Tag Archives: Massachusetts

This Is Mass Justice: SJC Requires Warrants For Cellphone Tower Data

On February 18, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declared that here in Massachusetts, state cops actually do have to get a warrant if they want to access your cellphone location data.

This is what an independent judiciary looks like. The Justices of our Supreme Judicial Court have withstood over half a century of New England winters. They have endured the long decades of the Curse of the Bambino. Their knotted muscles are carved from whalers’ scrimshaw. They are not to be messed with. The obsequious servants of the surveillance state on the FISA Court could learn a thing or two from them.

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One Ring To Rule Them All: Surveillance and the Massachusetts Governor’s Race

While most Massachusetts voters are digging out from a ferocious winter storm, state politics goes on. In particular, ten brave souls are running for this November’s election for Massachusetts governor – five Democrats, two Republicans and three Independents. It seems recently that candidates campaigning against the surveillance state have been getting some traction, probably because most people think there aren’t enough constraints on invasive government surveillance and like candidates better who promise to do something about it.

So, it’s worthwhile for us to do again what we did in the MA-05 race, and question the candidates closely on the kinds of surveillance topics the governor can affect. Notably, we’ll be covering the wiretapping expansion, state monitoring of social media, state retention of an array of data on people not suspected of any crime, the militarization of law enforcement, and warrant requirements.

We’ll report back here on the responses we receive, covering Republicans, Independents and Democrats separately. When all candidates of one affiliation have responded, we will post a comparison of their views.

Meanwhile, here are all of the candidates’ websites, for you to assess their positions on other issues. Enjoy!

Republicans: Baker, Fisher.
Independents: Falchuk, Faraone, McCormick
Democrats: Avellone, Berwick, Coakley, Grossman, Kayyem

DA Whitewashes Killing of Lynn Resident By Armed Intruders

After months of pressure, Essex County District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett has completed his investigation into the Sept. 5, 2013 killing of Army Specialist Denis Reynoso at his home in Lynn. Yesterday, he released his finding that police were justified in killing him. His findings could be summed up as, “Sure, he hadn’t committed any crime, and sure, the police came into his home without a warrant, but he was acting all cray-cray, so we’re good.”

DA Blodgett’s elaborate work of speculative fiction provides several specific reasons making it justifiable for armed intruders to have killed Spc. Reynoso in his home.

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Boston PD Suspends ALPR Program After Massive Privacy Violation

Just before Christmas, Muckrock and the ACLU of Massachusetts brought out excellent articles based on a full year of Muckrock’s investigative reporting into Boston PD’s use of automated license plate recognition technology.

ALPR systems automatically photograph and store in a police database the license plates of any car an ALPR-equipped police vehicle passes. The car may be parked or driving. It could be on the Pike, in a driveway, or anywhere a camera can reach. The question was, what does the Boston PD do with the mountain of data once it has it?

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MA-05: In their only debate, Clark and Addivinola spar over surveillance

Democratic nominee Katherine Clark and Republican nominee Frank Addivinola spent a substantial portion of their only televised debate sparring over privacy and surveillance. It has been great to see these issues playing such an important role in a Congressional campaign. However, there have been two less good outcomes, independent of who wins. First, it’s still not clear that either the Republican or the Democratic candidate will be skeptical enough about the claims of law enforcement and the intelligence agencies. Second, given that that’s so, it is unfortunate that the debate excluded the voices of the two independent candidates, Jim Aulenti and Jim Hall.

Here’s a transcript of the relevant section of the NECN debate, which is no longer available online. Our comments and fact-checking are in italics, and any significant commitments made by the candidates are in bold.

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Bring Us Back Food, Or Be Food Yourself: The FBI and Ayyub Abdul-Alim

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The Deep State requires terrorists as its food. Only by claiming, falsely, to thwart terrorist attacks before they happen, can the three-letter agencies justify their vast increases in budget, manpower and technology over the last ten years. The problem is that there’s just not enough terrorism to go around. On the amount of actual terrorism we have – which, excluding school shootings, has killed about thirty Americans in the last twelve years – you simply can’t justify NSA mass surveillance, 78 state-funded fusion centers, the massive and unnecessary DHS, or the ruinously expensive foreign adventures that have resulted in over 100,000 deaths and trillions of wasted dollars. If you can’t find enough terrorists, the obvious recourse – obvious, that is, if you have no decency and no actual love for justice – is to make your own terrorists. In Oregon and California and Ohio and New York and Massachusetts, the FBI has offered Muslims the same, terrible deal: Be our spy with your fellow Muslims, or we will ruin your life.

I have not come to this analysis lightly. It is a terrible observation to make about people who are supposed to protect us. But the bureaucratic imperative at work here is too powerful. Bring back a terrorist, and your career is made. Fail to find any, and people will start asking questions about why you need all those tax dollars to do your work.

Which brings us to the sad story of Amherst-born Springfield resident Ayyub Abdul-Alim – building manager, owner of the “Nature’s Garden” store, and the creator of “Connections Transportation”, which provided families with free commuter services to and from local prisons to visit their loved ones.

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Democratic process challenges use of DHS surveillance cameras

This is a guest post by Adam Weiss of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.

camera-500x333From 2008 to 2010, Boston and eight surrounding cities and towns installed surveillance cameras provided by a grant through the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Urban Areas Security Initiative. DHS’ website describes the cameras as part of a system that has “nine, independent and interoperable nodes tied together through a central hub and is made up of over 100 cameras.” The cameras were justified for the protection of “critical infrastructure” from terrorist attack, but their use has faced scrutiny from citizens concerned about threats to civil liberties. In Brookline and Cambridge, two municipalities covered by the grant, residents are using local governments to attempt to ban surveillance cameras.

Four members of Brookline’s Town Meeting, the two hundred and forty-five member legislature of the town government, are co-sponsoring a resolution calling on Brookline’s Board of Selectmen to remove all DHS-provided cameras. The resolution is expected to be voted on by Thursday, November 21. While the Town Meeting cannot set binding policy on the use of surveillance cameras, which is left to the Board of Selectmen, its role as the voice for public opinion can have major impact. In 2009, the Town Meeting passed a similar resolution, which led to a compromise with the Brookline Police Department that the cameras would only operate from 10 pm to 6 am. However, the Brookline police are seeking to implement a policy of 24-hour surveillance following the Boston Marathon bombing, which now has prompted four Town Meeting members to co-sponsor another resolution.

The proposed resolution states that mass surveillance is not appropriate for a free society, and further declares:

“Permanent surveillance cameras are another step in the wrong direction toward radically changing our sense of being a free society…While public places may not, in a technical legal sense, be places where we have an ‘expectation of privacy,’ the right to be let alone and not identified or tracked by the police is a fundamental aspect of a free society.”

One of those co-sponsors, Clint Richmond, expressed concern about the chilling effect surveillance cameras can have on the First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly, specifically citing that one camera is located at a popular site in Brookline for political activity. Richmond stated his belief that when people know they are under surveillance, their “behavior becomes inhibitive, impairing the right to free speech.”

Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty program at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts (ACLUM), has worked with Brookline PAX, a progressive organization of Brookline residents, providing community organizing support against the DHS cameras. Crockford conveyed her belief that the mass use of surveillance cameras foregoes more effective alternatives to reducing crime, since they do not deter crime and when perpetrators are caught after the fact, the vast majority of cases are for minor crimes, such as petty theft. She said it is thus “misleading” to claim that cameras can be effective at stopping terrorism. Another fear Crockford discussed was the “centralization of surveillance” provided by the cameras, since they are part of a larger network throughout Greater Boston, meaning they could potentially allow a person to be followed over a large geographical area.

Residents of Cambridge have thus far achieved the most success in limiting camera use of the nine Greater Boston municipalities that have them. As with Brookline, the Cambridge Police Department (CPD) also supports turning the cameras on twenty-four hours a day. However, in response to pressure from the Cambridge City Council, they have not been turned on at any point, despite being installed in 2009. The CPD recently published a draft policy for the use of the cameras, which was discussed at a public hearing on September 26, 2013. The ACLUM provided a statement at this meeting, which addressed the larger context of surveillance camera use, stating

“After 9/11, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security catalyzed a transfer of funds, technologies, strategies, and tactics from the military and intelligence worlds down to the state and local levels. These transfers are part of a larger, dangerous trend of powerful and largely unaccountable federal agencies conscripting local police to act as eyes and ears for the national surveillance state.”

The City Council is waiting for the CPD to release its final draft of a policy before voting again on the issue, which is likely to happen in early 2015. Melissa Gonzalez, a member of Cambridge’s Human Rights Commission, the town government agency responsible for investigating unlawful discrimination, said there was great concern that cameras were placed in neighborhoods that could be profiling people of specific ethnicities and religion. She also expressed concern that there was insufficient accountability for camera use if activated, because the CPD cites only its own internal review procedures to ensure appropriate usage.

The fate of the cameras in both municipalities remains uncertain, as the impact of the Boston Marathon bombing has affected many people’s attitudes towards surveillance cameras. Richmond says he expects the vote in Brookline this week to be very close. In Cambridge, it is unclear how the City Council will react to a final CPD policy on camera use. Nonetheless, both municipalities exemplify how the democratic process can be used to limit the growing surveillance state.

Justice for Army Spc. Denis Reynoso

We like to think that we’re safe in our homes, and that if we need the police, we can call on them to help protect us. That’s what we tell our children – I have two – and I’d like to think it was more consistently the truth than it is.

Today’s story comes from Lynn, MA, which in September saw an Army reservist shot to death in his home by police in front of his five-year-old son.

 

Army Spc. Denis Reynoso

Army Spc. Denis Reynoso

Police were called after Spc. Reynoso yelled at a man, who then drove away. Two police officers arrived at the Reynoso home on Newcastle Street in the King’s Lynne housing complex, and they appear to have entered the home without either a warrant or the permission of the residents, which would clearly violate the Fourth Amendment. The police version of events is that during the ensuing argument, Spc. Reynoso lunged for one of the police officers’ weapon, and fearing for their lives, the police fatally shot him. The family point out that there is no way to confirm that Spc. Reynoso did lunge for an officer’s gun, and no public information as to why he might do so; that he was unarmed, that they shot him anyway, and that they then searched the house for any drugs or contraband that would provide justification for their actions, without a warrant and without finding anything.

The excuse used by the police – that he “lunged” for the gun – is inherently unprovable. It’s such a hoary old chestnut when it comes to defending the indefensible that it has been immortalized in song. Perhaps that’s why they thought of it.

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MA-5: Addivinola and Clark tussle over surveillance, differ only on wiretapping bill *UPDATED*

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UPDATE: To reflect substantive changes in information received from the Addivinola campaign, the title of this article and portions of the analysis have been changed to more accurately reflect Councillor Addivinola’s positions.

The primaries are over, and two very different candidates are facing off in the December 10 general election: State Senator Katherine Clark (D) and Frank Addivinola (R). Both candidates have responded to the Digital Fourth questionnaire on surveillance issues, so we can compare their positions directly and in their own words.

We gave the same questionnaire to all seven Democratic primary candidates, but the strongest opponents of government surveillance (Long, Sciortino and Spilka) did not make it through the primary. Here are the results for the remaining two candidates.

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SJC Reviewing Warrant Requirement for Historic Cell Phone Location Data

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Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court is soliciting amicus briefs from interested parties in two cases highly relevant to electronic privacy.

First up is Commonwealth vs. Shabazz Augustine, where they seek to establish:

“whether there is a warrant requirement for cell phone records collected and held by the phone company, namely historic cell site location information, sought by police to establish a person’s location at various times.”

The case is attracting heavyweight legal attention from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who have already filed an amicus brief, assisted by local information activist, Harvard legal scholar and all-around side-of-the-angels guy Kit Walsh. It will most likely be argued on October 10.

The question underlying the case is whether we all have a reasonable expectation of privacy in our movements as recorded by a third party. In the context of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, this depends on whether the person moving can be said to have abandoned all proprietary interest in the record of their movements that is held by their cell phone company. Supreme Court precedents from the 1980s indicate that people have no reasonable expectation of privacy in this kind of telephonic “metadata”, but those rulings look increasingly out of date in a technological context where cellphone metadata can reveal a great deal more about you than the metadata associated with a 1980s landline could. EFF’s amicus brief reports that the lower court ruled that cellphone subscribers cannot be said to have “voluntarily conveyed” their interest in data on their movements to a third party simply because that party holds the data, and asks the SJC to let that part of the lower court ruling stand.

As is the case with the Supreme Court, it is worrying that the Supreme Judicial Court has accepted the case for review. The best outcome for defenders of digital privacy would have been for it to allow the lower court ruling to stand, and their acceptance indicates a significant risk of its being overturned. We urge the Supreme Judicial Court to heed the arguments of EFF’s amicus brief, and to err, if they err, on the side of liberty.

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