Aug 102010
 August 10, 2010  Court, Featured News, Surveillance, U.S. Comments Off on Plaintiff who challenged FBI’s national security letters reveals concerns

Ellen Nakashima reports:

For six years, Nicholas Merrill has lived in a surreal world of half-truths, where he could not tell even his fiancee, his closest friends or his mother that he is “John Doe” — the man who filed the first-ever court challenge to the FBI’s ability to obtain personal data on Americans without judicial approval.


On a cold February day in 2004, an FBI agent pulled an envelope out of his trench coat and handed it to Merrill, who ran an Internet startup called Calyx in New York. At the time, like most Americans, he had no idea what a national security letter was.

The letter requested that Merrill provide 16 categories of “electronic communication transactional records,” including e-mail address, account number and billing information. Most of the other categories remain redacted by the FBI.

Read more in the Washington Post. Kim Zetter of Threat Level also reports on an interview they obtained with Merrill.

Aug 092010
 August 9, 2010  Featured News, Govt, Online, Surveillance, U.S. Comments Off on Consumer Watchdog Asks FBI, DEA to Explain Use of Google Earth

The FBI and DEA are now making extensive use of Google Earth, according to federal spending records. Consumer Watchdog is filing Freedom of Information Act requests with the agencies today to determine how the Internet giant’s digital mapping technology is being used for domestic surveillance, including whether it is used for racial profiling or other abuses of civil liberties.

“The public needs to know how law enforcement is using Google’s technologies,” said John M. Simpson, consumer advocate with the nonpartisan, nonprofit group. “We call on the FBI and the DEA to expeditiously respond to our requests for information.”

Congress should also investigate how the U.S. law enforcement and intelligence communities are using technologies that Google provides, Simpson added.

Federal contracting records reviewed by Consumer Watchdog show that the FBI has spent more than $600,000 on Google Earth since 2007. The Drug Enforcement Administration, meanwhile, has spent more than $67,000.

The DEA’s contracting records say that Google Earth is being used in connection with the agency’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, which targets specific geographic domestic regions of the United States.

The FBI has not disclosed exactly how it is using Google Earth. However, the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide encourages agents to use digital mapping technologies like Google Earth for assembling dossiers on local communities.

“As a general rule, if information about community demographics may be collected, it may be ‘mapped,'” the Manual states. “Sophisticated computer geo-mapping technology visually depicts lawfully collected information and can assist in showing relationships among disparate data.”

If the FBI merges ethnic data it has gathered onto Google Earth maps, it raises the possibility of unfair racial profiling.

Google Earth provides users with satellite-produced geographic images on a delayed basis and therefore cannot be used for real-time surveillance. However, the detailed information it provides can be used by police and intelligence agencies to analyze homes and communities in unprecedented ways.

On May 5 of this year, records identified by Consumer Watchdog show, the FBI awarded a $320,999.61 contract to DLT Solutions Inc. for five perpetual licenses of “Google Earth Fusion Pro with imagery, terrain and vector support,” along with 12 months of tech support and two computer processors.

The deal was the largest yet for Google Earth by the FBI, which is mainly investing in Google’s Fusion product. That allows organizations which already possess their own data to input this information into Google Earth and display it in geospatial form.

Meanwhile, a national poll released by Consumer Watchdog found that a significant majority of Americans are troubled by recent revelations  that Google’s Street View cars gathered communications from home WiFi  networks, and they want stronger legal protection to preserve their  online privacy.

Nearly two-thirds of those polled (65%) say the Wi-Spy scandal is one of the things that “worries them most” or a “great deal” with another 20% saying it “raises some concern” when considering Internet issues.

The poll, conducted for Consumer Watchdog by Grove Insight, Ltd., found a  solid majority (55%) is also bothered (“one of the most” or “great  deal”) by Google’s cooperation with the National Security Agency without saying what information is being shared. Even more voters call for  Congressional hearings on “Google’s gathering data from home WiFi  networks and its sharing of information with U.S. spy agencies like the National Security Administration, the NSA” (69% favor, 19% oppose).

— Read Grove Ltd.’s poll analysis here:

— Read the poll’s topline results here:

Source:  Consumer Watchdog

Dec 022009
 December 2, 2009  Court, Surveillance, U.S. Comments Off on Judge Denies FBI Dismissal From Berkeley Raid Lawsuit

Michael Garcia reports:

A federal judge denied a motion Monday to dismiss the FBI from a lawsuit filed by two Berkeley community organizations whose computers and storage devices were seized in an August 2008 raid.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White ruled that plaintiffs Long Haul Inc. and East Bay Prisoner Support can sue the investigative bureau for its role in the raid, which was conducted by the bureau’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in coordination with UCPD and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.


On Aug. 27, 2008, officers raided the Long Haul Infoshop, located at 3124 Shattuck Ave., as part of an investigation into a series of threatening e-mails that were allegedly sent to nine UC Berkeley faculty members from the shop…… During the raid, officers removed all computers from the building, including those located in the locked Slingshot and East Bay Prison Support offices, according to the documents.

In a complaint filed on Jan. 14, the plaintiffs alleged that the FBI and two agents working for the bureau violated the groups’ First Amendment U.S. Constitutional rights of freedom of speech and Fourth Amendment rights protecting unreasonable search and seizure.

Read more in The Daily Californian.

Oct 292009
 October 29, 2009  Featured News, Govt, Surveillance, U.S. Comments Off on Loosening of F.B.I. Rules Stirs Privacy Concerns

Charlie Savage reports:

After a Somali-American teenager from Minneapolis committed a suicide bombing in Africa in October 2008, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began investigating whether a Somali Islamist group had recruited him on United States soil.

Instead of collecting information only on people about whom they had a tip or links to the teenager, agents fanned out to scrutinize Somali communities, including in Seattle and Columbus, Ohio. The operation unfolded as the Bush administration was relaxing some domestic intelligence-gathering rules.

The F.B.I.’s interpretation of those rules was recently made public when it released, in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit, its “Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide.” The disclosure of the manual has opened the widest window yet onto how agents have been given greater power in the post-Sept. 11 era.


Related: Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide via the New York Times.