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Police surveilled protests with help from Twitter-affiliated startup Dataminr (theintercept.com)
379 points by jbegley 35 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 240 comments



This kind of surveillance is not very effective for preventing or solving crimes.

It is much more effective at making lists of people willing to lawfully and peacefully stand for the human rights or others, -- "potential subversives", as the parties monitoring might call them.

Imagine, instead, if law enforcement were to stand outside of a marijuana-legalization rally and collect the sort of data effectively collected here: name, address, duration of involvement. They'd end up in court immediately, and it would likely be found that their actions had a chilling effect which created a prior restraint on the public's constitutionally protected speech.

Yet online this kind of data collection amasses more data and is more chilling due secretive nature since you never know when you're not being tracked.


I'm not sure the crime solving utility is wholly relevant here, police have other duties like maintaining public safety. The obvious utility seems to be monitoring different protest zones for signs that violence is beginning to break out. If x people are suddenly tweeting about a fire or gun shots near an active protest then you know it would probably be wise to at least send a scout over there to evaluate the situation. This method also has the benefit of removing the need to have riot-ready police pre-emptively deployed to zones where everyone is keeping things calm.

Anecdotally, I was able to spectate active looting in my own city's downtown when the protests first came to us via various livestreaming instagrammers and while it was mostly a curiosity for me I imagine it would have been useful to a dispatcher who had to decide where to send officers. I don't see why twitter couldn't serve a similarly useful purpose.


> I was able to spectate active looting in my own city's downtown when the protests first came to us via various livestreaming instagrammers and while it was mostly a curiosity for me I imagine it would have been useful to a dispatcher who had to decide where to send officers

We all watched the same thing in our cities. And we watched as the police chose to launch projectiles into crowds of protestors instead of doing anything about the smashing and looting.

On the first night of large protests (May 29), I found myself in my city of Portland, OR, on SW 3rd and Yamhill. On one side of me (to the East), where a small group of matching black-clad people had gone, were the unambiguous sounds of windows being smashed and building alarms going off. In other directions, especially South and West, there were huge groups of protestors, simply occupying the area.

The police engaged, without a single exception that came to my awareness, in the latter group, breaking them up into smaller and smaller contingents as the night went on, while doing nothing about the much smaller group going around smashing.

I described my experience in detail the following morning.[0]

The same story has emerged from streamed video throughout the USA.

So I don't think there's any evidence at this time that the police view stopping rioting or "active looting" as a goal.

0: https://www.reddit.com/r/Portland/comments/gtj1zm/what_i_saw...


"This method also has the benefit of removing the need to have riot-ready police pre-emptively deployed to zones where everyone is keeping things calm."

Let's take a moment to determine how likely it is that the cops will stop sending small battalions of riot police into situations where they are highly unnecessary. As protests have gotten smaller in many cities, police have started sending riot police that outnumber the protestors. They have shown no interest in measured responses.

It would be nice if the police used data to reduce their use of force, but that appears to be antithetical to their way of thinking.


> police have other duties like maintaining public safety

In the US it is not legally correct to claim that the police have any duty to provide any specific police service. (Warren v. District of Columbia)

But pedantry aside, they could monitor twitter and whatnot for violence outbreak without collecting any identifyable information.


> police have other duties like maintaining public safety

This duty has been used to justify arresting peaceful people and creating violent situations for decades. "He was gonna cause trouble".


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Does anyone know mechanically what this^ is? The account has sat dormant for 2 years after making 2 comments in 2018 and after 2 years of silence it spits out this. Is it part of some sort of farmed bot network? Or is it an old account that got cracked and used by spammers?


It is rude to talk about someone in the 3rd person directly in front of them.

These topics bring out a lot of emotion in people, coupled with regular HN passive aggressive snark volleyed back and forth, of which your comment<T> fits.


Your account is less than 2 months old.

gophicer 34 days ago [flagged]

Yeah not hacked but thanks for confirming your whiteness.


Imagine, instead, if law enforcement were to stand outside of a marijuana-legalization rally and collect the sort of data effectively collected here: name, address, duration of involvement.

They sort of do, by filming it and using facial recognition to identify people.


Twitter-affiliated is interesting too since the pretend to care so much about the issue. Well, they seem to care on a very personal level.


They care the minimum amount required to shut up their vocal employees on this issue.


When corporations take a stand on an issue, they're just making a bet on who they think is going to win, it's got nothing to do with morals.

I guarantee if Trump got legitimately reelected with 80% of the vote, you'd see every company quickly replacing those "We Stand with BLM" banners with some bright red MAGA flair.


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> The argument can be made that to protect peaceful assemblies, tools need to be engineered so those rioters can be differentiated from the lawful protesters and bring them to justice.

This is the same reasoning behind the argument for putting backdoors into crypto algorithms, and it's a bad argument for the same reasons.


As a law abiding protestor I don’t buy this because it was done to me without my knowledge. They can use tools to watch criminals without compiling data on peaceful protestors without their knowledge


> dress homogeneously all clad in black

Much like the police when they obscure or remove their names and/or badge numbers, no?

> but in fact they do so to commit acts of violence and then meld away in the crowd, effectively taking hostage the lawful protesters.

Yep, you got that right.


> tools need to be engineered so those rioters can be differentiated from the lawful protesters and bring them to justice.

Tools need to be engineered to bring murderers, killers, rapists, and jackbooted jarheads to justice.

Murderers are being let free. Society should revolt at such injustice. I wish folks talked with such conviction about the folks raping, murdering, and killing with impunity. Beating protestors without care, etc. Instead they reserve "bring them to justice" for broken windows and stolen Nikes. What a country.


You write with such conviction and certainty, and yet I must point out that it's black bloc, not "block".


I, too, used to be a grammar fascist.

Then I fell in love with an otherwise quite intelligent woman with dyslexia

At some point I just stopped trying to correct her to/too/two confusion

It would be nice if everyone used correct grammar. But you understood what they were trying to say, which is what made it possible for you to suggest the correction.

What I'm getting at is that I now think it's impolite to call someone out on their grammer in a public forum (I know you saw what I did, there)

The tone of online discourse has eroded so badly of late that I think it's best to become a politeness fascist now.

We don't call people out on their lisp, their tics, their stutter, their mumbling, their gait... but calling people out on their spelling online is OK apparently


The grandparent also wrote with absolute conviction but you take no issue with that because spelling, right


I'm expressing doubt that 'TeeMassive is well-informed about black bloc tactics or that their claims are rooted in truth, since they made a basic error that would seem to stem from third-hand hearsay.


Or it could stem from mere auto completion or any kind of spell checking.


Do you have a problem with grammar anarchists?


I get the sense that most HN commenters are against having police surveil this kind of event in the U.S.

Could someone share the reasons for this strong opposition?

Personally, I can imagine valid reasons for and against conducting such surveillance. But given how many people feel otherwise, I wonder if I'm missing something.


The first obvious point is that protesting is a constitutionally protected activity, as is any political speech on Twitter, and this is interpreted extremely widely - so why are public institutions in the business of surveilling this legal, ney protected activity?

But there is more to it. Courts have long recognized that state activity that can be reasonably construed to chill exercise of ones constitutional freedoms is similarly an infringement on those rights, and certainly take a very dim look on any sort of surveillance of political activity.


In my opinion, this goes because just surveilling a legal protest. These protests were specifically against the police's abuse of their power. This resulted in a police response that was much more adversarial than a traditional legal protest would face. Aiding the police in surveilling protesters allows police to further abuse their power and target protesters for retribution. Providing this monitoring isn't that different than providing them with tear gas or rubber bullets. It is actively contributing to violence against people simply using their constitutional rights.



At least 17 people were murdered during this time and a few more since this was posted:

https://www.thepostemail.com/2020/06/03/twitter-user-compile...

The posts are public and the police cannot go after anyone for simply engaging in protected speech, but they can and have identified looters and murderers who have tried to discredit the fact that black lives matter with their actions.

So I'm not clear why so many people are against the police catching the violent criminals who undermine the message of the many peaceful protesters.


I hadn't heard of that website, but this is how the author of that article describes herself:

>Sharon Rondeau has operated The Post & Email since April 2010, focusing on the Obama birth certificate investigation...

Linking to a website like that is going to destroy whatever point you were trying to make for a large portion of your audience.


It links to primary sources on everything, so this seems to me more a distraction than a meaningful critique. The fact that this is all easily verifiable, yet hard to find compilations of, is a critique in the other direction.


I wasn't debating the facts of your argument. I was simply telling you that the debate is already lost as soon as you link to a site that still claims Obama wasn't born in the US. In many people's minds, it isn't worth the energy to dispute your point because you are already displaying symptoms of someone who lacks the critical thinking skills necessary to assess and process basic facts.

If the only important pieces of that article are the links to primary sources, you could have linked to them yourself. That has potential to make you sound like a conspiracy theorist tying photos on your wall together with red yarn. However that is still better than linking to a conspiracy theorist website that seemingly proves the same point.


I wasn't trying to direct that at you, personally and I do understand what you're saying. This instinct to discredit the source is literally what's killing the news right now. People gladly swallow outrage porn, but when they see a fact compilation, their first instinct is to evaluate the one who compiled it (who is irrelevant to said facts) instead of engaging with the facts themselves.

Even to the point of missing that it's an honest compilation and includes those killed by police during the protests. But he's the biased one here, right?

Besides, that's a silly shibboleth all told. I voted for Obama and I wouldn't have cared even if he was born in Kenya (he wasn't). McCain was born in Panama and I didn't care about that, either.


Facts generally need context. Are these deaths actually linked to protesters? Are they motivated in some way by the protests or is the connection coincidental? How do these number of deaths compare to other protests? How do they compare to times when there are no protest? Questions like that need to be answered for the facts to have value. Most of us don't trust whatever context is given by a source like the one you linked. That is why people attack the source. Because the story here is the context of the facts and not the facts themselves.


> Are these deaths actually linked to protesters?

Mostly they were done by looters, a few by police. That's all shown in the linked articles, which give names and dates and locations.

> How do these number of deaths compare to other protests?

You remember that Charleston protest? One death. Number of unarmed black people killed by police in 2019? Ten. That's eleven too many, of course, but you wanted context and those are the most recent and closely related stats. Most protests are smaller scale and have few or no deaths, though, e.g. other big protests like the Women's March, March for Life, etc. don't normally involve looting or fatalities. Nobody died protesting Trump's inauguration, either, that I'm aware of.

> Questions like that need to be answered for the facts to have value.

They are answered, by the links to mostly local news stories where you can read all about David Dorn, a black cop murdered by looters. You can watch the video from the sister of the girl murdered outside of a Davenport, IA Wal-Mart. There's tons of context in the sources, that's just a convenient set of names and links.

> That is why people attack the source. Because the story here is the context of the facts and not the facts themselves.

The context is available to anyone capable of clicking two links. There are also names given which can be looked up to find sources you prefer. But maybe you're right that I should compile a giant list. I just feel that it's hard to justify it as worthwhile when people engage on a non-factual level. I can't take the beliefs of lazy thinkers seriously.


What is the difference between a "looter" and a "robber"? You can't simply link every death that happens during this time frame to the protests and if you do, you need to compare it to similar deaths that happened at other times.

>I just feel that it's hard to justify it as worthwhile when people engage on a non-factual level.

Which brings me back to the first reply to you. You are asking people to click through at least 3 level of links before we get to a non-biased source that can provide facts. People aren't going to think that effort is worthwhile if the first page they land on is a site founded on spreading conspiracy theories.

Also I quickly googled Dorn and you are fudging the facts a little. He is a 77 year old retired police officer. His death had nothing to do with him being a police officer. He was working as a security guard when he was killed. Coincidentally police have also recently killed an on-duty security guard[1]. Mentioning one and not the other can be an indication of bias.

[1] - https://www.ajc.com/news/police-shoot-kill-year-old-hispanic...


Anyone can look and see the path of arson, robbery & destruction that is not a part of any normal crime pattern. When dozens of people rob & destroy a Wal-Mart, Target, etc. that's "looting" not mere robbery or such.

Insofar as you want to compare crime stats, CHAZ/CHOP is part of a huge % increase in crime. Even CHAZ "security" managed to shoot people.

I only said that Dorn was a cop, not that he was murdered for being a cop--you're putting words in my mouth. I believe I did mention that some of even the 17 had been shot by cops and there were more deaths after that.

I take making false claims about what I've said to be a red flag.


>Anyone can look and see the path of arson, robbery & destruction that is not a part of any normal crime pattern. When dozens of people rob & destroy a Wal-Mart, Target, etc. that's "looting" not mere robbery or such.

Once again more context you are expecting your reader to look up rather than have explained by an unbiased news source.

The question isn't whether looting happened. Of course it did. However there are also hundreds of thousands of robberies and millions of larcenies. Those don't just go away during times of civil unrest. How do you decide what is considered looting connected to the protests versus traditional robbery or larceny?

>I only said that Dorn was a cop,

Here is what you actually said:

>>David Dorn, a black cop murdered by looters

There was no past tense on being a cop there.


> How do you decide what is considered looting connected to the protests versus traditional robbery or larceny?

There's a video of the people looting the store and several arrests were made. But you know that because you reviewed all that context, right?

> There was no past tense on being a cop there.

You do realize that I mentioned that he's dead, right?

But let's humor this for a moment... the fact that he was an old retired cop trying to keep his friend from losing his income and ending up in the proverbial poorhouse somehow makes his murder less awful to you?

Of course, that would only last until you found out about Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller or Dave Patrick Underwood, one assumes. Or will I hear more complaints if I neglect to mention that neither is black and the second is more of a security guard than a cop?


> The posts are public and the police cannot go after anyone for simply engaging in protected speech,

"police SHOULD NOT go after anyone for simply engaging in protected speech".

FTFY

They can do lots of things they should not. They should not run cars into protesters. They should not push over old men who are not causing trouble. They should not shoot unarmed people in the back who are running away. They should not kill a black man by choking him to death with their knee over a false counterfeit bill complaint.

And yet all these things happen. The police should not go after innocent protesters, but there's no way in hell I will believe that they will not, or are not doing so.


> They should not kill a black man ... over a false counterfeit bill complaint.

They shouldn’t kill even for legitimate counterfeit bill complaints. Police should use the absolute minimum force required to both apprehend suspects (as limited by relevant law) and is required by public safety; not one ounce more.

If someone is accused of committing a crime, it’s up to the courts and the jury to determine if they’re guilty and what the punishment shall me, the police don’t get to play judge, jury, and executioner.


Very much related to your last statement.

Why Some Cops Think They're The Punisher https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LM7z7pDmEC4


Good summary. Reminds me that I am very thankful to $deity that I am not an U.S. citizen.


In Boston I was standing beside the police as the let looting occur. There were only about 5 shops broken into and only 1 that I saw looted, but the police were standing 10 feet away from one and didn't do anything about it.


I’ve seen many videos of the same types of behaviors. My suspicion is things like this are intentional. Police are incredibly aware of how things are framed in media reports and they’re very aware of how little the media questions their actions–though I suspect, from their own actions repeatedly caught in video, this benefit of the doubt they've been afforded may be slipping away.


I genuinely believe that they let the looting happen either to punish the citizens who dared question them, or in the hopes that we’d focus on the looting and not the cops beating citizens down.


In other big cities, cops are kept on a very tight leash during protests and need permission from leadership to intervene.


In some areas, the cops are in league with the violent counter-protesters, which is why they watch them assault law-abiding people and do nothing about it:

...dozens of police looked on, in some cases chatting and sharing pizza with the group. They included Officer Joseph Goodwin Jr., whose brother Richie shoved one protester and was photographed punching another. [0]

Maybe it's the same thing with the looters.

0 - https://www.inquirer.com/news/fishtown-philadelphia-communit...


Only 5 shops? Jeez.

What did you expect the police to do? Stop the mobs while the looting happens? With anti police sentiment so high here, it would be a thousand times higher on the street. I'm not sure stopping the looting there and then would be a good idea.


> What did you expect the police to do? Stop the mobs while the looting happens?

Isn't that their job?


> So I'm not clear why so many people are against the police catching the violent criminals

Because someone can be against physical violence and simultaneously think surveilling everyone is wrong.


It’s things like this [1]. Doesn’t matter if it’s cops who really did it. People would like for the cops to not have a list of anti-police protestors.

[1] https://www.chicagotribune.com/nation-world/ct-ferguson-acti...


> So I'm not clear why so many people are against the police catching the violent criminals who undermine the message of the many peaceful protesters.

It's because human beings are tribal by nature and tend to take social queues from those around them. SV and most major metro areas are overwhelming liberal, and right now it's trendy in those circles to issue blanket condemnations of all police activity with little regard for nuance.

In a lot of ways it's very similar to George W. Bush and co.'s "You with us or against us" mentally shortly after 9/11. Then, like now, any nuance or pointing out of grey areas were seen as a form of disloyalty and siding with the enemy, despite the matter itself being very complex, and yes, nuanced.


> protesting is a constitutionally protected activity

As someone who don't live in the US but which country has a bunch of laws protecting protesting under specific conditions, I wonder a bit about that statement.

Looking around for an answer, while the US governments may not deny a person's constitutional right to peacefully protest, they may regulate the time, place, and manner in which the protest is conducted. They can also deny permits as long as they have a compelling, objective reason to do so.

So its a mixed bag when it comes to the US courts, and the question that seems to have most significance is what is or isn't an compelling objective reason. In order to sue the court you would need to both demonstrate the infringement of the right, and that the government does not have objective reasons (such as keeping order). I suspect the result of such court case would not be obvious, but rather uncertain with a lot of variation based the judges in question.


Aren’t the tweets ingested by Dataminr public? I agree this would be problematic if they were using private data, but using data available to anyone on the platform feels like fair game.


If the supreme court can learn new tricks, I'm confident HN can finally learn the difference between a police officer on his beat and a fully-automated data firehose mined in realtime or other perversions of technology. Witness United States v. Jones, the opinion delivered by Scalia:

The Government contends that the Harlan standard shows that no search occurred here, since Jones had no “reasonable expectation of privacy” in the area of the Jeep accessed by Government agents (its underbody) and in the locations of the Jeep on the public roads, which were visible to all. But we need not address the Government’s contentions, because Jones’s Fourth Amendment rights do not rise or fall with the Katz formulation. At bottom, we must “assur[e] preservation of that degree of privacy against government that existed when the Fourth Amendment was adopted.”


Viewing a public tweet is not trespassing - its the point of the entire platform. US vs Jones determined that installing a tracker on a private vehicle is trespassing.

As a tax payer, I would prefer my tax dollars are used as efficiently as possible - so if the alternative is to hire human police officers to manually search twitter and create reports then I would oppose that in favor of automated technology. I don't think the technology is the debate here, it simply enables us as humans to be more efficient. The decision to surveil is the debate here, and I can see it both ways. Do I think the police should be aware of a large gathering (regardless of purpose) in their cities? Yes, I think that's prudent for a variety of public safety reasons. Do I want this done in a way that does not interfere with protests or have a chilling effect? Yes, absolutely.


This is an ever present issue as technology advances and what was not possible to efficiently or effectively do before is now possible through these new techniques. And it is not limited to government and law enforcement either, the worst transgressions are from the private sector and political campaigns.

As a society we are only starting to become aware of the implications. "Fair game" is the biggest misnomer - it is anything but.


Speed of any car currently travelling on US public roads is public information, it is publicly observable, people have no expectation of privacy on this. Now imagine some technology made it possible to observe and mine this data en masse, and to issue speeding tickets all at once based on it, as often as speeding occurs. This would be so massively disruptive that the speed limits and/or the law itself would have to change to make things work back again.

This is not to have a blanket claim that law enforcement should always have less data. The point is that innovation in law enforcement tech has to be balanced with accountability, experience and changes in the actual law. Especially in a climate in which rightful use of authority is in question, the last thing we would want is to empower further asymmetry.


We don't even need to change the law. An even simpler fix is to simply veto the idiot who thought it was a good idea to mass issue those tickets without leniency. Personally I think this human factor already exists in our government. Police can give warnings even when they have you dead to rights. And they are subject to pressure both to write more tickets or to write fewer, depending on the climate.

However I'd say changing the law is the best option of them all. Restricting surveillance protects people out in suburbia from cops who are almost never there anyway, while poor schmucks downtown have to deal with the "broken window policies" getting tickets for a lot of nonsense.


You might want to look into “automated speed enforcement.” AFAICT, it’s primarily used in construction or school zones right now.


I think the US system is best served by Americans being very pessimistic of law enforcement getting anywhere near politics.

Many of the ugliest chapters in our history involve failing to uphold this standard.


> ...very pessimistic of law enforcement getting anywhere near politics.

> Many of the ugliest chapters in our history involve failing to uphold this standard.

I don’t have data to back this up, but I certainly would not be shocked to read a study which showed that police, rather than enforcing laws universally, are far more likely to be using their discretion attempting to steer society by selectively punishing segments of people who they view as “unamerican.” Whether it’s done to juggalo types from “the wrong side of the tracks”; strange religions; different races; or like in the past, pot smokers, guys with long hair, or punks with colors in their hair. etc... etc... etc...

I don’t know how we fix this problem, but I suspect the tendency to view “others” as problematic and applying pressure to other groups in a misguided attempt to steer them into compliance is part of the problem.


> The first obvious point is that protesting is a constitutionally protected activity, as is any political speech on Twitter, and this is interpreted extremely widely - so why are public institutions in the business of surveilling this legal, ney protected activity?

There are lots of things that are protected activities that I would like surveiled. Militias. The KKK. Neo-nazis. I certainly hope the FBI and other law enforcement agencies are keeping tabs on their activities.


I would agree, with the giant caveat that I would like those activities to be surveilled only upon a showing of probable cause and with judicial oversight. The government shouldn’t have carte blanche to “investigate” citizens who are not suspected of committing a crime.


> I would agree, with the giant caveat that I would like those activities to be surveilled only upon a showing of probable cause and with judicial oversight. The government shouldn’t have carte blanche to “investigate” citizens who are not suspected of committing a crime.

In Western jurisdictions, probable cause and judicial oversight are only relevant to searches of private property, arrests/etc. Police have always been empowered to surveil public behaviour, and in my opinion, rightly so.

It would be incredibly impractical to require judicial authorization for something as simple as browsing a public neo-nazi forum, or driving around looking at known drug-spots.

The question is whether the ubiquity of social media/phone cameras has changed our attitude. Arguably, we've created an inescapable, 24/7 surveillance apparatus . If you attend a protest, there's a real chance your photo may very well end up on Twitter/Facebook/etc, inadvertently or otherwise.

I do think it's time to discuss the role of phone cameras in modern society.


I agree in spirit here, but in practice in order to get probable cause of criminality or criminal intent, you need to do a little bit of surveillance/monitoring first. And it seems to me that a good compromise is "monitor publicly available media, like twitter to look for evidence of criminal intent, and then use more invasive tactics if you find it".


It takes a lot of faith in law enforcement to believe they won't abuse that power, especially given they are the target of criticism by these protests. The argument that it is illegal for them to abuse / misuse this information isn't very compelling either, given that they are the ones responsible for enforcing the laws that they would be breaking. I might be okay with this info just ending up in the hands of the FBI, but I definitely wouldn't want it winding up in the hands of my local law enforcement agencies, who are known for harassing and intimidating critics.


It's not that I think they won't abuse it. I know that they'll abuse it. The question we have to ask is whether their abuses will be worse than the consequences of total inaction on their part. And I think that balances in favor of surveillance, when it comes to public social media data, but certainly reasonable people can disagree.


The compromise you're suggesting is what Dataminr is doing. Monitoring publicly available media like Twitter to look for evidence of criminal intent (albeit in an automated fashion).


who are not suspected of committing a crime.

How about people suspected of planning a crime?

It would be really hard for cops to prevent crimes if they had to wait until after it was committed in order to surveil.


In general, cops directly prevent almost no crimes. Their job is basically to respond to crimes and either stop it in progress or find and punish the perpetrators. If they have a prevention effect it is from deterrence.


How many beat cops do you think have been patrolling at night and come across some shady character casing the neighborhood? I'd bet every single one except for maybe the cops in Malibu.

Regardless, there are cops whose jobs are to identify people who may be planning a crime. So my question stands - any concerns with surveilling those people?


Cops are certainly aware of white supremacist activities, but they don't need to surveil anyone:

In the 2006 bulletin, the FBI detailed the threat of white nationalists and skinheads infiltrating police in order to disrupt investigations against fellow members and recruit other supremacists.

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/fbi-white-supremacists-i...

Also, let's not forget the KKK's history of organized crime. They've earned any surveillance they're under. It's far from a straight comparison between them and ad hoc protesters when you're talking about "protected activities".


Feminists. Anti-war activists. Civil rights activists. Martin Luther King Jr.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COINTELPRO


Think deeply about what you're proposing.


I am thinking about it. Think about what you are proposing. Do you really want to take the position that the government cannot monitor any group until it commits a crime?


Easily. Without hesitation, obviously, hard yes. If the KKK wants to be a tiny minority of people who lack the nuance to direct their anger at anything other than a color of skin, maybe we need to work on our education system. If they haven't committed a crime, then either they haven't hurt anybody, or we need to work on our judicial system.

Inevitably, the microscopic amount of good that could be done would be vastly outweighed by the chilling effect on every group that was trying to create positive change at the expense of the oligarchy. Aka: true patriots.


Well if you're willing to accept that the government should not keep tabs on racist organizations or militias, then I guess we've cashed out our disagreement to terminal values. We'll just have to agree to disagree.


You can think whatever you want. You can even think it with a bunch of people and hopefully not have to feel scared to think whatever is you will think, nor fear talking about whatever is you want to talk about. Even if that thing has something to do with creating real, actual change within our lifetimes.


I see you post on forums involving hackers and encryption. We're just going to keep tabs on you and other potential members of your militia, ok?


I suspect you're just disagreeing on what "keeping tabs" actually means.

The government shouldn't put someone under (specific|personal) surveillance without strong evidence of course. But I don't see what prevents them from reading twitter, going into public chat rooms, etc.


I think that was the general idea, yes. Or at least, before they have strong indication that it’s likely to commit a crime.


How should they determine when a group is about to commit a crime though? Usually that's done via pre-emptive surveillance. If they are not allowed to surveil groups that they merely suspect might one day commit crimes, it will be very hard for them to know anything about their activities before the crimes actually get committed.

It's certainly possible that this is just the price of freedom. But I think its a rather heavy price.


"Usually". Evidence? I doubt that the police pre-emptively stop many crimes at all. They catch criminals _after_ they have committed crimes.

Even if they were able to catch every crime before it started, ala minority report, they, based on past behavior, would most likely seriously abuse that power hence the strong opposition here to having them even come close to posessing that power.


> "Usually". Evidence? I doubt that the police pre-emptively stop many crimes at all. They catch criminals _after_ they have committed crimes.

Here's a long list of terrorist incidents, some of which were pre-emptively disrupted by the FBI:

https://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/terrorism-20...

> Even if they were able to catch every crime before it started, ala minority report, they, based on past behavior, would most likely seriously abuse that power hence the strong opposition here to having them even come close to posessing that power.

I don't really understand your point. I'm not arguing that they won't abuse their power. They will. They always do. The question is whether or not the abuses that might occur as the result of analyzing publicly available information are worse than the harms that might come from not doing so. I come down pretty squarely on the harms from not doing so being greater, but reasonable people can disagree, I suppose.


"were pre-emptively disrupted"

Says the FBI, with a conflict of interest large enought to drive a big truck full of fertilizer though in publishing these things. They also have a varified history of lying through their teeth.


So, you're simply unwilling to accept any evidence on the subject? Do you have any evidence at all to support your perspective?


Sorry, I believe the burden of proof is on you to show credible non-governement evidence that the FBI has stopped just some of the numerous terrorist you are referring.

Bring out FBI press-releases and the like and I'll just have to point you at the many FBI statements from the past that are now obviously blatent fabricated lies.


> many FBI statements from the past that are now obviously blatent fabricated lies.

You mean like the entire practice of forensic fiber analysis, which they were forced to cop to after the fact: https://www.fbi.gov/news/pressrel/press-releases/fbi-testimo...


These are just isolated demands for rigor. I gave you a concrete list. You're welcome to dispute any of them on the actual facts. Until then, I think we're done here.


You gave me a press release from an organizaion that has a history of being deceptive. Why would I, or anybody, take it as a "concrete list?"

The thread of discussion here is that the FBI needs to have broad survaillance capabilities to catch crime before it occurs. The list you gave has verly little support for that in that almost all of the acts in the list were not stopped due to any survaillance, but rather invesigations after the fact. You could assert that they might have been stopped, but that is conjecture.


If you ctrl+f for the word 'plot', you'll find the ones that were disrupted prior to execution. They don't spell it out, for obvious reasons, but generally some sort of surveillance is involved.


> The question is whether or not the abuses that might occur as the result of analyzing publicly available information are worse than the harms that might come from not doing so.

How many criminals announce their plans on Twitter in a way that law enforcement can use to prevent a crime? From my perspective, it seems like the potential for crime prevention is small compared to the potential for abuse.


I think things are often planned on Twitter to some degree. A lot of the quasi-planned looting and rioting was mapped out on Twitter, for instance. It's a very rich source for information on these sorts of things.


And almost every single one of those they had evidence, indications of which particular individuals to monitor/infiltrate. Often this was through reliable sources.


And where did they get that evidence?


> I come down pretty squarely on the harms from not doing so being greater

And this feeling you have may stem from another political narrative being created and amplified: the fear of 'the other'. The fear that justifies all of this to so many people.

Sowing the FUD that e.g. most people from Mexico are "criminials, rapists, carrying disease", or that Moslims are terrorists. That terrorist sleeper cells may be everywhere. A gliding scale of xenophobia created for political purposes.


What a strange non-sequitur. You know that I am the one in this thread suggesting that the FBI should monitor right-wing white supremacist groups, right?


You are right. If I could still edit I'd replace 'you have' with 'in general' because that was what I was referring to. Didn't refer to you in particular.


> Do you really want to take the position that the government cannot monitor any group until it commits a crime?

There is an ocean of options in between “do nothing” and “surveil and database every citizen who potentially maybe, might, could exercise their constitutional protections and protest.” A vast amount of options.


Let's keep in mind what we're actually discussing here. We're talking about police monitoring public Twitter feeds. They're not tapping phones. They're not secretly infiltrating groups with undercover agents. Just reading stuff that's published in public, for all the world to see.

Reading public messages seems like a super reasonable thing for the police to be doing, to keep tabs on groups that have recently engaged in disruption and violence. Whether those groups are right wing or left wing.


It's hard to disagree with this point, really.

I don't see how you can prevent the police from reading stuff that's being broadcast for everyone else to see.

And threats of violence, or evidence of organizing to cause violence, should be investigated.


I think it's rather easy actually.

The police aggregate vast sums of data and uses it in ways that the public does not understand, intend, or expect. It's not unlike the way people 'sign' away their privacy on the internet without being aware that their data will then be sold and resold and used against them.

It is a common belief that information is a weapon, and it certainly can be used as one. So does it makes sense, at least from one perspective, that our information should not be legal to catalogue? After all, it is illegal in the U.S. for the government to create a registry of firearms owners because such a registry could be used against the people and its very existence would be an infringement on the rights of those people.


But this information is already being cataloged. It's being published on a platform that explicitly catalogs it, for the public. Anyone tweeting on Twitter is doing so with the full knowledge that anything they say might get signal-boosted by someone with a high follower count and become a major public incident. It happens with extreme regularity. The idea that there is some kind of expectation of privacy here seems far-fetched to me.


We as a collective seem to treat the government as a natural person online, but not in person.

If a police officer sits down at the dinner table next to me and listens in on my conversation with friends and family, I'd be quite uncomfortable. I'd feel equally uncomfortable if they sat across the restaurant and pointed a microphone at the table to record everything. However, suddenly we treat them like normal people if they download the entire contents of our digital lives and process every word we've ever written online.

It's one thing for Twitter to be accessible to natural persons publicly. It's another for a government to treat everyone as though they are under investigation at all times, without a warrant.

For clarity, in my opinion, a police officer who just happens to follow me on twitter because he likes video games is a natural person. However, he stops being a natural person once he starts representing the organization he works for.


Twitter is not a dinner table though. Twitter is a public square. I think you could make a reasonable case for Facebook being dinner-table like. But Twitter has privacy settings. You can protect your tweets if you want to. If the police were breaking into protected accounts, I would agree with you. But Twitter seems about as public as it gets.


Imagine every person in a public square has a police officer following closely behind them with a microphone in one hand a video camera in the other. And we're not even touching on the 3-letter-agency relationships with tech companies which almost assuredly gives them access, even to 'private' profiles.

Innocent people should not be surveilled ruthlessly on the off chance that every now and again we catch one evil person. In my mind, it's like the TSA invading everyone's privacy without ever catching a single terrorist. It's a waste of resources, on top of being a disgusting behavior.


The difference is that in a physical public square, you have a built-in expectation of ephemerality. Everyone expects that their behavior in some random physical space is not going to persist forever. Twitter, on the other hand, is explicitly build with the expectation of what you tweet persisting forever.

On the other hand, there are tons of cameras in public spaces too. So, even though people have had a built-in expectation of ephemerality, that's already been violated for quite a while now.


I don't expect Twitter to last forever either. Myspace sure didn't.

That said, in my view, surveillance against the average person has got to go.


>Do you really want to take the position that the government cannot monitor any group until it commits a crime?

Yes. That's better than the alternative. So many things can be construed as criminal that I don't think it's an impediment to the investigation of actual criminal in practice. If anything stops police from wasting our money surviving groups that are not actually threats to anything but the government wants under surveillance for political/ideological reasons.


That's a nice ideal, but ultimately very naive. Your idea would work great until a neo nazi group or a terrorist organization executed an attack killing a large number of people. Then everyone would be screaming at the government demanding to know why they weren't monitoring more so they could prevent just such an occurrence.


Absolutely, yes.


Yes


Yes.


The FBI doesn’t appear to do a great job at preventing white supremacist domestic terrorism, so I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make.


Relative to what? We have no idea how much terrorism there would be without the FBI.


We also have no idea how much terrorism we have due to the FBI, ala CONINTELPRO.


Sure. But a lack of concrete, precise information doesn't mean we can throw up our hands and just call them equivalent, either. The FBI disrupts quite a bit of terror activity, and quite a bit more never materializes because the FBI exists. They've certainly engaged in their fair share of abuses over the years, but I don't think you can seriously argue we'd be better off without them.


Um. Yes I can. It's in the same vein as letting a few guilty people go free to ensure that less innocent people get sent to prison.

I'd rather still have Matin Luther King around than to have whatever the FBI claims to have disrupted.


The FBI didn't kill MLK, though. If you eliminated the FBI, you woulnd't get MLK back. But you would have a few hundred more serious terror attacks in the US history, probably a decent number of them against minorities.


> The FBI didn't kill MLK, though.

We know they tried to do so at least once while maintaining deniability.


Do you have any evidence of this claim besides press-releases from the US government?


I envy your confidence.


Well, we do know that more people have died to white supremacy since 9/11 than died on 9/11. Not to mention people forget Oklahoma City rather quickly....


The last few cases that come to mind (Breivik, Tarrant) are from lone wolves that had radical ideas but were not affiliated with any group.

It must be very difficult to catch (unless you want a surveillance society where everyone is suspect).

Even in cases where it's planned and announced it's difficult to stop (Al Qaeda did announce they would assassinate Charb, editor in chief of Charlie Hebdo, and despite police protection they managed to do so).


> that I would like surveiled

This part of your comment really, really rubs me the wrong way. Your personal inclinations absolutely cannot direct the apparatus of state on a whim. Either those groups are suspected of criminal activity or conspiracy to commit criminal activity, which is probable cause for surveillance, or they aren't.


He's more than welcome to voice his desire to have them surveiled. Just as I can voice that he would make an awful public official or officer with that attitude.


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> Last I checked, we lived in a democracy.

The United States is a Constitutional Republic with rights explicitly enshrined therein, including its amendments. You are more than welcome to your opinion on violating constitutional rights but if you want the rule of law then you should follow the constitutional process to add an amendment in order to revoke said rights.

> So, you are opposed to government surveillance of neo-nazi groups that eschew violence, then?

Yes! You either believe in free speech and freedom of assembly or you don't. If these groups are a clear and present danger, show probable cause already. If they aren't, counter-protest, shame them, embarrass them, whatever.

More often than not, hate groups can't help but cross that line to violence or are already linked to violence. It's really almost an oxymoron to talk about neo-Nazi groups that "eschew violence" since they almost always believe in genocide and the violent overthrow of the government and are working towards it. I know it's a tempting rhetorical device, but it's really a strawman.


> The United States is a Constitutional Republic with rights explicitly enshrined therein, including its amendments. You are more than welcome to your opinion on violating constitutional rights but if you want the rule of law then you should follow the constitutional process to add an amendment in order to revoke said rights.

Tell me: which constitutional rights are violated by the police reading your public twitter feed?

> Yes! You either believe in free speech and freedom of assembly or you don't. If these groups are a clear and present danger, show probable cause already. If they aren't, counter-protest, shame them, embarrass them, whatever.

And how are you supposed to obtain probable cause, if you cannot even read people's public twitter feeds? Can you read their public websites? Their leaflets? What kind of research exactly is the FBI allowed to do on these groups?


It's the chilling effect[1] of both mass, pervasive and targeted surveillance.

This has a specific legal definition which is complex and not going to be communicated in a hackernews comment, but if you want to dig deeper,

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chilling_effect

Pro tip: pretend like your free speech is out of favor with the current extremist government.

Oppose tyranny.


That's exactly what i'm doing. I understand chilling effects. I don't see how reading public Twitter feeds cause them in a way we should be worried about.


Political speech on Twitter is not constitutionally protected. Twitter is a private platform that can legally block any speech with or without government interference so long as that interference is not present in the capacity of a government agent.

The first amendment is limited to protections against government interference.


Twitter is a private platform. You have no free speech rights on Twitter. You have no rights at all, other than the Terms of Service.

The Bill of Rights protects you from the government. Twitter is not the government.


Twitter is a private platform, it's true. But the GOVERNMENT is prohibited from using the services of a private contractor to chill the exercise of one's first amendment rights.

Not that that will limit the creation of ethically dubious firms like ClearviewAI or Palantir.


The government can’t chill your right to tweet because you don’t have a right to tweet. Your tweets are public and you don’t own them, not even your own.

There is no law restricting the governments right to collect public data.


The problem with this argument is that it's the setup for en-masse dragnet surveillance. After all you have no rights on what you give to third parties, and you also have no expectation of privacy, so surely there's nothing wrong with the government scooping it up without even needing a warrant.

In the 21st century, our "papers and effects" are digital, online, and stored by third parties, and the law hasn't kept up with that.


If you want to argue that the law should be changed then that is fine. But it doesn’t change the current reality.


Yes, when a government has found a clever end-run around the prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure that definitely needs to be fixed.

Not sure why exactly you think "aha, so you admit it is legal!" is a particularly insightful thing to say, obviously all authoritarian governments have decided that they have the legal right to intrude on their citizens' privacy and thus have self-determined their actions to be legal. That has nothing to do with whether it's the morally right thing, or is in keeping with the spirit of the constitution.

To wit: China has determined that they have the legal right to disperse assemblies in Taiwan. That is legal there too. Do you think that is the right thing?

Kohlberg addresses this with his stages of moral development - some people think "because it is law, therefore it is moral", and that's really as much thought as they need to put into it to justify it to themselves. They don't bother addressing whether it should be legal, and that seems to be the thrust of your argument.


We can’t pretend this discussion isn’t directly rooted in government overreach, the government is using the data.


The government can’t get this data unless you make it public. You don’t have a right to privacy on Twitter or in any public space. I could personally scrape this same data from Twitter.

These arguments have already been decided. Wanting something to be true doesn’t make it true. If you want to further restrict the government you’ll need to petition for new laws.


Practically all activities that are legal and protected are surveiled in one way or the other precisely to make sure they stay within the confines of legality.


That's a charitable interpretation. For example, infiltrating groups with undercover officers goes beyond making sure that said group is "legal".


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No, being that the KKK is a domestic terrorist organization.

One citation of many possible regarding police malfeasance: https://theintercept.com/2020/06/02/history-united-states-go...


There is no such thing as a 'domestic terrorist organization'. It is illegal to classify any domestic organization as terrorist. That's why the KKK isn't one, and it's why Antifa isn't one either, Trump's blustering about it notwithstanding.


Antifa is considered a domestic terrorist organization to the trump admin.

Even though being antifa is simply being against fascism.


"Being antifa" has a lot more connotations than just being against fascism.

Equating the antifa group and it's loose "members" with just an anti-ideology is a cop-out that isn't helpful to differentiating a desirable mindset (anti-fascism) with the undesirable tactics that many "members" of Antifa use.


It's not though. Not in any legal sense.


Is it or is it not? Per this tweet, I really don’t know: https://mobile.twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1267129644...


https://www.factcheck.org/2020/06/trump-cant-designate-antif...

Fortunately our legal system doesn't operate on the basis of Trump's tweets.


I'd call TigerSwan a domestic terrorist organization with the way they handled the Standing Rock protest.


Again, what I would call them is not the point. The point is that it is unconstitutional to designate any domestic organization a 'terrorist organization'.

https://www.factcheck.org/2020/06/trump-cant-designate-antif...


Actions that prevent fair and free exercise of civil rights are against the law. The designation of the groups under the law is not relevant to the actions of the KKK already being illegal if they interfere with the above.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_Enforcement_Act


theyre not classified as a terrorist group, antifa (a far more ambiguous group) which was at the protests is.

the inaction toward the KKK is implicit consent toward their activities.

I’m not certain how you could draw a connection given the two groups respective statuses.


"antifa" is boogeyman designed to spook the cattle. It's at best a label, and on its face, a noble label.


This is naive.

Their labeling of antifa as a terrorist organization sets the precedent that ANYONE engaging in antifascist activities or in opposition of fascism is a terrorist.


I was being lighthearted about watching my country fall to a fascist coup. I agree with your point.

It's rather surreal to watch this all happen -- the gaslighting, the racists crawling out from under their rocks, the blatant corruption, and the fomenting of hate amongst the populace. I think things are going to get a lot uglier before November, and after the election to get even worse.

We live in perilous times.


My point is that they are both engaged in protected activities of free association and speech. If the standard is that the government should not surveil people engaged in those activities, then the KKK would have to be exempted too.

Or, alternatively, you could formulate a more nuanced criteria for when the government should or should not surveil people.


The actions of the KKK are not legal if they prevent free exercise of civil rights.[1] The Supreme Court has weighed in on this issue and found the actions of the KKK to be in violation of the law if they impede protected activity, such as protesting or voter registration.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_Enforcement_Act

Edit: It should be noted that this statue only applies to actions of representatives of the government[2]. It does not necessarily apply to the general public; the context of this comment chain is vague but implies a context that at least could include the public. I don’t mean to misrepresent the law. I am not a lawyer.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_actor


That's true, interesting and important. But I don't think it addresses the intent of my point, which was that there are plenty of odious organizations that are abiding by the letter of the law in public, but may well have members or private discussions that are likely to tend into serious criminality or terrorism. The KKK is one example, as are right-wing militias, etc. I think it's important that the government be able to conduct some basic level of surveillance on their activities, even without any direct evidence of a crime, or intent to commit a crime.


The KKK was designed to be a terrorist organization.


I'm not saying that the KKK is not a terrorist organization. I'm just saying that they are not legally classified as one, because of the first amendment. The courts consider it unconstitutional to label any domestic organization as a 'terrorist organization', in the legal sense.


Could you elaborate on this part?

> The courts consider it unconstitutional to label any domestic organization as a 'terrorist organization', in the legal sense.

I don’t doubt this, but a citation would help me see where you’re coming from, in a legal jurisprudence sense.



Are Racial lynchings a protected activity?

To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were


Of course not. But not every racist group has engaged in lynchings. Do you think the government should refrain from surveilling racist organizations until they do their first lynching?


do you have actual proof not every group is engaging in lynchings or is this conjecture?


Sure. Just to pick one out of a hat, American Renaissance, run by white supremacist Jared Taylor, has never lynched anyone:

https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/grou...

I can't directly cite the negative of never lynching anyone, of course. But a google search should reveal it. AFAIK Andrew Anglin of The Daily Stormer has never lynched anyone either. I still hope the FBI is keeping tabs on him, though.


This actually illustrates an interesting point about think tanks.

Amren may have never done a lynching, but the shadowy nature of how think tanks can launder money may implicate an associated group in modern-day lynchings covered up by the police[0].

The Koches, one of the largest financiers of right wing groups was built oil refineries for both Stalin and Hitler(the reich’s second largest refinery). They scrubbed the latter from their corporate history and were never tried at Nuremberg.

As it stands today, an average high school girl attending a BLM protest from twitter is likely surveilled far more heavily than Taylor or Anglin from the revelations in new surveillance articles. And that’s terrifying.

[0] https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/06/22/black-vict...


> Amren may have never done a lynching, but the shadowy nature of how think tanks can launder money may implicate an associated group in modern-day lynchings covered up by the police[0].

I agree. But the right would say the same thing about Antifa. Antifa, as a loose organization, has certainly engaged in various forms of violence and crime. Maybe not as much as the far-right groups, but not none, either. If the standard is simply non-zero levels of criminality, than that standard has been met.

> As it stands today, an average high school girl attending a BLM protest from twitter is likely surveilled far more heavily than Taylor or Anglin from the revelations in new surveillance articles. And that’s terrifying.

That's a nice thing to say rhetorically, but it's almost certainly not true. Anglin and Taylor are public figures who have substantial influence. I don't think you seriously believe that the average high school girl in BLM is getting more attention than Andrew Anglin.

If the point you really want to make is that BLM is getting a disproportionate share of attention relative to its violence or criminality, that's something I could agree with.


I do seriously believe that. I’ve seen enough cases where young teens have been harassed and targeted for supporting BLM

With that said, I agree with you on most of your other sentiments.

Liberalism simply can’t handle plausible deniability.


No, as they are acts and actions designed to reduce free exercise of civil rights.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_Enforcement_Act


Eh. This is obviously wrong, I must be misunderstanding you. I was cooking dinner earlier, which is a legal and protected activity. In what way was I being surveilled?


Your Blue Apron order data was scraped and compiled to determine that you are in fact Vegetarian /s


Ouch. When anecdotal cherry-picking goes wrong.


And also to arrest the leaders of said protected activities.


I think it's stupid to post this on Twitter and Facebook. I know someone who was protesting the policy of taking away guns from people deemed a threat and posting his guns. Sure enough his guns were taken away. The interpretation are too broad and it's better not to advertise anything that can be detrimental to yourself. I don't support the fact that this happened but I don't believe it's a good idea to give away information that can be hurtful to you. Activism happens in the court of law, not your Facebook or Twitter rants that make you seem unhinged and gives reasons to "lawfully investigate" you.


Because the likelihood of protests turning violent and damaging property is high? I really don't see how we can say that protesting is a "protected activity" and yet not allow people to have an actual say in how things should be run. Almost as if we want people to think they can have a say (by protesting - yay, it's "protected"!), but not really give them an avenue to do so that is meaningful and likely to change things, except for physically showing up in concerted numbers to prove their opinion?

From my perspective, protests appear to just be there to amplify loud minority opinions and distort the discussion at this point. For all we know, we're hearing the vocal minority of people, instead of the actual voices that need hearing.

If we really wanted to fix protesting, to take an example: Homosexual discrimination at the workplace. Have a platform or "offline vote" if you will where all homosexual individuals are asked to rate their work experience, whether they had been discriminated against and what action they think should be taken, with the assumption that if it's found, that action needs to be taken. They then "vote", and we see the results.

I bet that if the majority saw the results, they'd rightfully make their mind up pretty quickly. Instead, we forced homosexual individuals for years/decades to protest and complain about the things that were rightfully affecting them, and only once it reached some arbitrary critical mass, we as the rest of society decided to change. What were we "waiting" for exactly? For people to change their minds? People to cave in after being worn down even though they don't agree? Societal opinions to shift? A new generation grown up with the movement being taught to them by elementary school teachers? Cultural norms to adapt?

Also, if we did get there and such a vote isn't followed up by actual action, then maybe our system of government is broken and we should fix it. Perhaps for that we should go out and protest.


>For all we know, we're hearing the vocal minority of people, instead of the actual voices that need hearing.

Yes, and they have the right to protest too if they feel like their own voices aren't being heard. That's the beauty of freedom.

You can't seriously be against people protesting simply because you don't want to do it too. It's like arguing against voting because some (or even most) people don't vote and those who do are usually more "vocal" or political. It's a very dangerous mentality


Are you volunteering to amplify the opinions or marginalized coworkers, or are you just trying to get people to stop protesting?

Why not both? If your way gets better results then I'm sure people will stop the exhausting and dangerous work of protesting and civil disobedience.


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No it absolutely isn’t. Lack of violence against people and harm against property is expected, and not hard to achieve.


Because the political class has demonstrated repeatedly that they are mostly corrupt and will take advantage of the data illegally, just like with echelon and prism, and what they are now trying to do with the EARN IT act.


The people here only understand that there's a political class aiming to control them when it doesn't align with their political views. The media, social media, your favorite political party, all part of the political class.

Which presidential candidate voted for the Iraq war again? The Wall Street Bailouts? Who do that person represent?


>I get the sense that most HN commenters are against having police surveil this kind of event in the U.S.

Look to your left and right. The people building this dystopia are right here on this site.


"Notably, Epstein, who was known for his interest in obtaining blackmail through the sexual abuse of the underaged girls he exploited, also claimed to have “damaging information” on prominent figures in Silicon Valley. In a conversation last year with New York Times reporter James Stewart, Epstein claimed to have “potentially damaging or embarrassing” information on Silicon Valley’s elite and told Stewart that these top figures in the American tech industry “were hedonistic and regular users of recreational drugs.” Epstein also told Stewart that he had “witnessed prominent tech figures taking drugs and arranging for sex” and claimed to know “details about their supposed sexual proclivities.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/12/business/jeffrey-epstein-...


I hope we’ve reached a point where aside from pedophilia or coercive sex practices, sexual proclivities and drug use would not be enough to blackmail anyone today. The religious right and their “moral majority” have been hamstrung both through the courts and through culture moving on.

Prior to the first tech boom wider society also believed not wearing a suit was a reliable indicator that a person was stupid. We’ve progressed past these ridiculous ideas. I know plenty of exceptional performing individuals who both like sex and occasionally use drugs. If we’re backsliding into the right’s moral majority tyranny again, someone let me know as my filter bubbles may have me blinded.

Either way, none of the high profile Silicon Valley people I know would care that someone knows they have sexual desires.


I would agree, but it's rather interesting to see how the evolution of social acceptance has changed the blackmail game.

So in intelligence circles, just being gay int he mid-20th century was enough to blackmail a person, but because most people, even conservatives, have adjusted to it, it no longer serves as enough of a blackmail. This is why in the blackmail world it moves progressively towards more repulsive actions.

Honestly an analysis of Epstein shows he was more trying to get his foot in the door in SV (as his backing of a few tech ventures confirms) but it lends me to believe he didn't have "the real dirt" on SV.

When you look at which intelligence agencies were running Epstein though, it becomes more clear that they certainly already have a huge presence in SV, and they are certain to have deployed the blackmail networks for quite some time.

So yes, aside from those things you mention, we should be relatively ok with whatever... but the problem is the blackmail system will move towards those things if they know that, and they do so.

I've tried to explain this progression to others, and it applies across the board to politicians, businessmen, etc. Bribery comes first. Then comes blackmail. It starts with the after-after party, and the target is in the back room doing drugs. Got it on video. Next it's a prostitute. Next it's an underage prostitute. Next is abuse... and it progresses into places most people on HN wouldn't want to know. If you do want to know more, lookup the Dutroux scandal, aka the Belgian X-files.

I would venture most of SV doesn't have to progress past the bribery stage, and that includes manipulations of national identity (national security).


it’s more of a "surveillance for thee, not for me" sort of deal on HN.


I think it's more that human nature lets you justify a lot in the act of self-preservation. When it advances your career, it's so easy to say "if I wasn't writing this code, then it would just be the next programmer in line behind me."


HNers only object to surveillance on themselves?


If you do a lot of surveillance, you are going to see a lot of things worth at least investigating. Most will be false positives, but you will still need to investigate... there will be a huge backlash if something happens and it becomes known you had intelligence that something might have been going on and you didn't investigate.

So you investigate a lot of people. If you are good at your job, you will exonerate all the innocent people. So no harm, no foul, right?

Except being investigated really sucks, even if you are found innocent. You might have to answer questions, and knowing a wrong answer could land you in real trouble is stressful and scary, even when totally innocent. Sometimes it is hard to explain context of things when investigators only see parts of it.

The more surveillance you do, the more likely innocent people are going to suffer this stress of investigation.

This will lead to people being less likely to want to participate in social movements because of the added risk of having to be investigated.


I don't know what your reasons against are, but a big one for me is an infringement on one's right to assemble. I know it doesn't sound like much, but for a lot of communities (especially ones that may already be "targets" for law enforcement at all levels [local, state, and federal]), surveillance may keep them from feeling safe protesting.

For example, imagine being undocumented and wanting to protest. You may second guess going to a protest (even if it benefits you to do so), because you learned law enforcement is tracking the communications and movements of protesters.


i could argue dataminr is just a fun way for the government to sidestep the fourth amendment but there are toilet paper brands with more resilience than the fourth amendment these days.

The reason you do not surveil protestors is because it encourages the government to intervene and acts as an engine for parallel construction. some US cities actually profit from incarceration, and the opportunity to fill a jail cell is all too enticing. It also makes it almost impossible to defend against the argument that the state is acting to punish political dissent, or that police arent reacting as a defensive organism instead of a public safety agency. Police and governments are meant to build trust with their citizens, so when surveillance tactics make themselves public (and they always do, its just great PR for dataminr) citizens rightly feel targeted, vulnerable, and bullied. surveillance erodes trust, which leads to more fervent protests.

Surveillance does little to keep people safe during a protest. Its mainly a tool to write negative narratives about protestors, or used as a tool to help infiltrate protests and break them up from inside.


https://fas.org/irp/doddir/army/fm3-19-15.pdf says that for CONUS (domestic) Civil Disturbance, US military doctrine is/was to operate with limited intelligence:

B-34. Strict limits are placed on collecting information related to a civil disturbance in order to protect the civil rights of people and organizations not affiliated with the DOD. Civil disturbance plans and materials must not include lists of groups or people not affiliated with the DOD. Information on civilians and civilian organizations can be collected only with specific authorization from the Secretary or the Under Secretary of the Army. ...


The right to assemble and air grievances against government are core fundamental rights. Police exist to enforce the law, police monitoring a protest means they believe a crime will result out of the protests and they need to prevent it,or it means they don't like the protests and they are interfering with the free excercise of rights.

As someone that has used Dataminr first hand, I can confidently tell you it is being used to monitor for threats. And as such and based on observed law enforcement response, I can confidently say anti-mask/lockdown protests where protrstors brandished weapons in public were not monitored this way. Plenty of care was taken to protect those people's rights.

The fact that the protests are against specifically police and the fact that police used cleat and absooutley unwarranted violence against both protestors and even journalists and also how white people had to form a human shield to protect black protestors should tell any observer clearly that the police see the blm protestors as a threat, simply for protesting and for airing their grievances against government in public.

Dataminr, palantir's excellent tools and many other products of the tech center were abused in racially motivated retribution against blm protestors.

In other words, while normally the police are a just arm of the executive branch that enforces laws(and they mostly are in few places in the US), most US police departments are technically a rogue insider threat against americans constitutional rights, they are enemies of the people taking sides in a culture war designed to tear apart the west.

If you ask me, this isn't a domestic law enforcement issue. I remmber in ecuador or somewhere in south america soldiers were protecting protestors against police violence (very similar to blm protests). The US military should show they take their oaths seriously and interfere, maybe this has been considered and they simply need judical or congressional authorization. Although given the nature of the protests and america's ironic disunity, soldiers may take cops' side. A very unpleasant situation.

You are not being paranoid if you are afraid if a civil war breaking out. Suddenly all the tech in the world becomes scary when used in a war against our neighbors.


How about you give us your best "for" argument?


Disclaimer: I don't have a settled opinion either for or against this surveillance. I really don't think I've heard all of the relevant facts or perspectives yet.

The main "pro-surveillance" argument that comes to mind is that sometimes these protests devolve into illegal looting and destruction of private/public property. I think my ideal would be for police to have only the surveillance needed to prosecute those crimes, and nothing else.


Funny thing is surveillance probably doesn't prevent looting and/or property damage, lol

Not arguing with your post, as you mention prosecution not prevention; I agree. Ultimately, we'll be trading more liberty for 'security' I imagine.


The "for" argument is outlined by Dataminr in the article. If someone with one of those old-timey "press" hats went down to the protest and started publishing information about where it is, how it's going, how many people there are, most people would consider that to be simple and non-problematic journalism. Dataminr doesn't think their behavior is any different.


I think there are interesting theoretical arguments to be had for and against this, and then there's the world we actually live in. In this world, stuff like this happens: https://www.theverge.com/2019/3/13/18253848/eric-garner-foot...


It’s quite simple. If it is valid then you can go to a judge and get a warrant.


Because history has shown time and time again that governments cannot be trusted to do what is in the best interest of the people.


How does that jive with the overwhelming propensity for big government on HN?

“I don’t want the gov’t to know I was at a protest, but I’m more than happy to give them all my medical data and work for a nationalized company.”


I think you're barking up the wrong tree here. A cursory glance over my comments would show that I don't have a desire for big government. I think we should immediately abolish the IRS, ATF, DEA, and NSA


My comment was not directed at you, but more broadly what I read on HN. There is a very strong anti-gov't stance when it comes to privacy and surveillance, but a very strong pro-government stance when it comes to solving issues like healthcare, capitalism, R&D, housing, food, etc.

I don't see how those two can jive.


I'm curious what you see as the fundamental conflict here? Looking at my own European country, these are things we work on optimising at the same time, and I think we often do better at both than the US.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding what you mean by anti gov't though, I just mean having laws and mechanisms that protect privacy


The problem with arguments for surveillance is that they’re usually made by the people asking for more power, and such powers never seem to go away once whatever emergency necessitated them is over.


It is a very, very bad sign when the police start making lists of people who are trying to reform abusive police departments.


but they keep writing software for them

wait until AI is used in hiring.


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Look no further than the rampant white collar crime that goes un-prosecuted in the US. No one is being held accountable for PPP corruption.

Of course being anti-racist is emotional. How can you not feel very upset when contemplating the racial inequities in this country?


I mean, police in both countries can be over-militarized, violent, and racist. That's literally the origin of police in most countries: to coercively enforce the will of the state, usually against working-class and otherwise minority groups

(Also, you must really be willfully blind to think that militarization of American police is an "emotional" statement. It's been happening for decades and has been documented by every newspaper you could care to look at.)


> The monitoring seems at odds with claims from both Twitter and Dataminr that neither company would engage in or facilitate domestic surveillance following a string of 2016 controversies. Twitter, up until recently a longtime investor in Dataminr alongside the CIA, provides the company with full access to a content stream known as the “firehose” — a rare privilege among tech firms and one that lets Dataminr, recently valued at over $1.8 billion, scan every public tweet as soon as its author hits send. Both companies denied that the protest monitoring meets the definition of surveillance.

Dataminr is not the only company with access to the firehose that has law enforcement and military customers (or customers of customers, who would even know?) doing whatever they please with it.

I believe that Twitter has cracked down on this recently, or is at least beginning to ask Twitter data customers to restrict some of their customer's usage (or remove access entirely). But all of this after the fact.

Also, if you deleted something off Twitter and you think it's gone from every downstream data warehouses that captured it seconds after you tweeted, and also the people with access to those warehouses that copied it to their own storage... well, then I have a bridge to sell you.


Last I heard, there were less than 10 companies with access to the full firehouse (which has every tweet). Most only get a partial feed, if that.

Disclaimer: Used to work for Dataminr; was laid off.


That’s true, but doesn’t mean quite what you’re implying.

The full firehose was originally given to a small number of companies, including Gnip (eventually purchased by Twitter). What Gnip did was provide filtering for the firehose as well as some historical searches; this in theory would allow companies to receive in soft real time every tweet that was relevant to their search query.

The result is that there are tons of people who don’t have access to the full firehose, but effectively have the ability to receive every single tweet that’s relevant to their search query. It wouldn’t be very hard to find every tweet relevant to a protest, as this is superficially quite similar to finding tweets relevant to a brand or marketed event.

That being said, this isn’t a product that you can just sign up for and use. You had (my contacts no longer work at twitter) to negotiate a contract with Twitter directly to get access to this, pay large sums of money, and go through a fairly high touch sales and support process.


There is partial firehose access, that's true. That's probably much more common than full access. I bet you could get some surveillance done with only partial access, though.

And there is also such a thing as imports, which I think lets you pull historical data based on terms you want to find. I don't know if that gets a sample, or everything that matches.


> Dataminr is not the only company with access to the firehose

Was Twitter an investor in those other companies though? I believe this is the differentiator that the author of the article is trying to bring up.


I can't speak for all of them, but I'm pretty sure they're not an investor in the company I am familiar with. That's a fair point to bring up.


Dataminr Access and Deletion Requests: https://www.dataminr.com/access-and-deletion-requests


I had no idea who or what Dataminr was before this, but I recently started a simple Twitter bot [0], and noticed they were crawling every single link I posted multiple times, even though I explicitly disallow in my robots.txt. Their User-Agent just says to contact them, and there didn't seem to be a way to get them to stop, so I just banned their user agent from my servers. It is scary how little information there is about these random companies like Clearview AI or this that just gobble up everything online with no care.

https://twitter.com/CatalogScanner


> We will use the information you provide to process and to maintain a record of your request.

What a paradox...In order to delete your records, they create records on you


For data on people in the EU, that's essentially required to comply with GDPR.

That's because of backups. GDPR doesn't really say if handling a deletion request just requires deleting from your live databases or if you also have to through your backups and delete from them too.

I didn't save the link, but at least one country's privacy regulator has clarified that deletion requests do not apply to backups, but if the backup is ever restored you have to delete any restored records that had been subject to a deletion request.

Hence, the need to maintain a record of deletion requests in sufficient detail to re-delete those records if they ever come back.


I don’t know how these folks sleep at night, lying to the public, their users, and their customers in the same breath.

> The monitoring seems at odds with claims from both Twitter and Dataminr that neither company would engage in or facilitate domestic surveillance following a string of 2016 controversies. Twitter, up until recently a longtime investor in Dataminr alongside the CIA, provides the company with full access to a content stream known as the “firehose” — a rare privilege among tech firms and one that lets Dataminr, recently valued at over $1.8 billion, scan every public tweet as soon as its author hits send. Both companies denied that the protest monitoring meets the definition of surveillance.


A lot of people, frankly, don't have any principled understanding of what it means to oppose surveillance. Dataminr says it's not doing "surveillance" but "newsgathering", based on some ad-hoc distinction they have no idea how to flesh out. And the article author doesn't seem to know either; he says Dataminr's defense was a "linguistic distinction" and a "euphemism", but none of his sources really explain what the correct distinction is between surveillance and newsgathering.

Personally, I think any principled opposition to surveillance is going to end up including some practices which have traditionally been considered news. The reason that Dataminr's activity is surveillance is that "look at these random tweets!" news articles are also surveillance.


Why is this comment downvoted?


Maybe because HN is full of people that work for similar privacy-destroying tech companies. I find that people on this board get a bit touchy when you talk about FAANG companies doing immoral things. (I know this isn't a FAANG company but its affect is in the same vein).


Does “FAANG companies” really mean literally those 5 companies? That’s not very usefully of a term. I think it’s more the concept, which I’d say Twitter is included in.


Twitter is not even trading at the stock price it was 2 years ago. It's not a FAANG. It's not a growth stock. It just barely escaped being a Yahoo.


Odd, I had the opposite impression


I’ll admit I was a bit too emotional with my take. I don’t mean to imply that those who violate the Constitution deserve to suffer from their conscience or from any health or psychological issues as a result of such constitutional violation. I simply don’t know how those employees avoid the cognitive dissonance. I suppose there is ample scientific evidence showing that the more money you make, the less ethical you may act[1], but this is really raising the bar, or lowering it, depending on your perspective.

[1] https://www.pnas.org/content/109/11/4086


Probably because they're just posting something that is already in the article, and adding nothing to the discussion.


HN typically expects more from comments than just a castigatory sentence and a quote.


Who needs a panopticon when the prisoners post evidence themselves?


Social media flips the classic panopticon on its head; instead of instilling fear of perpetual surveillance to keep others disciplined, it instills a fear that others can't see you until you self-discipline according to the algorithm's desire.


Answering these questions are difficult because the protests were against the police, and any admission of nuance lessens the passion against injustice. With less emotional investment comes less participation.

Questions:

Were these protests legal or during coronavirus effectively temporarily illegal?

Another question is, given a police precinct building was evacuated and set on fire during a protest, should those attending the protest expect to no surveillance. Or only if violence happens?

In the UK there are stronger hate speech laws. Most people in the UK would want the police to be surveiling the far right during their arguably less violent counter protests. Should they not be wanting this?


"In the UK there are stronger hate speech laws."

The UK is an odd place, legally. Stronger laws against free speech yet looser laws around freedom of the press to do normally illegal things. It's a surveillance state with cameras on every street corner, yet a big advocate for protecting private data online.

A nation of paradoxes.


Maybe it's on purpose.

This is a stretch but recall in 1984 where the ministry's slogans were all the direct opposite to what they really did, and how details about the past were always chopped and changed so no one could keep track.


To have a safe society, you need to either have lots of surveillance, so people know they are being watched and will think twice about committing crimes (countries with very string gun laws like England and Australia have very strong surveillance systems in place) or the ability for anyone to defend themselves legally against said criminal.

When you try yo get rid of both guns and surveillance, it only increases the crime rate and hurts innocent people.

Very large cities like New York and Chicago are seeing this in action right now. Police are either quitting, not working, and are being defunded as we speak. New york and Chicago had record crime rate increases, including murder.


> To have a safe society, you need to either have lots of surveillance, so people know they are being watched and will think twice about committing crimes (countries with very string gun laws like England and Australia have very strong surveillance systems in place) or the ability for anyone to defend themselves legally against said criminal

So, the issue here is that you've picked two countries out of the vast number of countries who ban or severely restrict guns. There are plenty of countries with few or no guns which don't have significant public surveillance systems.


I don't know if I'd cite England and Australia as safe societies


I guess my first question is, where's the line between "policing" and "investigating your own citizens"?




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