News Datacide 17, Pt. 3: Surveillance, Control and Repression

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An unnamed person who previously worked for a secret UK Metropolitan police intelligence unit alleged in a letter sent to Green party official Jenny Jones that the police were regularly reading the emails of activists, including four from Greenpeace UK, and journalists, including two from The Guardian, as part of surveillance operations. The Met’s access to the email accounts was acquired by using hacked passwords obtained by hackers employed by Indian police.

After the Westminster and London Bridge terrorist attacks in London, Prime Minister Theresa May in June 2017 proposed new anti-terrorism measures: amending human rights laws; increasing the length of time police can hold suspects without charges; further restricting the freedom and movement of suspects through house arrest, curfew, forced relocation, and creating ‘exclusion zones’ of public spaces where the suspects are not allowed to go or enter; further reducing access to communications (phone, internet, etc.); increasing the ease and number of forcible deportations; and increasing prison sentences for terrorism-related offenses. The Investigatory Powers Act was enacted into law in December 2016, which requires web and phone companies to retain everyone’s web browsing histories and communication data records for phones and texts for up to two years, as well as forcing companies to bypass or alter encryption services like Whatsapp and Signal used by named and targeted ‘terrorism’ suspects.

In November 2016, Muhammad Rabbani, the director of Cage, a British group that advocates for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay prison, was detained at London Heathrow Airport under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act, and refused to give up his passwords to his electronic devices because he had confidential information from a former Gitmo prisoner gathered for his work. He was then arrested, held in prison, released, and charged under the Terrorism Act. Rabbani had been stopped and questioned many other times by border control officials, but had not previously been asked to give up his passwords and pin code. On September 25, 2017, he was convicted by a judge of one count of willfully obstructing a stop-and-search under the Terrorism Act. However, a judge ruled last year in David Miranda’s appeal of his arrest under Schedule 7 that police officers must cease reviewing and not copy information that they believe may be protected under attorney client privilege, is journalist material, or is otherwise confidential and “acquired or created in the course of any trade, business, profession or other occupation.” Between 2009 and 2016, British authorities carried out 400,058 examinations of people under Schedule 7 – 137 per day on average. The Intercept reports that during Schedule 7 searches the police may covertly download the contents of people’s phones and send the info to British intelligence GCHQ under the programs ‘phantom parrot’ and ‘lucky strike,’ according to an intelligence document from the Snowden files.

75,000 Turkish citizens have been arrested, detained, or dismissed from their jobs by the authoritarian government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for offenses including downloading the encrypted messaging app ByLock. Turkish authorities cracked the supposedly secure app, thereby allowing them to identify people and networks of connections. During trials, the Turkish government has claimed the app was exclusively used by supporters of Fethullah Gülen, deemed a terrorist, despite the fact that the app is used in 41 countries. The findings were published in a legal report commissioned by opponents of the Turkish government.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)  sued  the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on behalf of 11 travelers (10 U.S. citizens and one lawful permanent resident) whose smartphones and laptops were searched without warrants at the U.S. border. The lawsuit seeks to establish that the government must have a warrant based on probable cause to suspect a violation of immigration or customs laws before conducting such searches. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers conducted  nearly 15,000 electronic device searches in the first half of  fiscal year  2017,  putting CBP on track to conduct more than three times the number of searches than in  fiscal year 2015 (8,503), and some 50 percent more than in fiscal year 2016 (19,033).

In April, Trump proposed ‘extreme vetting’ of travelers coming to the US from 38 countries that partici-pate in the visa waiver program, including the UK, EU countries, Australia, and Japan. New screening could include forcing people to give up their cell phones and laptops so DHS and CBP could look at contacts and personal data; give up their social media handles and passwords; pass an ‘ideological’ test; and more. On October 18, 2017, new rules will go into effect that allow the DHS to collect information about all immigrants including visa holders and naturalized US citizens including their “social media handles, aliases, identifiable information and search results”, and “publicly available information obtained on the internet, public records, public institutions, commercial data providers”.

In January, Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ (Executive Order 13769) lowered the number of refugees who could be admitted to the US to 50,000, suspended the entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely, suspended the entry of refugees from the six other countries for 120 days, and suspended the entry of people, including lawful permanent residents of the US, for 90 days from seven Muslim majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. In March, Executive Order 13780 replaced and superseded the previous one, and included changes such as dropping Iraq from the list, removing the exemption for religious minorities in the banned countries, and excluding green-card and visa holders already within the US. More than 700 people were detained and 60,000 visas were revoked. The Supreme Court reinstated key provisions of the order in June 2017 which had been suspended by the lower courts. However, on September 24, the Trump administration issued a new executive order amending the previous one, which was partially set to expire that day. The new order has significant changes: people, based on their immigration or non-immigration statuses, from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Chad, North Korea and Venezuela will be indefinitely barred from entering the US; Iraqis will be subject to enhanced screenings; and nothing is stated about refugees. The type of ban varies between countries, for  example, for Venezuela, the ban targets only certain government officials and their families; for North Korea and Syria, all immigrants and non-immigrants are banned; for Libya and Yemen, immigrants and those on certain types of visa are banned. The Supreme Court is asking the litigants suing over the order to file new briefs, given these changes.

DHS is pushing a plan to require all Americans to submit to facial-recognition scans at airports when departing the country. As of now, airports in Boston, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, NYC, and Washington D.C. have pilot programs with more locations to be added. DHS claims it will delete the scans in 14 days, but that the scans could also be kept longer based upon “appropriate privacy reviews and approvals.” DHS stated that the only way to ensure a person is not forced to give biometric information to the government is to not travel internationally.

Republicans and President Trump continue to attempt to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, with a variety of technology companies marketing their products to surveil and track undocumented immigrants. The company Biometric Intelligence and Identification Technologies (known as BI2) has given sheriffs in the 31 counties along the border a free three-year trial of iris scan technology, both mobile and stationary, which will be used to collect biometric data. BI2 maintains a database of 987,000 iris scans from over 180 law enforcement jurisdictions, which would be used to compare the data taken from undocumented people.

Another report found that half of all Americans, about 117 million adults, are identifiable in facial-recognition databases maintained by police, and the FBI maintains its own database with data coming from driver’s licenses, passports, visa applications, and other government-approved identifications. Facial recognition algorithms are proven to be biased, racist, and inaccurate when analyzing data of people of color, attempting to produce matches in data sets, and matching life surveillance video to facial recognition data.

On September 21, 2017, the Washington D.C. Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of a man who was located by police using a Stingray cell site simulator because authorities had not first attained a warrant based upon probable cause. This ‘search’ and the use of the attained information was deemed unconstitutional. Devices like this that locate people via their cell phones, and in some cases also intercept calls and text messages, are routinely used by numerous government agencies including the FBI, ICE, IRS, and police.

The new Intelligence Authorization Act for fiscal year 2018 will be up for a vote soon in the US Senate, and Section 623 states “that WikiLeaks and the senior leadership of WikiLeaks resemble a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actions and should be treated as such a service by the United States.” If Wiki-Leaks is designated as a “non-state hostile intelligence service,” even more resources would be used to shut down the organization, prosecute its workers and supporters, stop their journalism, and gather more evidence for the ongoing grand jury investigation into Assange and WikiLeaks.

The refugees who helped Edward Snowden in Hong Kong, between the time he fled the Mira Hotel, where he met with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, and prior to boarding the flight with Sarah Harrison to Moscow, are in grave danger of being deported from Hong Kong after their asylum claims were rejected in mid July 2017. The refugees, three from Sri Lanka and one from the Philippines, have been interviewed numerous times by officials about what they know about Snowden, and their impending deportation may be reprisal for helping Snowden. The refugees’ involvement was dramatized in Oliver Stone’s movie, Snowden, and extensive details about their personal histories were publicised in Handelsblatt and the National Post. Lawyers from the non-profit organization For the Refugees are attempting to bring the refugees and their children to Canada, but the process is moving very slowly, and the refugees may be deported back to their home countries where their lives will be in imminent danger.

On September 15, 2017, a Washington D.C. Superior Court judge denied the motions to dismiss charges of felony rioting including inciting a riot, engaging in a riot, conspiracy to riot, and property destruction against almost 200 people who were protesting Trump on inauguration day in the capital, and were subjected to mass arrest when they were kettled by the police. About half of the protesters are also charged with one count of assault of a police officer. If convicted, the defendants, often referred to as the J20 for the group that planned the protests, could each face decades in federal prison. The defendants are charged as one large group rather than as individuals based on the claim they were all part of the ‘black block’, with the government using aiding and abetting and conspiracy liability charges so that each defendant may be liable for the acts of others. The government also does not yet need to show any evidence against each individual of alleged criminal behavior, and the defense is not allowed to see how the grand jury decided the charges against the group of protestors. The DOJ issues three search warrants for three defendants’ and the disruptj20 facebook accounts, which would include their passwords, security questions, credits cards, info on all their friends and the 6000 associates who liked the J20 facebook event. Facebook had previously been under a gag order to not reveal the search warrants or inform the three defendants. The DOJ also had a search warrant to get the IP addresses of all 1.3 million people who visited the disruptj20 website, but the web host DreamHost fought the search in court, and now the DOJ is appealing.

During the Dakota Access Pipeline (#DAPL) protests lead by thousands of Native Americans, water protectors near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s land, over 300 people were injured by violence from police, militarised private security forces, the national guard, and 831 people have been arrested and charged with various offenses. There have been 459 dismissed charges as well as 100 guilty pleas, 12 acquittals, and 11 guilty verdicts on other charges. Many suspects have multiple charges filed in single cases. Three hundred twenty-eight cases were open as of September 14, 99 are inactive with warrants, and one is on appeal. One of the open cases is against Red Fawn, a Native American medic who denies all charges including the claim that while being subjected to unlawful arrest and being handcuffed she drew the police officer’s gun, and fired it. She was initially charged with attempted murder, and is now charged with felony counts of civil disorder, discharge of a firearm in relation to a felony crime of violence and possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon. The Intercept published several investigative articles about links between state and federal counter-terrorism work, state police, and the private security firm TigerSwan to surveil, spread misinformation, and arrest water protectors. The FBI joint terrorism task force (JTTF) has been documented attempting to interrogate three water protectors. A JTTF officer also went to the hospital room of Sophia Wilansky, who had her arm grievously injured by a concussion grenade shot by the police during protests, where the officer attempted to talk to her and stole her clothing. Energy Transfer Partners, the oil company building the pipeline across unseeded Lakota territory, has sued Greenpeace International, Earth First!, and other groups, accusing them of inciting terrorist actions, vandalism, causing loss of revenue, bad publicity, and operating corrupt organizations. ETP is seeking unspecified monetary damages, which would be tripled under U.S. racketeering laws; a court order barring the groups from further protests; and an order for the groups to return money to donors.

In April 2017, Swedish start-up hub Epicenter, which consists of 100 companies and 2,000 workers, started a program for employees to volunteer to be implanted with a microchip that functions as a swipe card to open doors, operate printers, make purchases at the café, login to computers, and more. In Wisconsin, Three Square Market/32M is the first US company to institute a voluntary program to implant employees with a RFID chip for similar purposes.

On March 8, the US House’s Education and Workforce Committee passed a bill, HR 1313 Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act, which would allow employers to collect genetic and health information of employees and their family members, and share that information with federal and state agencies in relation to receiving health care plan premium cost reductions from the government. If the bill passes the full US Congress, it would allow employers to require employees to submit to genetic testing in order to be enrolled in employee health care ‘wellness’ plans, and could lead to genetic discrimination by employers against employees. Presently, the 2008 genetic privacy and non-discrimination law prohibits employers from requiring employees to submit to genetic testing, although it does allow for ‘voluntary’ testing and gathering of employee genetic and health data.



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