Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
[dupe] Google Pressure Cookers and Backpacks, Get a Visit from the Feds (theatlanticwire.com)
428 points by pg on Aug 1, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 215 comments

Our government is sending gangs of armed men to perfectly innocent citizens' doors to interrogate them, simply because the authorities don't like what the people are looking at online. Chilling. Now that PRISM and XKeyscore are being reported on in the main stream media, I hope we'll hear many more stories like this and that this will cause folks to realize that it could easily be their door next time.

Wait a moment. Before you get carried away, we still only have her word. Also on the piece :

  In a conversation with The Atlantic Wire, FBI spokesperson Peter Donald 
  confirmed The Guardian's report that the FBI was not involved in the 
  visit itself. Asked if the FBI was involved in providing information 
  that led to the visit, Donald replied that he could not answer the 
  question at this point, as he didn't know
So at the moment, we still have hearsay. It's from the original source and I'm not calling her a liar, but I still don't know what exactly happened. Just who came to the residence beyond some scary looking guys in SUVs who said they were FBI.

Edit: Interesting that asking for evidence warrants downvotes.

Did you read the Guardian report?


  Members of what she described as a "joint terrorism task
  force" descended on Catalano's home on Wednesday. A spokesman
  for the FBI told to the Guardian on Thursday that its
  investigators were not involved in the visit, but that "she
  was visited by Nassau County police department … They were
  working in conjunction with Suffolk County police 

That wasn't the linked story on this thread, but I found this bit interesting :

  A spokesman for the FBI told to the Guardian on 
  Thursday that its investigators were not involved 
  in the visit, but that "she was visited by Nassau 
  County police department … They were working in
  conjunction with Suffolk County police department.
But it was only after the story ran that she Tweeted this : https://twitter.com/inthefade/status/362707932586053633

So FBI became JTTF, which in turn became Nassau cops?

This is why we should all stop listening to the 24 hour news machine and wait a while before everything is cleared up and fully presented. This is a developing story and clinging to one or two tidbits finagled from the authorities here and there aren't going to cut it.

From FBI's website: "The New York Joint Terrorism Task Force brings together representatives of 49 local, state, and federal agencies to run down any and all terrorism leads, develop and investigate cases, provide support for special events, and proactively identify threats that may impact the area and the nation. We also have satellite Joint Terrorism Task Forces working out of Long Island, Westchester County, and Orange County." Source: http://www.fbi.gov/newyork/about-us/our-partnerships/partner...

It makes full sense that the FBI would get a report and share with local law enforcement (members of JTTF) to follow up. I'm still very skeptical that this all originated with google searches, but the story of "JTTF agents" checks out.

What do you think "Joint" in "Joint Terrorism Task Force" stands for? It's FBI working with local Police Departments, which in this case sounds like tipping off the PD to go check her out.

Again, according to a retired FBI exec with experience in terrorism work at FBI, the term "JTTF" might mean almost nothing at all.

Who would the JTTF be made up of?

While I see where you're going with this, let's take a moment to remember that the Joint Terrorism Task Force is made up of individual law enforcement officers, not agencies. That is to say that not all members of the Whatever County Sheriff's Department are inherently part of the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

So it's certainly possible that three black SUVs worth of the local sheriff's deputies, all of whom were members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, showed up to question her about her internet searching.

Or this fiction writer is not portraying an accurate version of the events.

Basically, it's a modern day "posse" made up of individuals from Federal law enforcement (FBI, Secret Service, ICE, Border Patrol, etc) and from local or specialized law enforcement (railroad police, etc).

The officers are basically deputized as JTTF members. It's a common model that's been around for a long time. For example, the US Marshalls have a fugitive task force for picking up suspects with arrest warrants and the DEA has something similar for drug raids.

According to David Gomez, a former FBI exec who worked in domestic terrorism, "JTTF" is a catchall term used by many (perhaps all) LEOs working on terrorism in any capacity. The term apparently has no technical meaning.

ok so when can i think/share thoughts with other thinkers? is there a specific authority you are waiting for?

So apparently local police forces have access to the kind of data required to learn what people are searching for.

I read the report, it's still a single-source story from the person involved and their interpretation of what happened.

The comment I replied to said this:

  Just *who* came to the residence beyond some scary 
  looking guys in SUVs who said they were FBI.
The Guardian report, which was referred to in the comment I replied to, answered that question with quite a bit of specificity.

That comment also had the complaint about downvotes for asking for evidence before I replied.

I agree that there is no concrete evidence that the police showed up as a direct result of them searching for specific keywords. There probably never will be. But how would she prove it? Could anyone prove it in public? Would any investigation that looked into the matter ever be declassified? Could Congress hold a hearing in open session and get answers about the incident?

Unless her husband had a recording of the conversation she claims happened here:

  "Have you ever looked up how to make a pressure cooker 
  bomb?" My husband, ever the oppositional kind, asked them 
  if they themselves weren’t curious as to how a pressure 
  cooker bomb works, if they ever looked it up. Two of them 
  admitted they did.

Or unless one of the officers involved in that conversation confirms the conversation happened as she reported, we'll never know.

It is completely reasonable to be skeptical of her interpretation of the event. But it is also reasonable to wonder about the consequences of living in a society where her interpretation is a reasonable one, even if it is unlikely. Before Snowden's leaks many people would declare her a nut for even thinking her searches could be related to the investigation. Now we have evidence that the story could happen as she presented it, even if it didn't in this case.

You're correct about that.

The original commenter wrote: "Our government is sending gangs of armed men to perfectly innocent citizens"

Local governments are governments too. Just because the Feds didn't show up doesn't mean this isn't highly problematic behavior. The fact remains that harmless private communication was used as an excuse to interfere in the lives of ordinary citizens. This is what is so problematic about it.

EDIT: After reading some more critical comments, I should state that I am ASSUMING what she said is true - that the agents actually asked her about Internet searches. I have to admit that she could just be making that part up.

See http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/01/new-york-police...

The Guardian says they confirmed that there was a visit, and were told that it was a local police force.

The Atlantic's headline was updated to reflect that.

You possibly got downvoted because people assumed that the scary photograph at the top of the article was taken during this incident and not during the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombings, and that it is therefore a piece of evidence. I thought the same thing at first.

That's just an indication of how much TAW is milking this story for all of its shock effect before the facts are fully established.

Besides, in the original article, she said the guns were holstered when they were talking to her husband and from the tone, they were cordial and shook his hand before they left. Hardly a "raid".

Six strangers with guns coming to your home and demanding to conduct a search is hardly a friendly visit. And however cordial they are, they have the right to use any violence against you - including lethal - at any moment they decide there's anything suspicious, and the experience suggests even if they are completely wrong worst thing that would happen to them is suspension with pay. As for you, anything you say to them can and will be used against you, and any factually incorrect statements, however trivial and minute the incorrect part is, that you make to them can be grounds to a felony prosecution if they so desire.

So I don't think it can be dismissed as a friendly encounter. I would certainly feel extremely discomforted by such a visit.

The police were polite... so it's not a raid? What if he denied a voluntary search of the house? Would they politely stop investigating them as terrorists and monitoring their internet activity?

Exactly. How it is labeled isn't the important bit here. The fact that they showed up AT ALL based on what appears to be a confluence of Internet searches is what is concerning.

Between assisting the greater good and looking out for number one, they didn't seem to do enough of the later.

IANAL: They took a gamble by letting them in the door without a warrant. That opened themselves up to legal liability, regardless of "nothing to hide" innocence.

If they had found anything that looked suspicious, it would be a different story. They lucked out, this time.

A law school professor and a police investigator teach a class of law students why you can gain nothing by talking to the police: https://youtu.be/6wXkI4t7nuc

There is another huge step missing here - proof of causation. How do they know it was their web searches that caused the visit?

So you're saying that a woman posted photos of firecrackers on Facebook on July 4th, and this may have contributed to a visit by the police? And this is supposed to be BETTER?

I agree that we need more information before jumping to conclusions, but the additional context you're providing doesn't give me much comfort.

I'm not trying to comfort you or defend the local cops who showed up. Arguably showing up over a FB post is even dumber than if they actually had snarfed Internet searches.

But local cops acting dumb is a different story entirely than LOCAL COPS WATCHING OUR GOOGLE SEARCHES.

Alright, that's a fair point. I still think it's a bit scary/sad that we need to worry about our public Facebook posts being potentially misconstrued by local police as grounds for a visit.

Far better in my book. It means what likely happened is any one of her FB friends, or since the firecrackers were public, anyone else saw the image of fireworks and possibly other comments, became concerned, and reported it to law enforcement. Even if this was found via some source of open source intelligence gathering operation that ended up in a visit, that is leagues away from private google searches leading to a visit.

> So you're saying that a woman posted photos of firecrackers

M-66 explosives that look like firecrackers.

I'm glad you found this.

I don't doubt that some law enforcement officers from some agency showed up at her doorstep for some reason. And I can accept that there were - at some point - questions about bombs for some reason or another.

But I suspect that her internet searches contributed to this appearance is (at best) hysteria or (at worst) convenient mistruths.

Assuming that the visit is actually related to Internet monitoring, then the monitoring algorithm is certainly not 'everybody who searches X AND Y AND NOT Z,' but rather some calculated terrorism score. Actually I think it is entirely possible, that whoever does this has no actual idea how the score is calculated and the machine learning algorithm did just pick them because of a random similarity to the search profile.

Ignoring your shameless self promotion, how do you know that the post you reference wasn't "reasonable suspicion" for law enforcement to gain access to the internet searches? Your assumption does not discount or disprove the assumption in the story. How is your conjecture any more accurate? Why not as a reporter for a news outlet, follow up instead of adding to the disinformation?

>Just who came to the residence beyond some scary looking guys in SUVs who said they were FBI.

From the article, "the Suffolk and Nassau police, which The Guardian reported were the authorities that effected the raid".

As to the downvotes: you could have pointed out the discrepancy between "Feds" and "cops" (the article's title was changed to reflect that) without turns of phrase such as "we have only her word", "hearsay", "I'm not calling her a liar".

The article was updated.

"The Suffolk County Police Department released a statement this evening that answers the great mystery of the day.

After interviewing the company representatives, Suffolk County Police Detectives visited the subject’s home to ask about the suspicious internet searches. The incident was investigated by Suffolk County Police Department’s Criminal Intelligence Detectives and was determined to be non-criminal in nature."

It does make you wonder about the reporting rate on these sorts of events.

Considering the hostile skepticism on the thread about the article Ms Catalano posted, I would not be surprised if other people (especially those without professional writing credentials and a million-strong twitter audience) had decided not to come forward with their stories in the past.

Considering the hostile skepticism on the thread about the article Ms Catalano posted

There is nothing wrong with skepticism, and I would dispute that it was "hostile". We can't just go around accepting every story we read because it is a story we want it to be real.

Was the same level of skepticism shown when the government claimed that Snowden was lying? Why not?

Why is it that a private citizen is automatically doubted when they make a claim that is easily verifiable but when the government makes a claim that has been repeatedly contradicted by multiple people over the span of years, including at least two sitting US Senators, the government's claims are taken at face value?

Shouldn't her story get a minimum benefit of doubt until some independent reporting can be done on the claims? Especially when everything she claims is plausible given what is known about the government's capabilities.

Was the same level of skepticism shown when the government claimed that Snowden was lying? Why not?

Uh, didn't really give me a chance to answer there, did you?

I would say that the vast majority of people were skeptical of government claims that Snowden was lying. So the rest of your post is describing a situation that I did not witness.

Maybe it's just a matter of perspective but it seems to me to be much more common for people to go around denying stories they don't want to be real (police and government abuses of power).

it also makes you wonder if the interrogees still get treated with kid gloves when they aren't relatively well off people with access to money (and therefore lawyers) and large publications/audiences with which to complain.

Everybody Google "backpack" "pressure cooker" "bomb" and tweet/facebook about it. Lets make these sorts of nonsensical and idiotic policies impossible.

We need someone to leak the list of search keywords that the government considers serious enough to violate the rights of individual Americans, so that we can post handy google links for the whole thing. Good thing Obama is following through on his promise to protect whistleblowers, or people might be afraid to come forward with something like that.

If this is all true, those systems in place, I am very curious to hear what technically is in place that we haven't heard about. Can't even imagine it.

Welcome to the USSA, comrade.

Our government is sending gangs of armed men to perfectly innocent citizens' doors to interrogate them

I don't think hyperbole is necessary. In this case the facts are scary enough (i.e. most people don't consider the police an armed gang).

Who wants the government to have virtually omniscient awareness of their activities?

> most people don't consider the police an armed gang

Actually a significant portion of the population DO consider the police an armed gang, and have done so for quite some time. For starters, poor people in urban areas. The difference is that now wealthier people are starting to be treated the same way poor people have been treated all along.

Very true.

Growing up I was far more scared of the police than anyone else in what was not a very nice area.

This wasn't cultural conditioning either.

It was the experience of being routinely stopped, questioned, accused, intimidated and occasionally humiliated by being made to partially disrobe. It makes for a terrible feeling of powerlessness when someone else can do whatever they want to you at any time and any effort to avoid much less rebuke the situation will only make it worse.

At least one friend of mine from that time is now a police officer. His experience has only confirmed the prevalence of this ugly "at war" mentality in in law enforcement.

That is exactly what I came here to say. Plenty of people, like me, don't trust the police. In America, probably other countries too, a problem is only recognized as a problem when it affects the wealthy or privileged.

"most people don't consider the police an armed gang"

The police are the very definition of an armed gang. Just a legally sanctioned one.

They have a monopoly on violence - what else would you call it?

I really don't like this sort of intentionally-dense argument by definition. Certainly the police could be called a "gang" under some definitions of the word, but we all know that the implication of "armed gang" in this context is very different. Words have nuance.

I'm not against the police necessarily. They have their role in society. But it is what it is - state sanctioned coercion that when balanced correctly, keeps society humming along.

Unfortunately, after the drug war stuff started ratcheting up + 911, the proper balance has shifted.

God forbids you ever get raided in the middle of the night by a swat team because of an administrative error, or minor offense.

With a knee on your back, your face pressed against the ground, barely able to breath and watching your wife going through the same thing. You then might re-evaluate the hyperbole, but you most likely won't because of the feral panic state you would be in.

Mr Buttle?

Heating engineer

> most people don't consider the police an armed gang

Because the militarization of police, and the increasing use of SWAT, are trends that argue against this.

What if next time instead of sending regular officers they send in SWAT?

> i.e. most people don't consider the police an armed gang

Give it another few years of militarizing the police force. Government-funded vigilantes with an uniform and a pack of laws to protect them from the consequences of their own abuse is a recipe for succes, tried and tested from China to South America.

They should update their perception of the police to fit reality.

Alright, let's do a group experiment. Choose one of the links below:

http://www.google.com/search?q=pressure+cooker+backpacks (insecure)

https://www.google.com/search?q=pressure+cooker+backpacks (secure)

and report back if you get a visit from a squadron of men dressed in green wearing helmets and holding guns. If any reporters clicked on the https link, it's PRISM because the leak is from inside Google, otherwise it's XKeyscore. If we get results from both we are really fucked.

Or were you too scared to search? I know I was...

I have considered completely leaving the internet. To live a modern life, especially in a technical field, makes that a ludicrous and unlikely choice. And I'm very unlikely to actually do it. But I've considered it, and I'm not a nut.

You can leave the internet, or just move to a different internet.

Just don't go cold turkey, eliminate a piece at a time. You probably don't need a smartphone, for example.

I don't have a smartphone. :)

I don't even live in your wacky country and I'm scared to do that search :D

Clicked HTTPS and then immediately searched 'bombs' afterwards. Now we wait.

Thanks for the inspiration!

I dare you to fetch this link (see page 39 — "So you may use iron pipes, pressure cookers, fire extinguishers, or empty propane canisters. The point is that the inflammable substance needs to be contained in a strong container that would allow the pressure to build up and thus cause a damaging explosion."):


That was authored by the AQ Chef, the late Anwar al-Awlaki, who was pressure-cooked by a Hellfire missile in 2011. His article supposedly guided the efforts of the Boston Marathon bombers.

Any forum or service that allows you to post external urls for images, you just have to paste that as a image url and I guess screw everyone or pollute the database.

On the enterprising side of things I guess you could sell a product with that name on Amazon and get a lot of traffic?

> On the enterprising side of things I guess you could sell a product with that name on Amazon and get a lot of traffic?

Now might be the time for Coleman to make a portable pressure cooker that you can take hiking with you. A "Wilderness Meal Device", if you will.

Clicked both and compared the search results, they are the same except that there is a advertisement for backpacks from amazon at the top of the https version. ( I am outside of the US, so probably rather UAVs than goons... )

or better yet, make shortened versions of those URLs with bit.ly and post them on twitter with enticing body text.

Sorry, didn't see this before I posted but this was exactly my though, yet done on a much larger scale with the assistance of bots.

I've got some links about Barbara Streisand.

I'm looking forward to the black helicopters doing a raid on the building that contains the VPN concentrators at my company.

What does Google or Bing get visited because they crawled those urls?

https, now I've just got to remember not to otherwise search for backpacks and pressure cookers!

There is no proof that the visit was due to her googling anything: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6142238

No, but with the help of everyone here we might at least get a statistical correlation going.

There is only one solution to this. It is fairly low tech, and it's not a popular one around here.

Get involved in politics.

It's tempting to believe you can enact change from your desk chair, writing smart code and angry tweets to outwit the spies and inform the people. Well, we're not there just yet.

The people making the decisions that lead to these events - the most powerful people in the world - grew up in an age where, to produce change, you would get out into the streets and stir things up. Step out of your comfort zone, address the public and bring them to your side. Many people don't see the harm in a surveillance state. To prevent one, you must show the public why it is a bad thing and how they can speak out.

Democracy only works when your views are heard by those with the power to bring change. Not the background rumble of a subjugated people, but the articulate demands of an informed electorate with high-profile spokespeople and popular support.

Politics is a life-consuming activity. It's not one you can make a significant difference in by taking a few minutes or hours every once in a while. (Sure, you can send a letter or call a relevant elected official, and by all means do so, but that's not the level of "get involved in politics" that will actually get non-trivial things changed unless there's already a strong push to do so, led by people who have more time.) Unless you're prepared to spend your life tilting at your chosen windmills, "get involved in politics" is not really an option.

This is patently untrue. Political progress inherently involves the combined minor effort of numerous people. Campaign volunteers regularly do everything from making a few cold-calls every night to fixing bugs in the web apps that are used to manage the campaign.

You're right that getting things started is non-trivial, but as other commenters have pointed out there are a fair number of organizations already driving for change who would appreciate "a few minutes or hours every once in a while". Here are a few:

http://1984day.com/ https://www.eff.org/ http://www.restorethefourth.net/

Please add more if you know any!

> You're right that getting things started is non-trivial, but as other commenters have pointed out there are a fair number of organizations already driving for change who would appreciate "a few minutes or hours every once in a while".

That's exactly the type of thing I meant when I said "Sure, you can send a letter or call an elected official". On a smaller scale, you can also vote; worth mentioning because a shockingly high number of people don't. However, all of those actions only add momentum to efforts started by others.

I don't think most people care honestly, and a few protests is not anywhere near enough to convince them. Even if you succeed, all it takes is another war/red scare/terrorist attack/whatever, to get people support whatever it takes to protect them from "the enemy".

A few protests probably won't, but there are more tools than that:

    - Grassroots community organization (outreach via political, workers' and church groups)
    - Fundraising and lobbying (PG, would you donate to an anti-surveillance group?)
    - High profile/celebrity spokespeople
    - Smart media coverage
    - Content production (documentary films, etc)
    - Dealmaking amongst political organizations
    - All the other tools in a politician's playbook
There are horrendously unpopular ideas that make it into Washington on the back of this sort of effort. There is a game, the opposition is good at it, and refusing to play doesn't help anyone.

Absolutely. Many key positions in police departments are filled through election. They may not seem important, but the folks we choose now to police our podunk towns go on to larger scale law enforcement. We should scrutinize the people who run for police chief.

Heck, I just found this: http://www.policeelections.com/

I don't think it's actually possible to change anything, and even if it is, the time and effort required make it not worth it. I'm not sure if there's any evidence that any of those things have any effect at all on the average voter, let alone politicians.

This is the prime moment. Society is currently used to privacy and it's just been revealed that the government has been invading it at an unprecedented level. And nothing happened. Imagine what it will be like when the news dies out and this becomes the norm.

The government rarely if ever releases powers once it gets them. Even if it did, all it takes is one minor crisis to bring it all back in the name of fighting the enemy.

If only there was some sort of nationwide grassroots group organizing protests, meetings with Congress and other political action on these issues... http://1984Day.com

Even then it doesn't really seem to work.

On the contrary, it seems to be working really well for the people who are using their political involvement to enact policies that many in this thread are complaining about.

Those policies have a financial benefit for certain parties. Nobody gets rich from maintaining civil liberties. Can you think of a strong enough incentive to get this done?

I just posted this on G+:

A Long Island woman named Michele Catalano posts photos of M-66 explosives (that look to me like extra-large firecrackers) publicly on Facebook. A few weeks later the local cops show up and ask her husband if they have any bomb-making equipment. Instead of drawing the most likely conclusion, she instead blames this on local Long Island cops MONITORING HER GOOGLE SEARCHES: https://plus.google.com/112961607570158342254/posts/FWAVRVaN...

Of course we could expect this kind of behavior for you, as one of Hacker News' most notorious government apologists.

seriously irlollin'. :D

Touche! :)

According to the article they asked: Have you ever looked up how to make a pressure cooker bomb? It's kind of a weird question to ask unless they knew about the google searches don't you think?

After the Boston bombing, if I were a cop being told "someone posted a photo of explosives on Facebook," I would absolutely ask about pressure cookers even on a routine visit. Just to see what their reaction is.

Well, it is of course possible the question about "looking up pressure cooker bombs" came from thin air. Lucky coincidence. But, in light of the recent revelations, I think it is less probable than some NSA analyst flagging the terms "pressure cooker"+"backpack" and passing that info along to police departments. YMMV

that's easy to say after the 'successfull inception' of it, but honestly, what you said it's pure-nonsense... just like kicking a ball the wrong way to then scream "I knew it was gonna happen!"

I wrote a column for many years called "Police Blotter" and have some familiarity with law enforcement investigative techniques. This is what happens in real life, not on HN.

Agitprop, regardless of validity, is useful if it achieves our ends.

You of all people know what a powerful adversary apathy is.

If lies were used to scare people into supporting these programs, they can be used to scare people into abolishing them.

Did you seriously just advocate intentional lying as a political device? That's a nasty road that ends in a dark place.

Darker than having the NSA collect a good portion of unencrypted internet traffic, and an unknown amount of traffic that was supposed to be secure in transit but might be obtained through back door deals with the service providers themselves? Darker than having a ton of laws nobody can follow and an increasingly militarized police force to enforce those laws?

I'm curious, what darkness do you see in ordinary citizens lying, or drawing unfounded connections between events, to try to shift the political system and social consciousness toward more freedom? Are you one of those people who views telling the absolute truth as a categorical imperative? How much of the anti-British rhetoric of pre-revolution United States (colonies) do you view as lies? A lot of political activity, advertising, and news involves lies of some type (omission, accidental lies, misleading statements... not just answering "yes" when you know the true answer is "no").

Yes, darker than those things. When the vector for change is lies, the party that lies most effectively wins. Guess what: that's not us.

Not lying won't keep the other side from lying.

The point of not lying isn't to make the other side not lie.

> Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.

The quote is from Göring at Nuremberg, but it holds true regardless.

I refer you to the statements made by the DNI to Congress, or Obama to Charlie Rose.

Furthermore, the media concocts completely fabricated narrative hung upon zero to minimal facts all the time, to devastating effect. I refer you to the whole Snowden's girlfriend thing, or the Martin/Zimmerman thing, or the recent "google something and feds arrive" thing.

It's all made-up bullshit that people buy into en masse. It causes them to become so passionate about their adopted stance, even contrary factual data later will be ignored.

Public opinion _will_ be managed, and policy _will_ be changed as a result. This is the playing field we stand upon today, like it or not. (Personally, I hate it - but I do not deny the state of affairs.)

The enemy has demonstrated a willingness to lie endlessly to obtain and sustain illegal power over us.

The path is clear. I vastly prefer to be effective than unimpeachable.

The family should have refused to answer questions without an attorney present, as this could easily fall under a 4th Amendment violation on the part of the government.

How to resist warrentless searches (roadside checkpoints): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4Ku17CqdZg

Really asserting your rights gets you even more screwed by the police. You usually catch a charge relating to resisting arrest, or even obstruction of justice.

What I've often wondered is if we could just troll them somehow. Something to the effect of, if at every traffic stop everyone said, "I'm not sure, but I think it's possible there's a kilo of heroin in my trunk."

Obviously more thought is necessary for the idea, and you'd need a big campaign, but for non-terrorism related issues (nth disclaimer, my view differs from much of HN on that subject) it's time for the government to stop searching citizens on a regular basis.

I literally can't believe we have roadside checkpoints, which we all know aren't simply for DUIs, and "stop-and-frisk" as fully condoned policy in American cities.

It is possible to get (and fight) and charge like Obstruction of Legal Process, but it is /not/ true that asserting your rights often gets you more screwed. It can, but it is more likely that the cops will back off and let you go. A simple youtube search for videos of people insisting on their rights shows this. Perpetuating the "you'll be fucked if you try to demand that police act legally" meme is dangerous for all of us, as it makes it more likely people will simply acquiesce to illegal searches (which makes them legal) etc.

I don't judge anyone who because of fear, history, immigration status, responsibilities, etc doesn't want to go toe to toe with a cop, but it's simply not true that the cops will usually just arrest you. Usually they back down, and occasionally escalate the situation.

I would not joke about having a kilo of heroin in your trunk as that gives probable cause for the search.

For the record, I always assert my rights, and I've seen both results. Since I was never breaking the law, it's always worked out in my favor.

I'm certainly not suggesting that people don't avail themselves of their legal rights, quite the opposite. I'm just pointing out that there can be potential consequences for which one should be prepared.

But I can tell you a significant amount of police officers will become very aggressive, and I've been threatened with arrest on numerous occasions.

Having the luxury of knowing several great attorneys personally and professionally is all that kept me from spending a night in a jail cell once when I refused a street search of my person.

Those YouTube videos exist because they show extraordinary events, not common ones. Ask anyone in Northeast DC how it went last time they tried to assert their rights.

>It is possible to get (and fight) and charge like Obstruction of Legal Process

I can also say that once charged, it's a lengthy, difficult, and expensive process to prove your innocence, even when it's blatantly obvious. The prosecutor wants a win on his record for his statistics, and will hold charges over your head or threaten to add additional charges to attempt to force a plea bargain. I've seen it happen all the time.

>I would not joke about having a kilo of heroin in your trunk as that gives probable cause for the search.

That would be the point. If enough law-abiding citizens force the police to conduct pointless searches, we could tie up resources. It's not a fully formed suggestion, just a blue-sky brainstorming idea of sit-in type legal activities to protest unreasonable search and seizure.

> For the record, I always assert my rights

Do you do this when re-entering the US from abroad?

I do this every time (assert my right to remain silent when questioned) and it usually results in my arrest, thorough search, and detainment for between 1 and 12 hours.

One time they sent the bus without me and then kicked me out of the border point with no phone or transportation in northern Vermont in a snowstorm in February.

Being a US citizen, they have to let me in, but they sure don't like doing it, so they go to every effort to threaten, intimidate me, and ruin my day (despite my maintaining a 100% professional and polite attitude throughout).

> Those YouTube videos exist because they show extraordinary events, not common ones.

Over 90% of the time I assert my right to remain silent at the US border, I get arrested and threatened and harassed for >3 hours.

I actually don't do this at the border, mostly because I travel for work, so getting detained for 12 hours isn't an option.

I do commend you for doing that though. It takes true courage and conviction. You're doing a national service. Sincerely, thank you.

I travel for work, too, and have missed business meetings with clients as a result. We do not have the luxury of only standing up for our rights when it is convenient for us to be harassed by the police.

Why then do you do it?

For kicks?

Because we all need to, and you have to count to one on the way to 350 million.

I suppose it's the same reason a lot of people vote: I see it as my civic duty as a US citizen.

If only criminals use the 5th, then using the 5th becomes reasonable suspicion. That sucks. All US citizens have an individual responsibility to prevent that.

it's interesting. I was under the impression that essentially you had no rights at the Border and the US was under no obligation to let you back into the country. If you can film this someday and edit it down into something watchable, I would be interested to see the stages of confusion, befuddlement, anger, acceptance, release, but I don't know if you can film border guards either.

You have no 4th amendment rights. You're still a US citizen on US soil though, and they have to let you in.

The following link is not mine.


Cop watch is another idea that I have suggested elsewhere (and been extensively involved in). Nearly everyone has little video cameras in their pockets these days. Surveillance of the police should become so ubiquitous as to be normal and expected - both so it protects the people doing the "watching" and because it will change the feeling of not being accountable to the public on the streets.

For the record, I'm one of those annoying activists and in many (hundreds?) of police encounters I have never been arrested while filming and arrested twice while asserting my rights to not be detained for no reason.

I think it's almost a moral duty, if you're someone who doesn't get targeted by the police anyway, and have little to lose (except comfort) from a night or two in jail, that you take a hardline stand against police overreach, but I would never begrudge anyone who doesn't chose to do so for whatever reason: personal comfort level, kids at home, immigration status, prior record, etc.

I love the idea of cop watch. The Justice Department's specific guidance that taping the police was one of the rare moments over the past few years that I've been very proud of the Obama administration.

I wish someone sold a discrete, always-on dashcam and personal cam that uploaded to a remote server, with an encryption setup so that only the user could unlock it. It would be useful for personal protection, both from criminals and the police. Little brother may be the best way to fight back against Big Brother.

While I agree about the longterm effects of consents to searches or answering questions, but people just can't afford to risk standing on their rights. An arrest can cause bankrutcy or permanent injuries from brutal cellmates, and a warranted search can mean extensive destruction of property (just before this I read: http://search.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=4041727&cid=44449...)

Yeah, searches of homes or cars can really just be straight out ransacking. There should be a statute that the government has to pay for damages incurred during searches, especially if they're ruled improper.

A typical forum windbag full of "what you should have done" advice for an incident at which they were not present and have never experienced. If you were at home with your family and 6 armed men turned up at your house, you'd want them to go away as quickly as possible.

perhaps...but it's really hard to take that stand with half dozen armed men are on your porch...

This is what the cops count on. Same as in DUI checkpoints, telling you to just let them search your trunk when they pull you over for speeding and then they'll let you get on your way, etc. The initial response by cops to saying things like "Are you detaining me?" "Am I under arrest or am I free to go?" "Do you have a warrant?" is usually pretty hostile - things like "You don't want to know what happens if I have to wake up the judge for a warrant at this time of night" "Do you have something to hide?" "I'm just doing my job, why don't you just let me do it and we can both get on our way, etc" -- Depending on the personalities of the cops involved, it can rapidly switch back and forth from good cop to bad cop. But they really do work and generally will respect the rule of law if you stand up for it.

They are trained to make you give up your rights voluntarily, not to abuse them and possibly have a lawsuit etc on their heads.

(Note: this may not apply if you are not white)

Does any of this apply if you are not a US citizen?

As a non-US citizen, if I come to the US on holiday, what rights do I have, if any?

[edited to add]

Answering my own question, this PDF from the ACLU seems to have some answers:


"Non-citizens who are in the United States—no matter what their immigration status—generally have the same constitutional rights as citizens when law enforcement officers stop, question, arrest, or search them or their homes. "


"Non-citizens at the border who are trying to enter the U.S. do not have all the same rights. "

You also have the right not to disclose your immigration status to ICE without speaking with a lawyer first, you have the right to have your consulate notified if you get arrested, and generally cops aren't allowed to just randomly ask people for their immigration status.

Note: at the border none if this applies. It is pretty much a "rights free zone"

Constitution applies to everybody, except at US Customs, which is an official Constitution-free zone.

> (Note: this may not apply if you are not white)


I wish there was a text version of this thing, in simple and concise sentences.

You may find this to be helpful. (and entertaining at the same time)


Reminds me of "here's one weird tip to prevent unlawful search and seizure"

> Correction: After confirmation from the FBI that its agents weren't involved in the visit, the headline of this piece was changed to "Visit From the Cops" instead of "the Feds."

In the interests of accurate reporting, perhaps the HN headline should be corrected as well?

The specific type of explosive used the Boston bombings, the pressure cooker devices, was originally from Anwar al-Awlaki's Inspire magazine. The Feds, based on DC hearsay, may be a little embarrassed they didn't catch the association right away, so they're overreacting.

Of course, the bigger story is that Googling anything shouldn't lead to a visit from domestic law enforcement, because access to search records of American citizens should be protected by the Fourth Amendment.

Is there anything to protect access to search records of foreign citizens?

What rights FISA, Patriot Act and the other laws regarding surveillance from US agencies give to non-Americans?

I don't want to carp at Americans, I'm just genuinely curious of what exactly generates the distinction between Americans and non-Americans.

Strictly speaking, non-citizens have no rights under the American Constitution when they're not on US soil. FISA 702 grants extensive access to collect foreign communications relating to terrorism.

So from a legal standpoint, there isn't anything in the Constitution that prohibits gathering the communications of those in other nations, and it's actually specifically statutorily authorized.

Also, to note quickly, this is the norm rather than the exception in Western and Western-style constitutions. The American Constitution comes up in this context more often simply because of our outsize presence on the world stage.

> what exactly generates the distinction between Americans and non-Americans.

It is generally assumed, that a country's law applies to two groups of people: those in its territory, and citizens of the country. The Constitution is American law, therefore it applies to two groups of people: those in the U.S., and citizens of the U.S. abroad.

Of course—and it wouldn't make sense to expect the law of the United States to apply to foreign citizens.

Here's where I'm getting confused: if the laws of a country do not apply to someone who is not a citizen of that country, why do the laws of the United States let the US spy on non-Americans? (Or any other country, for that matter)

Because a country is sovereign. It can do whatever it wants unless it steps on the toes of another sovereign actor at which point a diplomatic incident ensues. But by default a state is the highest human authority so it doesn't need permission to do anything.

Right. Sovereign states exist in a state of anarchy. They can do whatever they want, and the only ultimate way for one state to stop another is through force.

Of course, this is the traditional Westphalian model that is beginning to cede to voluntary associations of sovereign states that solve their disputes in freely associated bodies, e.g the WTO, the United Nations, the International Criminal Court.

These bodies really ultimately have no binding authority except that granted to them by the states of which they are composed, but reciprocity and social norms are starting to give us a ladder out of pure anarchy. That's really been the project of international relations of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Sure, but it only tells states what they can't do, by default they can do anything.

Don't like how they use one image at the top which is from a completely different event, as explained at the bottom. The image seems to be chosen to generate a specific emotional response but I'm not sure it actually represents the events covered in the story very honestly.

This is the media trying to sell pageviews. We know virtually nothing about the facts of this incident, yet the media is trying to sell the story "if you google for pressure cookers you will be visited by law enforcement." That is clearly preposterous.

Actually, the story is that the government knew they googled for pressure cookers and backpacks. That must mean there's a tool that someone can type your name into and get a list of everything you've searched for online.

Remember: it can't happen here.


I am skeptical of how real this is... If this really happens this often, wouldn't we be seeing reports of this all the time? "They mentioned that they do this about 100 times a week."

Thanks pg, glad to see this article has some actual verification in it.

>The Guardian confirmed with the FBI that the agency was aware of the visit, but that it was conducted by local police on Long Island.

Terrible reporting. It's unlikely that Google searches are the reason.

1. There's no confirmation that Google searches led to the visit, yet the article reports it as fact (headline).

2. Most if not all Google searches are encrypted over HTTPS nowadays.

3. It's local law enforcement, and while NSA info may be shared, it's unlikely that an illegal top secret NSA program targeting citizens would be shared in this manner, 100 times a week.

4. As user declan noted, the more likely cause is other information PUBLICLY SHARED ON FACEBOOK, such as this image one of them posted of high-powered fireworks: https://plus.google.com/112961607570158342254/posts/FWAVRVaN...

How long before kids start playing "Google 'jihadist bomb manual' three times" instead of "say 'Bloody Mary' three times into a mirror at midnight"?

Real soon, I hope!

> What the hell is quinoa, they asked.

Their culinary ignorance is nearly as upsetting as their disregard for citizens privacy.

Well this is embarrassing. I just had to google quinoa myself.

The fact that it's pronounced KEEN-wah makes it even more obscure when you see it written.

Of course, the FBI/Police/JTTF/KGB don't have that excuse.

Eeehh, I didn't know what quinoa was either. Turns out I've eaten it on occasion, I just had no idea it was called that.

It's not exactly cheeseburgers.

The photo used to illustrate the Atlantic article is a stock photograph taken from the Boston bomber hunt -- and used to make their unverified report seem more incendiary.

You can see it published in April by the Las Vegas Review Journal (click their right arrow on the slideshow a few times): http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/boston-bomb-suspect-hospit...

What a disgustingly misleading photo. You have to read into the article to find out that the photo isn't directly related to this story. It's not even in a caption associated with the photo.

Use of the extremely misleading photo makes me question the integrity of the rest of the article.

Unfortunately, it looks like our law enforcement agencies won't stop harassing us for the things we do in the 'privacy' of our homes. Perhaps companies like "Google" should help them with some intelligence by making it easier to catch the 'right' guy while providing more transparency in doing so. The thought behind this is that the government will continue to collect information, and we might as well help them find the 'right' information by providing intelligent analysis of the data. This in turn would help reduce these life-ruining experiences as the ones reported in this article...

I don't even like what I just said, but it's an idea.

The conditions for this kind of help from the tech world, would be

1. They access bits of information without receiving a full copy from the origination source.

2. They allow congress to pass privacy laws that make sense for the country.

3. They must provide an API to your own data... after all, they do use your personal email address as the search key......

Or, they need to shut down.

Quick question: What if News corp was fed the details of voicemails that they "hacked" through government agencies in an effort to keep the public placated through meaningless news stories?

I know it's not on topic, but with everything coming to light, it would not surprise me. Was it ever discovered how News Corp got the private voicemails for their stories?

They exploited the fact that people didn't change the default passwords on their voicemail (e.g. 1234) and so were able to access them remotely using the same system a legitimate user who needed to access their voicemail remotely would use.

I thought we didn't have to worry if we had nothing to hide.

I'm wondering if this kind of thing will be met with outrage or understanding. It seems plausible that the general public could feel more secure as a result of this, as it shows that the government is actively trying to stop terrorism.

Is it a dumb idea to to see if I can get visited after doing some Google searches? Is there a law against trying to get noticed by authorities in this way?

It might even be a nice way to get "standing" so you can qualify to sue the government on these issues. (IANAL, but in the past I've seen "standing" being an issue that disqualifies lawsuits, and people doing stunts like this to get standing so they can then sue.)

Who knows. But now I want to do this to my asshole neighbor who's wifi is open...

But everything was conducted with accordance to both our official as well as secret laws right??!! Phew, ok good. As long as everything is on the level.

At least he was confronted immediately. Can you imagine if this was used against him at some time in the future as a "pattern of suspicious activity"? Or worse if he was selected via data-mining when looking for suspects of a bombing? It's like finding secret messages in every eight words of the Bible.

Or he just randomly fails a background check.

Why couldn't we simply flood the systems being tracked with more noise thus reducing signal to noise ratio. This sort of thing could be simply thwarted by a system of bots creating a large number of false positives. Any ideas?

Most likely, if this became a common thing, you would have your ISP take action because you are running a "server".

Minority Report, everybody.

Day 1 of using DuckDuckGo... starts now.

You do realize that this is a silly, dumb sentiment, right?

The idea that switching one black box for another black box will save you from this is absurd.

Switching from one provider who definitely logs data and turns it over to the Feds to another provider that at least claim they don't log the data.

Granted, you still have to take DuckDuckGo's word for it, but I wouldn't call that "absurd".

Then let's think about decentralized search engines powered by p2p...

http://yacy.net/en/index.html tri-platform, penta-language

http://www.faroo.com/hp/p2p/p2p.html windows-only

They don't need a search engine's cooperation for this. They need to intercept the http request between a user and the search engine. It might look something like 'GET /search?hl=en&q=pressure_cooker.....'

See the recently leaked slides on X-Keyscore.

Let's assume that this kind of aggravation is necessary to defend against terrorism in an imperfect world, which in particular has imperfect systems and government employees.

Is there anything EXCEPT terrorism we'd want to have cracked down on that closely??

http://www.dbms2.com/2013/07/29/what-our-legislators-should-... spells out some consequences of this reasoning.

I hope they are enjoying all the porn I've been watching.

I thought that now all the google search were over https, so how they were able to track the guy (without direct access to the search data from the google server)?

This makes current intelligence practices seem reactionary, and maybe it has fallen pray to some of the weaknesses Bruce Schneier pointed out in TSAs procedures. Have anyone seen a comparative analysis of cost towards success of targeted local investigation vs investigations prompted by big data analysis intelligence programs?

I'm worried.

Presumably there are few people comfortable with the government having such fine grained detail on your activities.

Oh, no, not my activities--but I can absolutely understand the public utility in allowing them such exhaustive resources in verifying the activities of others.

What's that? The infrastructure is indistinguishable? Pshaw.

They are lucky they weren't harmed.

Seems to me a member of a terrorism "task force" wouldn't need to ask whether a rice cooker can be used to make a bomb.

Note, I'm not questioning whether these men were members of such a task force. I'm questioning whether they're capable of asking non-stupid questions.

Who cares if they showed up as a swat team or as one 'friendly' sheriff. Thats not the point. The point is that we are being surveilled in the most creepy way.

Mount your ipad on your wall and start calling it a telescreen.

Topping the article with a photo of a SWAT team without a caption is rather disingenuous on the Atlantic's part. At first I thought these were the people that showed up on her doorstep.

What about the underwear bomber?

Why are we allowed to search for underwear without federal scrutiny, and why are we still allowed to wear underwear on planes?

Is there a line somewhere?

Fuck this. I never want to live in the usa.

Is this a terrible joke ? http://bit.ly/1ctfYJ8

Wow. Does journalistic integrity also extend to pictures?

The picture has NOTHING to do with the story.

Hey, Bing even suggests "pressure cooker bomb". Let's see...

There is no actual proof that this was due to web searches, also the picture the atlantic is using is misleading and terrible, and the article was silently changed after someone else pointed that the alleged visit wasn't actually from the FBI but from local law enforcement:


The story boils down to: "a lady claims to get a visit from the feds after googling some stuff".

She herself says that:

They mentioned that they do this about 100 times a week. And that 99 of those visits turn out to be nothing. I don’t know what happens on the other 1% of visits and I’m not sure I want to know what my neighbors are up to. https://medium.com/something-like-falling/2e7d13e54724

This is lazy and exploitive reporting by all parties.

No, the story doesn't boil down to "a lady claims". The fact that the Guardian followed up and confirmed that there was a visit is significant. That takes this out of la-la land.

That claim has three parts:

- She was visited by government authorities.

- Those government authorities were federal agents.

- She was visited because of what she searched.

Of those three parts, the first was the only one confirmed (the second, I believe, was proved false.)

The second could be true, if the local police where deputized by the feds like they are when the act as part of the JTTF.

The claim is that the visit was due to her googling, which isn't proven. I want them to investigate the actual reasons instead of dealing with hearsay.

There's more than one claim going on here. But I agree with you that that is the most significant one and that it isn't proven.

Yes, I'm sure if The Guardian simply asks the US government or local law enforcement why it targeted this family they will be very forthcoming.

Why not? are you satisfied with speculation as an alternative to the truth? is this an excuse to not even ask questions?

Are you satisfied that the federal government will tell the truth?

No one has even asked them! she should also FOIA this incident. My point is that it's all speculative at the moment.

I'll see you in 10 years when they get around to answering that FOIA...

You don't think The Guardian asked for a comment on her theory when they called? It's not as though the cops didn't get a chance to respond.

If that was the case they would have mentioned that they received a "no comment".

Agreed, but the event still happened. We need to know what triggered it.

Yes, someone should get to the bottom of this, but no one has, they are busy running speculative link bait.


>Correction: After confirmation from the FBI that its agents weren't involved in the visit, the headline of this piece was changed to "Visit From the Cops" instead of "the Feds.

I'm not sure how the fact these guys were not FBI but local police makes anything better. Are the guns local police has less lethal? Is local police search somehow less invasive than same FBI search? Does the same questioning by local police sounds better than by FBI?

My point is to not take this story on face value, the details matter, and should be investigated.

This detail matters very little for the story - the issue is if government people investigated a family on suspicion of terrorism because they looked for kitchenware on the internet, not how the agency these people worked for is called. If they work for Department of Education SWAT team [1] it were as bad as if they worked for FBI. The problem is not that they didn't have the right badge but that they invade privacy for no good reason.

[1] yes, DoE has SWAT teams: http://reason.com/blog/2011/06/08/dept-of-education-swat-tea...

Next time the cops are slow to respond to my noise complaint, I'll know what to do.

You'd have to be a fool to use Google nowadays. You might as well cc the NSA when gmailing somebody.

How would you do that? cc the NSA I mean?


Maybe the "Public and Media Affairs" department is the most appropriate for some honest self-snitching: nsapao@nsa.gov

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact