SPYING IN PERSON
In late December, the Washington-based Partnership for Civil Justice Fund released documents — secured through a Freedom of Information Act request —that show how FBI counterterrorism agents collected and stored information on Occupy protesters nationwide, and aligned with regional counterterrorism outfits to conduct the surveillance. The revelations played in newspapers and websites from coast to coast, but came as little surprise to activists around Greater Boston. News of their being spied on broke way back in October, after the ACLU of Massachusetts and the National Lawyers Guild sued the BPD and Commissioner Ed Davis to obtain info related to past actions.
Those operations were conducted by the aforementioned BRIC, one of two known fusion centers in the Commonwealth that coordinates with federal agencies. As the ACLU document dump revealed, the center has collaborated with the Department of Homeland Security on these unconstitutional stakeouts. Their joint work has included — but is not limited to — issuing intelligence reports on peaceful protests by the likes of Code Pink, Veterans for Peace, and United for Justice with Peace — all of whom were named as plaintiffs in the ACLU lawsuit. As suspected, the BRIC was collecting so-called Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) on demonstrators and labeling participants (including late BU professor Howard Zinn) as "extremists."
In response to the discovery, the ACLU has claimed in reports that BRIC's operations violate both "federal privacy regulations and the BRIC's own privacy policies." Furthermore, they've worked with state lawmakers to submit an "act to protect freedom of speech and association." Similar proposals have died without much consideration in the past two sessions. This time, however, backers have proof of the chicanery in the BRIC activity reports. The bill states: "No state or local law-enforcement agency . . . shall track, collect or maintain information about the political, religious or social views . . . of any individual [or] group . . . unless such information directly relates to an investigation of criminal activities."
"If you have reasonable suspicion that somebody is involved in a crime, then you can gather information on them," says Gavi Wolfe, legislative counsel for the ACLU of Massachusetts. "But the police shouldn't be able to track and collect information about people exercising their religious and political rights. We have to remind them of that."
Sometimes, in order for Congress to pay attention, a respected military general must be outed for attempting to conceal some rogue blowjobs. The recent General David Petraeus scandal inspired senators from both parties to consider digital privacy. Some were justifiably shaken; despite deliberate attempts to shield their lust letters from outside scrutiny, Petraeus and his biographer playmate Paula Broadwell were cold busted by an FBI investigator rooting through their private emails on a whim, without court approval. This was the head cheese at the CIA. What chance would your ordinary adulterous congressman stand?
With Petraeus still in headlines, in late November the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill that would require authorities to secure warrants before scouring private email and social-media communications. Soon after, with those recommendations in mind, the full Senate forwarded a last-minute privacy package to Obama; but while the bill initially included a provision that would block law-enforcement access to private info online, that section was stripped before the bill advanced to the executive branch.