A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘Corruption Corner’ Category

Your Privilege to Privacy Has a Lot of Exception

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I remember hearing a rumor that the Bill of Rights included an amendment regarding privacy. You wouldn’t know it living in our society though. Between the National Security Agency’s (NSA) massive surveillance apparatus, law enforcement’s tendency to deploy cell phone interceptors without so much as a warrant, and the recent trend of municipal governments deploying license plate scanners throughout their realm of influence it’s pretty obvious that if we had a right to privacy it’s effectively dead now. But every so often the courts find a shred of privacy remaining. When they do they work efficiently to destroy it:

It’s a case I first wrote about a year ago when the Minnesota Court of Appeals reinstated charges against a Meeker County resident after a district court threw out the case against Leona Rose deLottinville because sheriff’s deputies captured her while she was visiting a boyfriend. The lower court had also ruled that evidence seized in the arrest could not be used against her because the warrant for her arrest did not authorize police to search her boyfriend’s apartment.

In upholding that decision Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court said the woman, who was suspected of possessing meth, had no greater expectation of privacy when visiting another home than in her own home. [Updated]

[…]

“We understand that a homeowner might well be surprised and distressed to learn that police may enter at any time to arrest a guest,” he said. “But there is no indication in this case of any such abuse; deLottinville was visible to the officer before he entered the home. And the question of what rights the homeowner may have in such a situation is not before us.”

In a dissent, however, Justice Margaret Chutich said Lillehaug the majority opinion “fails to protect the right of a host from unreasonable governmental intrusion into the sanctity of her home, a right at the ‘very core’ of the Fourth Amendment.”

Of course the majority ruled based on the rights of the kidnapped individual, which completely ignored the rights of the homeowner. At least Justice Margaret Chutich understood this fact. Unfortunately, she was part of the minority and as we all know in a democracy the majority rules.

I believe the potential for abuse of this ruling is obvious. Home owners in Minnesota can now lose their privacy privileges if they invite the wrong person over. How can a homeowner decided whether or not they’re inviting the wrong person over? I guess they have to call their local police department and ask if a warrant has been issued for any guests they have over.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 17th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Increasing Government Opaqueness

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Barack Obama promised to create the most transparent government in history. After eight years his administration managed to create one of the most opaque governments in history. His predecessor’s administration, which at least saved us the lying about creating a transparent government, is continuing in his footsteps:

But on March 1st, the FBI is intentionally rolling back the technological clock, and will only allow requests via fax or snail mail, plus a limited amount through their online portal.

This will undoubtedly hinder the public’s ability to get information from the agency. On top of eliminating a far less burdensome method of communication, submitting through the FBI’s portal requires including personal information, including phone number and address, and agree to the site’s terms of service. Nested in the TOS is the requirement that users only make one FOIA request per submission per day.

At least the current administration won’t get a free pass from the political left like the last one did.

This change in policy is an example of the low level nonsense the State pulls to make the lives of its detractors more difficult. On the surface it doesn’t seem like much. After all, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) hasn’t been changed. Below the surface the difficulty of filing a FOIA request has been increased slightly, which will likely discourage some people from filing such requests. In time the difficulty will be raised slightly again and again and again. Eventually filing a FOIA request will be such a pain in the ass that almost nobody will do it. Then the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) will have achieved its goal of making FOIA a toothless law without having to actually violate it.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 10th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Freedom of the Press

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Ever since the various governments within the United States declared that it was okay for them to keep secrets the freedom of the press has been eroding. In recent years that steady erosion has turned into a complete collapse. Now we live in a world where journalists face felony charges for covering events:

Four more journalists have been charged with felonies after being arrested while covering the unrest around Donald Trump’s inauguration, meaning that at least six media workers are facing up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine if convicted.

A documentary producer, a photojournalist, a live-streamer and a freelance reporter were each charged with the most serious level of offense under Washington DC’s law against rioting, after being caught up in the police action against demonstrators.

Notice how the journalists are being charged under the rioting laws? If they were being charged for covering the event that would be an overt suppression of the press. As anybody who has lived in this country long enough will tell you, the politicians here prefer covert suppression over overt suppression. Charging the journalists with covering the wrong event would raise a bunch of questions about the First Amendment. But charging them for participating in a riot avoids those questions and gives a reason for the tough on crime crowd to support the suppression.

United States Postal Service Increasing its Surveillance

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The United States Postal Service (USPS) has announced that photographing every piece of mail is no longer enough surveillance for its taste so it will be expanding its efforts:

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is expanding its presence online, targeting dark net drug dealers and their use of snail mail in distributing their goods across the country.

New job listings indicate that the USPIS, the law enforcement element of the national postal service, is seeking Investigative Analysts and Intelligence Specialists to lead operations to tackle cybercrime and black market websites, reports Motherboard.

“Candidates shall have demonstrated experience in using cyber intelligence tools and software tools to actively search and mine the publicly available Internet and the dark net/deep web,” the job duty section on one listing reads.

The analyst or intelligence researcher will aim to seek out “pattern of life” data “in an effort to determine physical attribution of an internet identity.” In other words, they’ll be in charge of digging through information that can be used to uncover the individuals behind online drug dealing networks.

Always be wary of a package delivery service that also has its own police force.

The government loves redundancy. What the USPS is working to accomplish is the same thing that the National Security Agency (NSA), Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and probably a dozen other federal agencies are already doing. Why is the USPS investing resources into a job that’s already being done by many other agencies? Why not hand the job of finding drug dealers over to the Drug Enforcement Agency? Because the State loves redundancy, especially when it comes to surveillance.

While this is a privacy concern it’s also an efficiency concern. Reproducing effort requires more resources. So even if you are one of those people who believes that paying taxes is righteous and good, you might want to ask why your tax dollars are being wasted on funding the exact same program a dozen times over.

Just a Few Bad Apples

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Chicago is an interesting case study. In addition to being proof that gun control laws don’t reduce gun violence, the city also manages to having increasing levels of violent crime at a time when violent crime as a whole is going down. But wait, there’s more! Not only is violence performed by nongovernmental entities up in Chicago, but violence performed by government entities is also up:

CHICAGO ― The Chicago Police Department regularly violates citizens’ civil rights, routinely fails to hold officers accountable for misconduct and poorly trained officers at all levels, according to a sweeping Justice Department probe of the nation’s second-largest police department.

The findings echo those of an April 2016 report released by Chicago’s then-new Police Accountability Task Force, which emphasized that the police department must face a “painful but necessary reckoning” that includes acknowledging its racist history and its consequent legacy of corruption and mistrust ― particularly between the department and the minority communities it polices.

What else could we expect from a police department that operates its own black sites?

Chicago may have the honors of being the first city with a police department that is so corrupt that even the Department of Justice can cover it up anymore. There’s also a good chance that it will enjoy the honors of being the second city to join Detroit in complete collapse.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 18th, 2017 at 10:30 am

The Liability Shield

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I’ve discussed the redundant layers that the State has put into place to protect itself from meaningful change. One such layer is police unions. Last year we saw how police unions managed to get violent officers reinstated in both November and December.

Cities sign contracts with police unions that often shield officers from liability. Reuters looked at 82 police union contracts and found some interesting clauses:

• A majority of the contracts call for departments to erase disciplinary records, some after just six months, making it difficult to fire officers with a history of abuses. In 18 cities, suspensions are erased in three years or less. In Anchorage, Alaska, suspensions, demotions and disciplinary transfers are removed after two years.

• Nearly half of the contracts allow officers accused of misconduct to access the entire investigative file – including witness statements, GPS readouts, photos, videos and notes from the internal investigation – before being interrogated.

• Twenty cities, including San Antonio, allow officers accused of misconduct to forfeit sick leave or holiday and vacation time rather than serve suspensions.

• Eighteen cities require an officer’s written consent before the department publicly releases documents involving prior discipline or internal investigations.

• Contracts in 17 cities set time limits for citizens to file complaints about police officers – some as short as 30 days. Nine cities restrict anonymous complaints from being investigated.

Law enforcement is the idea that a handful of trusted individuals can be given power over everybody else. Theoretically this idea could work if the trusted individuals are held to a higher standard that everybody else. In practice those individuals are almost always held to a lower standard. Handing out authority without accountability is a recipe for disaster.

Consider the first point in the above excerpt. If an officer has a history of violent behavior it might not show up because records of previous incidents were purged. This seems rather odd when you consider how permanent criminal records are for you and me. A criminal record for an average individual can haunt them for the rest of their life. And we’re told that such records are necessary because recidivism is a very real threat. I guess badges guard against liability and recidivism.

The second point is also an interest double standard. If you’re arrested you will be interrogated before you’re allowed to see any of the evidence collected against you. In fact, you generally only get to see the evidence against you after you’ve been charged and your lawyer demands it from the prosecutor. But in many cities officers accused of wrongdoing are allowed to view all of the evidence against them before they are interrogated.

Police union contracts are giant double standards that give law enforcers a significant advantage when it comes to accusations of wrongdoing. This makes it difficult to holding bad cops accountable. The fact that holding bad cops accountable is difficult encourages unsavory sorts to pursue a career in law enforcement. I think you can see where this road ends.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 17th, 2017 at 10:30 am

It’s Good to be the King’s Men

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Life can be difficult down here in the trenches. For example, when somebody dies due to our misdeeds or negligence we usually end up facing criminal charges and being sentences to rot in a cage for years. Not so for the king’s men. The Supreme Court once again ruled in favor of protecting police from their negligence:

The case revolved around the fatal police shooting of Samuel Paulie in New Mexico. Police officers arrived at the Paulie brothers’ home after two women called police to report one of the Paulies allegedly driving drunk. According to the facts presented in the ruling, police determined after talking to the women that they did not have probable cause to arrest Paulie but wanted to go to his house anyway to “get his side of the story,” to see if he was drunk, and to see if there was anything else going on. The officers went separately. The first two officers to arrive didn’t identify themselves as police, instead telling the Paulies they were surrounded and to come out or they would come in, causing the Paulies to believe they were being targeted for a home invasion and to arm themselves.

That’s when the third officer, Ray White, the plaintiff of the case that made it to the Supreme Court, arrived, just in time to hear the Paulies yell “we have guns.” He took cover behind a wall. Sam Paulie then exited his house with a shotgun, firing one shot that didn’t hit anyone. One of the officers shot at Paulie but missed. Then White left his cover and fired at Paulie, killing him.

The Supreme Court ruled that White deserved qualified immunity (a concept that, in essence, protects government employees from liability and civil damages so long as “their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known,” as the Supreme Court decided in the 1982 case Harlow v. Fitzgerald.

This is an example of police negligence leading to death. The police didn’t announce themselves but threatened Mr. Paulie. Under such circumstances it’s easy to see to see why Mr. Paulie might think his home was being invaded by a nongovernmental gang. Office White arrived on the scene after his cohorts had already made a mess of things but he didn’t bother alerting Mr. Paulie that he was in office either. Apparently the department doesn’t train its office to say, “We’re the police.”

Some people will likely side with Officer White by claiming he acting in self-defense. But such a defense generally requires that one demonstrate that they didn’t create the situation. In Minnesota we call this being a reluctant participant. If you created the situation then you generally can’t claim self-defense. Unless, of course, you have a badge.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 12th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Winning the Battles Just to Lose the War

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What happens when you’re winning battles but end up losing the war? I’m not sure. Perhaps somebody should ask the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI):

Rather than disclose the source code that the FBI used to target a child porn suspect, federal prosecutors in Tacoma, Washington recently dropped their appeal in United States v. Michaud.

The case is just one of 135 federal prosecutions nationwide involving the Tor-hidden child porn website Playpen. The vast effort to bust Playpen has raised significant questions about the ethics, oversight, capabilities, and limitations of the government’s ability to hack criminal suspects.

For those of you who haven’t been following this story, Playpen was a child pornography site hosted using a Tor hidden service. The FBI managed to identify the server the site was being hosted on and take over the job of hosting and improving the site. Why would the FBI host and make improvements to a child pornography site? The agency’s justification was that it was using the site to distribute malware that revealed the identity of individuals accessing the site. Using this tactic it managed to bring charges against 135 individuals.

However, the FBI has been unwilling to reveal the exploit it used to reveal the users’ identities. Its obsession with secrecy is so strong that it’s letting suspected child pornographers walk rather than reveal the exploit, i.e. the evidence, to their defense attorneys. The FBI won the battle to identify individuals who accessed the site but is losing the war.

The FBI’s unwillingness to follow through to prosecute these suspects raises a lot of questions. The most obvious one, I believe, is if the FBI was unwilling to prosecute these individuals, why did it use government funds to host and make improvements to a child pornography site? The fact that the agency even utilized that tactic raised significant moral questions but its failure to follow through just makes the act even more despicable. Another question I have is, why do people still look at the FBI has anything other than a criminal organization? Between manufacturing cases of terrorism and distributing child pornography the agency stands guilty of significant crimes.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 11th, 2017 at 11:00 am

To Serve and Protect

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It’s winter, which means Mother Nature is doing her best to kill us in even more brutal ways than normal. One of her favorite weapons is snow. Snow can turn a smoothly operating highway into a parking lot. Some brave humans attempt to defend us against her frozen water by removing it from our roads. However, their job is rather difficult to do when America’s heroes are out punishing them:

Whenever it snows, Mitch Fisher is ready to help his neighbors, whether it’s clearing the sidewalks or trying to clear the street. When the area’s Christmas storm hit, he was out plowing his street with his ATV.

“I take care of the neighbors. They’re all elderly and I like to help them out,” Fisher said.

On Wednesday, however, a Pocatello police officer cited Fisher for an infraction — placing or depositing material on a public right of way. It carries a cost of more than $200.

As usual, the police are claiming it was a safety issue. Either snow on the road isn’t a safety issue or the police are trying to justify extortion. Take your pick.

I’m quite familiar with what Mr. Fisher was doing because my father does the same thing whenever it snows. Since he has a tractor with a bucket on the front he can move a lot of snow quickly. Because of that he often plows his driveway and the neighbors’ driveways. All of the snow is dumped on his or the neighbors’ lawns so it’s out of the way. By doing this his neighbor’s are happy. However, it’s an example of somebody voluntarily acting to make lives better and we know that the State doesn’t want that.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 10th, 2017 at 10:00 am

The Double Edged Sword of Body Cameras

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As the public’s trust in law enforcers diminished demands were made to monitor working police officers. These demands resulted in calls for making officers wear body cameras that recorded their actions while they worked. In response many law enforcement agencies started buying body cameras and issuing them to the police. This satiated many peoples’ demands for police monitoring but some of us pointed out the limited utility of body cameras due to the fact that the departments usually controlled the footage. So long as body camera footage isn’t made available to the public in some manner it’s far too easy for departments to make any footage that incriminates their officers disappear down a memory hole.

Since no standards exist regarding the availability of police body camera footage states, counties, and cities are making up their own rules as they go. Locally a Hennepin County judge recently ruled that police body camera footage is off limits to the public:

So Hennepin prosecutors met with the chief judge and representatives of the Hennepin Public Defender’s Office, which handles 45,000 cases a year. The result was Bernhardson’s order, which asserts that prosecutors and defense attorneys have to follow the guidelines of the law, which save for “certain narrow exceptions,” classifies body camera video as off-limits to the public.

As the article points out, there are some difficult privacy questions regarding police body camera footage. However, body cameras are of limited use if such footage is classified as off-limits to the public. Under such a system body cameras allow law enforcers to use the footage as evidence against the people they arrest but don’t allow the public to use the footage to hold bad law enforcers accountable.

This lopsided policy shouldn’t surprise anybody. Law enforcement departments wouldn’t willingly adopt body cameras if they could realistically be used to hold officers accountable. But they would jump at the chance to use such devices to prosecute more people because then body cameras are a revenue generator instead of a liability. The State, having an interest in appeasing its revenue generators, has been more than happy to give law enforcers a ruleset that gives them the benefits of body cameras without the pesky downsides.

What does this mean for the general public? It means everybody should record, and preferably livestream, every police encounter they are either a party to or come across.