay
      Nonsense
      Hitting the rhubarb=running off the road (in Canada)

      My grandmother used to say “you’re in the rhubarb” when we were misbehaving and about to get a swat, which is perhaps what that woman needed.

  9. 1539days says:

    I notice there are more instances where the police are using “questioning” as a clandestine version of detention of interrogation. There’s the odd YouTube video where some guy goes through a checkpoint and when the officer asks him to pull over, he says no and then confirms he’s not being detained or arrested. Most people just do what they are asked.

    I’m not a fan of this compliance methodology, but what I worry about is the cop who takes a refusal as suspicious or grounds for arrest. There was a lawsuit a few weeks ago where a homeowner was forcibly removed from his house after he declined to let officer’s stake out his home.

    I think we’ve crossed the line for abuse potential.

    • 49erDweet says:

      Unless there’s more to that story that homeowner should be able to parlay that “taking” into a nice retirement home in Scottsdale.

  10. helenk3 says:

    the best line I have heard about the government spying on you.” Even if you have nothing to hide, you do not have your toilet in your living room do you?.” We are entitled to some privacy

  11. fif says:

    I’m not comfortable with it, because it means you have to trust who is making these decisions and we have seen how easily it is all abused. With the mounting evidence of privacy concerns, I’ve wondered a few times who is monitoring this blog and what list that puts us on. Where is the line with all of this and how can we possibly trust the goons who manipulate it all for their own purposes? Especially when you see reports this week about TSA officials falling asleep and stealing from travelers’ suitcases. Little efficiency, consistentcy, accountability, integrity. We are definitely down the rabbit hole.

    • Anthony says:

      I’m with you on this. I figured once the Snowden story broke, things were already so far along that it just didn’t matter any more.

  12. DeniseVB says:

    Looks like Benghazi is unravelling for Teh Won and Hillary. About time. According to CNN via IJR …. w/video

    http://www.ijreview.com/2013/08/70066-cnn-bombshell-cia-personnel-in-benghazi-silenced-with-threats-to-their-families-by-obama-regime/

  13. helenk3 says:

    http://bigstory.ap.org/article/army-officer-found-guilty-afghanistan-shootings

    guilty. I am not sure how I feel about this. If I were in Afghanstan and a couple of guys came up on a motorcycle, I might shoot first and ask questions later too

  14. helenk3 says:

    http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/08/01/3536816/trayvon-martins-parents-meet-with.html

    if holder’s dept of crime goes through with this. then every black on white or hispanic crime should be treated as a hate crime

    • Anthony says:

      They didn’t give a shit about him since he was 3 years old, now all of a sudden,he’s the Golden Boy? I guess they already tore through the $1M settlement from the home owner’s association….

    • lyn says:

      Anyone who yells, “This is for Trayvon,” during a criminal act should be charged with a hate crime, and I agree with Anthony about TM’s parents.

  15. Klown says:

    FYI: Little-known rule of baseball.

    If you are at a baseball game and the batter fouls one back off the screen in front of you and the person next to you flinches you are allowed to sock them in the arm and yell “You flinched!”

  16. Klown says:
  17. helenk3 says:

    http://www.wnd.com/2013/08/denver-college-students-flunk-8th-grade-exam/

    college students answering questions from a 1912 eighth grade test

  18. Klown says:

    This kid on Jeopardy tonight talks like Carl from Slingblade. He’s a little brighter though.

  19. yttik says:

    “Does it surprise you to learn that I am okay with this?”

    Yes.

    What’s become of our self respect, our right to privacy? Why are we so willing to give up our freedoms in the name of safety? Why do we assume the Gov is qualified to make those kinds of judgments? Prior to 911, they couldn’t even manage to read the darn memos. Prior to the Boston horror, they ignored repeated written warnings. They strip search little old ladies in airports and let young Muslim men go through.

    This is too much like the pre-crime unit in Minority report. We’re going after people based on what we think they might do, based on the tiniest little suspicion. It’s wrong, it’s un-American, it’s not worth it.

  20. Carmelo Clandestine says:

    Somewhat related–from 8/18/2012:

    http://fredoneverything.net/Saurons_Eye.shtml

  21. helenk3 says:

    http://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2013/08/breaking-obama-administration-is-hiding-benghazi-survivors-dispersing-them-around-the-country-and-changing-their-names-video/

    backtrack bunch hiding Benghazi survivors dispersing them around the country and changing their names

    witness protection??????

  22. Carmelo Clandestine says:
  23. Klown says:

    One day in the future, Barack Obama has a heart attack and dies. He immediately goes to hell, where the devil is waiting for him.

    “I don’t know what to do here,” says the devil. “You are on my list, but I have no room for you. You definitely have to stay here, so I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’ve got a couple of folks here who weren’t quite as bad as you. I’ll let one of them go, but you have to take their place. I’ll even let YOU decide who leaves.”

    Obama thought that sounded pretty good, so the devil opened the door to the first room. In it was Ted Kennedy and a large pool of water. Ted kept diving in, and surfacing, empty handed. Over, and over, and over he dived in and surfaced with nothing. Such was his fate in hell.

    “No,” Obama said. “I don’t think so. I’m not a good swimmer, and I don’t think I could do that all day long.”

    The devil led him to the door of the next room. In it was Al Gore with a sledge-hammer and a room full of rocks. All he did was swing that hammer, time after time after time.

    “No, this is no good; I’ve got this problem with my shoulder. I would be in constant agony if all I could do was break rocks all day,” commented Obama.

    The devil opened a third door. Through it, Obama saw Bill Clinton, lying on the bed, his arms tied over his head, and his legs restrained in a spread-eagle pose. Bent over him was Monica Lewinsky, doing what she does best.

    Obama looked at his teleprompter and finally said, “Make no mistake: I can handle this.”

    The devil smiled and said,”OK, Monica – you’re free to go.”

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