Federal Lawsuit Targets Spying By New York City Police Department In The City And New Jersey

June 6, 2012

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – Eight Muslims filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday in New Jersey to force the New York Police Department to end its surveillance and other intelligence-gathering practices targeting Muslims in the years after the 2001 terrorist attacks. The lawsuit alleged that the police activities were unconstitutional because they focused on people’s religion, national origin and race.

It is the first lawsuit to directly challenge the NYPD’s surveillance programs, which were the subject of an investigative series by The Associated Press since last year. Based on internal NYPD reports and interviews with officials involved in the programs, the AP reported that the NYPD conducted wholesale surveillance of entire Muslim neighborhoods, chronicling daily life including where people ate, prayed and got their hair cut. Police infiltrated dozens of mosques and Muslim student groups and investigated hundreds more.

Syed Farhaj Hassan, one of the plaintiffs, stopped attending one mosque as often after he learned it was one of four where he worships that were included in NYPD files. Those mosques were located along the East Coast from central Connecticut to the Philadelphia suburbs, but none was linked to terrorism, either publicly or in the confidential NYPD documents.

Hassan, an Army reservist from a small town outside of New Brunswick, N.J., said he was concerned that anything linking his life to potential terrorism would hurt his military security clearance.

“Guilt by association was forced on me,” Hassan said.

The NYPD did not respond to questions about the lawsuit but noted the New Jersey attorney general determined last month that NYPD activities in New Jersey were legal.

NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly has said his department is obligated to do this type of surveillance in order to protect New York from another 9/11. Kelly has said the 2001 attacks proved that New Yorkers could not rely solely on the federal government for protection, and the NYPD needed to enhance its efforts.

Hassan said he served in Iraq in 2003 to stop the atrocities of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s secret police.

“I didn’t know they had one across the Hudson,” he said, referring to the NYPD intelligence division.

California-based Muslim Advocates, a civil rights organization that meets regularly with representatives of the Obama administration, is representing the plaintiffs in the case for free.

“The NYPD program is founded upon a false and constitutionally impermissible premise: that Muslim religious identity is a legitimate criterion for selection of law-enforcement surveillance targets,” the lawsuit said.

New Jersey lawmakers were outraged earlier this year when they learned of the surveillance. But after a three-month review, the state’s attorney general found that the NYPD did not violate any state laws when it spied on Muslim neighborhoods and organizations. The attorney general found no recourse for the state of New Jersey to stop the NYPD from infiltrating Muslim student groups, video-taping mosque-goers or collecting their license plate numbers as they prayed.

No court has ruled that the NYPD programs were illegal. But the division operates without significant oversight: The New York City Council does not believe it has the expertise to oversee the intelligence division, and Congress believes the NYPD is not part of its jurisdiction even though the police department receives billions in federal funding each year.

Members of Congress and civil rights groups have urged the Justice Department to investigate the NYPD’s practices. A Justice Department spokeswoman said they are still reviewing the requests. Federal investigations into police departments typically focus on police abuse or racial profiling in arrests. Since 9/11, the Justice Department has never publicly investigated a police department for its surveillance in national security investigations.

Because of widespread civil rights abuses during the 1950s and 1960s, the NYPD has been limited by a court order in what intelligence it can gather on innocent people. Lawyers in that case have questioned whether the post-9/11 spying violates that order. The lawsuit filed Wednesday is a separate legal challenge.

The NYPD and New York officials have said the surveillance programs violated no one’s constitutional rights, and the NYPD is allowed to travel anywhere to collect information. Officials have said NYPD lawyers closely review the intelligence division’s programs.

“The constitutional violation that the NYPD did commit was blanket surveillance of a group based on religion,” said Glenn Katon, Muslim Advocate’s legal director. He said a program that treats people differently based on religion, national origin or race is subject to the Constitution. “That’s the crux of our claim,” he said.

A George Washington University law professor, Jonathan Turley, said it would be a challenge to convince the government that the NYPD’s practices were illegal because the courts and Congress have allowed more and more surveillance in the years since 9/11. But, he said, most of these questions have been handled in policy debates and not in the court systems.

Nineteen-year-old Moiz Mohammed, a sophomore at Rutgers University, said he was moved to join the lawsuit after reading reports that the NYPD had conducted surveillance of Muslim student groups at colleges across the Northeast, including his own. He said the revelations had made him nervous to pray in public or engage in lively debates with fellow students — a practice he said he once most enjoyed about the college atmosphere.

“It’s such an unfair thing going on: Here I am, I am an American citizen, I was born here, I am law abiding, I volunteer in my community, I have dialogues and good relationships with Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and the NYPD here is surveilling people like me?”

“We feel as though it was a violation of our constitutional and our civil and our human rights,” said Abdul Kareem Muhammad, one of the plaintiff’s in the case. Muhammad is the imam of the Newark mosque, Masjid al-Haqq. That mosque was listed and pictured in a September 2007 NYPD report on Newark.

“We have a very strong objection to that,” Muhammad said. “We condemn and denounce every form of terrorism.”

Muhammad said he and other Muslim community leaders have not been given assurances that the NYPD is no longer conducting surveillance on their communities.

“That’s become very disturbing, too,” Muhammad said. “There’s a possibility that this is still going on.”

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30,000 Secret Warrant Per Year To Spy On People In The United States

June 5, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Federal judges approve about 30,000 secret warrants to spy on people in the USA every year, and the innocent probably will never know they were watched, says a U.S. jurist involved in issuing the orders.

Magistrate Judge Stephen Smith writes in a new paper, highlighted by Ars Technica, that the 2006 total outstripped the entire output of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court since it was created in 1979, and the number is probably growing.

The secret orders are authorized by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, known as ECPA. Smith writes that the volume of such cases “is greater than the combined yearly total of all antitrust, employment discrimination, environmental, copyright, patent, trademark and securities cases filed in federal court.”

The warrants and the court’s proceedings are not open to public scrutiny. A three-judge panel reviews denials of applications for the warrants, but the court is not adversarial or open, and many orders are never unsealed.

Here are some of Smith’s findings, which will be published in the Harvard Law & Policy Review:

These electronic surveillance orders … grant law enforcement access to the electronic lives of our citizens — who we call, where we go, when we text, what websites we visit, what emails we send. Unlike most court orders, electronic surveillance orders are permanently hidden from public view by various ECPA provisions, including sealed court files, gag orders, and delayed-notice. It’s as though these orders were written in invisible ink — legible to the phone companies and electronic service providers who execute them, yet imperceptible to targeted individuals, the general public, and even other arms of government, including Congress and appellate courts.

This regime of secrecy has many unhealthy consequences: Congress lacks accurate empirical data to monitor the effectiveness of the existing statutory scheme and adapt it to new technologies; appellate courts are unable to give effective guidance to magistrate judges on how to interpret ECPA’s complex provisions in light of changing technology; and citizens are not informed about the extent of government intrusion into their electronic lives. With Congress on the sidelines, appellate courts not engaged, and the public in the dark, the balance between surveillance and privacy has shifted dramatically towards law enforcement, almost by default.

To get to his 30,000 estimate, Smith combined an earlier government survey with data from his own court’s docket, Ars Technica notes.

Smith calls for “structural changes” in the law to “eliminate unnecessary secrecy,” including an end to “automatic gagging” and sealing orders. He suggests a publicly available “warrant cover sheet” that features basic information about every electronic surveillance order.

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EPA Using Airborne Drones To Spy On Farmers In Nebraska And Iowa

June 4, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency is using aerial drones to spy on farmers in Nebraska and Iowa. The surveillance came under scrutiny last week when Nebraska’s congressional delegation sent a joint letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

On Friday, EPA officialdom in “Region 7” responded to the letter.

“Courts, including the Supreme Court, have found similar types of flights to be legal (for example to take aerial photographs of a chemical manufacturing facility) and EPA would use such flights in appropriate instances to protect people and the environment from violations of the Clean Water Act,” the agency said in response to the letter.

“They are just way on the outer limits of any authority they’ve been granted,” said Mike Johanns, a Republican senator from Nebraska.

In fact, the EPA has absolutely zero authority and is an unconstitutional entity of an ever-expanding and rogue federal government. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution does not authorize Congress to legislate in the area of the environment. Under the Tenth Amendment, this authority is granted to the states and their legislatures, not the federal government.

The EPA has not addressed the constitutional question, including its wanton violation of probable cause under the Fourth Amendment. It merely states that it has authority to surveil the private property of farmers and ranchers. It defends its encroaching behavior as “cost-efficient.”

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Law Enforcement Officials Refuse To Identify Who Owns Or Uses License Plate Readers/Cameras Being Installed On Lawrence County New York Utility Poles

June 2, 2012

ST. LAWRENCE COUNTY, NEW YORK – Some area law enforcement officials apparently know who is installing the mysterious camera boxes on utility poles around St. Lawrence County, but they’re not saying who it is.

The boxes, with a window for cameras to peer out of, have popped up in Norwood, Raymondville, DeKalb Junction, Waddington, Massena and Canton, according to witnesses.

Law enforcement officials at local, state and federal agencies agree the boxes contain license plate readers that take snapshots, and are not video cameras that send live feeds. But none of them are willing to identify what agency the cameras belong to and who is operating them.

The cameras appear to be identical to license plate readers advertised on web sites as containing a visible light camera, infrared camera and an infrared light source. The cameras can read plates on passing vehicles, record the plate number, date, time and location, send it to a database for storage, and alert law enforcement if it detects a vehicle or driver being sought.

They are similar to vehicle-mounted units that St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells says his department has been using for 10 years.

But about the pole-mounted cameras, Sheriff Wells says, “They are not mine.”

A spokesperson from National Grid, the major electric distributor in the region, said the company periodically agrees to requests from police agencies for placement of such devices on utility poles, but they are not permitted to reveal any details about whose cameras they are or where they might be.

National Grid’s Virginia Limmiatis, a senior media relations representative in Syracuse, said their policy “authorizes the user to plug into our system. Under the agreement they are required to install and maintain their own equipment.” The user will get a bill for a usage fee. But she couldn’t say whose cameras these are.

Meanwhile, a box Massena Electric employees found on one of their poles was turned over to the Massena Police Department. “We didn’t even know it was a camera,” said Superintendent Andrew McMahon. “We called the village police to pick it up.”

Massena Police Chief Timmy Currier said he returned it to the owner, but wouldn’t say how he knew who the owner was, nor would he say who he gave it to.

A Border Patrol operations officer in the sector station in Swanton, Vt., said he had no knowledge about the use of the cameras. He referred questions to an investigator apparently associated with Franklin County law enforcement, who said he knew about other cameras, but didn’t know about deployment of license plate readers, and wouldn’t discuss it further.

State Police Lt. Kevin Boyea of Troop B said he has no knowledge of the cameras, their origin or their purpose.

However, not all police agencies were aware of the boxes. After discussing it at a periodic meeting of police chiefs from around the county this morning, Wells said, “none of the local chiefs were ever contacted about the existence of these cameras.”

Several of the law enforcement representatives said use of cameras – license plate readers and surveillance cameras – is increasing, and while we might not be used to such scrutiny in the North Country, each cited reports about how people living in cities should expect to be on camera at any given moment.

“Any time you travel in an urban area, you will see lots of cameras,” said Sheriff Wells. Many, he said, are designed to record drivers who go through red lights, and there are many other uses. “They’re designed to assist police. They are a tool for investigators.”

But any law enforcement agency that wants data stored by the cameras can have access to it if they need it and can show why. But they can’t tell us who they send their requests to.

McMahon, the superintendent at Massena Electric Department, said one of his crews found a box on one of their poles and took it down because “it was in the electric space,” the top tier of wires on the pole above the telephone and cable TV wires, and whoever put it there had taken a chance with electrocution. He said they had never received a request or been informed about its placement.

McMahon said whoever put it there might have thought the pole belonged to National Grid, and that it wouldn’t be the first time a mistake like that had happened. He said National Grid themselves had once replaced a damaged Massena Electric pole without knowing it.

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Bomb Threat Prompts Evacuation Of Under Construction NSA Spy Facility On Military Base In Utah

May 21, 2012

UTAH – A bomb threat forced the evacuation of a National Security Agency facility under construction in Utah on Monday but investigators found nothing suspicious, an FBI spokeswoman said.

The site for the spy agency is being built at Camp Williams, a military base just south of Salt Lake City. The Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing the project.

FBI spokeswoman Deborah Bertram declined to say how the threat was received but said it led to an evacuation at the site.

FBI agents spent several hours at the site after the threat was received. “We found nothing suspicious,” Bertram said.

U.S. officials have released few details on the purpose of the National Security Agency center.

The agency is in charge of collecting and analyzing foreign communications and protecting U.S. government communications and information systems.

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Spy Drone Nearly Causes Mid-Air Collision Over Denver Colorado

May 17, 2012

DENVER, COLORADO – A mystery object, thought to be a military or law enforcement drone, flying in controlled airspace over Denver almost caused a catastrophic mid air crash with a commercial jet Monday.

The pilot of the Cessna jet radioed air traffic controllers to warn them that “A remote controlled aircraft” had flown past his plane far too close for comfort.

“Something just went by the other way … About 20 to 30 seconds ago. It was like a large remote-controlled aircraft.” the pilot said in the transmission that was captured on the live air traffic audio website liveatc.net.

The craft was reported as being about 8,000 feet above sea level, or about 2,800 feet above the ground, at the time the pilot reported the seeing it. It did not show up on radar.

The type of drones used by NATO typically fly at 10,000 feet and below. Other tactical military drones can fly up to 18,000 feet.

Denver 9News reports that the Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident, which it has described as potentially “extremely dangerous.”

“The threat is there from a collision standpoint,” an FAA spokesman said.

In a statement to USA Today, the agency said: “The FAA is investigating the incident and will try to positively identify the object the Citation pilot reported, where it came from and who was operating it.”

Aviation expert and former NTSB investigator Greg Feith told 9News that he believed the object could have been either a military or police drone.

“We have something in controlled airspace that poses a danger,” Feith added.

Watch the report:

As we reported yesterday, the federal government is rolling out new rules on the use of the unmanned drones this week, with the Federal Aviation Administration announcing procedures will “streamline” the process through which government agencies, including local law enforcement, receive licenses to operate the aircraft.

Congress recently passed legislation paving the way for what the FAA predicts will be somewhere in the region of 30,000 drones in operation in US skies by 2020.

Privacy advocates have warned that the FAA has not acted to establish any safeguards whatsoever, and that congress is not holding the agency to account.

In addition, a recently uncovered Air Force document circumvents laws and clears the way for the Pentagon to use drones to monitor the activities of Americans.

Constitutional and legal expert Judge Andrew Napolitano, and his Fox News colleague Charles Krauthammer have both warned that the drones could become a literal shooting target for Americans protesting their illegal use for surveillance by the government and the military.

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New Jersey Judge: First American Patriot To Shoot Down Spy Drone Will Be A Hero

May 17, 2012

NEW JERSEY – Judge Andrew Napolitano has warned Congress not to act “like potted plants” regarding the increased use of unmanned surveillance drones without warrants over US skies by military, government, and law enforcement agencies.

Echoing the recent comments of his Fox News colleague Charles Krauthammer, Napolitano also said that “The first American patriot that shoots down one of these drones that comes too close to his children in his backyard will be an American hero.”

The federal government is rolling out new rules on the use of the unmanned drones this week, with the Federal Aviation Administration announcing procedures will “streamline” the process through which government agencies, including local law enforcement, receive licenses to operate the aircraft.

Privacy advocates have warned that the FAA has not acted to establish any privacy safeguards whatsoever, and that congress is not holding the agency to account.

A recently uncovered Air Force document also circumvents laws and clears the way for the Pentagon to use drones to monitor the activities of Americans.

The Air Force instruction, dated April 23, admits that the Air Force cannot legally conduct “nonconsensual surveillance” on Americans, but also states that should the drones”incidentally” capture data while conducting other missions, military intelligence has the right to study it to determine whether the subjects are legitimate targets of domestic surveillance.

“The same Congress that let the president bomb Libya is going to let his Air Force spy in our backyards and like potted plants, they’ll look the other way,” Judge Napolitano urged yesterday.

“The Third Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment and the Ninth Amendment were written to guarantee us the right to be left alone … Suddenly the government, silently, from 30,000 feet above is violating those amendments,” he added.

As we reported in February, over 30 prominent watchdog groups have banded together to petition the FAA on the proposed increase in the use of drones in US airspace.

The groups, including The American Civil Liberties Union, The Electronic Privacy Information Center, and The Bill of Rights Defense Committee, submitted a petition demanding that the FAA hold a rulemaking session to consider the privacy and safety threats.

Congress recently passed legislation paving the way for what the FAA predicts will be somewhere in the region of 30,000 drones in operation in US skies by 2020.

The ACLU noted that the FAA’s legislation “would push the nation willy-nilly toward an era of aerial surveillance without any steps to protect the traditional privacy that Americans have always enjoyed and expected.”

In addition to privacy concerns, the groups warned that the ability to link facial recognition technology to surveillance drones and patch the information through to active government databases would “increase the First Amendment risks for would be political dissidents.”

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