Civil Liberties News ArticlesExcerpts of Key Civil Liberties News Articles in Media
The US government is offering private intelligence companies contracts to create software to manage "fake people" on social media sites. Private security firms employeed by the government have used the accounts to create the illusion of consensus on controversial issues. The contract calls for the development of "Persona Management Software" which would help the user create and manage a variety of distinct fake profiles online. According to the contract, the software would "protect the identity of government agencies" by employing a number of false signals to convince users that the poster is in fact a real person. A single user could manage unique background information and status updates for up to 10 fake people from a single computer. The software enables the government to shield its identity through a number of different methods including the ability to assign unique IP addresses to each persona and the ability to make it appear as though the user is posting from other locations around the world. The document describes how they would 'friend' real people on Facebook as a way to convey government messages.
Note: To read the government contract for "Persona Management" software, click here.
About a half-hour past midnight [on January 28] in Egypt, the Internet went dead. Almost simultaneously, the handful of companies that pipe the Internet into and out of Egypt went dark as protesters were gearing up for a fresh round of demonstrations calling for the end of President Hosni Mubarak's nearly 30-year rule, experts said. Egypt has apparently done what many technologists thought was unthinkable for any country with a major Internet economy: It unplugged itself entirely from the Internet to try and silence dissent. Experts say it's unlikely that what's happened in Egypt could happen in the United States because the U.S. has numerous Internet providers and ways of connecting to the Internet. Coordinating a simultaneous shutdown would be a massive undertaking. But the idea of a single "kill switch" to turn the Internet on and off has seduced some American lawmakers, who have pushed for the power to shutter the Internet in a national emergency. The Internet blackout in Egypt shows that a country with strong control over its Internet providers apparently can force all of them to pull their plugs at once. It also sets a precedent for other countries grappling with paralyzing political protests — though censoring the Internet and tampering with traffic to quash protests is nothing new.
Note: For information on how a Israeli company bought out by Boeing facilitated the shutdown of the Internet in Egypt, click here. And to learn about a bill being proposed which would give the US president power over an Internet "kill switch," click here.
[Mark] Kennedy moved from undercover agent to agent provocateur. He worked for a murky organisation called the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU). With a budget of Ł5m this operates as a branch of the National Domestic Extremism Unit (NDEU) which, in turn, works alongside the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU). Ask where this stands, and you will be told it reports to the Association of Chief Police Officers' Terrorism and Allied Matters Committee, codenamed Acpo(TAM). Kennedy's bosses in the NPOIU work for Acpo, but this is not what it seems. It is not, as its name suggests, the police officers' staff club, nor is it a public body of any sort. [ACPO] is a private company, incorporated in 1997. It is sub-contracted by Whitehall to operate the police end of the government's counterterrorism and "anti-extremism" strategies. It is thus alongside MI5, but even less accountable. It now runs its own police forces under a police chief boss, Sir Hugh Orde, like a British FBI. It trades on its own account, generating revenue by selling data from the police national computer for Ł70 an item (cost of retrieval, 60p). It owns an estate of 80 flats in central London. As a private company, Acpo need not accede to Freedom of Information requests and presumably could distribute its profit to its own board. The whole operation is reminiscent of the deals set up by the Pentagon with private firms to run the Iraq and Afghan wars, free of publicity or accountability.
A year after a Nigerian man allegedly tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner, officials say they have made it easier to add individuals' names to a terrorist watch list. The failure to put Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on the watch list last year renewed concerns that the government's system to screen out potential terrorists was flawed. Even though Abdulmutallab's father had told U.S. officials of his son's radicalization in Yemen, government rules dictated that a single-source tip was insufficient to include a person's name on the watch list. Since then, senior counterterrorism officials say they have altered their criteria so that a single-source tip, as long as it is deemed credible, can lead to a name being placed on the watch list. But civil liberties groups argue that the government's new criteria, which went into effect over the summer, have made it even more likely that individuals who pose no threat will be swept up in the nation's security apparatus, leading to potential violations of their privacy and making it difficult for them to travel. "They are secret lists with no way for people to petition to get off or even to know if they're on," said Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. The list, which stands at 440,000 people, [is now] about 5 percent larger than last year.
Note: For lots more from reliable sources on growing threats to civil liberties, click here.
Nine years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators. The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation's history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing. The months-long investigation [by The Washington Post], based on nearly 100 interviews and 1,000 documents, found that: * Technologies and techniques honed for use on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan have migrated into the hands of law enforcement agencies in America. * The FBI is building a database with the names and certain personal information, such as employment history, of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents whom a local police officer or a fellow citizen believed to be acting suspiciously. * Law enforcement agencies have hired as trainers self-described experts whose extremist views on Islam and terrorism are considered inaccurate and counterproductive by the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies. * The Department of Homeland Security sends its state and local partners intelligence reports with little meaningful guidance, and state reports have sometimes inappropriately reported on lawful meetings.
Note: This report is part of a series, "Top Secret America," by The Washington Post. For more, click here.
The British military has been training interrogators in techniques that include threats, sensory deprivation and enforced nakedness in an apparent breach of the Geneva conventions. Training materials drawn up secretly in recent years tell interrogators they should aim to provoke humiliation, insecurity, disorientation, exhaustion, anxiety and fear in the prisoners they are questioning, and suggest ways in which this can be achieved. A manual prepared in April 2008 suggests that "Cpers" – captured personnel – be kept in conditions of physical discomfort and intimidated. Sensory deprivation is lawful, it adds, if there are "valid operational reasons". It also urges enforced nakedness. More recent training material says blindfolds, earmuffs and plastic handcuffs are essential equipment for military interrogators, and says that while prisoners should be allowed to sleep or rest for eight hours in each 24, they need be permitted only four hours unbroken sleep. It also suggests that interrogators tell prisoners they will be held incommunicado unless they answer questions. The 1949 Geneva conventions prohibit any "physical or moral coercion", in particular any coercion employed to obtain information. All the British classified training material was produced after the death of Baha Mousa, the Iraqi hotel receptionist tortured to death by British troops in Basra in September 2003.
Note: For a survey of historic and contemporary uses of torture, click here. For more disturbing information on how Nazi torture techniques were eventually used by the CIA for mind control, click here.
That photo of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. riding one of the first desegregated buses in Montgomery, Ala.? He took it. The well-known image of black sanitation workers carrying “I Am a Man” signs in Memphis? His. He was there in Room 306 of the Lorraine Hotel, Dr. King’s room, on the night he was assassinated. But now an unsettling asterisk must be added to the legacy of Ernest C. Withers, one of the most celebrated photographers of the civil rights era: He was a paid F.B.I. informer. On [September 12], The Commercial Appeal in Memphis published the results of a two-year investigation that showed Mr. Withers, who died in 2007 at age 85, had collaborated closely with two F.B.I. agents in the 1960s to keep tabs on the civil rights movement. From at least 1968 to 1970, Mr. Withers, who was black, provided photographs, biographical information and scheduling details to two F.B.I. agents in the bureau’s Memphis domestic surveillance program, Howell Lowe and William H. Lawrence, according to numerous reports summarizing their meetings. The reports were obtained by the newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act and posted on its Web site. While he was growing close to top civil rights leaders, Mr. Withers was also meeting regularly with the F.B.I. agents, disclosing details about plans for marches and political beliefs of the leaders, even personal information like the leaders’ car tag numbers.
Note: For a fascinating CNN interview with civil rights leader and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young on this issue, click here. For key reports from reliable sources raising unanswered questions about the assassination of Martin Luther King and other major US political leaders, click here.
The North Carolina justice system shook [on August 18] as an audit commissioned by state Attorney General Roy Cooper revealed that the State Bureau of Investigation withheld or distorted evidence in more than 200 cases at the expense of potentially innocent men and women. The full impact of the disclosure will reverberate for years to come as prosecutors and defense attorneys re-examine cases as much as two decades old to figure out whether these errors robbed defendants of justice. Some of the injustices can be addressed as attorneys bring old cases back to court. For others, it's too late. Three of the defendants in [corrupt] cases have been executed. Two former FBI agents, Chris Swecker and Mike Wolf, examined more than 15,000 cases at the invitation of Cooper, a Democrat who has been attorney general since 2001. The exoneration of Greg Taylor, a Wake County man imprisoned 17 years for a murder he didn't commit, prompted the review. SBI analyst Duane Deaver admitted in February that he failed to report tests indicating a substance on Taylor's SUV was not blood. Swecker's findings, he said, signal potential violations of the U.S. Constitution and North Carolina laws by withholding information favorable to defendants.
Note: Three innocent individuals were likely executed in this one US state. How many more are there like this around the world?
For six years, Nicholas Merrill has lived in a surreal world of half-truths, where he could not tell even his fiancee, his closest friends or his mother that he is "John Doe" -- the man who filed the first-ever court challenge to the FBI's ability to obtain personal data on Americans without judicial approval. No one knew he was the plaintiff challenging the FBI's authority to issue "national security letters," as they are known, and its ability to impose a gag on the recipient. Now, following the partial lifting of his gag order 11 days ago as a result of an FBI settlement, Merrill can speak openly for the first time about the experience, although he cannot disclose the full scope of the data demanded. "One of the most dangerous and troubling things about the FBI's national security letter powers is how much it has been shrouded in secrecy," said Melissa Goodman, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who helped Merrill sue the government in April 2004 and was one of only a handful of people outside the FBI -- all lawyers -- who knew Merrill had received a letter. The FBI between 2003 and 2006 issued more than 192,500 letters -- an average of almost 50,000 a year. The Justice Department inspector general in 2007 faulted the bureau for failing to adequately justify the issuance of such letters.
Note: For key reports from major media sources on the erosion of civil liberties by government, click here.
When Ian Tomlinson's widow watched video footage of his last moments alive for the first time on a laptop 16 months ago, she was speechless. Julia Tomlinson had been told by police her husband had died of natural causes as he tried to get home through the G20 protest in London, and there was nothing suspicious about the death. But as she watched [video] footage ...a different story unfolded. Tomlinson, hands in pockets, was walking away from police. An officer who was not displaying his badge number, and whose face was concealed behind a balaclava, lunged at her husband from behind and, without provocation, struck him on the leg and pushed him to the ground. The police disregard for Tomlinson was [evident] on footage of the aftermath of the attack, which left him lying on the ground in front of a line of riot police shortly after 7.25pm on 1 April. None of the officers went to the aid of the 47-year-old, who was clearly in distress. Looking disoriented, Tomlinson then stumbled 100 yards down the road before collapsing and dying. The initial police response was to accuse protesters of wrongdoing. Within four hours, Scotland Yard had released a statement saying officers had gone to the victim's aid and called an ambulance, and were attempting to save his life with cardiopulmonary resuscitation. In the following days, City of London police, which was investigating the death, would receive information from witnesses that suggested Tomlinson might have been assaulted by an officer. His family were not told about this, and were advised instead that he had died after being caught up in a fracas prompted by anarchist demonstrators attacking police.
Note: This excellent article shows all too clearly how police departments will lie and severely manipulate evidence to defend their own, even when they know they are in the wrong.
The CIA received secret permission to attack a wider range of targets, including suspected militants whose names are not known, as part of a dramatic expansion of its campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan's border region. The expanded authority, approved two years ago by the Bush administration and continued by President Obama, permits the agency to rely on what officials describe as "pattern of life" analysis ... to target suspected militants, even when their full identities are not known, the officials said. Previously, the CIA was restricted in most cases to killing only individuals whose names were on an approved list. Instead of just a few dozen attacks per year, CIA-operated unmanned aircraft now carry out multiple missile strikes each week against safe houses, training camps and other hiding places used by militants in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan. "There are a lot of ethical questions here about whether we know who the targets are," said Loch Johnson, an intelligence scholar at the University of Georgia and a former congressional aide. President Bush secretly decided in his last year in office to expand the program. Obama has continued and even streamlined the process, so that CIA Director Leon E. Panetta can sign off on many attacks without notifying the White House beforehand, an official said.
Note: How can the CIA be allowed to kill people whose names aren't even known? Why are they allowed to kill anyone without some form of judicial process? For more on this secret and expanding CIA assassination program, click here. For analysis, click here.
All dogs are to be compulsorily microchipped so that their owners can be more easily traced under a crackdown on dangerous dogs. Under the scheme a microchip the size of a grain of rice is injected under the skin of the dog between its shoulder blades. The chip contains a unique code number, the dog's name, age, breed and health as well as the owner's name, address and phone number. When the chip is "read" by a handheld scanner the code number is revealed and the details can be checked on a national database. The measures will be set out by the home secretary, Alan Johnson, who will point to rising public concern that "status dogs" are being used by some irresponsible owners to intimidate communities or as a weapon by gangs. If the scheme were made compulsory owners would face a fine for failing to microchip their dogs.
Note: Once all dogs are required to be microchipped, what will come next? To be informed of some disturbing plans to microchip all of us, click here. For lots more on microchipping from reliable sources, click here.
The director of national intelligence affirmed rather bluntly today that the U.S. intelligence community has authority to target American citizens for assassination if they present a direct terrorist threat to the United States. "We take direct actions against terrorists in the intelligence community; if we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that," Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the House Intelligence Committee. "Whether that American is involved in a group that is trying to attack us, whether that American ... is a threat to other Americans. Those are the factors involved." Blair explained. According to U.S. officials, only a handful of Americans would be eligible for targeting by U.S. intelligence or military operations. The DNI said that Internet and social media sites have become critical to terrorism recruitment efforts. "The homegrown radicalization of people in the United States is a relatively new thing." Blair said U.S. intelligence was rapidly working to counter the emerging problem.
Note: To read a valuable commentary on Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair's claimed "war exception" to the Constitution, permitting assassination of American citizens by the US military and intelligence services without judicial review or legal process of any kind, click here. For the views of several legal experts, click here.
The CIA sequence for a Predator strike ends with a missile but begins with a memo. Usually no more than two or three pages long, it bears the name of a suspected terrorist, the latest intelligence on his activities, and a case for why he should be added to a list of people the agency is trying to kill. No U.S. citizen has ever been on the CIA's target list. But that is expected to change as CIA analysts compile a case against a Muslim cleric who was born in New Mexico but now resides in Yemen. He is a U.S. citizen and until recently was mainly known as a preacher espousing radical Islamic views. Awlaki's status as a U.S. citizen requires special consideration, according to former officials familiar with the criteria for the CIA's targeted killing program. But while Awlaki has not yet been placed on the CIA list, the officials said it is all but certain that he will be. The CIA has carried out Predator attacks in Yemen since at least 2002, when a drone strike killed six suspected Al Qaeda operatives traveling in a vehicle across desert terrain. The agency knew that one of the operatives was an American, Kamal Derwish, who was among those killed. Derwish was never on the CIA's target list, officials said, and the strike was aimed at a senior Al Qaeda operative.
Note: As the last few sentences of this long report indicate, assassination of their own citizens by US military and intelligence agencies has been going on for years. For many key reports from reliable sources on assassination as state policy, click here.
Researchers are already using brain-computer interfaces to aid the disabled, treat diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, and provide therapy for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Work is under way on devices that may eventually let you communicate with friends telepathically, give you superhuman hearing and vision or even let you download data directly into your brain, a la "The Matrix." Researchers are practically giddy over the prospects. "We don't know what the limits are yet," says Melody Moore Jackson, director of Georgia Tech University's BrainLab. At the root of all this technology is the 3-pound generator we all carry in our head. It produces electricity at the microvolt level. But the signals are strong enough to move robots, wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs -- with the help of an external processor. One of the more controversial uses under development is telepathy. It would require at least two people to be implanted with electrodes that send and receive signals. DARPA, the Pentagon's technology research division, is currently working on an initiative called "Silent Talk," which would let soldiers on secret missions communicate with their thoughts alone. This stealth component is attractive, but naysayers fear that such soldiers could become manipulated for evil means.
Note: Remember that secret military research such as that undertaken by DARPA is often years ahead of capabilities publicly acknowledged.
Health care workers are planning to take to the streets Tuesday at a rally in front of the Albany, N.Y. state capitol to protest mandatory vaccination. The rally is intended to call for "freedom of choice in vaccination and health care" and to protest mandatory vaccination for influenza and the H1N1 swine flu. "This vaccine has not been clinically tested to the same degree as the regular flu vaccine," Tara Accavallo, a registered nurse on Long Island, told Newsday. "If something happens to me, if I get seriously injured from this vaccine, who's going to help me?" While physicians, nurses, and medical technicians may not be known for their willingness to march on state capitols, a recent New York Department of Health requirement has sparked an unusually intense response. The August 13 regulations say that all health care workers who "could potentially expose patients" must be vaccinated for influenza by November 30 unless it would be "detrimental" to the recipient's health. This raises an obvious and important question: Under what circumstances can government officials order mandatory vaccination? And could the general public be ordered to roll up their sleeves for injections, even if there might be side effects beyond a sore arm or mild fever? The concern in New York also comes as skepticism of vaccination in general seems to be on the rise.
Note: For more on this protest, click here. Note that the U.S. government has granted immunity from lawsuits to the drug companies manufacturing the vaccines. So who will be responsible if there is a repeat of the 1976 swine flu vaccination campaign, where hundreds died and thousands were paralyzed by the vaccines?
The Justice Department has indicated that the Obama administration is in support of renewing [three] controversial sections of the USA Patriot Act that expire later this year. The provisions that will expire in December include Section 206, that allows "roving" wiretaps so FBI agents can tap multiple phones or computers (with court authorization) that a specific person (target) may use. Another expiring provision, Section 215, is the so-called "library provision," which allows investigators to obtain [library, medical, business, banking and other] records with approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. And the final provision which was nicknamed the "Lone Wolf" authorization, allows intelligence gathering of people not suspected of being part of a foreign government or known terrorist organization. Critics of the Patriot Act protested loudly that the FBI could obtain individuals' library records under the legislation. [But] section 215 is much more expansive than reviewing a suspected terrorist's summer reading list. [It] allows the FBI to obtain any business record, "any tangible things," like credit card and bank statements and also allows access to medical and mental health records. The provision has been used to obtain communication and subscriber information to help set up surveillance and monitoring of computers and telephones.
Note: The American Library Association, the national organization of professional librarians, was the first and strongest defender of civil liberties after the passage of the PATRIOT Act. For a discussion of the concerns of professional librarians over this decision by the Obama administration, click here.
A written exam administered by the Pentagon labels "protests" as a form of “low-level terrorism” – enraging civil liberties advocates and activist groups who say it shows blatant disregard of the First Amendment. The written exam, given as part of Department of Defense employees’ routine training, includes a multiple-choice question that asks: “Which of the following is an example of low-level terrorism?” – Attacking the Pentagon – IEDs – Hate crimes against racial groups – Protests. The correct answer, according to the exam, is "Protests." “Its part of a pattern of equating dissent and protest with terrorism," said Ann Brick, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which obtained a copy of the question after a Defense Department employee who was taking the test printed the screen on his or her computer terminal. "It undermines the core constitutional values the Department of Defense is supposed to be defending,” Brick said, referring to the First Amendment right to peaceably assemble. She said the ACLU has asked the Defense Department to remove the question and send out a correction to all employees who took the exam. “There were other employees who were unhappy with it and disturbed by it,” Brick said. Anti-war protesters, who say they have been targets of federal surveillance for years, were livid when they were told about the exam question. “That’s illegal,” said George Martin, national co-chairman of United for Peace and Justice. “Protest in terms of legal dissent has to be recognized, especially by the authorities. It’s not terrorism or a lack of patriotism. We care enough to be active in our government.”
Note: For lots more on the continually-escalating government threats to civil liberties, click here.
Five Muslim community workers have accused MI5 of waging a campaign of blackmail and harassment in an attempt to recruit them as informants. The men claim they were given a choice of working for the Security Service or face detention and harassment in the UK and overseas. They have made official complaints to the police, to the body which oversees the work of the Security Service and to their local MP Frank Dobson. Now they have decided to speak publicly about their experiences in the hope that publicity will stop similar tactics being used in the future. Three of the men say they were detained at foreign airports on the orders of MI5 after leaving Britain on family holidays last year. After they were sent back to the UK, they were interviewed by MI5 officers who, they say, falsely accused them of links to Islamic extremism. On each occasion the agents said they would lift the travel restrictions and threat of detention in return for their co-operation. When the men refused some of them received what they say were intimidating phone calls and threats. Two other Muslim men say they were approached by MI5 at their homes after police officers posed as postmen. Each of the five men, aged between 19 and 25, was warned that if he did not help the security services he would be considered a terror suspect. A sixth man was held by MI5 for three hours after returning from his honeymoon in Saudi Arabia. He too claims he was threatened with travel restrictions if he tried to leave the UK."
Note: For lots more on the "war on terror" from reliable sources, click here.
The National Security Agency has been campaigning to lead the government’s rapidly growing cybersecurity programs, raising privacy and civil liberties concerns among some officials who fear that the move could give the spy agency too much control over government computer networks. The security agency’s interest in taking over the dominant role has met resistance, including the resignation of the Homeland Security Department official who was until last month in charge of coordinating cybersecurity efforts throughout the government. Rod Beckstrom, who resigned in March as director of the National Cyber Security Center at the Homeland Security Department, said ... that he feared that the N.S.A.’s push for a greater role in guarding the government’s computer systems could give it the power to collect and analyze every e-mail message, text message and Google search conducted by every employee in every federal agency. Mr. Beckstrom said he believed that an intelligence service that is supposed to focus on foreign targets should not be given so much control over the flow of information within the United States government. To detect threats against the computer infrastructure — including hackers, viruses and intrusions by foreign agents and terrorists — cybersecurity guardians must have virtually unlimited access to networks. Mr. Beckstrom argues that those responsibilities should be divided among agencies. “I have very serious concerns about the concentration of too much power in one agency,” he said. “Power over information is so important, and it is so difficult to monitor, that we need to have checks and balances.”
Note: For further disturbing reports from reliable sources on government efforts to establish total surveillance systems, click here.
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