Fund Your Utopia Without Me.™

01 August 2013

So, Yeah, They Are Collecting And Reviewing More Than Just Your 'Metadata'

Embedded image permalink

More than metadata...

Over at, Billy Preston writes:

''What happened was this: At about 9:00 am, 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.

Quinoa is one of the healthiest foods ever, but that’s beside the point here.'

That’s Michele Catalano, formerly of the blog A Small Victory, writing above. For what it’s worth, A Small Victory was an anti-terrorism blog, among other things.

So who were the men in the SUV, and why did they show up at her house? They were members of a “joint terrorism task force.” They showed up and peppered Catalano’s husband with questions and searched their house evidently because while Michele was in one part of the house Googling pressure cookers to figure out how to cook lentils a few weeks back, her husband was Googling backpacks on a computer in another part of the house, because he was looking to buy a backpack.

Googling pressure cookers and backpacks, after Boston, apparently earns an American citizen — on whom the NSA is forbidden by law to spy — a casually terrifying visit from armed government men driving around in SUVs. The men told Catalano’s husband that they conduct about 100 similar visits to American households per week.

Yet, the Tsarnaevs somehow flew under the radar.

How are government officials putting search histories together on people who haven’t broken any laws? Just how much information is the government collecting on all of us? If the information state is as pervasive as Catalano’s experience suggests it is, the potential for misuse and abuse is staggering. This isn’t a Republican thing or a Democrat thing or a Libertarian or libertarian thing — it’s an American thing.

Simply put, we’re not really free in our own homes anymore.

But, 'NSA! NSA! NSA!'


Right, fat man and you 'I'm more than willing to give up my stuff and be safe than to be free' peeps?


From The Atlantic Wire:

By Phillip Bump

Michele Catalano was looking for information online about pressure cookers. Her husband, in the same time frame, was Googling backpacks. Wednesday morning, six men from a joint terrorism task force showed up at their house to see if they were terrorists. Which prompts the question: How'd the government know what they were Googling?

Catalano (who is a professional writer) describes the tension of that visit.

[T]hey 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. ...

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.
The men identified themselves as members of the "joint terrorism task force." The composition of such task forces depend on the region of the country, but, as we outlined after the Boston bombings, include a variety of federal agencies. (The photo above is from the door-to-door sweep in Watertown at that time.) Among those agencies: the FBI and Homeland Security.


Update, 3:40 p.m.: It is still not clear which agency knocked on Catalano's door. The Guardian reported this morning that an FBI spokesperson said that "she was visited by Nassau County police department … working in conjunction with Suffolk County police department." (Catalano apparently lives on Long Island, most likely in Nassau County.)

Detective Garcia of the Nassau County Police, however, told The Atlantic Wire by phone that his department was "not involved in any way." Similarly, FBI spokesperson Peter Donald confirmed with The Atlantic Wire that his agency wasn't involved in the visit. He also stated that he could not answer whether or not the agency provided information that led to the visit, as he didn't know.

Local and state authorities work jointly with federal officials on terror investigations similar to the one Catalano describes. Both Suffolk and Nassau County's police departments are members of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), Donald confirmed. Suffolk County is also home to a "fusion center," a regionally located locus for terror investigations associated with the Department of Homeland Security. It wasn't the JTTF that led to the visit at Catalano's house, Donald told us. The task force deputizes local authorities as federal marshals, including some in Suffolk and Nassau, who can then act on its behalf. But, Donald said, "officers, agents, or other representatives of the JTTF did not visit that location."

Calls asking for a response from the Suffolk Police Department and the Department of Homeland Security have not been returned.

Ever since details of the NSA's surveillance infrastructure were leaked by Edward Snowden, the agency has been insistent on the boundaries of the information it collects. It is not, by law, allowed to spy on Americans — although there are exceptions of which it takes advantage. Its PRISM program, under which it collects internet content, does not include information from Americans unless those Americans are connected to terror suspects by no more than two other people. It collects metadata on phone calls made by Americans, but reportedly stopped collecting metadata on Americans' internet use in 2011. So how, then, would the government know what Catalano and her husband were searching for?

It's possible that one of the two of them is tangentially linked to a foreign terror suspect, allowing the government to review their internet activity. After all, that "no more than two other people" ends up covering millions of people. Or perhaps the NSA, as part of its routine collection of as much internet traffic as it can, automatically flags things like Google searches for "pressure cooker" and "backpack" and passes on anything it finds to the FBI.

Or maybe it was something else. On Wednesday, The Guardian reported on XKeyscore, a program eerily similar to Facebook search that could clearly allow an analyst to run a search that picked out people who'd done searches for those items from the same location. How those searches got into the government's database is a question worth asking; how the information got back out seems apparent.

It is also possible that there were other factors that prompted the government's interest in Catalano and her husband. He travels to Asia, she notes in her article. Who knows. Which is largely Catalano's point.

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.
One hundred times a week, groups of six armed men drive to houses in three black SUVs, conducting consented-if-casual searches of the property perhaps in part because of things people looked up online.

But the NSA doesn't collect data on Americans, so this certainly won't happen to you.

NSA Helpful Tips of the Day:

Always engage in Synchronised Searches wit your housemates.  Combo 'Puter Searches can be a pre-crime.

*  Searching for a rice cooker online can trigger the 'Rice, Rice, Baby! ringtone alert at the NSA.  Keep Calm And Look At Crockpots Instead!  

* All your Google searches belong to us...unless you're an actual terrorist like the Brothers Tsarnaev.


No comments: