Thursday, May 18, 2017

Night of the Iguana

I'm about to put the cover over my cage for the night:

"The police wrote a Facebook post. Was it light-hearted or mean-spirited?" by Nestor Ramos Globe Staff  May 18, 2017

If there was one detail that pushed the tale of a Monday afternoon OUI arrest in Taunton over the top, sending it rocketing around the Internet and into news reports all over the country, it was probably the lizard.

“Where does one hold a Bearded Dragon Lizard while driving you ask?” Taunton police wrote on Facebook. “Answer: In their brassiere of course!!”

The post, which detailed the police’s encounter with a 39-year-old Newton woman who allegedly mowed down several mailboxes with a lizard tucked into her undergarments, quickly went viral and spawned near universal applause on social media.

But not everybody was laughing.

Police departments that use social media to better connect with the communities they serve walk a fine line, experts said, balancing the jokes and memes that are the Internet’s currency against the seriousness of the circumstances often involved. For some, the Taunton post was an uproarious example that revealed a cop shop’s human side. For others, it went too far, raising questions of propriety and professionalism.

“The purpose of putting this out on social media is what?” asked Tom Nolan, a former Boston police lieutenant and an associate professor of criminology at Merrimack College. “Embarrassment of someone and their family?”

If that was the intent, mission accomplished.

“I think a lot of readers would be surprised at how good a sense of humor the average police officers have,” said Donald Gosselin, a retired 30-year veteran of the Boston Police Department who consults with police forces in Latin America on police modernization and community policing....


So what other funny stuff is on police media?

"Police used Facebook, Twitter data to track Ferguson protesters" by Craig Timberg and Elizabeth Dwoskin Washington Post   October 11, 2016

Well, my October 12 printed version was a NYT pos.

WASHINGTON — A powerful surveillance program that police used for tracking racially charged protests in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo., relied on special feeds of user data provided by Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, according to an ACLU blog post published Tuesday.

A Chicago company has marketed a tool using text, photos and videos gleaned from major social media companies to aid law enforcement surveillance of protesters, civil liberties activists say.

Kind of makes you WannaCry, huh?

The companies reportedly provided the data — often including the locations of usersto Geofeedia, a Chicago-based company that says it analyzes social media posts to deliver surveillance information to 500 law enforcement agencies. The social media companies sought to restrict Geofeedia’s access to the streams of user data in recent weeks after the ACLU discovered them and alerted the companies about looming public exposure.

Thanks for reading.

The company, called Geofeedia, used data from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as nine other social media networks, to let users search for social media content in a specific location, as opposed to searching by words or hashtags that would be less likely to reveal an exact location.

The popularity of Geofeedia and similar programs highlights how the rise of social media has given governments worldwide powerful new ways to monitor crime and civil unrest. Authorities often target such surveillance at minority groups or others seeking to publicly air political grievances, potentially chilling free speech, said the ACLU’s California affiliate, which unearthed Geofeedia’s relationship with social media companies through a public records request of dozens of law enforcement agencies.

We call it the Total $urveillance $tate.

Geofeedia marketed its abilities to law enforcement agencies and has signed up more than 500 such clients, according to an email obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union. 

‘‘These platforms need to be doing more to protect the free speech rights of activists of color and stop facilitating their surveillance by police,’’ said Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties policy director for the ACLU of California. ‘‘The ACLU shouldn’t have to tell Facebook or Twitter what their own developers are doing. The companies need to enact strong public policies and robust auditing procedures to ensure their platforms aren’t being used for discriminatory surveillance.’’

In one document posted by the organization, as part of a report released on Tuesday, the company appears to point to how officials in Baltimore, with Geofeedia’s help, were able to monitor and respond to the violent protests that broke out after Freddie Gray died in police custody in April 2015.

Geofeedia did not have immediate comment when contacted Tuesday. Twitter tweeted in a statement, ‘‘Based on information in the @ACLU’s report, we are immediately suspending @Geofeedia’s commercial access to Twitter data.’’

Geofeedia appears to have used programs that Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies offered that allow app makers or advertising companies to create third-party tools, like ways for publishers to see where their stories are being shared on social media.

Facebook, which owns Instagram, said in a statement: ‘‘This developer only had access to data that people chose to make public. Its access was subject to the limitations in our Platform Policy, which outlines what we expect from developers that receive data using the Facebook Platform. If a developer uses our [user data] in a way that has not been authorized, we will take swift action to stop them and we will end our relationship altogether if necessary.’’

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram say they have cut off Geofeedia’s access to their information.

Most users of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram know the social media services as platforms for sharing thoughts or images with friends. But companies such as Geofeedia and others collect and analyze social media data to help their own customers track emerging online trends. Specialized data streams from social media companies can provide access to faster, more exhaustive collections of posts than otherwise are publicly available.

Instagram and Facebook terminated Geofeedia’s access to their data in September, while Twitter shut off access on Tuesday. The response from the companies suggested that Geofeedia was using data from the companies in a way that was not allowed under their developer agreements. 


Civil libertarians have grown increasingly concerned that the rising power of government surveillance technology is prompting a spike in the monitoring of African Americans and other minority groups through video surveillance, social media and the tracking of cellphone calls.

That and the hacking tools.

‘‘Police spying on social media has a disproportionate impact on black people,’’ said Malkia Cyril, the executive director of the Center for Media Justice, an Oakland-based activist group. ‘‘There’s a movement afoot to ensure that black lives matter. That is being spied upon. That is being surveilled.’’

Before the social media companies limited access, Geofeedia was using specialized data streams for police surveillance. In one e-mail discovered by the ACLU, a company employee boasted that it had a ‘‘confidential legally binding agreement with Facebook’’ for data. Another email said users of Geofeedia could ‘‘pull private information for Instagram and Twitters.’’

Neither claim could be independently verified.

Phil Harris, chief executive of Geofeedia, said in a statement that his company “provides some clients, including law enforcement officials across the country, with a critical tool in helping to ensure public safety while protecting civil rights and liberties.” He said the firm has policies to prevent “inappropriate use of our software.”

Mr. Harris added that the company understands that given how quickly digital technology changes, Geofeedia “must continue to work to build on these critical protections of civil rights.”

In addition to law enforcement agencies, the company has marketed its services to journalists as a way to find people at breaking news events for interviews and social media content.

And now, what has been completely scrubbed from the web but is part of the Times

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram make most of their money selling advertising, but all have side businesses selling outsiders access to their rich data streams about users. 

So it goes to anyone willing to pay, and they just muscled through more! 

For example, through software known as API, developers have been able to use Facebook to get access to a person's friends list, birthday, profile picture, education history, relationship status, and political affiliation -- if a person's Facebook profile and location are public.

"Posts on social media platforms can reveal information about our location, our religion, the people we associate with," Matt Cagle, a lawyer with the ACLU in Northern California, said in an interview. "Users of social media websites do not expect or want the government to be monitoring this information. And users should not be at risk of being branded a risk to public safety simply for speaking their mind on social media."

I'll let the WaPo you take home:

Because social media posts increasingly provide location information from users’ smartphones, surveillance systems can map out areas of looming unrest or political activism. Geofeedia documents made public by the ACLU made references to tracking protests in Baltimore in 2015 after the death of a black man, Freddie Gray, while in police custody and also to protests in Ferguson in 2014 after the police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man.

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram make most of their money selling advertising, but all have side businesses selling outsiders access to their rich data streams about users. For example, through software known as an API, developers have been able to use Facebook to get access to a person’s friend list, birthday, profile picture, education history, relationship status, and political affiliation - if a person’s Facebook profile and location are public.

Twitter also sells its own so-called data firehose, which includes the contents of tweets, and demographic information like gender and interests, the cellular network users and geolocation, by latitude and longitude coordinates, if the user tags it. Customers include financial firms that monitor business trends, retailers looking for product mentions, organizations like the Red Cross, which use the data to monitor crises, and law enforcement.

According to the documents obtained by the ACLU, Facebook provided Geofeedia with access to a data feed that enabled the surveillance startup to monitor topics trending from public posts about events, such as riots or protests. Twitter did not provide access to the full firehose, but offered Geofeedia a database to search public tweets. Instagram provided access to the Instagram API, which included photos posted publicly as well as location information if the users tagged their pictures.

News stories about Geofeedia, which was founded in 2011, first emerged last month, when the Daily Dot website reported that local police in Denver had spent $30,000 on online surveillance tools. Shortly after, the ACLU of California published public records showing that police departments across the state were rapidly acquiring social media monitoring software to monitor activists.

The ACLU said the social media companies had sought to close Geofeedia’s access to the special data feeds. Facebook and Instagram closed off Geofeedia’s access on Sept. 19. Twitter imposed contractual limits in an attempt to block Geofeedia from using posts for surveillance. Twitter also sent a cease and desist letter on Monday to Geofeedia, the ACLU said. On Tuesday, Twitter announced it would block the feed to Geofeedia altogether.

The civil liberties group said that social media companies should go farther in implementing public policies and other restrictions to keep their posts from being used for government surveillance. Without specialized data feeds, outside companies could still implement programs to ‘‘scrape’’ social media data as it becomes publicly available, but that approach would be less effective and also would violate the terms of service for some companies.

In addition to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, the Geofeedia documents found by the ACLU show that the company also analyzes data from Vine and Periscope, as well as VK and Weibo, popular social media services in Russia and China, respectively. It is not clear whether any of those companies provide special data feeds to Geofeedia."

The Bo$ton police said they were going to do it, and then said they weren't.

Related: Police officers record protesters at City Hall meeting

And when you renew your driving license?

"State scans Mass. license photos to find matches with suspects" by Matt Rocheleau Globe Staff  December 20, 2016

The millions of photos that have been taken for Massachusetts-issued driver’s licenses and other official ID cards are regularly scanned using facial recognition software that hunts for matches with pictures of suspects sought by law enforcement.

A growing number of law enforcement agencies across the country are running similar searches. Critics say the practice raises the specter of privacy invasion and warn that inaccurate matches could subject innocent people to unwarranted investigation.

They also say that government has moved quietly, providing little, if any, notice to the public before using such technology.

So much for transparency!

State officials also said there are safeguards in place to address concerns about privacy and the technology’s accuracy.

“Facial recognition is a valuable tool for identifying suspects, and one that we use with appropriate discretion,” said State Police spokesman David Procopio. “It can help solve serious crimes, and bring justice to victims, and prevent further crimes from being committed.”

For one, most law enforcement agencies are not allowed to directly scan the Registry of Motor Vehicles database themselves, officials said.

“Law enforcement at the local, state and federal levels may provide an image of a suspect associated with an investigation and request that the image be compared with the RMV’s database of facial images,” Massachusetts Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jacquelyn Goddard said in an e-mail “These are official, case-specific requests.”

She said that the actual scanning of the RMV’s database of photos is performed jointly by the Massachusetts State Police Compliance Unit and the Registry of Motor Vehicles Enforcement Services Unit, “which consists of staff trained to handle highly sensitive and confidential matters.”

She said the system finds potential matches and it is up to the investigative agency to determine if there is a match. The agency’s practices are “consistent with federal privacy laws,” she said.

“When you go to the DMV to get your license, you do not expect your photo to be part of what has essentially become a law enforcement database used for criminal investigations,” said Kade Crockford of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.

It kind of always has been, though.

The RMV first got its facial recognition software in 2006, and its existence has been disclosed before. But officials have described it as a system to fight license-related identity fraud — to ensure, for example, a person does not have multiple licenses under different names.

I'm already in there somewhere then.

Its broader use for other types of criminal investigations had flown under the radar, Crockford said.

“The lack of transparency is seriously troubling — that this has taken place without any public discussion or, to my knowledge, legislative action,” said Crockford. “Maybe the Massachusetts public and legislators think it’s totally appropriate for this to be happening, but I doubt it.”

Regardless, she said, “policies around these issues should not be developing in secret.”


Separately from the RMV photos, law enforcement agencies also use facial recognition technology to scan a database of police booking photos they have collectively compiled over the years.

More than 5,000 analysts and officers from 376 law enforcement agencies have access to a database of 2.6 million photos of people who were arrested and booked in Massachusetts, said Procopio.

Some of the database’s photos — including side or profile views, or photos of people’s tattoos or other distinguishing marks — are not useful for facial recognition software purposes, he noted.

Agencies with access include not only local police departments, but also federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which gain access to the database via the Commonwealth Fusion Center.

Law enforcement officials use facial recognition scans of the database “to further criminal or counter-terrorism investigations,” said Procopio.

“Any potential match provided by the technology between a suspect image and a prior booking photo is categorized as just that — a potential match only,” he said. “All image matches must be further corroborated by other investigative means.”

He said training sessions are offered regularly for officials who access the database, which is part of a broader statewide law enforcement intelligence-sharing network that was created in 2004.

Crockford questioned whether it was appropriate for police to store photos of people who are arrested for relatively minor offenses, like trespassing, or those who wind up not being convicted.

“Plenty of people are arrested falsely and the charges are dropped soon after they’re booked,” she said. “So the idea that simply being arrested is justification enough to include you in a forever digital dragnet does not make sense.”

It does if that is your goal.

A report published in October by Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology found that nationwide the driver’s license and ID photos of at least 117 million people — or half of American adults — across at least 26 states can be searched using facial recognition software for law enforcement purposes.

That estimate, however, didn’t account for Massachusetts because the authors of the report said they were not able to verify if law enforcement here were allowed such access.

The report’s authors noted that law enforcement’s use of facial recognition technology can be beneficial and said they did not want to see use of the technology stopped altogether.

“It has been used to catch violent criminals and fugitives,” the report said. “The law enforcement officers who use the technology are men and women of good faith. They do not want to invade our privacy or create a police state. They are simply using every tool available to protect the people that they are sworn to serve,” but the report noted concerns raised by a 2012 study that facial recognition may be less accurate on photos of black people.

But if we must have one....

Facial recognition has turned up false positives before, prompting police to investigate the wrong person just because they looked like someone else. And it’s happened in Massachusetts....



And about those arrests....

"US police departments with their own DNA databases stir debate" by Michael Balsamo Associated Press  March 04, 2017

LOS ANGELES — Dozens of police departments around the United States are amassing their own DNA databases to track criminals, a move critics say is a way around regulations governing state and national databases that restrict who can provide genetic samples and how long that information is held.

The local agencies create the rules for their databases, in some cases allowing samples to be taken from children or from people never arrested for a crime. Police chiefs say having their own collections helps them solve cases faster because they can avoid the backlogs that plague state and federal repositories.

Building the total surveillance state right in front of you and you don't even know it. Hope they don't plant your DNA somewhere

Frederick Harran, the public safety director in Bensalem Township, Pa., was an early adopter of a local database. Since it was created in 2010, he said robberies and burglaries have been gone down due to arrests made because of DNA collection.

Harran said the Pennsylvania state lab takes up to 18 months to process DNA taken from a burglary scene but with local database authorities go through a private lab and get results within a month. He said he uses money from assets seized from criminals to pay for the private lab work.

Like the DEA (and here is something you don't see every day)?

‘‘If they are burglarizing and we don’t get them identified in 18 to 24 months, they have two years to keep committing crimes,’’ Harran said.

DNA is found in cells and provides a genetic blueprint unique to each person. Blood, saliva, semen, hair, and skin are among the biological clues a criminal might leave at a crime scene and investigators need only a few cells to create a profile.

Police typically get a DNA sample by swabbing the inside of a person’s mouth. That sample can then be compared against others in a database to see if a match occurs.

Some police departments collect samples from people who are never arrested or convicted of crimes, though in all such cases the person is supposed to voluntarily comply and not be coerced or threatened.

State and federal authorities typically require a conviction, arrest, or warrant before a sample is entered into their collections.

It’s unclear how many police departments maintain their own DNA databanks because they are subject to no state or federal oversight, but police in California, Florida, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania have spoken publicly about their local databases. Harran said he knows of about 60 departments using local databases.

In San Diego, in addition to voluntary samples taken from adults, police officers are allowed to take samples from juveniles who aren’t arrested or convicted as long as they are for investigative purposes and the children sign a consent form. After the sample is taken, a police officer is required to contact the child’s parent or legal guardian to tell them a DNA swab was collected.

Since when do we give children the right to consent to anything?

The state of tyranny is worse than ever.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against San Diego last month alleging the policy ‘‘purports to sideswipe’’ restrictions implemented by a California state law that bars those samples from being entered into the state’s DNA database.

When police officers take DNA samples from children without a court order, ‘‘It’s hard to imagine it’s anything other than coerced or involuntary,’’ said Bardis Vakili, an ACLU attorney who is spearheading the lawsuit.

‘‘I think they are trying to avoid transparency and engage in forms of surveillance,’’ he said. ‘‘We don’t know what’s done other than it goes into their lab and is kept in a database.’’

A San Diego police spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit and wouldn’t provide additional information about the department’s policy.

San Diego, the nation’s eighth-largest city, has about 1.4 million people and a very large database, while Branford, Conn., population 28,000, has just 500 samples in its collection.

Still, Chief Daniel Halloran said the database has helped solve crimes and eliminate other people as suspects. The department has implemented strict guidelines to ensure samples are voluntary and they do not take samples from juveniles, he said.

‘‘It’s not like we’re pulling over motorists and asking them for DNA,’’ Halloran said. ‘‘There has to be some sort of correlation to a crime.’’

Innocent bystanders and witnesses are now considered criminals.