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Stealth Enactment of Portions of Patriot Act II Associated Press [via Prison Planet], Dec 15. The intelligence spending bill H.R. 2417 was cleared by Congress on November 21 and signed into law by President Bush in December, at the same time as Saddam Hussein's capture. The bill expands the type of businesses from which the FBI and other U.S. authorities conducting intelligence work can demand financial records without court approval. Previously, national security letters could be issued to financial institutions such as banks and credit unions, requiring them to give over information without a court order. H.R. 2417 expands the definition of financial institution to include other businesses that deal with large amounts of cash, such as casinos and car dealerships. Some lawmakers say that the change does not provide adequate safeguards against abuse and could violate the privacy of innocent people. The bill also creates pilot programs to share raw data between agencies, and authorizes agencies to continue research on computerized terrorism surveillance suspended by the Pentagon.
JetBlue Shared Passenger Data Wired News, Sep 18. JetBlue Airways confirmed that in Sept., 2002 it provided 5 million passenger itineraries to a defense contractor for the testing of a Pentagon project unrelated to airline security. The contractor, Torch Concepts, then augmented that data with Social Security numbers, occupation, income level, number of children and vehicle ownership information (purchased from data-aggregator company Acxiom), to develop what looks to be a study of whether passenger-profiling systems such as CAPPS II are feasible. Torch Concepts acquired the data by contacting the Transportation Security Administration, which says it facilitated the transfer of the data from JetBlue to Torch Concepts.
Draft Text of VICTORY Act Obtained CNN.com, Aug 15. A new anti-terrorism measure known as the VICTORY Act is circulating in Cogress right now. It would create a new category of crime called Narco-terrorism. It would radically expand asset forfeiture powers for the Dept. of Justice and Homeland Security. It would classify as money-laundering any offshore banking done as a means of tax evasion. It would reduce the discretion of federal judges when sentencing drug offenders. It would make it more difficult for federal judges to sentence a first-time drug offender below the mandatory minimum sentence. It would force longer jail terms for a number of nonviolent drug and nondrug offenses. It would expand opportunities for "judge-shopping" in wiretap cases, in effect negating jurisdiction in certain cases. It would also expand nonjudicial "administrative subpoenas" for alleged terrorism investigations (as broadly defined in the USA-PATRIOT Act). The web site LibertyThink has obtained a June 27 draft of the legislation and made it available online.
DoD Develops Urban Surveillance System Associated Press [via Kansas City Star], Jul 01. DARPA, the Pentagon's research arm, is developing an urban surveillance system that would use computers and thousands of cameras to track, record and analyze the movement of every vehicle in a city. The system is planned to be used to help U.S. military operations in foreign cities, where the combat situation is very different from open areas without civilians. The software would be able to analyze the footage and judge whether behavior it sees is "normal" or not, and establish links between people, places and times of activity. Police, scientists and privacy experts say the unclassified technology could easily be adapted to spy on Americans. With this technology some say the government could keep tabs on the location of just about every citizen most of the time. A DARPA spokeswoman says the system is not intended for homeland security or law enforcement use, but in March DARPA outlined a hypothetical scenario for contractors demonstrating that the system could aid police as well as the military.
Dept. of Defense Logging Unverified Tips Wired News [Link], Jun 25. The Department of Defense is creating a database to log raw, unvalidated reports of "anomalous activities" within the U.S. The database, called Talon, comes in the wake of the cancellation of John Ashcroft's unpopular proposal "Operation TIPS", a DoJ system intended to enlist civilian workers (like postal employees, cable installers and pizza delivery drivers) nationwide to report on anything they consider suspicious. Critics allege that the Talon database might lead to misuse of unverified information, tainting dossiers with no more than rumors.
Court Supports Secret Detentions Boston Globe, Jun 18. A federal appeals court, saying it would not second-guess the Bush administration's policy of secrecy, ruled yesterday that the government has no legal duty to disclose basic information, such as names, about the 762 individuals rounded up in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorism investigation. "We reject any attempt to artificially limit the long-recognized deference to the executive on national security issues," the majority declared. The ruling overturned a federal judge's ruling last August that the government must release the names of the detainees and of their lawyers. The minority dissent, Judge David Tatel, claimed "the majority sustains the government's vague, ill-explained decision to withhold information," an approach that he said "drastically diminishes, if not eliminates, the judiciary's role" in enforcing public access to government information about national security matters.
Bush Issues Ban On Racial Profiling New York Times, Jun 17. President Bush issued guidelines today barring federal agents from using race or ethnicity in their routine investigations, but the policy carves out clear exemptions for investigations involving terrorism and national security matters. Immigration officials, for instance, will continue to be able to require visitors from largely Middle Eastern countries to register with the government.
Detainees Mistreated Guardian, Jun 03. Hundreds of foreign nationals with no ties to terrorists were jailed for months in the FBI roundup following Sept. 11 because of communications failures between the FBI and other federal agencies, according to a report by the Justice Department's inspector general. The report found that the FBI made little attempt to distinguish between aliens who were subjects of a terrorism investigation and those "encountered coincidentally". The detainees were not always served with notice of the charges under which they were held within the INS target of 72 hours. It sometimes took a month for a detainee to learn their charges. The Justice Department instituted a no-bond policy that required the INS to hold individuals until the FBI completed its investigations of each detainee. The FBI claimed the clearance process would only take a few days, but the report found that it often lasted months (avg. 80 days) because the FBI officers responsible were assigned to other duties. Conditions of detention were found "unduly harsh", including 23-hour-a-day lockdown; escort procedures that included a "4-man hold" with handcuffs, leg irons, and heavy chains any time the detainees were moved outside their cells; and a limit of one legal telephone call per week and one social call per month. The inquiry also found evidence indicating "a pattern of physical and verbal abuse" by some prison officers, though the allegations of abuse will not result in any criminal prosecution.
Feds Warn of People Too Antsy, Calm or Pale Fort Worth Star-Telegram, May 27. The federal government has been telling local law enforcement agencies to watch for simple things such as body language - a scratch here, a twitch there - that could give away a would-be terrorist attempting to blend in to everyday American life (say, while standing impatiently in a grocery store line). In a recent memo to police, the Homeland Security Department said local officers should watch for anyone who may show hatred toward Americans through bragging, expressed dislike of attitudes and decisions of the U.S. government, or superiority of religious beliefs. Recent bulletins from federal authorities urge police, who traditionally are taught to use force as a last resort, to move quickly - even before asking questions - when they meet a potential terrorist. A terrorist, Homeland Security officials wrote, may be detected by his "pale face from recent shaving of beard" and by "no obvious emotion seen on the face."
'Person of Interest' New Police Buzzword Associated Press, May 24. In 2002, John Ashcroft used the term "person of interest" to refer to Steven Hatfill, an ex-army scientist, in the anthrax-by-mail case. Hatfill has never been charged and denies any involvement, saying that Ashcroft's characterization of him has destroyed his life. Some lawyers worry that the term is becoming increasingly common, despite the fact that it has no legal basis. Sen. Charles Grassley said that Ashcroft's use of the phrase was unprecidented, and that "government agencies need to be mindful of the power they wield over individual citizens, and should exercise caution and good judgement when they use that power." The term is so obscure that it shields law enforcement from lawsuits such as those filed by exonerated 1996 Olympic bombing suspect Richard Jewell. Lawrence Goldman, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said that by calling a person who is singled out "a person of interest", they are shielded from embarrassment if they end up arresting someone else.
Court Refuses To Intervene In Privacy Battle Washington Post, Mar 25. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene in the fight over proper boundaries for federal surveillance of suspected terrorists. Civil liberties groups asked the court to consider whether the government had gone too far in permitting information gathering with secret Foreign Intelligence Security Act warrants to be used in criminal cases involving citizens. The secret court that oversees government spying, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, ruled last year that the government was overstepping its bounds and said that rules proposed by Attorney General John Ashcroft "were not reasonably designed" to protect privacy rights. But the FISA appellate panel, considering its first case, overturned that ruling in November, concluding that the government was free to implement more aggressive tactics in hunting suspected terrorists.
Bush To Halt Declassification of Documents, Classify/Reclassify More New York Times, Mar 23. The Bush administration plans to undo a Clinton policy that said information should not be classified if there was "significant doubt" as to whether its release would damage national security. Bush's move postpones the April 17th deadline of the Clinton measure to automatically declassify most documents 25 or more years old. Bush also aims to treat all information obtained from foreign governments as subject to classification and end requirements that agencies prepare plans for declassifying records. The plan also allows reclassification of now public documents and allows the CIA to ignore declassification decisions by an interagency classification appeals panel.