Category Archives: ethics

Welcome to your new police state

I can’t tell you what we are doing because I signed a non-disclosure agreement

The issue led to a public dispute three weeks ago in Silicon Valley, where a sheriff asked county officials to spend $502,000 on the technology. The Santa Clara County sheriff, Laurie Smith, said the technology allowed for locating cellphones — belonging to, say, terrorists or a missing person. But when asked for details, she offered no technical specifications and acknowledged she had not seen a product demonstration.
Buying the technology, she said, required the signing of a nondisclosure agreement.
“So, just to be clear,” Joe Simitian, a county supervisor, said, “we are being asked to spend $500,000 of taxpayers’ money and $42,000 a year thereafter for a product for the name brand which we are not sure of, a product we have not seen, a demonstration we don’t have, and we have a nondisclosure requirement as a precondition. You want us to vote and spend money,” he continued, but “you can’t tell us more about it.”
The technology goes by various names, including StingRay, KingFish or, generically, cell site simulator. It is a rectangular device, small enough to fit into a suitcase, that intercepts a cellphone signal by acting like a cellphone tower.
The technology can also capture texts, calls, emails and other data, and prosecutors have received court approval to use it for such purposes.
Cell site simulators are catching on while law enforcement officials are adding other digital tools, like video cameras, license-plate readers, drones, programs that scan billions of phone records and gunshot detection sensors. Some of those tools have invited resistance from municipalities and legislators on privacy grounds.
The nondisclosure agreements for the cell site simulators are overseen by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and typically involve the Harris Corporation, a multibillion-dollar defense contractor and a maker of the technology. What has opponents particularly concerned about StingRay is that the technology, unlike other phone surveillance methods, can also scan all the cellphones in the area where it is being used, not just the target phone.

Wired Magazine named Harris Corporation the number 2 most dangerous thing on the internet right now.

The Harris Corporation and the U.S. Marshals Service are tied for going above and beyond to conceal information from the public, courts and defendants about law enforcement’s use of so-called stingray technology. Harris is the leading maker of stingrays for law enforcement, which simulate a cell tower to trick mobile phones and other devices into connecting to them and revealing their location. Federal and local law enforcement agencies around the county have been using the devices for years—in some cases bypassing courts altogether to use them without a warrant or deceiving judges about what they’re using to collect the location information. Why? They say it’s because Harris’s contract includes an NDA that prohibits customers from telling anyone, including judges, about their use of the technology. It’s hard to know who’s really initiating the secrecy, though—Harris, because it wants to protect its proprietary secrets from competitors, or law enforcement agencies, because they’re worried suspects will find ways to counteract the devices. The secrecy reached an extreme level this year when agents with the U.S. Marshals Service in Florida swooped in to seize public records about the use of stingrays to keep them out of the hands of the ACLU.

Even as Many Eyes Watch, Brutality at Rikers Island Persists

From the New York Times

On Sept. 2, four correction officers pulled Jose Guadalupe, an inmate classified in medical records as seriously mentally ill, into his solitary-confinement cell at Rikers Island and beat him unconscious.

A little over two months later, three guards wrestled another inmate, Tracy Johnson, to the floor, pepper-sprayed him in the face and broke a bone in his eye socket. Then, on Dec. 9, yet another group of officers beat Ambiorix Celedonio, an inmate with an I.Q. of 65, so badly that, as surveillance footage later showed, he had bruises and scratches on his face and blood coming from his mouth.

The brutal confrontations were among 62 cases identified by The New York Times in which inmates were seriously injured by correction officers between last August and January, a period when city and federal officials had become increasingly focused on reining in violence at Rikers.

It was in August that the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan issued a damning report about brutality at the jail complex and threatened to sue the city unless conditions there improved. And in November, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared that ending pervasive violence at Rikers had become a top priority for his administration.

But The Times’s examination makes clear that the violence has continued largely unabated, despite extraordinary levels of outside scrutiny, a substantial commitment of resources by Mr. de Blasio and a new team of high-ranking managers installed by the correction commissioner, Joseph Ponte, who took over the job in April.

This reminds me of the many conversations I had about jail with former inmates.  The stories are not all that dissimilar.  

Also: Some architects are wondering if the design of prisons themselves make them more violent.

Today, prison design is a civic cause for some architects who specialize in criminal justice and care about humane design. There is a lot of research documenting how the right kinds of design reduce violence inside prisons and even recidivism. Architects can help ensure that prisons don’t succumb to our worst instincts — that they are not about spending the least amount of money to create the most horrendous places possible, in the name of vengeance — but promote rehabilitation and peace.

F.B.I. Director Speaks Out on Race and Police Bias

From the Washington Post

The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, delivered an unusually candid speech on Thursday about the difficult relationship between the police and African-Americans, saying that officers who work in neighborhoods where blacks commit crimes at a high rate develop a cynicism that shades their attitudes about race.

Citing the song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” from the Broadway show “Avenue Q,” he said police officers of all races viewed black and white men differently. In an address to students at Georgetown University, Mr. Comey said that some officers scrutinize African-Americans more closely using a mental shortcut that “becomes almost irresistible and maybe even rational by some lights” because black men are arrested at much higher rates than white men.

In speaking about racial issues at such length, Mr. Comey used his office in a way that none of his predecessors had. His remarks also went beyond what President Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. have said since an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in August.

Mr. Comey said that his speech, which was well received by law enforcement officials, was motivated by his belief that the country had not “had a healthy dialogue” since the protests began in Ferguson and that he did not “want to see those important issues drift away.”

Previous F.B.I. directors had limited their public comments about race to civil rights investigations, like murders committed by the Ku Klux Klan and the bureau’s wiretapping of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  But Mr. Comey tried to dissect the issue layer by layer.

He started by acknowledging that law enforcement had a troubled legacy when it came to race.

“All of us in law enforcement must be honest enough to acknowledge that much of our history is not pretty,” he said. “At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo, a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups.”

Mr. Comey said there was significant research showing that all people have unconscious racial biases. Law enforcement officers, he said, need “to design systems and processes to overcome that very human part of us all.”

Rise in Murders Has St. Louis Debating Why

Murder is on the rise in St. Louis

Across from the Little Explorers Learning Center, diagonal to a crumbling house where heroin dealers and hangers-on often mill about, a garland of teddy bears adorns a telephone pole, a memorial to the latest victim to fall here at one of this city’s deadliest corners.

The victim was a 27-year-old man shot dead on Dec. 23, one of the last casualties in a year of surging gun violence.

“It’s nothing to get a firearm,” said Michael Shelton, who was badly wounded by gunfire eight years ago at this same corner, in the bleak Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood of north St. Louis, and is now determined to stay out of trouble. “I don’t know anybody who doesn’t carry or have easy access to one.”

Murder rates have fallen sharply in most of the country. But St. Louis is one of a few major cities, including Memphis and Washington, where the number of homicides jumped last year. It is also one of several cities, including Baltimore, Detroit, Gary, Ind., and New Orleans, where violent crime, concentrated in low-income minority neighborhoods, has remained stubbornly high, though down from the crack-driven peaks of the early 1990s.

So why is it happening?

Why St. Louis suffered a major setback in a year in which many cities saw further progress is hotly debated. By all accounts, the proliferation of guns among young men here is beyond control, turning petty insults, neighborhood rivalries and drug disputes into lethal melees of attack and reprisal that can occur in waves. There was a 33 percent rise in homicides last year, to 159, compared with 120 in 2013 in this city of 318,000.

Jennifer M. Joyce, the city’s circuit attorney, or prosecutor, an elected position, complains that in St. Louis, the illegal possession of a gun is too often “a crime without a consequence,” making it difficult to stop confrontation from turning lethal.

At the same time, deeper social roots of violence such as addiction and unemployment continue unchecked. And city officials also cite what they call a “Ferguson effect,” an increase in crime last year as police officers were diverted to control protests after a white officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager in the nearby suburb on Aug. 9.

The violence is not uniform. Nearly all the increase in murders in St. Louis last year occurred in eight neighborhoods, said Richard B. Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

So what is the solution?

But everyone — politicians to social workers — points to persistent causes including poverty, a youth culture that glorifies gun violence and what some say has been an unusually permissive legal response to guns.

“Ferguson didn’t help, but this homicide rate had been building,” Ms. Joyce said. She called for tougher responses to gun possession, which she described as an early warning sign of violence to come.

Missouri, with a strongly pro-gun population outside the big cities, has permissive laws including one that allows the carrying of a loaded gun in a car without a permit. When the police discover a gun in a car with several passengers, including some with felony records, but no one admits to owning the gun, criminal charges are often impossible, Mr. Rosenfeld said.

In addition, according to a 2014 study by Mr. Rosenfeld and his colleagues, a majority of those who are convicted of illegally possessing a gun but not caught using it in a crime receive probation rather than jail time. Gun laws and enforcement are stiffer in many other cities.

Besides focusing on guns, Ms. Joyce hopes to duplicate a much-praised program of the Manhattan district attorney, which tracks the most violent individuals and tries to make sure that, when they are picked up even for minor violations, they receive special attention from prosecutors.

Of course, there is only so much police can do.

More precise police work is well and good, said James Clark, vice president for community outreach at Better Family Life, a nonprofit social service group based in Wells-Goodfellow just two blocks from the notorious intersection of Arlington and Ridge Avenues, where the last murder of 2014 took place.

“But we’ve got to stop expecting the police to solve the crime problem,” Mr. Clark said, adding that only with a huge increase in social aid could a cultural collapse be prevented. “There is a void that the police can’t fill.”

Mr. Clark, a respected presence on the streets, is trying to help rescue youths and families one at a time, sending workers out to knock on doors and link people up with social services, from drug treatment to anger management to prenatal care.

“Our neighborhoods are resource deserts,” he said. “Every neighborhood needs a center with drug treatment, G.E.D. lessons, recreation for the kids.”

Murder seems to be the crime that police can so least prevent.  It seems like such an irrational and crazed decision to take another persons life that even police are helpless to prevent unless they are there right then.  

If I was in St. Louis, I would support more officers just as I would social resources.  People need hope and a community free of guns and cracking down on the guns will make things better but there is also something else at play in St. Louis and if there is such a willingness to take another person’s life over a minor thing like an insult, then that is something that police can’t change.

Where container ships go to kill other people

There aren’t too many places left in the world where the practice of ship breaking—scrapping old ships for metal—can still exist. These days, environmental and labor regulations in the developed world have displaced the practice to India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, where cargo carriers are salvaged for their steel.

The largest vessels wind up on the shores of the city of Chittagong in Bangladesh, where the industry has become a vital part of the country’s urbanization. It employs roughly 200,000 workers and supplies the country with 80 percent of its steel. Ship breakers beach and dismantle vessels daily wearing flip­-flops and T-shirts. It’s no easy task, considering ships are constructed to withstand the elements for the 30 years they spend operating on international waters.