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Author Topic: Remember how NSA-type surveillance would "never be used" for domestic law enforcement
Seneca
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How often were we assured by the NSA that the technology of scooping up all electronic data in an area would never be used for domestic law enforcement and it was only to root out foreign terrorists?

Say hello to StingRay.

Note the fun NDA clause that the manufacturer had with agencies and departments that buy it and use it (at least until they leaked then they retconned the rationale and current policy).

quote:
The NSA isn’t the only government agency raising concerns about electronic privacy. Local police departments are coming under similar scrutiny – not only for using spying technology, but for hiding their use from the public.

At least 25 police departments now use what is known as "Stingray," a briefcase-sized box that swallows up cell phone data within a mile radius.

More than one in three large police departments are also using license-plate readers, which can record every plate -- even on a four-lane highway – from vehicles going at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour.

The technology is a remarkable crime-fighting tool, according to former D.C. homicide detective Rod Wheeler.

"Not just automobile thefts, but homicides, all kinds of robberies, so the technology is definitely something that's an asset to us," he said.

But in a May 1 article, Wired magazine reported that Harris Corporation, maker of the Stingray, and Vigilant Solutions, which sells license-plate readers, holds its police department buyers to vows of secrecy.

It reported that Vigilant's terms of service says: "This prohibition is specifically intended to prohibit users from cooperating with any media outlet.”

Lon Anderson, with AAA, raised concerns about this provision.

"It's very worrisome,” he said. “I think we want police agencies to be as transparent as possible. There shouldn't be anything to hide here."

He added: "They are using technology that are supported widely because of their proven ability to reduce crime."

Vigilant today told Fox News that its confidentiality policy has changed and that the Wired article was outdated. It said that buyers only need to "check" with Vigilant now before they discuss the technology with the media.

It added in a statement: "This is a common practice in the area of law enforcement technology, since criminals often manipulate publicly available information to avoid detection and capture."

But the two technologies raise broader questions about 4th Amendment protections. Last year, then-Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued an opinion on license-plate readers that said data cannot be collected unless directly related to a criminal case.

The opinion was not binding. Many jurisdictions in Virginia and beyond still retain the data for years.

The last major legislation governing electronic privacy was passed in 1986, before these technologies existed. Courts have ruled differently regarding their use. Settled law is difficult to arrive at, as technological change is turning faster than the wheels of justice.

The next time you're rolling down the street talking on your hands-free device, just remember the local sheriff might be listening in too or watching which restaurant or movie showing you're looking up on your phone. Hopefully he's not a pervert or a stalker or a burglar.

Remember, this is your government. I wonder how many local LEO levies were passed to buy this gear and what they actually said it was for on the ballot given that the NDA from the manufacturer prevented them from disclosing its existence to the public.

I'm curious, if the NSA wasn't setting such a sterling example, does anyone think this would have still happened?

[ May 03, 2014, 02:06 PM: Message edited by: Seneca ]

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Pyrtolin
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You seem to be confused. The assurance was that the NSA metadata wouldn't be arbitrarily browsed as a source of primary evidence; that law enforcement seeking to use that information would need to file for the appropriate warrants, etc... to do specific searches for cases underway and couldn't simply arbitrarily sift through it.

That domestic law enforcement agencies are investing in pretty obvious technological innovations that help them conduct their business outside of that particular program isn't really all that surprising.

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Seneca
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The concept of the tech is essentially the same: scoop up all data in an area and comb through it to the LEO's heart's content to see what they can find, no specific warrants.

You would NOT be seeing local law enforcement even coming within 100 miles of this if the NSA hadn't tread there first and de-sensitized the public to the fact it's a blatant violation of the 4th Amendment.

Part of the way the public "accepted" what the NSA was doing was that they supposedly promised that this kind of law enforcement tactic would never be used for domestic policing. As you can see, the slippery slope was very slippery and after years of being spied-on en-masse by the feds, local police feel like the public shouldn't care that they are doing it too.

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Pyrtolin
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What legislature has passed laws prohibiting police departments from using such technology or what court has actually ruled that they're 4th amendment violations? The fundamental rule of thumb on just about any such thing is that they're legal until explicitly restricted. Police departments have started using such technology because they've reached the point were they cost less than they save, similar to what drives any business toward technological adoption unless explicitly stopped.

You can _speculate_ that such things will be found to be 4th amendment violations, but those are your speculations, not formal court rulings.

There's a lot of law and caselaw that need to be developed to account for the way technology is changing people's expectations, but until we manage to formally get a handle on it and experiment enough to find where the new lines to be draw, it shouldn't come as any surprise that any industry will be motivated to adopt cost saving technology that it's not actively blocked from accessing.

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Seneca
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You're joking right?

http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/16/justice/nsa-surveillance-court-ruling/

quote:
"I cannot imagine a more 'indiscriminate' and 'arbitrary invasion' than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval," said Leon, an appointee of President George W. Bush. "Surely, such a program infringes on 'that degree of privacy' that the Founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment."
Leon's ruling said the "plaintiffs in this case have also shown a strong likelihood of success on the merits of a Fourth Amendment claim," adding "as such, they too have adequately demonstrated irreparable injury."

It is essentially the same situation, on a smaller scale. Mass-data interception/wiretaps of thousands/millions of citizens in an area with no judicial approval of warrants before-hand.

Far from your silly and absurd statement that this is my personal speculation, this is already well-established as unconstitutional by the court system and by anyone with common sense.

[ May 04, 2014, 02:13 AM: Message edited by: Seneca ]

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Pyrtolin
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By current standard, police system above is no different than monitoring ham radio, or cb traffic. It's not even clear that such a system could monitor the actual content of individual calls that it collected data on, since the that would probably involve cracking whatever encryption is used, since they aren't getting it after the tower has decided it. It's all openly broadcasted signals at the moment. The license plate system is even less remarkable; it's something police already can do on a one off basis, just automated to increase the practical volume of checks they can make.
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Seneca
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Wow. So you throw out a completely untrue claim that this isn't established as unconstitutional in a court and I was merely spouting my opinion, then I show how you're completely wrong and you just casually roll on ignoring the court opinion to talk about how you think it's ok anyway...

It looks like YOU are the one making personal speculations while the body of law and Constitutional jurisprudence is against you.

I have a feeling when the NSA finally gets to SCOTUS it will cover this as well.

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Pyrtolin
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You provided noting to show that the police systems noted above have been found unconstitutional-you posted a completely unrelated ruling from an immediate court that suggests that there is a good chance that SCotUS will find the NSA collection program unconstitutional.

Nice try at misdirection there, but you're still begging the wisdom when you try to assert that there is any relationship between them. The SC won't have the jurisdiction to rule on the police systems above I'm the NSA ruling as the only nominally similarity between them is that they use somewhat modern technology

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Seneca
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quote:
Originally posted by Pyrtolin:
You provided noting to show that the police systems noted above have been found unconstitutional-you posted a completely unrelated ruling from an immediate court that suggests that there is a good chance that SCotUS will find the NSA collection program unconstitutional.

Nice try at misdirection there, but you're still begging the wisdom when you try to assert that there is any relationship between them. The SC won't have the jurisdiction to rule on the police systems above I'm the NSA ruling as the only nominally similarity between them is that they use somewhat modern technology

I had a lot of trouble understanding that, can you try again?

I THINK you are denying that a federal court found that the large-scale scooping up of cellphone data was unconstitutional? How would this also not apply to police using a box to scoop up all cellphone data in an area? It is basically the same thing. However I could be wrong about what you meant given how difficult it was to understand your post.

[ May 04, 2014, 11:08 PM: Message edited by: Seneca ]

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Seneca
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It seems there is at least one confirmed case of a police department getting caught using this in my area. On a TV interview a department spokesman actually said that people have no expectation of privacy if they use a cellphone, even though SCOTUS has recently ruled that they do. The FBI has advised all police departments to keep quiet that they're using this and to minimize it's use to get evidence for a court case and always deny having it so they can't get sued over it or it makes suing them harder.

It's also a good article describing more on how it works. It also appears that the police sold the city council on the idea by telling them it was for detecting bombs and jamming IED signals.

http://www.thenewstribune.com/2014/08/26/3347665/documents-tacoma-police-using.html

quote:
The Tacoma Police Department apparently has bought — and quietly used for six years — controversial surveillance equipment that can sweep up records of every cellphone call, text message and data transfer up to a half a mile away.

You don’t have to be a criminal to be caught in this law enforcement snare. You just have to be near one and use a cellphone.

Known as Stingray, the device — small enough to be carried in a car — tricks cellphones into thinking it’s a cell tower and draws in their information.

News that the city was using the surveillance equipment surprised City Council members, who approved an update for a device last year, and prosecutors, defense attorneys and even judges, who in court deal with evidence gathered using the surveillance equipment.

“If they use it wisely and within limits, that’s one thing,” said Ronald Culpepper, the presiding judge of Pierce County Superior Court, when informed of the device Tuesday. “I would certainly personally have some concerns about just sweeping up information from non-involved and innocent parties — and to do it with a whole neighborhood? That’s concerning.”

For years, a growing number of local law enforcement agencies have used the surveillance devices to track a cell signal to deduce a subject’s location, who he communicates with, for how long and how often.

Law enforcement investigators can use the technology to find drug dealers and violent criminals. Civil libertarians charge police also are secretly scooping up data from innocent people during these broad searches for suspects.

No state or local law enforcement agency in Washington state has acknowledged possessing the required surveillance devices. Tacoma Police Department has not confirmed that it has a Stingray, but Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said Tuesday that the Police Department sometimes assists the sheriff’s office with the device.

Documents — including purchase orders, invoices, contracts and even a police newsletter — further make the case that Tacoma officials will not.

Police Chief Don Ramsdell, through a spokeswoman, declined an interview request to talk about the police department’s apparent purchase of a Stingray device and associated technology. The department cited a nondisclosure agreement it has with the FBI.

The police department did offer to have a lieutenant review The News Tribune’s questions but only if they were submitted in advance so that they could be vetted to determine whether they violated the FBI agreement. The newspaper sent questions, and the department said it would respond Wednesday (Aug. 27).

Earlier this month, city officials blacked out portions of relevant purchase documents requested by The News Tribune.

Deputy City Attorney Michael Smith redacted much of the identifying information on a May 2013 invoice for the equipment, saying disclosure “would allow the identification of confidential pieces of technology.”

However, unredacted portions of those public records as well as other documents reviewed by The News Tribune indicate the Police Department has had the ability to wirelessly search neighborhoods since as early as 2008.

The Police Department appears to have updated its equipment last year with money authorized by a City Council whose members now say they didn’t know what they were buying.

“I’ve got to find out what I voted on before I comment,” Councilman David Boe said Monday. “This is new information.”


The devices are indiscriminate in the information they collect, and that bothers civil libertarians.

“They are essentially searching the homes of innocent Americans to find one phone used by one person,” said Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist with the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C. “It’s like they’re kicking down the doors of 50 homes and searching 50 homes because they don’t know where the bad guy is.”

City Manager T.C. Broadnax said he does not know the specifics of what the police department bought. But he believes the department “adequately briefed the City Council on the particulars of what we were buying and how and when they would use it under certain circumstances.”

“I’m not in law enforcement, but it’s my impression that it assists them in doing their job more effectively, and that’s to protect the public,” Broadnax said.

Mayor Marilyn Strickland said it doesn’t bother her that she wasn’t told the full capabilities of the device. She is comfortable with the Police Department having it — as long as they also protect civil liberties.

“If our law enforcement need access to information to prevent crime or keep us safe, that’s a legitimate use of the technology,” she said. “We are more focused on preventing crime and keeping our community safe than getting in people’s business.”

One City Council member said the Police Department’s purchase of surveillance equipment doesn’t concern him.

Councilman Joe Lonergan said he wasn’t told about the purchase he helped approve last year but said the police using such a device wouldn’t surprise him.

“There are lots of things, I imagine, not that I know about, that you don’t want to tell everyone how you process your investigation,” he said. “That’s why information on investigations are always slow to come out.”

Four members of the City Council — Marty Campbell, Anders Ibsen, Robert Thoms and Lauren Walker — could not be reached for comment. Councilwoman Victoria Woodards said she needed to check with the city manager for more information.

RECORDS DOCUMENT STINGRAY BUYS

Tacoma police officials might not want to talk about cellphone surveillance devices, which commonly are known as Stingrays, a popular model manufactured by Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Florida.

But public records tell part of the story.

A city memo last year in which the Police Department sought to bypass competitive bidding requirements is the first clue.

The memo cites the need to update equipment “utilized by Special Investigations in support of field operations for criminal investigations” and states that “current Harris Corporation technology owned by TPD was received through a Department of Justice (DOJ) Law Enforcement Grant Award in 2007.”

A few months later in 2008, the federal government sent the city via FedEx overnight a Stingray and a similar Harris Corp. device, called a Kingfish, according to documents posted this month on Muckrock, a website that helps people file public records requests.

The equipment was given under a federal program — the Counterdrug Technology Assessment Center, Technology Transfer Program — that provides equipment to local law enforcement agencies to fight the drug trade. It was shipped to police Detective Jeffrey Shipp.

In 2008, the city named Shipp an employee of the month in another apparent indication of the city’s pursuit of Stingray technology.

Shipp was praised in an employee newsletter “for his work in procuring a $450,000 training and equipment grant for a cellular phone tracking system — one of only five awarded across the country. Great job!”

The detective’s name showed up yet again in a March 2013 Police Department request to spend $251,752 to upgrade its Harris Corp. equipment. Most of the money — $188,814 — came from a federal port security grant through the Department of Homeland Security.

Shipp and Chief Ramsdell sold the purchase to the City Council as a boon to Tacoma’s bomb squad.

Ramsdell wrote in a memo to the city’s purchasing department: “This new equipment offers enhanced technological capabilities for the Tacoma Police Department Explosives Ordinance Detail (EOD) with IED (improvised explosive device) prevention, protection, response and recovery measures.”

But left unredacted on a May 2013 invoice for the purchase was this telling explanation for why the city was getting a laptop free of charge: “This $3,500 valued Laptop PC is included in the cost of the Stingray II Enhancement.”

Technically, the Stingray could be used to find someone with a cellphone who wants to set off an IED, or jam cell signals in an area, but that’s not its primary purpose.

“Chances are the city of Tacoma is not using it to find IEDs,” said Soghoian of the ACLU. “They’re using it to get drug dealers.”

The City Council unanimously approved buying the equipment March 19, 2013. Council members apparently did not know that the technology was not created to detect bombs.

Councilman Ryan Mello said he remembers talking with police about a grant relating to port security and improvised explosive devices, but not about cellphone surveillance.

“This is the first I’m hearing of it,” he said.

The Police Department should have disclosed what the device was really for, Mello said.

“I would expect that there would be policies in place about how people’s information, whether it’s sensitive or not, how people’s information is handled and used,” he said.

But the city manager insists that council members were told. For council members who do not remember the briefing, “I question what their recollection is. It’s been over a year since they got briefed on it,” Broadnax said.

HOW IT WORKS

In gathering information, a Stingray device exploits a flaw in cellphone signal security.

Cellphones seek the strongest cell tower signal, and a Stingray pretends to be a cell tower with a strong signal.

Soghoian of the ACLU described the process as a high-tech game of “Marco Polo.”

The Stingray sends a signal: “Marco.” All cellphones within range, not just the ones police are seeking, are compelled to respond: “Polo.”

The phones are tricked into passing data through government equipment before going to a legitimate cellphone tower — and the cellphone’s owner has no idea what happened.

Deployed in tandem with analytical software, such cellphone surveillance technology could be used by police to analyze massive amounts of metadata — who you call or text, when you contact them and for how long you talk — to determine associations between groups of people.

One maker of such software is Pen-Link of Lincoln, Nebraska. Purchasing records show Pierce County paid $8,400 for a year’s access to Pen-Link software as recently as 2012.

“Software is installed on Tacoma Police Department network for regional intelligence group,” the entry reads.

Sheriff’s spokesman Troyer said the county first bought the software in 2005 as part of a terrorism prevention program. The department uses the software as an investigative tool by analyzing data lawfully obtained through a warrant, he said.

In February, the Tacoma police bought software from another data-analysis company, Verint of Melville, New York, for $51,727, purchasing records show.

The Police Department’s purchase last year of updated Stingray technology appears to have ensured it can continue to track cellphones in the years ahead.

A 2013 invoice indicates the city bought Harris Corp. equipment under a federal General Services Administration contract. The city paid $109,421 — exactly the price the federal contract specified as the cost of a Stingray upgrade called Hailstorm.

Hailstorm appears to be aimed at keeping cellular surveillance equipment up to date.

“We don’t know everything about what the Hailstorm does,” said Soghoian of the ACLU. “… It’s not surprising that law enforcement agencies are seeking this equipment. It’s definitely not cheap.”

A March 2014 purchase order from the DEA states: “The Hailstorm upgrade is necessary for the Stingray system to track 4G LTE phones.”

The 4G LTE standard allows rapid data transfer over a wireless network and is becoming the standard in cell phone technology.

Stingrays can tap these phones, but only because the current generation of 4G LTE phones is compatible with the older 2G standard, Soghoian said. That won’t always be the case — and law enforcement agencies know this, he said.


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Rafi
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quote:
It also appears that the police sold the city council on the idea by telling them it was for detecting bombs and jamming IED signals.
Who new Tacoma was such a hot bed of bombings and IED's? Just like being in Fallujah I guess.
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TomDavidson
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So you don't believe Seneca is correct when he tells you that ISIS is recruiting people to attack -- imminently -- within the U.S.?

I don't, either. Welcome ( however briefly ) to the land of being correct. [Smile]

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Seneca
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I suppose the American who died over in the middle east after traveling there to fight was just made up by the media...

Regardless of the threats though, this is still unconstitutional. If liberals want law enforcement to have this power they should have the guts to propose repealing the 4th Amendment.

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Rafi
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
So you don't believe Seneca is correct when he tells you that ISIS is recruiting people to attack -- imminently -- within the U.S.?

I don't, either. Welcome ( however briefly ) to the land of being correct. [Smile]

Yep, that's exactly what I said. You're very good.
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Seneca
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Stingray has gotten a lot of press recently due to some disclosures.

http://www.cato.org/blog/baltimore-police-admit-thousands-stingray-uses

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/editorial/bs-ed-stingray-20150409-story.html

The FBI is asking police departments to ignore subpoenas and even orders from judges. One agency decided to ignore the FBI's illegal requirement and when a judge ordered the police to turn over information they did. The result is shocking. Police are using this NSA-type spying technology a very large amount of the time.

Worse, it is heavily contaminating evidence at trials and resulting in charges being dropped by prosecutors when the defense requests the evidence and the FBI tells the police and DA to drop the case rather than reveal Stingray's involvement. And that doesn't even begin to take into account the Constitutional issues of Stingray being used inside the borders of the United States at all...

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KidTokyo
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The technology is absolutely going to be used. The only solution is demand greater transparency of the institutions that are using it. Police departments and the FBI should not be allowed to keep everything secret.

Any kind of government surveillance of data created and/or sent privately with an expectation of privacy is a search requiring a warrant. It just so happens that, as technology has developed, courts have routinely found in favor of the police and essentially declared that we have no expectation of privacy unless we stay at home with the shutters down. Much of this happened during the escalation of the "war on drugs."

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Seneca
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The other solution is not to assume the government is like some crack addict that can't help itself from violating the Constitution...

How about banning the use of the technology? The government managed to promise not to use drones to execute American citizens inside US borders, why not promise to stop using this tech to violate the 4th Amendment? Why not just have courts lock up anyone caught using it and dismiss charges against anyone whose trial is contaminated by it? Fire any police or prosecutors associated with it everywhere and anywhere it pops up and you'll send a message.

Why is this so "inevitable" when other, similar things are not?

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TomDavidson
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quote:
The government managed to promise not to use drones to execute American citizens inside US borders...
Ten bucks says they'll break that promise within the next decade.
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Wayward Son
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quote:
How about banning the use of the technology? The government managed to promise not to use drones to execute American citizens inside US borders, why not promise to stop using this tech to violate the 4th Amendment? Why not just have courts lock up anyone caught using it and dismiss charges against anyone whose trial is contaminated by it? Fire any police or prosecutors associated with it everywhere and anywhere it pops up and you'll send a message.

Why is this so "inevitable" when other, similar things are not?

Because even though we do that with other things (like illegal searches and seizures), they still happen. That's what "inevitable" means. [Smile]

We can enact these laws to help reduce the incidents that such technology is used, but without transparency, we'll never know when it is used. And the temptation to use it will always exist, as will the rationalizations for using it. You can't stop it by just banning it.

With transparency, we have a hope to control it and enforce such laws. But even transparency and laws won't stop the use.

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NobleHunter
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quote:
Ten bucks says they'll break that promise within the next decade.
I think execute is a bit unlikely. Unless we're really screwed, they'll just be 'killed resisting arrest'.
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D.W.
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I don't know, I can picture hostage situations where getting police to some remote / treacherous area on foot would take too much time. However, we COULD get this armed remote controlled drone there in moments and "eliminate the threat".

I mean, there would be someone controlling the drone, how different is that really from a police sniper?

And that's not just a weak justification argument I expect they'd use. I'm asking; How different is it?

Maybe that's a flawed premise and we already wouldn't allow a sharp shooter to act without a negotiator on scene in communication with the hostage takers?

[ April 10, 2015, 11:53 AM: Message edited by: D.W. ]

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KidTokyo
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quote:
How about banning the use of the technology?
Then only criminals will use it.

quote:
Why not just have courts lock up anyone caught using it and dismiss charges against anyone whose trial is contaminated by it? Fire any police or prosecutors associated with it everywhere and anywhere it pops up and you'll send a message.
The government wants, loves, adores this technology, and you think they will suddenly pass the sweeping legislation to ban it in the way you suggest? You think an absolutist approach which you would never suggest as a means for gun control would somehow work here?
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Seneca
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You are seriously comparing criminal mentality to the government? I guess in a way it makes sense but I doubt most people would see it that way. The government is supposed to follow law better than anyone, though yes I agree they often don't.

It's a lot easier to stop the government from doing something that private citizens since the government does have a reporting mechanism in place even if it isn't always very good. Also, it is easy to starve the government of funds if you are trying to kill something they are doing under the guise of fiscal conservatism. For instance, Obama's hollowing out of our military is his backdoor way of attempting to prevent future war by making us incapable of fighting them.

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D.W.
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I like how you grant the Obama in your mind near mythic powers to impose his will upon the nation and the world, yet still retain your belief that We The People can stop the goverment from doing what it wants.

Then again, if Obama can single handedly change the rules and get away with it, why not us? [Razz]

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Seneca
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I never said Obama had that power...

He sure is trying though.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
I guess in a way it makes sense but I doubt most people would see it that way.
I would wager that almost everyone posting in this forum would, actually.
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KidTokyo
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quote:
You are seriously comparing criminal mentality to the government?
Yes, absolutely. I think anyone who doesn't is naive. Whatever freedoms we have today, they have been wrested from the government by outright rebellion, not handed down from on high.

To quote a great Jane's Addiction song: "The gang is a weapon you trade your mind for/The gang and the government is no different."

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The Drake
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One comment and back to lurking...

Isn't civil forfeiture ample evidence that the government behaves like criminals?

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Greg Davidson
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"the government" is a pretty broad term.

"the people" are also criminals if you find any evidence of a crime taints all in the category

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Fenring
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quote:
Originally posted by Greg Davidson:
"the government" is a pretty broad term.

"the people" are also criminals if you find any evidence of a crime taints all in the category

There is a system called 'the government' which exists outside of any given people. It doesn't exist outside of all people, but if you taken any given person or group of people you can't say "they are the government". Nevertheless we can still speak about the government without speaking of any particular individual in it.

To suggest the government has criminal tendencies isn't the same as suggesting that all people in it, or even any particular group within it, are themselves criminals. The system exists just as a sound wave does. It has properties even though 'it' doesn't exist; it's merely people configured in a certain way believing certain things. But that configuration can certainly be criminal and can behave criminally even if zero people in it themselves break the law.

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Pyrtolin
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quote:
Originally posted by The Drake:
Isn't civil forfeiture ample evidence that the government behaves like criminals?

The abuse of it is an indication that it can behave irresponsibly, especially when you screw up its priorities by making it use tools designed for certain narrow purposes to fund itself, creating not only the temptation, but the actual need to abuse them.

It would be fair to say that it's evidence that government is prone to the same pressures to act unethically in the face of impoverishing conditions.

But saying they behave criminally throws in a extra wrinkle when they're applying the law, not breaking it. The primary factor in behaving like a criminal is breaking the law- which, to be sure, many governments do, especially when it comes to issues of bribery and corruption that is nominally banned.

Civil forfeiture is legal, so it's not comparable to criminal activity, just unethical activity, which is a more accurate, but manifestly different (and far less propagandistic) claim

If we stopped requiring/allowing police departments to fund themselves through forfeiture laws, but instead clearly established that they were explicitly designed to allow the proceeds of crime to be used help repay the victims of it for damages, then there'd be much less incentive to abuse the powers they grant.

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KidTokyo
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Pyr,

Drake proposed that the government behaves like criminals.

You addressed the issue of whether the government commits a crime.

Not the same thing. Most organized crime syndicates have codes and laws which are strictly enforced, and are not "criminals" by their own standards.

"Behaving like a criminal" means, to my mind, that their own self-preservation supersedes everything else. Perhaps this is what you meant by "unethical," though I submit that "unethical" is too weak a term to apply to this kind of behavior.

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The Drake
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Kid,

Exactly well put. From dictionary.com, a crime is:

an action or an instance of negligence that is deemed injurious to the public welfare or morals or to the interests of the state and that is legally prohibited.

The first part of the definition is how I define behaving like a criminal. Not necessarily that they have broken the law, or that they have committed a crime according to the second part of the definition, where to be a crime it has to be against coded law.

Note that it doesn't even have to be intentional. No one should have that kind of power of surveillance, not even me, and I'm a pretty good guy with only the best of intentions.

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The Drake
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Another test, criminals like to:

Throw their weight around. From the FBI to the IRS to the EPA, there doesn't exist a government agency that doesn't like exercising their power in a heavy-handed way. Except maybe the SEC.

Skirt the edge of the law. Loopholes are great, aren't they? Like the guys who shipped out "bath salts" and couldn't get caught because it wasn't technically illegal yet. Here's where civil forfeiture and mass information gathering come in.

Come down hard on people who talk. Nobody likes a rat. Whether you tell somebody about a protection racket or talk about your national security letter, you're going to get a beating if you try to tell people what's being done to you.

Like a good public image. Organized crime likes to portray themselves as being supportive of their people and their neighborhood. Same thing with the government. They get support from a lot of people, without which they couldn't commit their "questionable acts".

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Pyrtolin
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quote:
Originally posted by KidTokyo:
Pyr,

Drake proposed that the government behaves like criminals.

You addressed the issue of whether the government commits a crime.


Committing a crime is the only common characteristic of criminals, though. you and he both reference certain types of criminals, particularly mafia. That may have been a more vlaid comparison if you're looking for a stronger comparison, but I actively object to the notion that there is some unifying characteristic between not only an accomplished hitman and a person who lights up a bit of pot from time to time- both technically criminals- other than the fact that they, for some reason act in violation of the law, but also the idea of government and law enforcement in general, which tend to define what the law is and what's legal in the first place.

It's a bogeyman that's very distracting, when the concept of ethics is not only more on point, but actually leads to better analysis of the problems and solutions to them. "Criminal" is far to loaded to meaningfully look at the underlying issues once it's in play, while if we say that the issue is how to encourage ethical behavior and discourage unethical behavior, suddenly a much wider field of tools and options other than simply "ban it because it's bad" comes into play.

Like with civil forfeiture above. The discussion stemming from "civil forfeiture is akin to criminal behavior" effectively presupposes the assertion that the proper response is to ban it. On the other hand, if we say it leads to unethical behavior, then we allow for questions of "can it be applied ethically" and "how should we revise the system to ensure that it's only used properly in ways that benefit society?"

From there the answer might ultimately be that there's no way to assure that, but at least that's a reasoned conclusion, not one prejudiced by the application of strong terms that only serve to prevent discussion.

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KidTokyo
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quote:
Committing a crime is the only common characteristic of criminals, though.
It isn't. In fact the "criminal mindset" is an ancient concept that predicates the criminal act, and is broader than the criminal act, and it is as I described.

Likewise, "crimes" may be committed by people with no criminal mindset whatsoever, simply because they run afoul of an unjustified prohibition.

If the Mafia takes control of an otherwise lawless municipality, are they acting like criminals, or are they merely a system that needs to be "revised"? This is hardly a theoretical proposition, so I'm curious to know your answer.

[ April 17, 2015, 02:57 PM: Message edited by: KidTokyo ]

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Pyrtolin
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quote:
In fact the "criminal mindset" is an ancient concept that predicates the criminal act, and is broader than the criminal act, and it is as I described.
Which is to say, it's an old propagandist meme used to other groups of people that the speaker wants to denigrate and establish the basis for an us vs. them mentality.

There isn't a generic criminal mindset- it's a fiction dreamed up by people trying to scare people and create a sense of moral superiority while disclaiming responsibility for being part of the kind of society that pushes some segment of the population to violate the law in one way or another.

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KidTokyo
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quote:
There isn't a generic criminal mindset- it's a fiction dreamed up by people trying to scare people and create a sense of moral superiority while disclaiming responsibility for being part of the kind of society that pushes some segment of the population to violate the law in one way or another.
I think you're reacting to a word you don't like and not really thinking about what I'm saying -- as I'm absolutely arguing against "pushing some segment of society" to do anything, and I explicitly stated that many "crimes" are merely prohibitions of liberties that a ruling class does not want the general population to enjoy.

Insofar as there is a segment of the population that is otherwise decent and ethical that is "pushed" into gang warfare, I would argue that it is because our own government excludes them from the social contract, and so they have no choice but to turn to an alternate regime for protection. Others may steal out of chemical dependency (which I view as a mental illness) or in some cases sheer desperation.

But are you seriously suggesting that there is no such thing as a sociopath? Or that a regime may act purely out of interest in its own perpetuity? Not convinced by O'Brien's speech at the end of 1984, eh? Orwell was just trying to scare people?

Disclaiming the word "criminal" does nothing alleviate the astonishing structural similarity -- I would even say parity -- between the way a powerful government maintains its status and power and the way a crime syndicate does. The only difference I see is scale.

[ April 17, 2015, 03:37 PM: Message edited by: KidTokyo ]

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Pyrtolin
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quote:
I think you're reacting to a word you don't like and not really thinking about what I'm saying
I never pretended that my objection was to anything but the false message in the terminology. I get exactly what you're saying- I'm trying to point out that using "criminal" as the go to word to describe it not only conflates many different issues as if they were the same, but brings a significant amount of biased baggage to the table as well, particularly blaming poverty on "criminality" rather than allowing for an understanding of how being impoverished can push just about anyone to the kinds of behaviors being criticized.

If you want to talk about sociopathy, call it by name. If you want to talk about extortion or other common tools used by organized syndicates, call them by name (I certainly haven't been shy about pointing to all manner of extortion in our current economic system) If you want to talk about tyrannical or abusive behaviors, those make sense to address as well. But selling the meme that there's a kind of "evil" person that's inherently prone to criminal behaviors (or that governments are similarly inherently abusive and corrupt), then I think you, even if completely unintentionally, play into a damaging and very unjust narrative.

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KidTokyo
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quote:
If you want to talk about sociopathy, call it by name. If you want to talk about extortion or other common tools used by organized syndicates, call them by name (I certainly haven't been shy about pointing to all manner of extortion in our current economic system) If you want to talk about tyrannical or abusive behaviors, those make sense to address as well. But selling the meme that there's a kind of "evil" person that's inherently prone to criminal behaviors (or that governments are similarly inherently abusive and corrupt), then I think you, even if completely unintentionally, play into a damaging and very unjust narrative.
But I made no argument regarding individual behavior at all. I was drawing a comparison between gangs and governments. If you understand the argument, why waste time scolding me for meme-crime? [Razz]
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