Archive for February, 2014

Against DHS funding for SPD facial recognition software, fusion centers

By Jan Bultmann, David Robinson, Phil Mocek, and Garrett Cobarr

2/18/2014 Post-Meeting update:

  • Four Seattle Privacy members spoke to the Public Safety Committee (PSC) today.
  • We submitted this document to the committee for inclusion in the public record.
  • PSC did NOT vote on the bill today, but it will be re-introduced to full council on Monday 2/24.
  • Full council will vote on it 3/10.
  • In the meantime, we are marking up a copy of the policy document submitted by Seattle Police Department to Council, to give councilmembers an example of what a through independent technical review with an eye toward privacy and security would look like, and how useful it would be.

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Here are background information and talking points for the 2/18/2014 2 pm meeting of the Seattle City Council Public Safety Committee (PSC).

In this post:

What is this legislation?
What is Seattle Privacy’s position?
Talking points
Timeline of events behind Council Bill 117996

What is the legislation?
C.B. 117996 accepts an Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant in the amount of $1,645,955 under Federal Fiscal Year 2012 funding. The bill would approve acquisition of an arrest booking photo comparison database, and add a section to the Seattle Police Manual describing its proper use.

What is Seattle Privacy’s position?
We call on the PSC to do the following:

  1. Hold the legislation for further discussion, including a minimum of three public hearings in the evening when the public can attend.
  2. Make any amendments necessary to the operating surveillance ordinance (Ordinance 124142) that is already in effect BEFORE purchasing any more equipment.
  3. Explain what items SPD needs that the city is not able or willing to provide, and why we have not seen these items in budget proposals.

Talking points

Need for Meaningful Council Oversight

  • This is a police department that has been found to engage in *unconstitutional* behavior fully 20% of the time they use force.
  • Council’s discussions with SPD at the table and dais appear sometimes to be with some other police force, not the one that we read about in DOJ and monitor reports.
  • We get the impression that the the PSC is reluctant to question the assertions of SPD.
  • In the past, SPD has used DHS grant money to purchase drones and surveillance cameras which public outcry has later forced them to shut down. Past behavior is predictor of future behavior.
  • During all that time that unconstitutional force was being used, the Office of Police Accountability very rarely found wrongdoing. Investigations of allegations appear to be ineffective. We have reason to believe that if there are episodes of misconduct, little will be done and the public will be kept in the dark.
  • SPD has earned distrust and strict oversight, and that is the job of the City Council and an informed public.
  • SPD and City Council justify the acceptability of these systems by saying that “the ACLU and the Human Rights Commission were involved in review.” We hold that this level of review is utterly insufficient for funding of programs whose value has been thrown into grave doubt. It does not meet any objective measure of public input. We insist that council hold a minimum of three public hearings before accepting DHS money for SPD use.

Problem with the Booking Comparison System

  • This system enables SPD to search records of many people who were never charged, much less convicted, of crime.
  • As currently written, the policy could be changed at any time without notice to Council or the public. This PSC has talked about Ordinance 124142 as a safeguard, but that ordinance is weak, containing no language about compliance or penalties for noncompliance. We also know that the police introduced language that weakened it further at 5 pm the Friday before Council voted it through as amended Monday morning.
  • We know that Councilmember Harrell plans to introduce an amendment to address the weakness of the operating surveillance ordinance (Ordinance 124142) in March, but we want to see that ordinance amended BEFORE any new equipment is purchased.
  • Ordinance 124142 is now one year old and we have yet to see any record that any department has submitted privacy policies in compliance with it. The city has failed to follow its own law.
  • The Booking Photo Comparison System policy defines a suspect as “a person whom an officer reasonably suspects may be involved in criminal activity.” That includes people who are never even arrested.
  • “The database will contain only booking photos of individuals who have been arrested, fingerprinted, photographed and booked into an adult correctional facility in King, Pierce or Snohomish counties.” That includes people who are never charged with a crime.
  • The Booking Photo Comparison System usage log will be audited annually by SPD’s Audit, Policy and Research. How will auditors verify that there was probable cause? Where will that information be logged for audits? What’s the enforcement mechanism?
  • What’s to limit what photos will be dumped into the database? (For example, mention has been made of a WA Department of Licensing facial recognition database  based on driver’s licenses.)
  • What is the limit on where future additions to the database will come from?
  • Allowing automation of policy activities takes it from somewhat acceptable to invasive and unacceptable. A human officer can fly a camera around, investigate license plates, and look at photographs. But we don’t want an army of police robots in the sky, on poles, in cameras in cars, following us all around and mining any photographs they can get for data, dumping it into a database that they may share with any number of county, state, and federal agencies.
  • Example: May Day 2012 incident action plan where Sanford called for photos of all known “anarchists/criminals” and people who’d been arrested in Occupy protests
  • Just as the NSA manipulated and misled Congress, SPD are likely to manipulate and mislead City Council. They will allow Council and the public to assume the best, while the police push to the limit of what they can get away with. They are rules-enforcers, not rights-protectors.
  • We call on Council to think about potential purchases with consideration for just how bad it could be, not just concoct a rosy vision of how well it could go.
  • Example: In documents released under public disclosure earlier this week we learned that city of Seattle built a radio receiver system so they can watch the (sometimes unencrypted) communications from the WSP’s flying infrared cameras, which we know to be used to monitor, for example, political demonstrations. Were Council aware of this system? (FLIR 380)
  • Example: In August 2012 The Guardian reported that DHS paid $832,000 for a trial deployment of the Trapwire surveillance system in Seattle. Was Council aware of this system?

Timeline of events behind Council Bill 117996

December 2003 Initial version of this legislation is passed: Ordinance 121283, passed by the City Council on September 22, 2003, authorized the Seattle Police Department to apply for funding under FFY03 UASI Grant Award Programs I and II, authorized the Seattle Police Department to execute an agreement to partner with the State of Washington, King County, and other local jurisdictions to participate in UASI Grant Award Program II, and appropriated an initial allocation of funding under both grant programs for immediate needs of conducting vulnerability assessments and providing urgently needed equipment to City departments.

2004-2012 Variations on same legislation passed every single year without significant public debate for 10 years.

June 2013 Edward Snowden reveals NSA domestic spying programs.

December 2013 Public Safety Committee (PSC) held the 11th iteration of the legislation due to a potentially controversial program, Booking Comparison Software. PSC asked SPD to provide documentation of public outreach in privacy policy development and asked for ACLU and Human Rights Commission input into the system.

January 2014 New executive, changes to SPD command staff. SPD received input from ACLU and Human Rights Commission, provided draft privacy policy.

February 5, 2014 SPD presented legislation to PSC, discussion.

February 19, 2014 PSC discussion.

February 24, 2014 Bill to be re-introduced.

March 10, 2014 Full council vote.

Washington state must regulate police drone use now

By Jan Bultmann and Lee Colleton

This week Seattle Privacy packed up in an electric vehicle (ask us about range anxiety) and headed south to ACLU Drone Lobby Day in Olympia, where we joined forces with a group of 30 or so other constituents for a refresher on the legislation we were there to support and tips on how to talk to lawmakers.

(The tips were good. I once worked as an aide in a council office, and I can tell you that sometimes it is absolutely impossible to figure out what in the hell your constituent is telling you to do. Preparing a brief, simple message, like, “We’re asking you to support Senate Bill 6172, which regulates government use of drones,” is a great idea.

Staying focused is also a good tip. It’s easy to burble on madly when you suddenly have access to a person who might actually be able to effect the change you care about. It’s never great to start a 10-minute meeting with “Before I was born…,” for example. I always want to explain the context and why context is important, and I would start with the dawn of agriculture if I had my way. Anyway. Being on time and polite, also good.)

On Drone Lobby Day, our message was, “We’re asking you to support Senate Bill 6172, which regulates government use of drones.”

drone on table

The bill would not affect the Seattle Privacy drone (pictured) or other hobbyist drones.

ACLU  gave us a detailed list of talking points. This is something we at Seattle Privacy could really learn from. We need to agree on talking points before we make visits with councilmembers, attend council hearings, or other public meetings. It’s the only way to make sure that every important point gets covered, and one particular point doesn’t get undue emphasis or time.

(In fact, we’re working on our first set of talking points, regarding smart meters, now, in preparation for speaking to the Seattle City Light Review Panel later this month.)

So here are a few highlights from SB 6172.

Court order required

Under SB 6172, state law enforcement agencies would need a court order to use drones to collect information that could be used to identify a person. This is essential. Because of how small and maneuverable drones already are, compared to manned aerial surveillance, and the relentless trend toward miniaturization in tech, it’s easy to see that drone surveillance introduces a host of new vantage points from which to view people. And if they don’t already have facial recognition software, they certainly will soon enough. An early version of the bill specified that they could not have weapons, but, tragically, I believe that language has been struck.

With drones emerging as a cornerstone of our military strategy, research is proceeding apace. We can bet that drones will become more powerful, more versatile and less expensive. Advances in artificial intelligence will enhance their ability to carry out increasingly invasive surveillance. We can expect drones that will carry high-power zoom lenses, employ thermal imaging and use radar to penetrate the walls of homes and businesses. With facial recognition software, they will be able to recognize and track individuals. And the Air Force is testing a system called “Gorgon Stare,” which uses multiple cameras to look at a whole city. – ACLU-WA

To add to what the ACLU asked us to focus on for their Drone Lobby Day, I want to say here that the combination of personally identifying data and drones carrying weapons powered the United States’s extrajudicial assassination of Anwar Al-Awlaki’s innocent 16-year-old son, a U.S. citizen, and uncounted others, in Yemen. I don’t really expect the Washington State Patrol to start launching drone attacks against Washington residents without benefit of trial or due process, but I want to make it explicit that we don’t do that here. And we never should have done it, or still be doing it now, anywhere, to anyone, regardless of their country of citizenship.

Approval from local governing bodies BEFORE purchase

SB 6172 would require agencies to get approval from the state Legislature or local governments, such as city councils, before purchasing drones. This touches on an issue we at Seattle Privacy keep running into, which is how lavish amounts of money are available to state and local law enforcement agencies in the form of grants from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Again, to add to what ACLU has to say on this subject, I want to point out that these pernicious DHS grants appear to be designed to create a new domestic surveillance agency through their network of state & local fusion centers, and they also have a way of slipping military style equipment by local oversight bodies.

In Seattle, for example, DHS funding paid for Seattle Police Department drones and surveillance cameras. When members of the public first started asking about the cameras popping up all along a waterfront park, not even City Council knew where they had come from. Early news reports incorrectly claimed they were owned by Port of Seattle. But no, they belonged to SPD. SPD drones were also sprung on council as a fait accompli. After an  eloquent argument from the ACLU, and public outcry, the drones, at least, were boxed. The cameras still sit on their posts, supposedly nonoperational, but with their power lights glowing.

(As it happens, Seattle City Council is poised to renew approval for SPD to receive DHS grants this month. More about that here, under action number 2.)

Not a prohibition

In our training, Shankar Narayan, legislative director for the ACLU of Washington, stressed that we should stress that this legislation was not trying to prohibit the use of the technology.

First of all, that would be a very impolitic move in a state that hosts so much aerospace industry. In fact, a similar bill almost made it to the floor of the House last year but stalled in the Rules Committee, strangely, after Boeing representatives spoke up for a new and growing industry of which they are very much a part. They didn’t want regulation too soon, they said.

But that was last year, before the Summer of Snowden. The conversation has changed a bit, thankfully. While drones still could be extremely beneficial on the public’s behalf, for example, for search and rescue operations, wildfire monitoring, or other non-unconstitutional-bulk-warrantless-domestic-surveillance type uses, every legislator or staff person I spoke with was also very alive to privacy concerns.

Chats with reps

It’s a strange experience to speak to legislators as part of an official constituent visit. It can feel a bit anticlimactic, after learning and preparing, to talk to someone who is calm, friendly, attentive, and respectful, but gives you absolutely no idea what he or she thinks about the issue. Probably more experienced lobbyists can push past that, and if that’s the case, I hope to get to that point.

Even though it’s not always clear that we have made a difference at all when we speak to our elected representatives, I believe it is very important that we do it. Partly, that’s because as American citizens, we have an added layer of agency beyond what people, say, in Yemen, or Pakistan, have, when it comes to telling the US government how to behave. And partly, as we told the folks we talked to in Olympia, these technologies, along with secret laws and secret courts, threaten our ability to govern ourselves freely. We need to work together and exercise our rights while we still can.

This post is in honor of Karim Khan, an anti-drone activist and journalist has gone missing in Pakistan just days before he was due to travel to Europe to speak with Parliament members about the impact of the U.S. drone wars. Karim Khan’s brother and son were both killed in a drone strike in 2009.

Update: Karim Khan has been released, after having been kidnapped by 15-20 armed men, beaten, interrogated, and tortured.

How police culture works against effective police reform

By Drew Hendricks
Winner of the Washington Coalition for Open Government’s Key Award for his work with public records

 

I have a long history of reading the internal and inter-agency emails of police intelligence units, mostly thanks to the Public Records laws of the State of Washington. I’ve also been known to avail myself of the opportunity to dumpster-dive for records discarded by police and have even gone so far as to reconstruct the shreds of police reports which were found in trash bags. I’ve had a long time to think about police culture as an outsider investigator, police reform activist, and protester over the course of about twenty years.

 

Formal vs. informal power

Police, like any other group of people, are not simple or monolithic in their viewpoints or attitudes. Despite this, I have been able to see some general trends in the outlooks and attitudes of the police I study, especially in the police intelligence units and drug task forces I have tended to focus upon. These are a few of the things I have learned.

Police memoirs and agency histories agree that there is a cultural divide between patrol officers and police administrators, a distinction often seen in movie and TV dramas when conflict arises between the “desk cop” and the “street cop.” There is a grain of truth here, a difference in style and outlook necessary for the police officers who manage other police officers and interact with higher authorities such as police commissioners or sheriffs or city council members. The focus for any manager is always on where authority lies, who answers to whom, and what the organization chart looks like. Nowhere is this focus sharper than when the persons being managed are armed and authorized to make regular use of physical violence.

On the other side of that coin, street cops are of course jealous of their power and alert to any attempt to modify or control it by those outsiders who “just can’t understand” and “don’t risk their lives” as they do. The culture of the street cop can best be exemplified in the “guild rep,” and is expressed in police guild contracts with police management, which explicitly forbid questioning a patrol officer about the use of deadly force for at least three, and often five, working days after the event.

It is this guild-based center of power (often left off of the official organization chart) which most persistently resists personal body-worn cameras, in-car cameras, and other tools of accountability because the first and best users of these technologies will always be police managers. In an especially bad guild-run police agency, police who have been fired come back to work (with back pay) and public records requests have to pass inspection by a guild rep. When the US Department of Justice steps into an agency and tries to reform it by selecting or replacing its managers and its processes, its success in effecting lasting change is often limited by its failure to recognize and confront the actual power of the organized street cops, whether organized in the guild or expressed in “blue flu” epidemics or selective non-patrols of key city council districts. Informal power networks often have as much power as formal ones, especially if they are free from interference because they are covert.

 

What the police are for

A similar failure of outsider-led police reform often arises from the misunderstanding of how police agencies infringe on protester rights. The police as an institution are constructed to manage social disruption and strikes, keeping the private ownership of enterprises from being forcibly ejected by the working persons who daily occupy the enterprises. Police see protest as the crack from which such events would flow, and are institutionally opposed to protests unless they are organized by police, for guild purposes. Police intelligence units are the ultimate expression of this distrust of protest. This culture of distrust bridges the street-cop/desk-cop divide. It can flow from management directives down to patrol level or arise independently from patrol officers reacting to unexpected, spontaneous protests. In either case, activists cannot trust either side of the police agency to actually protect their rights to protest. Fundamentally this is NOT what police agencies are made to protect, despite all propaganda to the contrary.

Yet City Council members and activists (often relying on the official organization chart) focus their efforts on management or policy when called on to address police agency interference in legitimate protest movements. Thus the activist often hears the police manager’s response that the police have arrived “to protect everyone’s rights” and that they will only intervene “if there is violence.” I cannot relate to you how many times I have heard these words spoken by a man dressed in padded armor, while standing in front of an entire array of men similarly equipped, all of them armed and trained how to use those arms. Oddly enough this statement has never made me feel secure in the use of my rights.

 

Co-opting the politicians (or worse)

Police managers run interference with the elected (transient) layer of government, while conditioning them through continuity of government (COG) arrangements and private threat assessments and executive session briefings to accept the permanent security state, and to distrust protesters and their motives. You might not realize it, but there is a specific Washington State Patrol officer assigned to find and secure each state-level elected official in case of an emergency. Each official has a WSP “buddy” or “COG Officer” with that official’s personal contact info and addresses.

I can’t emphasize enough the potential for psychological buy-in which this arrangement supports and engenders. Because they depend upon the police intelligence and security apparatus for their personal safety, in a manner which is annually reinforced and practiced in drills, the elected official can come to identify with the stated assumptions implicit in the police intelligence institutions beyond the level which would be expected from simply reading briefings and accepting them as true reflections of reality.

I also can’t emphasize enough the implications of such an arrangement if the security state were ever to lose confidence in the system of electoral politics. Is “continuity of government” a deliberate plan to have a ready-made coup in place if it is ever needed? Perhaps it was intended to be so; it would certainly hang well on that frame as long as most of the COG officers either believed the emergency situation were dire enough, or that the elected officials they “serve” were beneath their contempt. But it certainly doesn’t depend on being explicitly thought of as a coup to function effectively that way in a crisis.

 

The military mindset

From my readings, the types of folks who enjoy making lists of activists and their planning meetings and passing those lists around as “threat assessments” are former military (often former military intelligence) and they do this either as contractor intel analysts or as police employees of various types. I’ve seen everything from IT support personnel doing it, to police detectives doing it, to US Army Reserve intelligence managers doing it as Washington State Fusion Center contractors paid under WSP/DHS grants. They all share common assumptions in their reporting and analysis which stem from who they are as people.

The common link is that they are mostly or all rule-followers. Their thinking is not “rights based” but rather “permission based.” Explaining that you have to respect the rights of protesters to these folks just gets a blank stare. They literally have no idea what you might mean by that. They walk out into the world with a notion of duty and service, they accept that what they were told by higher command is what is important, and if you contradict these orders then you’re a traitor or a terrorist.

If you tell them they are doing terrible things they will not believe it for a minute – they are keeping America safe from all the things that they can imagine some brain-damaged protester might do, if not properly supervised. This is the type who tells you that you can’t take pictures of (This Or That) because (My Boss Said So). It is this type who tells you that “I am the Law.”

Meanwhile, their managers are the types who know that when an elected official asks whether rights are being violated, they had better hand that official a nice organization chart to explain (A) that the system is VERY VERY COMPLEX and (B) Fully Audited To Make Sure They Follow Rules. These are great things until you realize that it doesn’t matter how you write those rules if the rules tell the practicing intelligence analyst to respect fundamental rights (apply a general principle to various situations) rather than evaluate whether a protest group followed the orders they were given, whether by the law or by the sergeant or lieutenant in charge of making the rules clear to the protest group. Making the evaluation is objectively possible while applying a principle is not for a rules-based individual whose sense of order is violated or insulted by the protester’s ideology. How could a criminal have a “right” to block a car in traffic on a road, after all?

The person who knows that the First Amendment protects your right to protest knows that this right is more fundamental than the privilege to drive a car, which must be licensed and approved as to its fitness to be on the road. There is no government “fitness test,” meanwhile, for public political speech – it must only not harm others or call for imminent harm. The officer who hears his sergeant shout at the protesters to get out of the road hears that they have been given an order (an order HE would have to follow), so naturally he sees no problem applying discipline to the protesters (unruly children!). And of course this application of force to clear a road is seen in dozens of cases, even to the point of using a Taser or a baton to harm protesters and in rare instances kill them, all in order to protect the “right” to drive a car to the grocery store or the hospital. Even though the supposed reason to remove the protesters would be “for their safety.” Again, unruly children do not get to decide for themselves what risks they adopt.

 

Assessing the protester threat

To illustrate this point, let me pull out two quotes from the 2013 threat assessments around May Day 2013, the first from the Washington State Fusion Center’s April 5th May Day threat assessment:

While the WSFC does not track First Amendment protected activities of groups or individuals, May Day events have been plagued by significant criminal conduct carried out by a small group of people who commit criminal acts (vandalism, property damage, graffiti, etc.).1

Now imagine saying that same sentence with the event “May Day” replaced with the word “Seafair,” or “football game” and it becomes obvious that this “threat assessment” contains some serious political animus toward the political importance of May Day for Anarchists, Socialists, and other counter cultures rather than an objective concern over “vandalism, property damage, graffiti, etc.”

A further quote from a smaller police intelligence unit, the Regional Intelligence Group 5 (Pierce County) shows how police intelligence relies on cut-and-paste lip service for rights, while contradicting the spirit of those words with the actual content of the quote:

While the SSRIG does not track First Amendment protected activities of groups or individuals, May Day events have been plagued by significant criminal conduct carried out by a small group of people who commit criminal acts (vandalism, property damage, graffiti, etc.)….

LE officers need to be aware those who are involved and planning this event have been involved in aggressive Port Military Resistance Protests at the Port of Tacoma, to include Police Brutality protests in Tacoma in the recent past.2

If the SSRIG / RIG5 “does not track First Amendment Protected activities” (such as association) then how, exactly, would they know that “those who are involved and planning this event have been involved in aggressive Port Military Resistance Protests at the Port of Tacoma, to include Police Brutality protests in Tacoma in the recent past.”? And why would protesting police brutality be a police intelligence issue, anyway?

Any attempt to re-write the rules and procedures to protect protester rights will fail because of how the people who organize police intelligence think about the world. The problem is that people who believe in rights and the application of principles to situations are not the types who go into managing or distributing police intelligence. Built on that foundation, the little individual lies each officer tells about their “study subjects” can compound quickly into a domestic terrorism dossier for a simple protest organizer. Until 2009, the Washington State Patrol actually ran an informal database-sharing effort in a series of “Domestic Terror Conferences” which apparently profiled activists and protesters as long as they had been accused of violence during one of their arrests, without apparent regard for whether they had actually been convicted of a violent crime.3

WSP ended its sponsorship of the DT conferences and they were taken up by the Portland Department of Justice in 2010 and 2011. The WSP explanation for ending their sponsorship of the “DT Book” database in the last year they hosted the associated conference is telling:

Perhaps some clarification is due on the reason for discontinuing the “book”. The reasons are myriad and we hope that this will help you have a better understanding of our decision.

 

  1. Intelligence information must be vetted through a supervisor and the Section Commander for inclusion into the database (to comply with LEIU standards and 28CFR part 23).
  2. No Intelligence data should be kept in separate files/locations.
  3. The information for the book is derived from multiple sources and there is no verification that it been vetted for accuracy and completeness nor the reliability of the source and the content.
  4. In reference to the purge requirements, the information is not WSP’s information thus we have not established the retention period and at time of purge we would have to verify the information has not been updated prior to that purge creating more work than necessary for WSP.
  5. We do not know how the information was collected. Each state, as well as federal agencies, has different collection and retention standards that could be in conflict with WSP requirements. That could easily open all of us to extensive scrutiny and outside audits.
  6. Finally, WSP OCIU [Organized Crime Intelligence Unit] has limited ability to continue to devote such intense levels of time and resources toward putting together this information, maintaining it, and distributing it to these other agencies.

We welcome discussion on submitting information or intelligence into another database, such as the RISS Network nodes (WSIN, RMIN, etc), which would enhance the aspects of the original concept of the “book.”4

Even more telling is that I and activists associated with me had caught US Army spy John Towery about five months before this email was written, and a top-down review of Washington State Police intelligence was underway at the time.5

 

Conclusion

In light of my research and experience studying law enforcement professionals, I call on elected officials and specifically the DOJ monitor assigned to review the progress of reform in SPD, to recognize that there are institutional and attitudinal barriers to change that need to be confronted. It really is not the business of any police agency to decide which potential protest events will be met with force, and which protest organizers will be interfered with, arrested, followed, watched, and lied to by undercover officers and their informants. By starting down that road, these police agencies have abandoned their Constitutional oaths in favor of their convenience and their corporate patrons. It is time to return to the rule of law, if you’ll hear that from an Anarchist like me.


 

1 13-0020-May_Day_Threat_Assessment_May_1_2013_(U-FOUO).pdf. Hosted on SeattlePrivacy.org by permission of the author.
2 Threat_Assessment_May_Day_2013_(South_Sound).pdfHosted on SeattlePrivacy.org by permission of the author.
4 Email message. Thursday, November 19, 2009. [Withheld from publication by the editors.]

2 ways Seattlites can fight back against mass surveillance today

Today we are proud to join thousands of websites around the world in demanding an end to mass surveillance through an Internet-wide digital protest.

Here are two ways to take action right now, one on the federal level and one for the City of Seattle.

1. On the federal level: Tweet to our own Washington State Senator Maria Cantwell asking her to co-sponsor the USA Freedom Act.

Senator Cantwell has a strong record in this area, but a lot of defense dollars pour into this state. She needs cover from her constituents when she goes up against military programs. And quoting Thomas Drake: “If not us, who? If not now, when?”

Senator Cantwell’s official twitter address is @CantwellPress.

Here are a few sample tweets we’ll be sending to Senator Cantwell. Please copy and paste at will, mix and match, or create your own:

  • Bulk domestic surveillance is unconstitutional and violates our Fourth Amendment rights. Please co-sponsor USA Freedom Act.
  • NSA spying costs $53 billion in 2013 & there’s no evidence it’s effective. Please co-sponsor USA Freedom Act.
  • Cost of NSA spying revelations to American business could reach $180 billion by 2016. Please co-sponsor USA Freedom Act.
  • Oppose the bad bill FISA Improvements Act that grants new powers to the NSA. Please co-sponsor USA Freedom Act.

It might also be interesting to quote President Obama, in his January 17 NSA speech, perhaps over a series of tweets:

“But all of us understand that the standards for government surveillance must be higher. Given the unique power of the state, it is not enough for leaders to say: Trust us. We won’t abuse the data we collect. For history has too many examples when that trust has been breached. Our system of government is built on the premise that our liberty cannot depend on the good intentions of those in power. It depends on the law to constrain those in power.”

2.) On the city level. Send tweets to members of the Seattle Public Safety committee asking them to live up to their oversight responsibilities with regard to Council Bill Number 117996. In last week’s meeting, Councilmember Harrell noted that he didn’t know why his staff had asked him to hold the bill for an extra week of discussion.

We need to make sure he knows.

Here are the twitter addresses for the members of the Seattle Public Safety committee:

@bruceharrell: Councilmember Bruce Harrell, Chair
@NickJLicata: Councilmember Nick Licata, Vice Chair
@sallybagshaw: Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, member
@CouncilmanTim: Councilmember Tim Burgess, alternate

Here are some sample tweets.

  • After Snowden, please don’t rubberstamp federal $$$ for surveillance equipment. No on #CB117996
  • Please vote no on #CB117996. No $$ from DHS for fusion center; surveillance.
  • In addition to NSA surveillance, DHS Is creating a domestic surveillance agency through funding a network of fusion centers.
  • No on #CB117996. Sometimes federal training of local police includes how to falsify chains of evidence. http://t.co/WQij30frEC
  • DHS grants “militarizing the police all over America” https://medium.com/quinn-norton/b9253a123859 …

In addition, here are some questions and issues we have with CB 117996. If you can figure out how to fit these into tweets to the above elected officials, please do! We’ll be working on it too.

The bill funds the whole project of tightening DHS connection with local law enforcement agencies, NOT just the new Booking Photo Comparison System, which is what was discussed at committee and was covered in a recent Crosscut article. Committee members should be discussing ALL aspects of the funding, not just the new addition. For example, we vigorously oppose continued funding of the Washington State Fusion Center.

Next, we have a number of questions about the SPD “policy” presented at the committee meeting:

  • How is a “suspect” defined? What’s to limit what photos will be dumped into the database? Mention was made of a WA DOL facial recognition database — does that mean images from drivers licenses?
  • What’s to prevent usage creep over time? The policy could be changed at anytime without notice to Seattle City Council or the public.
  • Why are the photos used taken from all bookings, rather than from bookings that resulted in convictions? For example, if police conduct mass arrests at protests or demonstrations, do those booking photos become part of a potential pool of false matches to be “further investigated”?

Given the lack of oversight and potential for future change in policy and future misuse of the system (despite the best intentions of the current proponents at SPD), the system could become part of a broader surveillance system in the future. in light of the Snowden revelations about the multiple illegal and unconstitutional domestic surveillance problems deployed against the American people by the NSA, City Council must not rubber-stamp this legislation as if it were the same old thing. Legislation has been introduced in our own state legislature to deny NSA use of state of Washington resources, but the Seattle City Council doesn’t seem to have heard of this issue or understand that it is relevant to local policing in any way. Council should vote down this bill.

Today, at Seattle Privacy, we call for action in memory of Aaron Swartz, 1986-2013.

Too many of America’s best and brightest are in fear, in exile, in jail, or dead because of their belief in the inalienable rights of individuals that this country was founded to defend.

We miss you, Aaron.