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Government Surveillance

Oakland Approves ‘Nationwide Mass-Surveillance System’, Agrees to Install 480 New Cameras

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The California city of Oakland has approved a plan to install 480 surveillance cameras equipped with automatic license plate readers in an effort to fight rising crime in the city. Most of the cameras, 290, will be deployed inside the city while the remaining 180 will be placed on freeways.

The cameras will provide law enforcement with the ability to track vehicles as they drive around the area, and can track them using license plates, car type, color, decals, and bumper stickers.

“We’re equipping law enforcement with the tools they need to effectively combat criminal activity and hold perpetrators accountable,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Friday. “[We are] building safer, stronger, communities for all Californians.”

The initiative, funded through a significant contract with the private surveillance firm Flock Safety in collaboration with the California Highway Patrol, gained approval from the Oakland Privacy Advisory Commission in October. This decision marked a shift for the commission, which had previously recommended in 2019 that the city discontinue the use of automatic license plate readers.

Flock Safety, headquartered in Georgia, is a private company focused on establishing a nationwide surveillance network. One notable feature of its services is the option for users to integrate their cameras into this network, facilitating easy access for law enforcement agencies across the country. Co-founder Garrett Langley has expressed an ambition for 25% of all national crimes to be solved utilizing their network.

The company has gained traction in the Bay Area, with an increasing number of Homeowners Associations, including those in Oakland, opting to utilize Flock Safety for neighborhood surveillance. Flock Safety has already deployed cameras in 2,000 cities across at least 42 states.

Critics, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), have voiced concerns about the implications of Flock Safety’s system. They argue that the proliferation of its automatic license plate recognition cameras represents a form of widespread, unregulated surveillance. Additionally, they caution that the system could be exploited for investigations spanning state boundaries, potentially impacting areas like immigration and abortion cases. There are also fears that it could be utilized to monitor the activities of political activists or individuals attending certain religious services.

In a separate incident, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit organization advocating for digital privacy rights, disclosed that the San Francisco Police Department had been granted live-feed access to a network of privately owned surveillance cameras ahead of protests related to the police killing of Tyre Nichols in 2020.

The ACLU raises a significant concern regarding the Flock Safety system compared to traditional automatic license plate recognition cameras: the company retains captured images for up to 60 days. In contrast, conventional systems typically delete photos immediately if the license plate does not match any law enforcement or AMBER alert lists. New Hampshire has implemented a policy mandating the deletion of photos not resulting in a hit within three minutes, a move applauded by the ACLU.

While most cities in California experienced a decrease in crime last year, Oakland witnessed an 18% increase, particularly in robberies and motor vehicle thefts. However, the effectiveness of increased surveillance in reducing crime remains uncertain. Interestingly, among the ten most surveilled cities based on the number of cameras per 1,000 people, five of them—Washington DC, Chicago, Albuquerque, Detroit, and Memphis—are among the top 35 most dangerous cities in America, including two in the top five, namely Memphis and Detroit.

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Government Surveillance

FBI admits they interrogate Americans over social media posts ‘every day, all day long,’

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Government surveillance practices have come under scrutiny once again, as revealed in a recent encounter between an Oklahoma woman and some people claiming to be FBI agents at her residence. Rolla Abdeljawad of Stillwater was visited by alleged FBI agents who informed her that they regularly scrutinize social media posts, quoting their routine as “every day, all day long.”

Abdeljawad’s encounter with the agents was captured in a video posted by her lawyer, Hassan Shibly. In the footage, she can be seen requesting the agents to display their badges on camera, a request which was declined and not explained as to why they would not provide proper identification. Despite her reluctance to engage in conversation, the agents proceeded to inform her that Facebook had provided screenshots of her online activity.

Expressing her concerns, Abdeljawad questioned the erosion of free expression rights, to which one agent replied affirmatively, stating their objective was to ensure public safety rather than to make arrests.

While the specific posts that caught the alleged FBI’s attention remain undisclosed, Abdeljawad had been vocal on social media regarding the conflict in Gaza, referring to Israel as “Israhell” and expressing solidarity with Palestine. In one post, she denounced what she called “Israhelli terrorist filth” and advocated for the destruction of Zionists.

Abdeljawad had also warned her social media followers, particularly those in the Muslim and pro-Palestinian communities, about potential government monitoring of their online activities. She cautioned against complacency and urged vigilance, claiming that the community was under surveillance.

The incident raises questions about the extent of government surveillance and the role of social media companies in colluding and providing said information to the government. Meta, Facebook’s parent company, has a policy of cooperating with law enforcement agencies under specific circumstances, such as court orders or emergencies involving imminent harm.

Abdeljawad’s lawyer, Hassan Shibly, commended her decision not to engage with the agents without legal representation and emphasized the importance of exercising one’s rights in such situations. However, he did caution against interacting with law enforcement without legal counsel present.

The encounter serves as a reminder of the delicate balance between national security interests and individual privacy rights, prompting concerns about the scope and implications of government surveillance practices in the digital age.

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Government Surveillance

U.S. Federal Authorities Order Google to Handover User Data of People Who Watched Specific Videos on YouTube

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U.S. federal authorities have ordered Google to provide information described as; names, addresses, telephone numbers, and user activities on individuals who viewed specific YouTube videos, according to unsealed court documents revealed to Forbes.

There are significant concerns among privacy advocates regarding government requests that may infringe on the privacy of US citizens. One such instance involves undercover agents investigating a user suspected of money laundering through Bitcoin sales. They sent links to YouTube tutorials on drone mapping and augmented reality to gather evidence. Subsequently, Google was ordered to disclose the identities, addresses, phone numbers, and activities of all viewers of these videos, including those not logged into Google accounts.

In another case in New Hampshire, authorities demanded that Google provide a list of accounts that interacted with eight specific YouTube livestreams related to a bomb threat incident. This included a channel with a substantial subscriber base of over 130,000.

Google, as reported by Forbes, stated that they have a stringent process to protect user privacy and constitutional rights while assisting law enforcement. However, it is unclear whether Google has fully complied with these orders. Matt Bryant, a Google spokesperson, mentioned that they scrutinize each demand for legal validity and push back against inappropriate requests for user data.

The orders have raised concerns among U.S. citizens who feel these privacy concerns may violate the 1st and 4th Amendments, which protect free speech and guard against unreasonable search and seizures. Albert Fox-Cahn of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project criticized the trend of government agencies turning search warrants into digital dragnets, calling it unconstitutional and alarming.

John Davisson from the Electronic Privacy Information Center highlighted the sensitivity of online viewing habits, noting that they can reveal personal information such as political beliefs and religious views. He criticized the assumption that law enforcement should not access such data without probable cause, emphasizing the potential impact on privacy rights.

SOURCE: FORBES

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