Earlier this year the Guardian launched their new campaign – “The Web We Want”. It’s an agenda driven campaign to suppress free speech and protect the ancien media regime from the alt-news revolution, in the name of protecting ethnic minorities, female writers and the LGBT community from the all the hate that pours out of the privileged fingertips of all the white men on the internet.
We have written extensively on what the Guardian really means by “the web they want”. We know their statistics are a farce and can see through their editorial double talk. Their place in a planned roll out of an idea is obvious, coinciding with political climbers from all parties making speeches attacking free speech in the name of freedom. Banning liberty because… won’t somebody please think of the children!
When the Guardian talks about “taking action” against internet abuse, we know what they mean. They mean censorship. There’s nothing more need be said. But this latest story cries out for a response.
Apparently by tracking the number of tweets that use the word “slut” or “whore” you can track the “huge scale” of social media misogyny. Yes, seriously:
The study monitored the use of the words “slut” and “whore” by UK Twitter users over three weeks from the end of April. It found that 6,500 individuals were targeted by 10,000 aggressive and misogynistic tweets in that period.
The study, conveniently published the day before Yvette Cooper launches her “Reclaim the Internet” movement, is rather vague on the details. We don’t know how they collected their data, or what their criteria for inclusion/exclusion were. Bearing that in mind we’re going to have to make some educated guesses: Since rough estimates put the number of twitter users in Britain at between 12 and 20 million people, 6,500 is roughly 1/2000th. You have, apparently, a 1/2000 chance of being “targeted” by a tweet using the word slut or whore. Personally, that is risk I am willing to take.
The study is not clear on how they select “aggressive” tweets, so we’ll have to assume they just collate all the tweets containing the word “slut” and/or “whore”. We don’t know how many of these uses are truly abusive – many may have been jokes – but it does not really matter.
Another interesting caveat:
… more than half of the offenders were women.
Yes. It seems women are the biggest misogynists of all. An interesting fact, buried in the article, made even more interesting with some context. Firstly, women make up considerably less than half of the twitter users in the UK. Less than half of the users, more than half the misogyny. Secondly, over 1/3 twitter users in Britain are between 15-24. With this context you can paint a rather more accurate picture – that the bulk of this “online misogyny” is made up of young women, aged 15-24, calling each other names (possibly in jest).
That this qualifies as a “study” at all is ludicrous, that the Guardian can try to peddle it as “shocking” is, frankly, laughable. The figures are meaningless.
Of course, this is the Guardian, so a poorly done, lazily explained statistical study must be followed by an editorial from whichever member of the Guardian’s insipid, pre-programmed writing staff happens to pull the day shift. In this instance it’s Polly Toynbee. “Why we need a feminist internet”, the headline declares, “feminist” in this instance meaning “controlled”.
She paints a picture of a dank, dark internet. A squalid, David Fincher-directed world, full of unwashed slug-like life-forms crawling over each other in an effort to spread slime and shit to every corner of the civilised world. She has nothing new to say. She repeats tired memes about free speech bullying “victims” into silence, about “trauma” and “safe spaces” and the “need to act.” She explains that women abusing each other on twitter is actually the fault of the Patriarchy, because female anger is all based on being unable to match the ideal woman presented in the media.
Like all Guardian editorials, you can discard the majority. It is designed to seed an idea, and can be reduced down to one key paragraph that pushes its agenda:
The internet has turned all discourse rougher, pushing politics and all views towards extremes. It can make individuals feel inadequate and vulnerable and let them lash out to express their own insecurities. As the Guardian’s the web we want project explores, it is in our hands to shape a civilising internet that serves us well, not one that tears civilisation apart.
There are important questions posed here: What does Toynbee mean by “our hands”? Who will this “reshaped” internet be “serving well”? What does “serves us well” mean? Does she really believe that teenaged name calling on twitter could “tear civilisation apart”? What does she really mean by “civilisation?”
To whom, or what, does a free internet REALLY pose a threat?
You’d be forgiven for reading “rougher” as slang for “more honest”, for reading “extreme” as “less controlled”. You might say the “individuals” it makes feel “inadequate”, are the workaday hacks who so consistently have their inaccurate agitprop ridiculed and corrected below the line.
With this paragraph you get the feeling of an organism protecting itself, like watching a pillbug curl in upon itself. The above is a plea for compliance. They want permission to enact a policy that leaves the definitions of “rough discourse” (see:honesty) and “civilisation” (see:establishment) open for interpretation. The repeated patterns and tired prose of the “web we want” sections have an increasing air of desperation. Again and again they wheel out the same faces to sell the same snake oil. Rather like the pillbug, it seems the Guardian’s last line of defense is to stick its head up its ass.
Yahdih Ould Slahi holds up a photo of his brother Mohamedou in a May 2016 video by American Civil Liberties Union © acluvideos / YouTube
US authorities detained, interrogated and sent back a German citizen flying in to campaign for the release of his brother – author of the best-selling “Guantanamo Diary,” who has been imprisoned and tortured at the US camp since 2002.
Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s memoir, heavily redacted by government censors, was published in 2015 and quickly became a best-seller. The Mauritanian native was arrested in 2001 and rendered to Jordan for interrogation by the CIA. He was transferred to Guantanamo Bay the following year.
His younger brother Yahdih, a German citizen, has campaigned for Mohamedou’s release for years. Yahdih was supposed to attend a number of events in the US this week, seeking to persuade Guantanamo’s Periodic Review Board to set Mohamedou free at the June 2 hearing.
When Yahdih Slahi arrived at the John F. Kennedy airport in New York on Saturday, however, he was detained by US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents, questioned for hours, and sent back to Germany the following day, The Intercept reported.
“He was asked questions about his family, his brother, and what he knew about why his brother was in Guantánamo,” said Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union. “It was a harrowing, stressful, and exhausting experience.”
Yahdih Slahi is a German citizen who lives in Düsseldorf, and would have been able to enter the US under the visa waiver program that Germany participates in. The CBP gave no explanation for denying Slahi entry.
In his memoir, Mohamedou Slahi described being held in isolation and subjected to beatings, extreme cold, sleep deprivation, sexual abuse, a simulated kidnapping, and a simulated execution. At one point, his captors tried to trick him by showing him a forged letter from his mother, Yahdih recounted in 2015. The ploy failed because the forgery misspelled Slahi’s name – and because, unbeknownst to his jailers, Slahi’s mother was illiterate.
Mohamedou Slahi admits that he fought in Afghanistan in the early 1990s with what became Al-Qaeda– when the organization was backed by the US in its struggle against the socialist government in Kabul. While he had nothing to do with Al-Qaeda since 1992, Slahi did stay in touch with his cousin and former brother-in-law, Mahfouz Ould al-Walid, who served as a lieutenant to Osama Bin Laden.
Slahi was never charged with any crime, but the 2010 decision to release him has been held up by government appeals.
“The judge said there was no evidence in 2010 to hold him. There’s certainly not evidence now. The Chief Prosecutor said when he resigned in 2007, that there was no evidence then,” Slahi’s attorney Nancy Hollander told RT in January 2015.
Slahi’s family and friends hope the Periodic Review Board will recommend his release at the June 2 hearing. The inter-agency panel ruled on Monday to set free an Afghan man, known only as Obaidullah, who was held at Guantanamo for 14 years.
It took a decade of fighting with the government for the Guantanamo Diary, written in 2005, to see the light of day. Slahi is the first Guantanamo prisoner to publish a memoir while still at the camp. He has not been allowed to receive a copy of his book.
Draconian plans to target alleged extremists through a controversial anti-radicalization program are at risk of creating a ‘Thought Police’ in the UK, the officer leading the operation has warned.
In a damning critique, Leicestershire Police Chief Constable Simon Cole said the ‘Prevent’ legislation risks making cops judges of “what people can and cannot say.”
The government formally announced a controversial new bill to tackle extremism in the Queen’s Speech to Parliament last week. It is considered to be Prime Minister David Cameron’s flagship policy of the year.
The legislation widens the police fight to include those who are defined as ‘extremists’, but who do not take part in or even advocate terrorism themselves.
“Unless you can define what extremism is very clearly then it’s going to be really challenging to enforce,” Cole told the Guardian.
“We don’t want to be the Thought Police. We absolutely don’t want to be the Thought Police.”
When asked if the Prevent strategy could make this happen, Cole said: “Potentially there is a risk.”
Cole’s intervention will prove damaging for the government, coming from a senior counterterrorism officer.
Cameron already faced several embarrassing defeats last parliamentary year, despite having a slim majority of seats in the House of Commons, and will be keen to avoid another capitulation.
But Cole believes the legislation has triggered serious reservations among British Muslims.
“The police need to be able to safeguard people without being drawn into a hugely contentious potential role about a kind of thought police control of what people can and cannot say.
“And that needs really clearly defining and it needs parliament to lay out what is and isn’t acceptable,” he added.
Despite spending eight months drafting a “legally robust” definition of extremism, government officials are still struggling to complete the task.
Cole said he has concerns about how “enforceable” the legislation would be, adding it is important for police officers to speak out.
While he accepted that society must impose “some limits” on what can and cannot be said, “They [the limits] need to be as broad as they possibly can be.”
The manufactured “anti-semitism crisis” in the British Labour party rumbles on into new realms of ideological insanity. The witch-hunt against commentary critical of Israel or Zionism has been in full flow, and now an internal party inquiry led by Jan Royall has reached its conclusions.
Note that in this report by the Guardian newspaper, it appears to be a given both by Royall and the Guardian that Ken Livingstone and the others suspended from the party are guilty of anti-semitism rather than anti-Zionism. I have challenged that assumption in previous posts, such as here and here. I am therefore going to put quotation marks around the word “anti-semitism”, at least as used by Royall, because it is far from clear to me that most of those under investigation have said things that are anti-semitic.
Royall’s first conclusion is that there should be no “statute of limitations” on “anti-semitism.” That’s a green light for every right-winger and Blairite to go trawling through Labour party members’ back catalogue of social media posts in search of anti-Zionist or anti-Israel utterances. Here’s a simple piece of advice to John Mann and the Blairite brigade: if you want to simplify your task, examine postings from winter 2008 and summer 2014, when Israel was killing hundreds of children in Gaza. I suspect you’ll find the “anti-semitism” you’re looking for in those periods.
Royal also suggests that there may be a need for “more rigorous vetting procedures for national and local government candidates.” So the Blairites will be further encouraged to trawl through candidates’ social media postings on Israel in the knowledge that they can thereby ensure only people like themselves get to stand for election.
Another of Royall’s conclusions is that a membership ban for “anti-semitism” should not be for life if there is “demonstrable” change by the offender. Re-education camps, anyone?
So members may be allowed back into the Labour party if they can show that over a sustained period of time they have disavowed their criticisms of Israel. Presumably, to reassure the party that they are not likely to slip back into their former bad ways of thinking, they will need to enthusiastically embrace Zionism and support an ethnic Jewish state that oppresses Palestinians in the occupied territories and systematically discriminates against the fifth of its citizens who are Palestinian.
In other words, these measures will have the practical effect of ensuring that the party is reserved for those of a Blairite persuasion.
There are other disturbing conclusions reached by Royall. She is apparently recommending that an imminent external inquiry she will also sit on consider whether members should qualify for investigation simply because “the victim or any other person” has “perceived” a comment to be anti-semitic. In short, every Netanyahu-loving Zionist may soon be guaranteed the chance to force the suspension of any Labour member who offends them by criticising Israel.
Royall suggests that the coming inquiry consider “swifter action to deal with antisemitism”, which is surprising given that the current suspensions have all been implemented summarily.
And she prefers “a review of how online debate is conducted to make it welcoming and productive.” In other words, Labour members will be expected not to criticise Israel or Zionism in case it puts off hardcore Israel supporters.
It is not hard to see where all this is leading, and was designed to lead by the Blairite faction trying to engineer a coup against leader Jeremy Corbyn. Polls show that Corbyn’s support has actually grown over the past year among ordinary members, despite the endless character assassination against him.
So the Blairites who dominate the Labour parliamentary caucus are simply re-engineering the party more to their liking: terrify into submission a new generation of candidates who have been inspired by Corbyn to enter politics, and through a war of attrition demoralise the hundreds of thousands of new members who joined the party, in the hope they will leave.
This is self-sabotage on a vast scale. The Blairites (and their cheerleaders in liberal media like the Guardian ) would prefer to destroy the party than help Corbyn and his supporters mount a credible challenge to the Conservative government. And that insight tells you all you need to know about the true ideological sympathies of the Blairites, who were so ready to cosy up to the corporations and the Murdoch media.
A Lebanese charity network run by a Shiite Muslim cleric said it had been unfairly caught up in new U.S. financial sanctions against Hezbollah, accusing Lebanese banks of applying the restrictions too widely.
The U.S. act passed in December threatens to punish any organization providing significant finance to Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, deemed a terrorist organization by Washington.
The Mabarrat foundation told Reuters that some Lebanese banks, scared of risking international isolation, had frozen some of its accounts, even though it had no political affiliation.
The foundation was established by the late Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, a top authority in Shiite Islam who was an early mentor to Hezbollah but later distanced himself from its ties to Iran. He died in 2010.
Sayyed Ali Fadlallah, his son, declined to say which bank or banks had frozen the accounts.
“The foundation’s name was not mentioned in this law … what is happening now are precautionary measures taken by some institutions that are dealing with this matter far removed from the accuracy required to ensure no one is done an injustice,” Fadlallah told Reuters in an interview on Friday.
The foundation generates funding through individual donations and a network of businesses including hotels, restaurants and petrol stations.
“We felt from our meeting with some of the banks that they are afraid and wanted to take precautions that were greater than necessary,” said Fadlallah, whose charities include schools, hospitals and orphanages.
The U.S. Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act has ignited an unprecedented dispute between Hezbollah, Lebanon’s most powerful group, and the central bank.
The Shiite militia is Lebanon’s most powerful political and military group, has provided crucial support to the Syrian army, along with Iranian forces and the Russian air force. The group is estimated to have lost around 1,200 fighters in Syria’s five-year-old conflict. It has dealt serious blows to the Nusra Front, which is linked to al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State group.
The organization has said the law will lead to “a wide rift” between Lebanese citizens and the banks, suggesting many Shiites would stop dealing with banks for fear of being sanctioned.
The central bank has said the U.S. law must be applied to avoid the international isolation of Lebanon’s banking sector.
Central bank governor Riad Salameh said in a May 17 statement that banks that intended to close accounts of individuals or organizations considered to be in breach of the U.S. law must provide justification for that decision, and wait for a response from a central bank committee.
Hezbollah Claims Electoral Victory in Lebanon’s Eastern Region
Police Nationwide Are Secretly Exploiting Intrusive Technologies With the Feds’ Complicity
Can’t you see the writing on the touchscreen? A techno-utopia is upon us. We’ve gone from smartphones at the turn of the twenty-first century to smart fridges and smart cars. The revolutionary changes to our everyday life will no doubt keep barreling along. By 2018, so predicts Gartner, an information technology research and advisory company, more than three million employees will work for “robo-bosses” and soon enough we — or at least the wealthiest among us — will be shopping in fully automated supermarkets and sleeping in robotic hotels.
With all this techno-triumphalism permeating our digitally saturated world, it’s hardly surprising that law enforcement would look to technology — “smart policing,” anyone? — to help reestablish public trust after the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the long list of other unarmed black men killed by cops in Anytown, USA. The idea that technology has a decisive role to play in improving policing was, in fact, a central plank of President Obama’s policing reform task force.
In its report, released last May, the Task Force on 21st Century Policing emphasized the crucial role of technology in promoting better law enforcement, highlighting the use of police body cameras in creating greater openness. “Implementing new technologies,” it claimed, “can give police departments an opportunity to fully engage and educate communities in a dialogue about their expectations for transparency, accountability, and privacy.”
Indeed, the report emphasized ways in which the police could engage communities, work collaboratively, and practice transparency in the use of those new technologies. Perhaps it won’t shock you to learn, however, that the on-the-ground reality of twenty-first-century policing looks nothing like what the task force was promoting. Police departments nationwide have been adopting powerful new technologies that are remarkably capable of intruding on people’s privacy, and much of the time these are being deployed in secret, without public notice or discussion, let alone permission.
And while the task force’s report says all the right things, a little digging reveals that the feds not only aren’t putting the brakes on improper police use of technology, but are encouraging it — even subsidizing the misuse of the very technology the task force believes will keep cops honest. To put it bluntly, a techno-utopia isn’t remotely on the horizon, but its flipside may be.
Getting Stung and Not Even Knowing It
Shemar Taylor was charged with robbing a pizza delivery driver at gunpoint. The police got a warrant to search his home and arrested him after learning that the cell phone used to order the pizza was located in his house. How the police tracked down the location of that cell phone is what Taylor’s attorney wanted to know.
The Baltimore police detective called to the stand in Taylor’s trial was evasive. “There’s equipment we would use that I’m not going to discuss,” he said. When Judge Barry Williams ordered him to discuss it, he still refused, insisting that his department had signed a nondisclosure agreement with the FBI.
“You don’t have a nondisclosure agreement with the court,” replied the judge, threatening to hold the detective in contempt if he did not answer. And yet he refused again. In the end, rather than reveal the technology that had located Taylor’s cell phone to the court, prosecutors decided to withdraw the evidence, jeopardizing their case.
And don’t imagine that this courtroom scene was unique or even out of the ordinary these days. In fact, it was just one sign of a striking nationwide attempt to keep an invasive, constitutionally questionable technology from being scrutinized, whether by courts or communities.
The technology at issue is known as a “Stingray,” a brand name for what’s generically called a cell site simulator or IMSI catcher. By mimicking a cell phone tower, this device, developed for overseas battlefields, gets nearby cell phones to connect to it. It operates a bit like the children’s game Marco Polo. “Marco,” the cell-site simulator shouts out and every cell phone on that network in the vicinity replies, “Polo, and here’s my ID!”
Thanks to this call-and-response process, the Stingray knows both what cell phones are in the area and where they are. In other words, it gathers information not only about a specific suspect, but any bystanders in the area as well. While the police may indeed use this technology to pinpoint a suspect’s location, by casting such a wide net there is also the potential for many kinds of constitutional abuses — for instance, sweeping up the identities of every person attending a demonstration or a political meeting. Some Stingrays are capable of collecting not only cell phone ID numbers but also numbers those phones have dialed and even phone conversations. In other words, the Stingray is a technology that potentially opens the door for law enforcement to sweep up information that not so long ago wouldn’t have been available to them.
All of this raises the sorts of constitutional issues that might normally be settled through the courts and public debate… unless, of course, the technology is kept largely secret, which is exactly what’s been happening.
After the use of Stingrays was first reported in 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other activist groups attempted to find out more about how the technology was being used, only to quickly run into heavy resistance from police departments nationwide. Served with “open-records requests” under Freedom of Information Act-like state laws, they almost uniformly resisted disclosing information about the devices and their uses. In doing so, they regularly cited nondisclosure agreements they had signed with the Harris Corporation, maker of the Stingray, and with the FBI, prohibiting them from telling anyone (including other government outfits) about how — or even that — they use the devices.
Sometimes such evasiveness reaches near-comical levels. For example, police in the city of Sunrise, Florida, served with an open-records request, refused to confirm or deny that they had any Stingray records at all. Under cover of a controversial national security court ruling, the CIA and the NSA sometimes resort to just this evasive tactic (known as a “Glomar response“). The Sunrise Police Department, however, is not the CIA, and no provision in Florida law would allow it to take such a tack. When the ACLU pointed out that the department had already posted purchase records for Stingrays on its public website, it generously provided duplicate copies of those very documents and then tried to charge the ACLU $20,000 for additional records.
In a no-less-bizarre incident, the Sarasota Police Department was about to turn some Stingray records over to the ACLU in accordance with Florida’s open-records law, when the U.S. Marshals Service swooped in and seized the records first, claiming ownership because it had deputized one local officer. And excessive efforts at secrecy are not unique to Florida, as those charged with enforcing the law commit themselves to Stingray secrecy in a way that makes them lawbreakers.
And it’s not just the public that’s being denied information about the devices and their uses; so are judges. Often, the police get a judge’s sign-off for surveillance without even bothering to mention that they will be using a Stingray. In fact, officers regularly avoid describing the technology to judges, claiming that they simply can’t violate those FBI nondisclosure agreements.
More often than not, police use Stingrays without bothering to get a warrant, instead seeking a court order on a more permissive legal standard. This is part of the charm of a new technology for the authorities: nothing is settled on how to use it. Appellate judges in Tallahassee, Florida, for instance, revealed that local police had used the tool more than 200 times without a warrant. In Sacramento, California, police admitted in court that they had, in more than 500 investigations, used Stingrays without telling judges or prosecutors. That was “an estimated guess,” since they had no way of knowing the exact number because they had conveniently deleted records of Stingray use after passing evidence discovered by the devices on to detectives.
Much of this blanket of secrecy, spreading nationwide, has indeed been orchestrated by the FBI, which has required local departments eager for the hottest new technology around to sign those nondisclosure agreements. One agreement, unearthed in Oklahoma, explicitly instructs the local police to find “additional and independent investigative means” to corroborate Stingray evidence. In short, they are to cover up the use of Stingrays by pretending their information was obtained some other way — the sort of dangerous constitutional runaround that is known euphemistically in law enforcement circles as a “parallel construction.” Now that information about the widespread use of this new technology is coming out — as in the Shemar Taylor trial in Baltimore — judges are beginning to rule that Stingray use does indeed require a warrant. They are also insisting that police must accurately inform judges when they intend to use a Stingray and disclose its privacy implications.
Garbage In, Garbage Out
And it’s not just the Stingray that’s taking local police forces into new and unknown realms of constitutionally questionable but deeply seductive technology. Consider the hot new trend of “predictive policing.” Its products couldn’t be high-techier. They go by a variety of names like PredPol (yep, short for predictive policing) and HunchLab (and there’s nothing wrong with a hunch, is there?). What they all promise, however, is the same thing: supposedly bias-free policing built on the latest in computer software and capable of leveraging big data in ways that — so their salesmen will tell you — can coolly determine where crime is most likely to occur next.
Such technology holds out the promise of allowing law enforcement agencies to deploy their resources to areas that need them most without that nasty element of human prejudice getting involved. “Predictive methods allow police to work more proactively with limited resources,” reports the RAND Corporation. But the new software offers something just as potentially alluring as efficient policing — exactly what the president’s task force called for. According to market leader PredPol, its technology “provides officers an opportunity to interact with residents, aiding in relationship building and strengthening community ties.”
How idyllic! In post-Ferguson America, that’s a winning sales pitch for decision-makers in blue. Not so surprisingly, then, PredPol is now used by nearly 60 law enforcement agencies in the United States, and investment capital just keeps pouring into the company. In 2013, SF Weekly reported that over 150 departments across the nation were already using predictive policing software, and those numbers can only have risen as the potential for cashing in on the craze has attracted tech heavy hitters like IBM, Microsoft, and Palantir, the co-creation of PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.
Like the Stingray, the software for predictive policing is yet another spillover from the country’s distant wars. PredPol was, according to SF Weekly, initially designed for “tracking insurgents and forecasting casualties in Iraq,” and was financed by the Pentagon. One of the company’s advisors, Harsh Patel, used to work for In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm.
Civil libertarians and civil rights activists, however, are less than impressed with what’s being hailed as breakthrough police technology. We tend to view it instead as a set of potential new ways for the police to continue a long history of profiling and pre-convicting poor and minority youth. We also question whether the technology even performs as advertised. As we see it, the old saying “garbage in, garbage out” is likely to best describe how the new software will operate, or as the RAND Corporation puts it, “predictions are only as good as the underlying data used to make them.”
If, for instance, the software depends on historical crime data from a racially biased police force, then it’s just going to send a flood of officers into the very same neighborhoods they’ve always over-policed. And if that happens, of course, more personnel will find more crime — and presto, you have the potential for a perfect feedback loop of prejudice, arrests, and high-tech “success.” To understand what that means, keep in mind that, without a computer in sight, nearly four times as many blacks as whites are arrested for marijuana possession, even though usage among the two groups is about the same.
If you leave aside issues of bias, there’s still a fundamental question to answer about the new technology: Does the software actually work or, for that matter, reduce crime? Of course, the companies peddling such products insist that it does, but no independent analyses or reviews had yet verified its effectiveness until last year — or so it seemed at first.
In December 2015, the Journal of the American Statistical Association published a study that brought joy to the predictive crime-fighting industry. The study’s researchers concluded that a predictive policing algorithm outperformed human analysts in indicating where crime would occur, which in turn led to real crime reductions after officers were dispatched to the flagged areas. Only one problem: five of the seven authors held PredPol stock, and two were co-founders of the company. On its website, PredPol identifies the research as a “UCLA study,” but only because PredPol co-founder Jeffery Brantingham is an anthropology professor there.
Predictive policing is a brand new area where question marks abound. Transparency should be vital in assessing this technology, but the companies generally won’t allow communities targeted by it to examine the code behind it. “We wanted a greater explanation for how this all worked, and we were told it was all proprietary,” Kim Harris, a spokeswoman for Bellingham, Washington’s Racial Justice Coalition, told the Marshall Project after the city purchased such software last August. “We haven’t been comforted by the process.”
The Bellingham Police Department, which bought predictive software made by Bair Analytics with a $21,200 Justice Department grant, didn’t need to go to the city council for approval and didn’t hold community meetings to discuss the development or explain how the software worked. Because the code is proprietary, the public is unable to independently verify that it doesn’t have serious problems.
Even if the data underlying most predictive policing software accurately anticipates where crime will indeed occur — and that’s a gigantic if — questions of fundamental fairness still arise. Innocent people living in or passing through identified high crime areas will have to deal with an increased police presence, which, given recent history, will likely mean more questioning or stopping and frisking — and arrests for things like marijuana possession for which more affluent citizens are rarely brought in. Moreover, the potential inequality of all this may only worsen as police departments bring online other new technologies like facial recognition.
We’re on the verge of “big data policing,” suggests law professor Andrew Ferguson, which will “turn any unknown suspect into a known suspect,” allowing an officer to “search for information that might justify reasonable suspicion” and lead to stop-and-frisk incidents and aggressive questioning. Just imagine having a decades-old criminal record and facing police armed with such powerful, invasive technology.
This could lead to “the tyranny of the algorithm” and a Faustian bargain in which the public increasingly forfeits its freedoms in certain areas out of fears for its safety. “The Soviet Union had remarkably little street crime when they were at their worst of their totalitarian, authoritarian controls,” MIT sociologist Gary Marx observed. “But, my god, at what price?”
To Record and Serve… Those in Blue
On a June night in 2013, Augustin Reynoso discovered that his bicycle had been stolen from a CVS in the Los Angeles suburb of Gardena. A store security guard called the police while Reynoso’s brother Ricardo Diaz Zeferino and two friends tried to find the missing bike in the neighborhood. When the police arrived, they promptly ordered his two friends to put their hands up. Zeferino ran over, protesting that the police had the wrong men. At that point, they told him to raise his hands, too. He then lowered and raised his hands as the police yelled at him. When he removed his baseball hat, lowered his hands, and began to raise them again, he was shot to death.
The police insisted that Zeferino’s actions were “threatening” and so their shooting justified. They had two videos of it taken by police car cameras — but refused to release them.
Although police departments nationwide have been fighting any spirit of new openness, car and body cameras have at least offered the promise of bringing new transparency to the actions of officers on the beat. That’s why the ACLU and many civil rights groups, as well as President Obama, have spoken out in favor of the technology’s potential to improve police-community relations — but only, of course, if the police are obliged to release videos in situations involving allegations of abuse. And many departments are fighting that fiercely.
In Chicago, for instance, the police notoriously opposed the release of dashcam video in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, citing the supposed imperative of an “ongoing investigation.” After more than a year of such resistance, a judge finally ordered the video made public. Only then did the scandal of seeing Officer Jason Van Dyke unnecessarily pump 16 bullets into the 17-year-old’s body explode into national consciousness.
In Zeferino’s case, the police settled a lawsuit with his family for $4.7 million and yet continued to refuse to release the videos. It took two years before a judge finally ordered their release, allowing the public to see the shooting for itself.
Despite this, in April 2015 the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners approved a body-camera policy that failed to ensure future transparency, while protecting and serving the needs of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). In doing so, it ignored the sort of best practices advocated by the White House, the president’s task force on policing, and even the Police Executive Research Forum, one of the profession’s most respected think tanks.
On the possibility of releasing videos of alleged police misconduct and abuse, the new policy remained silent, but LAPD officials, including Chief Charlie Beck, didn’t. They made it clear that such videos would generally be exempt from California’s public records law and wouldn’t be released without a judge’s orders. Essentially, the police reserved the right to release video when and how they saw fit. This self-serving policy comes from the most lethal large police department in the country, whose officers shot and killed 21 people last year.
Other departments around the country have made similar moves to ensure control over body camera videos. Texas and South Carolina, among other states, have even changed their open-records laws to give the police power over when such footage should (or should not) be released. In other words, when a heroic cop saves a drowning child, you’ll see the video; when that same cop guns down a fleeing suspect, don’t count on it.
Curiously, given the stated positions of the president and his task force, the federal government seems to have no fundamental problem with that. In May 2015, for example, the Justice Department announced competitive grants for the purchase of police body cameras, officially tying funding to good body-cam-use policies. The LAPD applied. Despite letters from groups like the ACLU pointing out just how poor its version of body-cam policy was, the Justice Department awarded it $1 million to purchase approximately 700 cameras — accountability and transparency be damned.
To receive public money for a tool theoretically meant for transparency and accountability and turn it into one of secrecy and impunity, with the feds’ complicity and financial backing, sends an unmistakable message on how new technology is likely to affect America’s future policing practices. Think of it as a door slowly opening onto a potential policing dystopia.
Hello Darkness, Power’s Old Friend
Keep in mind that this article barely scratches the surface when it comes to the increasing numbers of ways in which the police’s use of technology has infiltrated our everyday lives.
In states and cities across America, some public bus and train systems have begun to add to video surveillance, the surreptitious recording of the conversations of passengers, a potential body blow to the concept of a private conversation in public space. And whether or not the earliest versions of predictive policing actually work, the law enforcement community is already moving to technology that will try to predict who will commit crimes in the future. In Chicago, the police are using social networking analysis and prediction technology to draw up “heat lists” of those who might perpetuate violent crimes someday and pay them visits now. You won’t be shocked to learn which side of the tracks such future perpetrators live on. The rationale behind all this, as always, is “public safety.”
Nor can anyone begin to predict how law enforcement will avail itself of science-fiction-like technology in the decade to come, much less decades from now, though cops on patrol may very soon know a lot about you and your past. They will be able to cull such information from a multitude of databases at their fingertips, while you will know little or nothing about them — a striking power imbalance in a situation in which one person can deprive the other of liberty or even life itself.
With little public debate, often in almost total secrecy, increasing numbers of police departments are wielding technology to empower themselves rather than the communities they protect and serve. At a time when trust in law enforcement is dangerously low, police departments should be embracing technology’s democratizing potential rather than its ability to give them almost superhuman powers at the expense of the public trust.
Unfortunately, power loves the dark.
Matthew Harwood is senior writer/editor with the American Civil Liberties Union. His work has appeared at Al Jazeera America, the American Conservative, the Guardian, Guernica, Salon, War is Boring, and the Washington Monthly.
Jay Stanley is senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberty Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. He is the editor of the ACLU’s Free Future blog and has authored and co-authored a variety of ACLU reports on privacy and technology topics.
Copyright 2016 Matthew Harwood and Jay Stanley
Visiting an art exhibit featuring works about the U.S. war on terror or going to a lecture about Islam wouldn’t be cause for worry—unless you found out that the government was monitoring and keeping track of attendees. At that point, some people would be spooked and stay away, sacrificing their interests and curiosity to protect their privacy, not look suspicious, or stay off a list some intelligence agency might be keeping.
Government surveillance has that chilling effect—on our activities, choices and communications—and carries serious consequences. We argue in our lawsuit First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, et al v. NSA that the government’s collection of phone records violates the First Amendment rights of our clients—churches and civil and human rights organizations—by discouraging members and constituents from associating and communicating with them for fear of being spied on.
Now two new studies examining the use of Facebook and Wikipedia show that this chilling effect is real. Both studies demonstrate that government surveillance discourages speech and access to information and knowledge on the Internet. What happens is that people begin to self-police their communications: they are more likely to avoid associating with certain groups or individuals, or looking at websites or articles, when they think the government is watching them or the groups/people with whom they connect. This hurts our democracy and society as a whole.
The Facebook study, published in Journalism & Mass Communications Quarterly, showed that people censor themselves on the social network, refraining from posting comments voicing minority views when they’re aware that the National Security Agency (NSA) monitors online activities.
Participants in the study were told of NSA monitoring and shown a fictional Facebook posting about U.S. airstrikes against ISIS. They were asked about their willingness to comment, share, and like the post, or create a new post about the same topic. They were also asked whether they supported or opposed U.S. airstrikes, what they thought most other Americans believed about the airstrikes, and whether surveillance is necessary for national security.
The study showed that people who are aware of government surveillance and support it are significantly less likely to speak out when their views differ from what they perceive to be the majority opinion. As Dr. Elizabeth Stoycheff, Wayne State University assistant professor of journalism and new media and study author, writes:
This is the first study to provide empirical evidence that the government’s online surveillance programs may threaten the disclosure of minority views and contribute to the reinforcement of majority opinion… These individuals expressed that surveillance was necessary for maintaining national security and they have nothing to hide. However, when these individuals perceive they are being monitored, they readily conform their behavior—expressing opinions when they are in the majority, and suppressing them when they’re not.
The Wikipedia study, to be published in an upcoming issue of the Berkeley Technology Law Journal, found a dramatic fall in monthly traffic to Wikipedia articles about terror groups and their techniques after the June 2013 disclosures of the NSA PRISM surveillance program by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The study looked at 48 Wikipedia articles that contained terrorism-related keywords tracked by the Department of Homeland Security, such as “suicide attack” and “dirty bomb.”
Article views dropped 30 percent after June 2013, which supports “the existence of an immediate and substantial chilling effect,” wrote author Jonathon Penney. He also found that monthly views continued to fall, suggesting that the chilling effects of NSA surveillance are long term. The study, he says, has “implications for the health of democratic deliberation among citizens” and the broader health of society.
The government itself uncovered evidence in a recent survey that its surveillance causes Americans to limit their online activity. The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) found that in a survey of 41,000 U.S. households that use the Internet, one in five avoided online activity because of concerns about data collection by the government.
These studies provide evidence of what we have long argued—our freedom to read what we choose online and communicate and associate with others privately is profoundly affected by the prospect of the government looking over our shoulder. It’s changed our behavior, whether that means not commenting on a Facebook post about terrorism, avoiding a Wikipedia page, or steering clear of certain organizations.
The stakes are high for the 24 diverse political and activist groups that are our plaintiffs in First Unitarian. They connect people to advance political beliefs, and sometimes take dissenting positions on issues. Government surveillance of phone records to and from these groups, which work with whistleblowers, dissidents, Muslims, patients, gun owners, laborers, and others, have hurt their ability to carry out their missions. Their members and potential clients simply don’t want to call them, visit them on the web, or email them when they know the government is watching. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)-Ohio, a community service and civil rights organization that assists Muslim facing racial profiling, harassment, and discrimination, has seen a decrease in communications from its constituency of Muslim Americans. Calguns, a group that assists California gun owners in exercising their rights, has also experienced fewer communications from members who want their communications with the group to be confidential. Human Rights Watch, another plaintiff, says fewer people are reporting human rights abuses—the organization can no longer guarantee security and confidentiality in their communications and those people contacting the group fear retaliation.
We’ve documented these and other affects of the government surveillance in our court filings. We argue that phone record collection violates our clients’ freedoms to associate with others to advance political beliefs. Their work is hampered by the fact that people are deterred from contacting them and they can’t guarantee confidentiality because of government surveillance.
Penney points out that courts, legal scholars, and researchers have been skeptical about the extent and even the existence of the chilling effects of government surveillance. We think these studies strongly support that phone record collection has discouraged Americans from communicating and speaking out, and should put that skepticism to rest.
A controversial Ukrainian website, which was condemned by many international organizations for leaking personal information about more than 4,000 journalists who reported from eastern Ukraine, responded to criticism by expanding the list with some 1,400 new names.
“After our publication, we saw strong public interest in the list. Many journalists demanded apologies and now we finally realize why. Our staff sincerely apologizes because the list we published is quite out of date,” the website said in a taunting statement.
The website, called Mirotvorets (Peacemaker), sparked international outcry last week when it published the personal data of thousands of journalists who have worked in eastern Ukraine in the past two years. The data was said to be obtained by “patriotic hackers” who stole it from computer networks of the de facto Donbass authorities.
People working for dozens of media outlets, including AP, AFP, Reuters, BBC, CNN, CCTV, Al Jazeera, RT, Deutsche Welle, the New York Times, Vice News and others were exposed by the leak. The publication was criticized by media professionals, journalists’ trade unions and political organization, including the OSCE and the EU.
Amid an international outcry, Kiev launched a criminal investigation into alleged violations of privacy. The website was shut down last Friday, only to reopen on Thursday this week. Its patron, Anton Gerashchenko, a Ukrainian MP and aide to the interior minister, commented on the revival by citing a maxim by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. “What does not kill me, makes me stronger,” Gerashchenko wrote in English.
The MP earlier demanded that the criminal investigation against the website be closed and called for the resignation of the Ukrainian human rights ombudswoman, Valeria Lutovskaya, who is playing a key role in the Ukrainian campaign against Mirotvorets.
The website’s purported goal is to fight separatism and terrorism and it publishes personal data of anyone its contributors consider enemies of Ukraine. At least two Ukrainian public figures were killed days after their home addresses were leaked by the website.
The Turkish parliament has approved a bill allowing its lawmakers to be prosecuted. The third and final vote on the matter was a secret ballot on Friday, with 376 MPs out of 550 voting in favor of the lifting of immunity from prosecution.
The bill garnered enough support to go directly to implementation, avoiding a referendum.
The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the midst of a crackdown on free speech and the press, is apparently turning on its own lawmakers for their alleged “support of terrorism,” which implies members of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) in particular, and their views on Kurdish groups.
One of the MPs who could soon find themselves in hot water is Eren Erdem of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). Currently under investigation for treason, his crime was to allege that the government allowed Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists to deliver deadly sarin gas through its territory and on to Syria.
“Chemical weapon materials were brought to Turkey and put together in ISIS camps in Syria, which was known as the Iraqi Al-Qaeda at that time,” Erdem told RT in an exclusive in December.
All 316 lawmakers from Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) reportedly signed the proposal.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu did not hold back, claiming the measure is aimed at “so-called lawmakers who lend support to terror and terrorists,” in an apparent reference to HDP members.
The Kurdish population in the southeast of Turkey is facing a crackdown by the country’s military, as Erdogan’s government considers the territory a haven for the militants of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Despite the fact that Kurdish groups are engaged in a fight against Islamic State in northern Syria, Ankara likes them no better than the terrorists. Its current military campaign against the ethnic group striving for independence began in mid-2015, ending a two-year ceasefire in a conflict that claimed over 40,000 lives since it began in 1984.
Press TV – May 20, 2016
Turkey’s parliament has approved a government-backed bill which would strip lawmakers of their immunity from prosecution in a move which critics say targets Kurds and dissidents.
In a secret ballot, 373 MPs in the 550-seat parliament voted for the bill on Friday with a quorum which is sufficient to avoid a referendum on the issue.
The lawmakers were also set to hold two further votes on elements of the bill later in the day, which will determine the final outcome.
Under the Turkish law, members of parliament are immune from prosecution while in office. The police can file “dossiers” against politicians, which can lead to a legal process once they cease to be members of parliament.
The new law will authorize prosecutors to pursue the MPs who currently face investigation; 138 deputies, of whom 101 are from the HDP and main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
The bill had already led to unprecedented scenes at the Parliamentary Constitutional Committee, with angry legislators exchanging fist and feet blows.
The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) says the legislation is essentially a move to drive its MPs out of the parliament.
The HDP said the bill could lead to the prosecution of 50 HDP legislators out of its total contingent of 59.
Erdogan has called for the prosecution of HDP members, accusing them of being affiliated to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group.
Should a number of HDP lawmakers leave the parliament, it would ease the way for Erdogan to push for his bid to change the constitution and create a presidential system in Turkey.
Tensions have been on the rise between the Turkish government and PKK militants over the military’s campaign in several regions with a majority Kurdish population in the past few months, following a number of deadly bombing attacks in the country last year.
JERUSALEM – At least 28 Palestinian women have been detained by Israel since October over alleged “incitement” on social media, with six of them still in prison, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Center for Studies (PPCS) said in a statement released on Wednesday.
PPCS spokesman Riyad al-Ashqar said that most of the women had been released hours or days after they were first detained, but that eight had been held in administrative detention — internment without trial or charges.
Al-Ashqar identified the six women still held over alleged social media incitement as Suad Abed al-Karim Irzeiqat, 28, from the city of Hebron; Dunia Ali Musleh, 19, from the town of Bethlehem; Sanaa Nayif Abbad from the town of Dura; Hanin Abd al-Qader Amr, 39, from the city of Tulkarem; Majd Yousif Atwan, 23, from the village of al-Khader; and Samah Dweik, 25, from occupied East Jerusalem.
Dweik, a journalist working for Shabakat al-Quds (The Jerusalem Network), was detained on April 10 in her home in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al-Amud after writing a Facebook status and sharing an image in support of Palestinians recently killed by Israeli forces.
Meanwhile, Atwan was sentenced by an Israeli court earlier this month to 45 days in prison and a 3,000 shekel ($794) fine over charges of incitement on her Facebook account.
In recent months, Israel has detained scores of Palestinians for social media activity, alleging that a wave of unrest that swept the occupied Palestinian territory last October was encouraged largely by “incitement.”
Palestinians have instead pointed chiefly to the frustration and despair brought on by Israel’s nearly 50-year military occupation of the Palestinian territory and the absence of a political horizon.
Al-Ashqar claimed that Israel was detaining Palestinian women under different pretexts to discourage and prevent them from taking part in resistance against the Israeli occupation, as well as to exert pressure on relatives also detained by Israeli forces.
More than 200 Palestinians and almost 30 Israelis have been killed since October, although the number of Palestinian and Israeli deaths saw a dramatic drop over the last two months, with Israeli leadership suggesting its severe security measures were responsible for the emerging trend.
However, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found in a poll last month that support for stabbing attacks had seen a decline in the West Bank in recent months — “due, it seems, to a rising perception in its inefficacy.”
According to prisoners’ organization Addameer, 7,000 Palestinians are detained in Israeli custody.
Despite the efforts of Israeli lobby groups, a Palestinian film about the 1972 Munich Olympics events was screened at the Cannes Film Festival’s Marche Marche du Film in Paris Monday as planned.
An excerpt of Nasri Hajjaj’s documentary, Munich: A Palestinian Story, was shown to film industry professionals in partnership with the Cannes Film Festival and the Dubai International Film Festival.
Hajjaj’s documentary came under attack by Israeli lobby groups who claimed that the film wrongly accuses German security forces for the deaths of 11 Israeli athletes, a German police officer and five hostage-takers at the 1972 Munich Olympics after a raid by the Palestinian group Black September.
The biggest lobbying group, the Council of Jewish Organizations in France, claimed that the film was an example of “historical revisionism” about the event.
Lobby groups reportedly put intense pressure on the organizers for the film to be banned.
Hajjaj, a former journalist who grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp, said that lobby groups and other critics made false claims about his documentary, which none of them have seen.
“Eight films have been made on the Munich chapter, but none of them are Palestinian or Arab. I want to present the Palestinian version of this story, which is not necessarily uncritical of the operation and its sequences,” Hajjaj was quoted as saying on the Dubai International Film Festival website.
Abdel Jaber Fuqaha, member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, was attacked and arrested by Israeli occupation forces on Tuesday, 15 May, after a dawn raid by occupation forces on his home. Fuqaha, 49, who has been arrested several times and has spent years in Israeli prison, most frequently under administrative detention without charge or trial, is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council representing the Change and Reform Bloc, allied with Hamas.
After Fuqaha’s release in 2011 after 27 months of administrative detention, he was arrested again in 2012, and then again in June 2013. He was last released in April 2015. He has spent over six years in Israeli prison; he was beaten during his arrest and his home ransacked. He is one of seven members of the Palestinian Legislative Council currently imprisoned in Israeli jails, including prominent Palestinian leaders Ahmad Sa’adat, Marwan Barghouthi, Khalida Jarrar, and Hassan Yousef.