A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘Law and Disorder’ tag

So Much for Farook’s Phone

without comments

Shortly after the attack in San Bernardino the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) tried to exploit the tragedy in order to force Apple to assist it in unlocking Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone. According to the FBI Farook’s phone likely contained information that would allow them to find his accomplices, motives, and basically solve the case. Apple refused to give the FBI the power to unlock any iPhone 5C willy nilly but the agency eventually found a third party that had an exploit that would allow the built-in security to be bypassed.

One year later the FBI hasn’t solved the case even with access to Farook’s iPhone:

They launched an unprecedented legal battle with Apple in an effort to unlock Farook’s iPhone and deployed divers to scour a nearby lake in search of electronic equipment the couple might have dumped there.

But despite piecing together a detailed picture of the couple’s actions up to and including the massacre, federal officials acknowledge they still don’t have answers to some of the critical questions posed in the days after the Dec. 2, 2015, attack at the Inland Regional Center.

Most important, the FBI said it is still trying to determine whether anyone was aware of the couple’s plot or helped them in any way. From the beginning, agents have tried to figure out whether others might have known something about Farook and Malik’s plans, since the couple spent months gathering an arsenal of weapons and building bombs in the garage of their Redlands home.

Officials said they don’t have enough evidence to charge anyone with a crime but stressed the investigation is still open.

This shouldn’t be surprising to anybody. Anybody who had the ability to plan out an attack like the one in San Bernardino without being discovered probably had enough operational security to not use an easily surveilled device such as a cellular phone for the planning. Too many people, including those who should know better, assume only technological wizards have the knowhow to plan things without using commonly surveilled communication methods. But that’s not the case. People who are committed to pulling off a planned attack that includes coordination with third parties are usually smart enough to do their research and utilize communication methods that are unlikely to be accessible to prying eyes. It’s not wizardry, it’s a trick as old as human conflict itself.

Humans are both unpredictable and adaptable, which is what makes mass surveillance useless. When an agency such as the National Security Agency (NSA) performs mass surveillance they get an exponentially greater amount of noise than signal. We’re not even talking about a 100:1 ratio. It would probably be closer to 1,000,000,000,000:1. Furthermore, people with enough intelligence to pull off coordinated attacks are usually paranoid enough to assume the most commonly available communication mechanisms are being surveilled so they adapt. Mass surveillance works well if you want a lot of grandmothers’ recipes, Internet memes, and insults about mothers made by teenagers. But mass surveillance is useless if you’re trying to identify individuals who are a significant threat. Sure, the NSA may get lucky once in a while and catch somebody but that’s by far the exception, not the rule. The rule, when it comes to identifying and thwarting significant threats, is that old fashioned investigative techniques must be employed.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 6th, 2016 at 11:00 am

The Real Life Ramification of Software Glitches

with one comment

When people think of software glitches they generally think of annoyances such as their application crashing and losing any changes since their last save, their smart thermostat causing the furnace not to kick on, or the graphics in their game displaying abnormally. But as software has become more and more integrated into our lives the real life implications of software glitches have become more severe:

OAKLAND, Calif.—Most pieces of software don’t have the power to get someone arrested—but Tyler Technologies’ Odyssey Case Manager does. This is the case management software that runs on the computers of hundreds and perhaps even thousands of court clerks and judges in county courthouses across the US. (Federal courts use an entirely different system.)

Typically, when a judge makes a ruling—for example, issuing or rescinding a warrant—those words said by a judge in court are entered into Odyssey. That information is then relied upon by law enforcement officers to coordinate arrests and releases and to issue court summons. (Most other courts, even if they don’t use Odyssey, use a similar software system from another vendor.)

But, just across the bay from San Francisco, one of Alameda County’s deputy public defenders, Jeff Chorney, says that since the county switched from a decades-old computer system to Odyssey in August, dozens of defendants have been wrongly arrested or jailed. Others have even been forced to register as sex offenders unnecessarily. “I understand that with every piece of technology, bugs have to be worked out,” he said, practically exasperated. “But we’re not talking about whether people are getting their paychecks on time. We’re talking about people being locked in cages, that’s what jail is. It’s taking a person and locking them in a cage.”

First, let me commend Jeff Chorney for stating that jails are cages. Too many people like to prevent that isn’t the case. Second, he has a point. Case management software, as we’ve seen in this case, can have severe ramifications if bugs are left in the code.

The threat of bugs causing significant real life consequences isn’t a new one. A lot of software manages a lot of equipment that can lead to people dying if there is a malfunction. In response to that many industries have gone to great lengths to select tools and come up with procedures to minimize the chances of major bugs making it into released code. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), for example, has an extensive history of writing code where malfunctions can cost millions of dollars or even kill people and its programmers have developed tools and standards to minimize their risks. Most industrial equipment manufacturers also spend a significant amount of time developing tools and standards to minimize code errors because their software mistakes can lead to millions of dollars being lost of people dying.

Software developers working on products that can have severe real life consequences need to focus on developing reliable code. Case management software isn’t Facebook. When a bug exists in Facebook the consequences are annoying to users but nobody is harmed. When a bug exists in case management software innocent people can end up in cages of on a sex offender registry, which can ruin their entire lives.

Likewise, people purchasing and use critical software needs to thoroughly test it before putting it in production. Do you think there are many companies that buy multi-million dollar pieces of equipment and don’t test them thoroughly before putting it on the assembly line? That would be foolish and any company that did that would end up facing millions of dollars of downtime or even bankruptcy if the machine didn’t perform as needed. The governments that are using the Odyssey Case Management software should have thoroughly tested the product before using it in any court. But since the governments themselves don’t face any risks from bad case management software they likely did, at best, basic testing before rushing the product into production.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 6th, 2016 at 10:30 am

Jurisdiction is Dead

with one comment

It seems like every cop show or movie involves the protagonist’s very competent and morally upstanding department fighting with an incompetent immoral law enforcement agency over jurisdiction. Eventually this fight is taken before a judge who rules in favor of the protagonist’s department.

Jurisdiction is supposed to curtail the power of any single agency by only granting them a specific area in which they are allowed to operate. That concept has been dying as the federal government has continuously expanded its jurisdiction. But today that concept of jurisdiction died completely:

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden attempted three times to delay the changes, which will take effect on Thursday and allow U.S. judges will be able to issue search warrants that give the FBI the authority to remotely access computers in any jurisdiction, potentially even overseas. His efforts were blocked by Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican.

The changes will allow judges to issue warrants in cases when a suspect uses anonymizing technology to conceal the location of his or her computer or for an investigation into a network of hacked or infected computers, such as a botnet.

Magistrate judges can currently only order searches within the jurisdiction of their court, which is typically limited to a few counties.

This rule change, as most expansions of governmental power are, was ultimately justified by a crime that almost everybody agrees is heinous. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), using a child pornography site it was hosting, ended up hacking computers in 120 countries off of a single warrant so the question of jurisdiction came up. Instead of slapping the FBI down to protect everybody’s civil rights (because these powers start with heinous crimes but end up being using for petty crimes such as cannabis usage) the rules were changed to make any future shenanigans like this completely legal.

Of course, this is nothing new. The State always rewrites rules that it finds inconvenient. This is the reason why the idea of a limited government is a fairytale.

Layers of Protection

with one comment

I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this but the political process is not an effective means of changing the system. Welcome to the universe, it’s a harsh place that doesn’t care about your hopes and dreams.

Politicos mistakenly believe that if they can get the right person in the right office that the system can be changed for the better (here “better” means whatever political aspirations the politico has, not what is actually better by any sane definition). But it’s a naive belief. Politicians are only one layer in a multi-layer system that has been built up over the centuries to protect and expand the State.

Take something as simple as a sheriff’s office. You might think that electing the right sheriff will get all of the bad apples in that department fired. Were the sheriff the only layer of protection that could be the case but even a county sheriff’s office has multiple layers of protection that ensure the State’s expropriators are protected against the consequences of their actions:

A northern Minnesota sheriff’s office has been ordered by a labor arbitrator to reinstate a deputy back to the force after being fired for a 2015 DUI conviction, according to public records.

Mahnomen Count Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Ohren and his union, Law Enforcement Labor Services, Inc., successfully fought the firing, leaving county officials angered and forcing the sheriff to find a non-investigative role for him.

Today, despite his driving record, Ohren is transporting jail inmates around northern Minnesota in a sheriff’s vehicle, not being assigned to respond to 911 calls or crimes due to his credibility being subject to question should he ever have to testify in court.

While Ohren must blow into a breathalyzer before he can start his car going to and from work, the deputy doesn’t have to when he is driving on county time.

In this case a sheriff’s office fired a bad apple but Minnesota’s law enforcer’s union stepped in, fought the firing, and managed to get the bad apple reinstated. Here the union acted as a second layer of protection for the officer.

This complexity is rampant within the State. It ensures that no single individual within the system can make any meaningful changes. It also means that electing the right person to the right office won’t accomplish anything unless that person intends to expand the State (because then they’re working with the various layers of protection, not against them).

When people hear the phrase “A system of checks and balances.” they believe that those checks and balances are meant to limit the power any politician has. In reality those checks and balances are against any forces that would threaten the State’s power.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 30th, 2016 at 11:00 am

A Retraining Order is Only a Step in a Multistep Plan

with one comment

Many people facing abuse will pull a restraining order against their abuser. Although my history of advising against interacting with the State may make some believe that I would advise against pursuing a restraining order the opposite is true. I highly recommend getting a restraining order against an abuser. When it comes to survival you should use every single tool available to you. A retraining order does offer several important legal protections, especially if you are in a situation where you have to defend yourself against your abuser. With that said, your survival strategy must include more than just a restraining order. A restraining order is literally a piece of paper and therefore can’t protect you if your abuser decides to violate it.

Stores like this are, unfortunately, all too common:

Lucas A. Jablonski, 25, of Anoka, was charged Monday in Anoka County District Court with second-degree murder in the death in mid-August of 34-year-old Becky L. Drewlo, whose parents have been her guardians since she turned 18 in November 2000.

Jablonski has been jailed since he was charged in early September with violating the terms of the restraining order, which was granted at the request of her mother in September 2014.

Earlier violations by Jablonski of the same restraining order — in October 2014 and January 2016 — led to convictions in both instances but no significant time in custody.

[…]

Jablonski had been living with Drewlo for several weeks leading up to her death, the complaint read, despite the restraining order being in force that “precluded [him] from having any contact with Ms. Drewlo and from being at her apartment.”

In the petition for the restraining order, Laura Drewlo noted that Jablonski had “taken advantage of Becky sexual[ly] many times. Becky lacks sufficient understanding [and] therefore doesn’t understand the consequences.” She said her daughter had considered Jablonski her boyfriend in the months leading up to the petition being filed.

She said her daughter was in a program that allowed her to live independently with professional assistance and keep a job.

This case is more complicated than many since the victim appears to have been suffering from a mental disability, which likely prevented her from being able to protect herself. My usual go to advice, taking measures to improve your ability to defend yourself, likely don’t apply here. But it does illustrate the limitations of a restraining order.

A restraining order is only effective if the person holding it reports infractions against the order and the police respond to the report. Even then punishments for violating restraining orders are often minor. In this case the suspect had violated the order multiple times but received no significant punishments. And if the violation turns into an attack the order has no ability to defend the victim.

Pulling a restraining order should be seen as a step in a multistep plan. A restraining order provides legal protections, which can be valuable in the aftermath of a self-defense case against an abuser. But they don’t offer any physical protection. Other steps in the plan should address this deficiency.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 23rd, 2016 at 11:00 am

Karma is a Bitch

with one comment

A few months back Geofeedia was discovered to be buying user data on social networking sites and selling it to law enforcers. Needless to say, this didn’t go over well with anybody but law enforcers. Most of the social networking sites cut Geofeedia off. Apparently surveillance was the company’s only revenue stream because the company announced that it laid off half of its staff:

Chicago-based Geofeedia, a CIA-backed social-media monitoring platform that drew fire for enabling law enforcement surveillance, has let go 31 of its approximately 60 employees, a spokesman said Tuesday.

[…]

Geofeedia cut the jobs, mostly in sales in the Chicago office, in the third week of October, the spokesman said. It has offices in Chicago, Indianapolis and Naples, Fla. The cuts were first reported by Crain’s Chicago Business.

An emailed statement attributed to CEO Phil Harris said Geofeedia wasn’t “created to impact civil liberties,” but in the wake of the public debate over their product, they’re changing the company’s direction.

You have to love the claim that Geofeedia wasn’t created to impact civil libertarians even though the company’s only product was selling data to law enforcers. When you make yourself part of the police state you implicitly involve yourself in impacting civil liberties. I really hope the company goes completely bankrupt over this.

It’s also nice to see services like Facebook and Twitter cut off companies involved in surveillance. One of my biggest concerns is the way private surveillance becomes public surveillance. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that private surveillance companies stand to profit heavily by handing over their data to the State.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 23rd, 2016 at 10:00 am

The Totality of the Situation

with 2 comments

The line separating lethal and nonlethal force seems clear enough. Something that has a high probability of killing somebody, such as a gun or knife, is lethal whereas something that has a low probability of killing somebody, such as a punch to the gut or pepper spray, is nonlethal. But all too often people don’t consider the totality of the situation (a favorite phrase of cop apologists trying to excuse what appears to be obviously egregious behavior by an officer). Consider this story about the pipeline protests in North Dakota:

Tear gas was used to disperse a crowd of 400 protesters at the Dakota Access Pipeline late Sunday after clashes that authorities described as a “riot” prompted by “very aggressive” activists.

A law enforcement officer was hit on the head by a thrown rock during the confrontation, Morton County Sheriff’s Office said in an update at 1 a.m. local time (2 a.m. ET).

Videos posted to Facebook by activists showed authorities spray a continuous stream of water over demonstrators in below-freezing temperatures but sheriff’s spokesman Rob Keller told NBC News that no water cannon were deployed. He said the water was being sprayed from a fire truck to control blazes as they were being set by activists.

[…]

“Officers on the scene are describing protesters’ actions as very aggressive,” the release noted. “In order to keep protesters from crossing the bridge, law enforcement have utilized less-than-lethal means, including launching CS gas.”

In spite of what the police claimed, the videos and images from the protest make it clear that they were deliberately spraying the protesters with water cannons, not putting out fires. Even considering that normally water cannons are considered nonlethal because spraying somebody with a water cannon isn’t likely to kill them. However, at the time of this police action temperatures in the area were below freezing and anybody who lives up here in the northern states knows that hypothermia can become lethal quickly.

If we’re supposed to consider the “totality of the situation” when police officers do something seemingly terrible then police officers should be held to the same standard. Driving out firetrucks with the intention of spraying down protesters in below freezing weather is lethal force. The officers might as well have opened fire with rifles. They certainly don’t have grounds to claim they were utilizing less-than-lethal means.

Jeronimo Yanez Being Charged in the Death of Philando Castile

with one comment

In July Philando Castile was killed during a traffic stop by Officer Jeronimo Yanez. One of the things that made this shooting different is that Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, live streamed the aftermath of the shooting. Another thing that made this shooting different is the fact that Castile had a carry permit so the usual go to justifications used by cop apologists, such as claiming the victim had a history of violence, couldn’t be used to excuse the shooting.

Yesterday, in a rather surprising turn of events considering the history of officer involved shootings, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced that Yanez would be charged:

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced Wednesday that he has charged police officer Jeronimo Yanez in the July 6 killing of Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights.

Yanez is charged by the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office with second-degree manslaughter and two felony counts for dangerous discharge of a firearm near the passengers in the car at the time of the shooting.

You can read the filed charges here [PDF]. The evidence, which includes the dashcam footage from the officer’s car, brought fourth by the prosecution team is pretty damning. According to the filing between 9:05:52 PM and 9:05:55 PM Castile calmly informed Yanez that he was carrying a firearm. By 9:06:02 PM Yanez had unloaded seven rounds into Castile. Further reading shows that the firearm Castile was carrying was still firmly in his pocket as the medical team removed it when they were placing him on a backboard.

I’m sure this case will get a decent amount of coverage but I’ll do my best to keep everybody updated regardless.

I also think that it’s important to discuss the matter of how permit holders should handle themselves when interacting with the police. In Minnesota you are not required to divulge the fact that you’re carrying a firearm to an officer unless they specifically ask you if you’re carrying. There are two schools of thought on how permit holders should respond if pulled over by an officer. The first school of thought is that you should, as a courtesy, voluntarily inform the officer that you’re carrying and ask them how they want you to proceed. The second school of though, which I subscribe to, is that you should keep your mouth shut unless the officer asks if you’re carrying. Castile’s death illustrates one of the risks of voluntarily divulging such information as it seems that immediately after being informed Yanez went from calm to trigger happy. You have to decide how you will handle interactions with police officers yourself but I would prefer if you made the decision after being informed of the risks.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 17th, 2016 at 11:00 am

You’re the Product, Not the Customer

with one comment

If you’re using an online service for free then you’re the product. I can’t drive this fact home enough. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter make their money by selling the information you post. And, unfortunately, they’ll sell to anybody, even violent gangs:

The FBI is using a Twitter tool called Dataminr to track criminals and terrorist groups, according to documents spotted by The Verge. In a contract document, the agency says Dataminr’s Advanced Alerting Tool allows it “to search the complete Twitter firehose, in near real-time, using customizable filters.” However, the practice seems to violate Twitter’s developer agreement, which prohibits the use of its data feed for surveillance or spying purposes.

This isn’t the first time that a company buying access to various social media feeds has been caught selling that information to law enforcers. Earlier this year Geofeedia was caught doing the same thing. Stories like this show that there’s no real divider between private and government surveillance. You should be guarding yourself against private surveillance as readily as you guard against government surveillance because the former becomes the latter with either a court order or a bit of money exchanging hands.

Will Dataminr have its access revoked like Geofeedia did? Let’s hope so. But simply cutting off Dataminr won’t fix the problem since I guarantee there are a bunch of other companies providing the same service. The only way to fix this problem is to stop using social media sites for activities you want to keep hidden from law enforcers. Don’t plan your protests on Facebook, don’t try to coordinate protest activity using Twitter, and don’t post pictures of your protest planning sessions on Instagram. Doing any of those things is a surefire way for law enforcers to catch wind of what you’re planning before you can execute your plan.

They’re the Only Ones with Enough Training

with one comment

Many advocates for gun control really don’t want gun control, they want to give law enforcers and the military a monopoly on possessing firearms. When you point out this hypocritical stance gun control advocates are quick to claim that those two groups of individuals are the only ones with enough training to responsibly own and carry firearms. However, despite their claims, we keep reading stories like this:

AUBURN, MI — A teacher was struck by a bullet when a Bay County Sheriff’s deputy fired a gun inside a high school classroom last week.

The shooting occurred at about 12:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 11, inside Bay City Western High School, 500 W. Midland Road. The deputy, a school resource officer, was in a room by himself when he negligently discharged a gun, said Michigan State Police Special 1st Lt. David Kaiser.

The bullet went through at least one wall and struck a female teacher in an adjacent room, Kaiser said.

“The teacher was struck in the neck area, but she was not injured,” Kaiser said. “The round did not break the skin.”

Why was the officer playing with his firearm? Even rudimentary training would have taught the officer that you leave your firearm in your holster unless you need to use it. Failing to do is can lead to a negligent discharge that his some poor teacher’s neck with a bullet.

Time and again we see stories involving officers negligently discharging firearms. This either shows a severe lack of training in many departments or that officers feel as though they can disregard their training. The latter seems plausible because officers common avoid suffering consequences for bad behavior, which is part of why I find gun control advocate’s willingness to allow police officers to remain armed so hypocritical. As a non-police officer I usually have to face the consequences of my bad decisions. If I negligently discharge a firearm and hit somebody I will likely end up facing some kind of criminal charge and then face a civil lawsuit if I hit somebody. Officers seldom have to face such issues. That being the case, I am going to be safer on average with a firearm than most police officers.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 17th, 2016 at 10:00 am