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surveillance

Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN/NH) has several huge problems. Aside from moving his family to New Hampshire, collecting disability for untreated sleep apnea while serving in Congress, spending $1k/mth of taxpayer dollars on an SUV, his biggest problem is he’s done nothing. No jobs created and he has virtually nothing to point to in terms of accomplishments.

It now appears that Cravaack is coming down on the side of Big Brother and supports surveillance of American citizens.

Its become apparent that the Department of Homeland Security is tracking what people say on social media and are building files on bloggers. So the House Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing on it. Both Republicans and Democrats were alarmed.

But Cravaack’s comment was interesting:

Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.) expressed concern over a report from EPIC that the Homeland Security Department is using the program to monitor public reactions to government programs.

Chavez said he was not aware of the program being used for that purpose.
(The Hill)

Cravaack’s comment seems as if he’s ignorant of EPIC’s complaint. The complaint has little to do with monitoring the public reactions but more to do with building files about citizens.

This indicates Cravaack wasn’t particularly concerned about civil rights or privacy infringements. Instead of asking a question, it appears he only made a statement:

11:00 AM – Rep. Cravaack is up for questioning. Part of General Dynamics contract to track what is negatively being but to see if agencies or departments are meeting standards. It is part of operational awareness.

Then other committee members have a back and forth over this issue. It appears that Cravaack only wanted to make a supportive statement.

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Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) claims to be for smaller government yet she consistently votes for big government programs like the Patriot Act.  Now that she’s running for President, her actions are under greater scrutiny (except in MN by the MN media).  The Patriot Act was extended for yet another year and Bachmann voted for it.

Tea Party favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) on Thursday night spent five minutes on the House floor in an attempt to justify her vote for the Patriot Act, after admitting to receiving significant feedback from her supporters urging her to reject it.

“We have had calls, we’ve had requests on our Facebook, Twitter and on our email urging a ‘no’ vote tonight on the Patriot Act,” she said on the floor. “I cast a yes vote on this act.”
(The Hill)

At least the teabaggers and I agree on one thing — the Patriot Act should end.

She’s so hypocritical on this issue I can’t see how her head doesn’t explode from the cognitive dissonance:

“I think government is too big,” she said. “I think we intervene too much in people’s lives. I certainly don’t want to give the government the unfettered right to go on in and access my personal private records.”

The above quote was actually part of her justification of why she voted for the Patriot Act.

Read her hypocritical explanation in full below the fold …

“We have a new war, a new enemy, new tactics,” she said. “The lone wolf is one actor acting alone, and we get a tip, and maybe at the last minute we’ve gotta go in for national security reasons and find that actor. That is an appropriate use of gaining this intelligence and information.”

On roving wiretaps, she said intelligence authorities need the flexibility to tap various phones that suspects might be using. “So we have to have the ability to be able to go to whichever phone a potential, alleged terrorist may be using,” she said.

On access to business records, she assured listeners that federal agents must go to judges first, and that the documents sought must have a connection to terrorism. She said she would never support a provision that allows unchecked access to personal records, and said she spent “all week” talking to experts on this issue before voting for it.

“I think government is too big,” she said. “I think we intervene too much in people’s lives. I certainly don’t want to give the government the unfettered right to go on in and access my personal private records.”

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Maria Elena Baca of the Star Tribune has confused ad agency with newspaper. Or maybe Maria is just confusing stenographer with journalist. She wrote a piece that a campaign would have had a hard time putting out, since it is that balantly an advertising piece for Sheriff Fletcher. Let’s see how high we can get  on the Kelly scale of how biased can an article be.

1) Starting with the title. “Take note if you’re up to no good: Ramsey County is watching“. Does Maria Elena Baca or the Star Tribune realize that Sheriff Fletcher in previous campaigns took credit for the Metro Gang Task Force now under serious criminal investigation? Does that count as “up to no good?” Or that two close co-workers of Sheriff Fletcher were convicted of corruption? Did Maria ask if any these cameras were being installed in the Sheriff’s office? Or if any cameras were already in the Sheriff’s office? Or if any of them were actually turned on?
2) Then there is the first line “The assumption among criminals, said Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher, is that they’re not being watched.” First line quote coverage that would be awfully expensive to buy. Hmmm, could Maria have done some research about how effective cameras are or if indeed criminals really do assume that they are not watched. Then the first line might have been a better summary on if this is money well spent.

3) In these extremely tight budget times, note that neither Maria Elena Baca nor the Star Tribune questioned the spending of the $40,000 for cameras nor where that money comes from. Is this the best place to spend $40,000. Has Sheriff Fletcher been staying in budget? What else could have that $40,000 bought?

4) Next question that should be asked was whether we already had plenty of surveillance cameras left over from the Republican National Convention? Opps, that would required having the background on how cameras have been used before.

5) Now why does the word  ”volunteers” bring any concern to Maria Elena Baca or the Star Tribune? Not only do we have privacy concerns, but the people using the cameras are not even sworn officers. Wait, wait, the article does address the privacy concerns, especially of not using sworn officers, The article says

Yes, it is scary,” he [Sheriff Fletcher] said when asked about the cameras’ ability to peer into activities. But he stressed that part of the volunteers’ training includes a strong warning to them that the cameras are used in public areas only, for sheriff’s business only. In addition, he said, volunteers working in pairs will police each other’s use of the cameras, as will the community service officers in the next room.

Wow, “strong warning” and work in pairs, that would stop anyone from following a cute girl!

And who ensures that the Sheriff’s department does not abuse the cameras? Is there any oversight? Is there any reporting? Is there any other agency or civilian group involved?

6) So of course any balanced report would look at abuses like the this easily google found article, Abuses of surveillance cameras. Opps, no reporting of actual previous abuses.

7) Well then it is a good thing that those cameras are fixed and therefore can’t be abused. Opps,

Ramsey County’s cameras are wireless and mobile, allowing for flexibility depending on where the hot spots are.

8) So the article says that the whole point is deter criminals:

“It’s scary for the criminals, too,” he said. “The whole point is to be able to deter criminal activity because of the technology we have.”

Just like all of those cameras in banks deter bank thefts. Opps, again!

9) And right at the tail end of the article, there is just a bit more about privacy concerns!

10) How about the question, if we have “volunteers” and cameras, why do we need Sheriffs patrolling? Can we cut Sheriff staff?

11) Did anyone check on the Sheriff’s claims on creating “partnerships” with local departments? Like for example, whether Sheriff Fletcher has a track record of cooperating with local departments before? Hint, hint, the answer is “no”.

12) Hmmm, did Maria Elena Baca nor the Star Tribune note that it is an election year for Sheriff Fletcher? Or does Maria Elena Baca nor the Star Tribune care that they are being used like election ads?

Well, it wasn’t very hard to hit over a 10. My question is why would anyone buy the ad-agency news of the Star Tribune. They should be bankrupt.

Update:

More questions:

So most places are having trouble getting volunteers. what happens if volunteers don’t show? Do sworn officers stop patrolling and start watching cameras? Do the cameras just sit unused? And if volunteers are showing up for this, is this really the best use of their time?

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Latest on the criminal intelligence data bill

by The Big E on March 18, 2009 · 0 comments

At the beginning of this month, I wrote about a criminal intelligence data bill going through the Senate.  I wrote about it because of how vaguely defined its terms were.  I am alarmed that this bill would legalize the Big Brother monitoring of anyone our law enforcement wanted to.  Now this bill has been introduced in the House … HF1449.  It will also have a hearing this Friday.

Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul) is the author of this.  Lesch is a prosecutor by trade so that explains why he’d be involved.  Also, I know him because we’re both active in the DFL.  He’s a progressive.  So maybe it alarmed me doubly that he was carrying this bill.  

“The bill was proposed by the BCA,” John told me (BCA = Bureau of Criminal Apprehension).  John explained that his bill would allow law enforcement to better keep track of criminal activity.  

I’m all for law enforcement tracking gang activity.  However, this bill has no oversight and no limitations to protect civil rights.  Basically, there’s nothing stopping law enforcement from compiling this kind of evidence anyway.  Look at what Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher did surrounding the RNC.  Consider what happened in Maryland.

The Maryland State Police classified 53 nonviolent activists as terrorists and entered their names and personal information into state and federal databases that track terrorism suspects, the state police chief acknowledged yesterday.

“It’s okay to call me on the carpet,” Lesch told me.  He is waiting to hear more from both sides at the bill’s first hearing this Friday before reaching a judgment on this bill.  I hope he will at a bare minimum amend it to add some civil liberties protections.

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Sen. Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley) introduced SF1103, The Criminal Intelligence Data Classification bill, today.  This bill strikes me as a distinctly Big Brother type of bill.  The wording is vague and allows MN law enforcement to collect any information on anyone they want.

It seems to me that Betzold has defined terrorist activity broadly enough so that peaceful civil disobedience would fall inside the purview of this bill.  In other words, our law enforcement could pull credit information, employment information, Facebook friend lists (for more people to investigate) and etc. on anyone for any reason they want.  There is absolutely no recourse to determine if our state’s law enforcement is compiling criminal data on you under this bill.

“Terrorist activity” means acts dangerous to human life that violate the criminal laws of this state or the United States and appear to be intended to:
(1) intimidate or coerce the civilian population;
(2) influence the policy of the state by intimidation or coercion; or
(3) affect the state by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.
(h) “Threat of imminent serious harm” means a credible impending threat to the safety of a person, government entity, or property.
(SF1103 Summary)

I contacted Sen. Betzold asking him to explain his bill or provide a press release.  Here is his response.

This is an agency bill which was suggested by a data practices task force over the legislative interim. Right now, investigative data is confidential. However, there is no classification for intelligence data, which means that it would be public.

I would guess that your concerns will be discussed at a hearing in the Senate’s Data Practices Subcommittee. A bill as it is introduced is not necessarily how it will look as it goes through the process.

I would like to thank Sen. Betzold for his quick response and I will be keeping an eye on this one.  I hope that someone changes the bill.  There needs to be a balance between law enforcement’s need to track gang activity and protecting my civil rights.

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