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Easily Abused, Domestic Drones Raise Enormous Privacy Concerns

By Linda Lye, ACLU of Northern California  | October 19, 2012

Shortly before next week’s one-year anniversary of the Oakland Police Department’s brutal crackdown on Occupy Oakland, Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern announced that he was seeking funds to purchase a drone to engage in unspecified unmanned aerial surveillance. One of the many unfortunate lessons of OPD’s Occupy crackdown is that when law enforcement has powerful and dangerous tools in its arsenal, it will use them. Drones raise enormous privacy concerns and can easily be abused. Before any drone acquisition proceeds, we need to ask a threshold question – are drones really necessary in our community? – and have a transparent and democratic process for debating that question. In addition, if the decision is made to acquire a drone, do we have rigid safeguards and accountability mechanisms in place, so that law enforcement does not use drones to engage in warrantless mass surveillance? The ACLU of Northern California has sent the Sheriff a Public Records Act request, demanding answers to these crucial questions.

Drones should never be used for indiscriminate mass surveillance, and police should never use them unless there are legitimate grounds to believe they will collect evidence related to a specific instance of criminal wrongdoing or in emergencies.

One of the reasons cited by Sheriff Ahern in support of drones is that they are much cheaper than other forms of aerial surveillance; by his account, a helicopter costs $3 million to purchase and a drone less than 1/30 of that. But the relative inexpensiveness of electronic surveillance is also precisely why strong safeguards need to be in place. When the police have to mount elaborate and costly foot and squad patrols to follow a suspect 24/7, the expenditure of resources serves as a deterrent to abuse; it forces the police to limit their surveillance to instances when it is actually necessary. Drones permit the police to surveil people at all hours of the day and, apparently, at 1/30 the cost of other forms of aerial surveillance. The natural deterrent to abuse goes away, and invites abuse. This makes strong safeguards absolutely essential.

Before Sheriff Ahern proceeds with the drone acquisition, the community deserves answers to the questions we raised in our Public Records Act request: Why are drones necessary? How much will they cost? And what safeguards will be in place to prevent abuse?

October 19, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , | Leave a comment

Police protection or citizen censorship? Spain to ban photos and videos of cops

RT | October 19, 2012

Spain’s government is drafting a law that bans the photographing and filming of members of the police. The Interior Ministry assures they are not cracking down on freedom of expression, but protecting the lives of law enforcement officers.

­The draft legislation follows waves of protests throughout the country against uncompromising austerity cuts to public healthcare and education.

The new Citizen Safety Law will prohibit “the capture, reproduction and editing of images, sounds or information of members of the security or armed forces in the line of duty,” said the director general of the police, Ignacio Cosido. He added that this new bill seeks to “find a balance between the protection of citizens’ rights and those of security forces.”

The dissemination of images and videos over social networks like Facebook will also be punishable under the legislation.

Despite the fact that the new law will cover all images that could pose a risk to the physical safety of officers or impede them from executing their duty, the Interior Ministry maintains it will not encroach on freedom of expression.

“We are trying to avoid images of police being uploaded onto social networks with threats to them and their families,” underlined Cosido.

Violation of freedom of expression?

Spain’s United Police Syndicate said it considers the implementation of the new legislation “very complicated” because it does not establish any guidelines over what kinds of images violate the rights of a police officer. The syndicate warned that the ministry will run into “legal problems” if it does not specify the ins and outs of the law.

However, the director of the police argued that the measures were necessary given the “elevated levels of violence against officers” in the economic downturn that is “undermining the basis of a democratic society.”

The anti-austerity protests that have swept Spain over the past year have been punctuated by reports and footage of police brutality. The footage showed that large numbers of Spanish officers did not wear their identification badges during the protests, although the law requires it.

Spain’s beleaguered economy is in danger of following in the footsteps of Greece.

The government has made sweeping cuts to the public sector, provoking the ire of a Spanish public already disillusioned at rising unemployment that tops 50 per cent among adolescents.

The Spanish government has not yet called on the European Central bank for a bailout, but rising economic woes and an unchecked public deficit may force it to do so in the near future.

October 19, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , | Leave a comment

U.S. State Dept. admits passport form was illegal, but still wants it approved

The new U.S. passport application forms are back, worse than ever.

Papers, Please! –  September 24th, 2012

Ignoring massive public opposition, and despite having recently admitted that it is already using the “proposed” forms illegally without approval, the State Department is trying again to get approval for a pair of impossible-to-complete new passport application forms that would, in effect, allow the State Department to deny you a passport simply by choosing to send you either or both of the new “long forms”.

Early last year, the State Department proposed a new “Biographical Questionnaire” for passport applicants, which would have required anyone selected to receive the new long-form DS-5513 to answer bizarre and intrusive personal trivia questions about everything from whether you were circumcised (and if so, with what accompanying religious rituals) to the dates of all of your mother’s pre- and post-natal medical appointments, your parents’ addresses one year before you were born, every address at which you have ever resided, and your lifetime employment history including the names and phone numbers of each of your supervisors at every job you have ever held.

Most people would be unable to complete the proposed new form no matter how much time and money they invested in research. Requiring someone to complete Form DS-5513 would amount to de facto denial of their application for a passport — which, as we told the State Department, appeared to be the point of the form.

The State Department’s notice of the proposal in the Federal Register didn’t include the form itself. After we published the proposed Form DS-5513, the story went viral and more than 3,000 public comments objecting to the proposal were filed with the State Department in the final 24 hours of the comment period.

After that fiasco, the State Department went dark for several months, and claimed that they would “revise” the form. But they didn’t give up, and apparently they didn’t listen to (or didn’t care) what they had been told by members of the public in our comments.

The State Department is now seeking approval for a (slightly) revised Form DS-5513 as well as a new Form DS-5520, also for passport applicants, containing many of the same questions.

The State Department no longer wants you to tell the passport examiner about the circumstances of your circumcision, but does still want to know the dates and locations of all of your mother’s pre- and post-natal medical appointments, how long she was hospitalized for your birth, and a complete list of everyone who was in the room when you were born. The revised forms no longer ask for all the addresses at which you have lived, but only for those addresses you are least likely to know: all the places you lived from birth until age 18.

And so on, as you can see for yourself on the proposed Form DS-5513 and Form DS-5520.

October 19, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , | Leave a comment