Tag Archives: Bric

State Report Tells Schoolkids: Inform, Conform, and Trust the Police

"La Cucaracha", August 26, 2013, by Lalo Alcaraz

“La Cucaracha”, August 26, 2013, by Lalo Alcaraz

Following on from the Sandy Hook school shooting, the “Massachusetts Task Force on School Safety and Security” released a report in July. As you’d expect from a report written with plenty of police input and none from the civil liberties community, it recommends changes that are highly intrusive, probably ineffective, definitely expensive, and likely to benefit police more than they benefit students.

Of course, that’s not how it’s being reported. Local papers, including my own, are portentously explaining how this is all “for the kids” and will “keep them safe” (I’d link to the Belmont Citizen-Herald’s exhaustive coverage, but it’s not up yet).

The most important thing to understand regarding school shootings is that school districts can’t prevent them. I wish they could, but they can’t. School shootings happen far too much in the US, largely because we spend too little on mental health services and allow, as a matter of constitutional principle, broad access to guns. School shootings also tend to happen more in rural and suburban districts where the schools are pretty much the only place that will grab the attention of the whole community.

Nothing school districts can do will change these things. However, in fear that they ought to be doing something, it’s very possible for school districts to misdirect funds better spent on education, and impose inappropriate systems of surveillance and control.

Let’s look anew, with a critical eye, at what’s being suggested.

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MA Fusion Center Reform Stalls Out

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Digital Fourth’s second major campaign is to close the fusion centers, which are like mini-NSAs that gather data on residents’ “suspicious activities” in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Now, the major fusion center reform bill in the Massachusetts legislature has died in committee. In this post, we’re exploring why the Free Speech Act was important, and the challenges that lie ahead for fusion center reform in the Commonwealth.

Fusion centers aim to “encourage effective, efficient, ethical, lawful, and professional intelligence and information sharing; and prevent and reduce the harmful effects of crime and terrorism.” In practice, thanks to devastating reporting by the ACLU and by the US Senate, we know that their “Suspicious Activity Reports” (SARs) system has never actually thwarted a terrorist attack; that they routinely spy on peaceful dissidents and collect unverified, sometimes racially motivated gossip; and that the ocean of data on which they rely is so vast that they cannot prioritize and synthesize it in a timely way. Our own report on Massachusetts’ Commonwealth Fusion Center uses their own documents to demonstrate major threats to Constitutional protections from the fusion centers’ work.

To his everlasting credit, Rep. (now Sen.) Jason Lewis introduced the Free Speech Act (prior analysis here) to deal with some of these issues. Sadly, the Judiciary Committee has not moved forward with that bill this session, though they advanced another important but less controversial electronic privacy bill.

This points up two problems, even in Massachusetts, of fusion center reform. One, it’s hard to get people up to speed on fusion centers. They’re a very low-profile part of the surveillance state. People get more easily fired up about the NSA, because it has been all over the news for a year, but it’s hard to grasp the fact that every state government is complicit in mass surveillance and has the power to defund their own mass surveillance efforts. The evidence is already out there for lawmakers not only to advance the Free Speech Act, but to wonder whether it goes far enough; but both fusion centers in Massachusetts have so far failed to respond to our FOIA requests seeking transparency into their activities.

Sen. Lewis comments:

[the Free Speech Act] “is an important step in reining in the data collection of fusion centers, and would protect individuals from the collection of data relative to those activities covered by the First Amendment. It is critical that we strike the right balance between security and privacy protections, and I believe that this legislation accomplishes just that. I am eager to continue to move forward with this legislation, either this year, or upon filing it again next session.”

No Way To Complain = No Complaints = No Problem!

Boston’s fusion center, the Boston Regional Intelligence Center, no longer hosts their privacy policy on their website – I was told that it was “under review” and that the new policy will be posted when it’s ready – so it’s lucky for all of us that the ACLU of Massachusetts has a copy of the policy. And it’s a doozy.

If you’re worried about the fusion center’s privacy practices, and that it may have gathered information on you that it shouldn’t, then you’re essentially out of luck. Sure, you can write to them (the address is Boston Regional Intelligence Center, Boston Police Department, Privacy Committee, One Schroeder Plaza, Boston, MA 02120, (617) 343-4328), but the Privacy Policy specifies that the only complaints they will accept or review are those where:

… an individual has a complaint with regard to the accuracy or completeness of terrorism-related protected information that:
(a) Is exempt from disclosure,
(b) Has been or may be shared through the ISE [Information Sharing Environment], or
(c) (1) Is held by the BRIC and
(2) Allegedly has resulted in demonstrable harm to the complainant

So, in essence, before a complaint can even be reviewed about a given piece of information, the complainant has to know what information the fusion center holds on them, and has to be able to make an allegation of “demonstrable harm” – harm, that is, in the eyes of the BRIC. And there’s no procedure for complaining about the collection of monstrous quantities of data in the first place – only for circumstances where they have collected, and acted upon, something provably false about you personally.

That’s some catch, that catch-22.

Wonder how many people have successfully complained?

And by definition, if nobody’s complaining, they must be respecting our privacy, right?

In fact, they’re respecting our privacy so much, that they are aggregating data from the following sources (this is just the ones they’re acknowledging, summarized from the list in the appendix of their privacy policy):

“Telephone analysis software”, state crime information systems, national crime information systems, the state drivers’ license database, the Lexis-Nexis “Accurint” database, Thomson-Reuters’ “CLEAR” database [now integrated with Palantir!], “intelligence data” [up to and possibly including unminimized data collected via FISA], the Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISS) System, the Law Enforcement Online system, the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) System, jail management databases, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) System, state sex offender registries, “crime-specific listservs”, RSS readers, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) Program database, EPIC hospital records, the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) database, state corrections/probation databases systems, and juvenile justice databases.

Based on information provided by BRIC employees on their LinkedIn profiles (thanks, guys!), we can also determine that the BRIC has access to gang databases, information from the Department of Youth Services, and “medical intelligence”, defined by the Department of Defense as “That category of intelligence resulting from collection, evaluation, analysis, and interpretation of foreign medical, bio-scientific, and environmental information that is of interest to strategic planning and to military medical planning and operations for the conservation of the fighting strength of friendly forces and the formation of assessments of foreign medical capabilities in both military and civilian sectors.”

So if you’ve never made an electronic financial transaction, never used the phone, never had a drivers’ license, never communicated with somebody abroad, never been in trouble with the law, never used drugs, and never been to a hospital abroad for treatment, then congratulations: you’re probably not in the fusion center’s database, and you still have a Fourth Amendment. And for the rest of us, they have records on you, that they aren’t going to allow you to review, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Why should you be concerned?

In related news, the BRIC is changing its slogan to “Share and Enjoy.”

Commonwealth Fusion Center Violates Constitution, New Report Says

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Massachusetts has two “fusion centers”, mostly state-funded, which aggregate enormous amounts of data on innocent Massachusetts residents, with the notion of preventing terrorist attacks. When you call the “See Something, Say Something” line, the information goes into “Suspicious Activity Reports.” The ACLU of Massachusetts documented that the Boston fusion center (“BRIC”) had actually spent its time harassing peaceful activists rather than thwarting terrorism, which is one of the reasons why there will be nationwide protests against fusion centers on April 10, including in Boston.

In response to the ACLU revelations, Rep. Jason Lewis (now the newly elected Sen. Jason Lewis) filed a fusion center reform bill on Beacon Hill. Disconcerted at the prospect of more sunshine on their work, the Commonwealth Fusion Center, the fusion center in Maynard, offered him and other legislators a courtesy tour of their facility, to try to explain what good work they were doing. As an example of that work, they cited their First Amendment-violating harassment of an Arlington man who was not actually planning any violent crime, but who had tweeted about it being a good idea to shoot statists. They also provided to Rep. Lewis copies of various policies that they follow, including their Privacy Policy (updated 06.13.2013) and their policy on First Amendment investigations. Rep. Lewis then asked Digital Fourth to evaluate the policies they had provided, to assess whether they were constitutional. We enthusiastically agreed, and the resulting report is here.

Here are our main recommendations:

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Globe reports on Saturday’s NSA/fusion center picnic

Michael Morisy at the Globe reports:

With speeches, flyers, and some family friendly songs, a few dozen protesters joined outside the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC) yesterday to push back against what they said were increasingly invasive government intrusions into individuals’ privacy.

The event was dubbed an Orwell Day protest, after George Orwell’s 1984 (the date was 8/4), a novel about a totalitarian regime that maintains control largely through an aggressive surveillance program.

“I believe in the constitution, I believe in the Fourth Amendment,” said Alex Marthews, founder of Digital Fourth, a non-profit which advocates for strong Fourth Amendment protections and a strong emphasis on privacy. He blasted BRIC as an ineffective institution that wasted time and money investigating peace activists and graffiti artists rather than more serious threats.

“An agency that does no good and wastes your money should be closed,” he said.

Maximum attendance was around 75, which was much larger than the first event – looks like the movement is growing. Here’s full footage of the first hour, featuring great speeches from Steve Revilak of the Mass Pirates and Joan Livingston of Veterans for Peace. Many thanks to the activists from #MassOps and Restore the Fourth Boston who put the event together!

NSA Resistance Picnic, SW Corridor Park by Boston Police HQ, Sunday 8/4, 3-6pm

Join #MassOps, Restore the Fourth, and the Massachusetts Pirates on Sunday, August 4th (19-8/4) in the SW Corridor Park behind Boston Police HQ and the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC), just round the corner from the Ruggles T stop on the Orange Line. There will be food, training in cryptographic techniques, barbecue, and a series of great speakers.

swcorridorpark

Confirmed speakers include: Alex Marthews – President, Digital Fourth (that’d be me); Kinetic Theorist – Founder, MassOps; Chris Faraone – Journalist, Author, Mensch; Nadeem Mazen – Candidate, Cambridge City Council; Kade Crockford – ACLU activist; Jeffrey Nunes – Occupy activist; (Name withheld by request) – Activist targeted by the BRIC; Steve Revilak – Quartermaster, Mass Pirate Party; Joan Livingston – Veterans for Peace; Dan Consigli – Student; + Gabriel Camacho of the American Friends Service Committee.

From 5pm-6pm, the Mass Pirates will hold a “Cryptoparty”. Bring your laptops and find out how to protect yourself and your data from the surveillance state; if you have them, bring binoculars (quis custodet ipsos custodes?).

For background on the fusion centers issue, and on how they spy on innocent Boston residents and label them as extremists, see our previous reporting here.

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July 4, 10am: Restore The Fourth MA!

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Over 150 people are already coming to the rally to Restore the Fourth tomorrow in Boston. Thousands more will be rallying across the country. But this is Massachusetts. We invented the Fourth Amendment, and people will be watching Boston more than any other city tomorrow. Come with us and let the government know that we don’t need their fearmongering, and will not allow them to take our liberties.

Schedule
09:00 – 10:00: Gathering outside the Old State House in preparation for the day.
10:00 – 11:00: Listening reverently to the Declaration of Independence. Be respectful: save the protesting for after.
11:00 – 12:00: Talking with the crowds that gathered for the reading, followed by a peaceful “Cease and Desist” action at mobile stores to protest at their cooperation with the NSA. Then to Boston Common.
12:00 – 13:00: We’ll be demonstrating on the Common, as well as gathering signatures against the upcoming MA wiretapping bill. This bill aims to expand the Commonwealth’s use of electronic surveillance against its residents.
13:00 – 14:00: Make our way to Dewey Square.
14:30 – 17:00: March throughout Boston including Faneuil Hall and the Esplanade.

What to bring
Water (in clear plastic containers)
Fliers if you can print them (don’t print too many, they’ll likely get thrown away)
SIGNS. Lots of signs. Here are some ideas we came up with for some slogans.
Restore the Fourth!
No Warrant, No Search
Repeal the Patriot Act / NDAA
Don’t Spy on Me
Abolish DHS
No “Random” Searches
Save Edward Snowden
No Secret Courts

A Helpful PSA from the Boston Regional Intelligence Center

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Here at the Boston Regional Intelligence Center, we have watched in sorrow as misinformation about our work to defend America and keep Americans safe here in America has appeared in certain scurrilous publications. We felt it was important to get the truth out about what we do and why we do it.

Some crypto-Marxist at the Jamaica Plain Gazette decided to ask this week why we were busy tracking the activities of local peace activists and the Occupy movement, instead of, say, paying attention to intelligence reports we had received from Russia about some guy called Tsarnasomethin Whatshisface.

God, you people! It’s like you think that just because we’ve taken billions of your dollars and told you we’ll use it to prevent terror attacks, you expect us to actually prevent them!

Allow us to break it down for you point-missing morons.

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#MassOps Fusion Center Protest Rally: BRIC, Boston, June 1, 2:30pm

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#MassOps, supported by the Defend the Fourth Coalition and Digital Fourth, are putting together a protest rally at the Boston Regional Intelligence Center. This is located at the headquarters of Boston PD, at One Schroeder Plaza, Roxbury, MA 02120. The rally is at 2:30pm, and there’s a pub crawl starting around 6:00-6:30pm.

For background on fusion centers and why they are so dangerous to our liberty, check out this prior article. If you want to RSVP, you can contact the organizers directly here.

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