Posts Tagged ‘surveillance’

Trevor PaglenThey Watch the Moon (2010)

“This photograph depicts a classified ‘listening station’ deep in the forests of West Virginia.

The station is located at the center of the National Radio Quiet Zone, a region of approximately 34,000 square kilometers in West Virginia and parts of Maryland.

Within the Quiet Zone, radio transmissions are severely restricted: omnidirectional and high-powered transmissions (such as wireless internet devices and FM radio stations) are not permitted.

The listening station, which forms part of the global ECHELON system, was designed in part to take advantage of a phenomenon called moonbounce.

Moonbounce involves capturing communications and telemetry signals from around the world as they escape into space, hit the moon, and are reflected back towards Earth.

The photograph is a long exposure under the full moon light.”

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“Grant agreements show that police in Windsor received $87,846 and the Niagara Regional Police Service received $81,976 to cover costs related to the Provincial Electronic Surveillance Equipment Deployment Program (PESEDP), an initiative to roll out unspecified spying gear in cities across Ontario, for the period from March 2017 to March 2018.

A separate invoice shows that Waterloo police had an active service contract with JSI Telecom, a company that provides data collection and analysis services for police and intelligence agencies around the world, through March 2018.

Police in Durham Region received $81,976, while police in Waterloo received an unspecified amount of funds to cover costs of the program during the same period.

Brenda McPhail, Director of the Privacy, Technology and Surveillance Project for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, finds the secrecy surrounding police’s acquisition and use of surveillance gear troubling.

“The absolute minimum we should be expecting from our police when it comes to invasive surveillance, is sufficient public disclosure.”

“The fact that we have secret processes to buy secret technology raises really serious concerns for civil liberties,” McPhail said in a phone call.

“The absolute minimum we should be expecting from our police when it comes to invasive surveillance, is sufficient public disclosure […] to be able to tell whether or not the tools are truly necessary, whether their use is proportionate, and what safeguards are in place [for their use].”

“We can’t know any of these things if everything happens in secret.”

The Waterloo Regional Police Service and the Niagara Regional Police Service both confirmed in emails that they participated in the PESEDP. Each told VICE News that the program ended in 2016. The Windsor Police Service declined to answer questions. Durham Regional Police Service and JSI Telecom did not respond to requests for comment.

Niagara police spokesperson Stephanie Sabourin wrote in an email that the equipment deployed under the program was used under Section 6 of Canada’s Criminal Code, which allows police to intercept personal communications. Sabourin said that Niagara police do not use “mobile device identifying equipment” as part of the program.”

– Nathan Munn, “Details about a secret police surveillance program in Ontario are emerging.Vice News, May 30, 2018.

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“Among many New York State prisoners, Attica has long been considered the worst maximum security joint to serve time in. Near Buffalo, about 350 miles northwest of New York City, which is home for most prisoners, it’s a haul for families to visit. Seventy-six percent of the 2,026 prisoners are black or Hispanic; the approximately 600 COs are mostly white. The wall, the skies, the mood—they’re all gray, seemingly every day. Stories about setups and beatdown crews have long reverberated throughout the prison system. Over the years, the Correctional Association of New York has documented harrowing tales of harassment, pervasive racism, retaliation against prisoners filing grievances, excessive box time in disciplinary hearings, and more.

But that was before video surveillance came to Attica. By April 2015, cameras were being installed throughout the prison—as of January 2018, there were 1,875 cameras and 915 microphones, according to DOCCS. “The cameras are a valuable tool in the ongoing battle against drugs and contraband in the State’s prisons, as well as an asset in investigations into incidents involving both inmates and staff,” a DOCCS official said, adding that plans were underway for the installation of additional cameras at other state prison facilities.

Cameras at Attica have provided an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability for corrections officers. And they’ve been followed closely by a remarkable occurence: Official reports of assaults on staff have dropped drastically. In 2014, the last year without surveillance, there were 64 assault on staff reports, according to a DOCCS report. The 10-year annual average was 50, and in no year during the period before cameras did the number drop below 30.

From May 2016 to May 2017, as cameras came close to being fully installed, incidents dropped nearly 80 percent from the last year without cameras, to 13. In about this same period, staff reported 40 percent fewer injuries than the previous year.

According to DOCCS, the decline of assaults on staff can be attributed in part to the cameras but also to several other recent initiatives, including additional training for security staff, de-escalation tactics, and a pepper spray program. These changes were introduced around the same time the cameras were being installed.

But I have a different interpretation of this data: Under today’s watchful eyes, Attica COs are less inclined to falsify misbehavior reports and make bogus allegations of assaults by prisoners than they used to be. They are also less likely to file false injury claims, which can result in months of paid leave at the taxpayers’ expense.

After reporting this story for two years as a prison journalist, gleaning data from official corrections reports, interviewing prisoners, COs, and the former superintendent, I can also say that cameras and microphones seem to have accomplished what once seemed impossible at Attica. They have begun to tame a violent us-against-them culture that formed decades earlier in the prison’s most defining moment.

The only question is, will the relative peace continue?

WHEN PEOPLE THINK OF BADASS AMERICAN PRISONS, they better think of Attica and the 1971 riot. Ever since, the prison has been romanticized—in Hollywood (Al Pacino in “Dog Day Afternoon”), in music (the other John Lennon’s “Attica State” or Nas rapping “I’d open every cell in Attica, send ’em to Africa”), in those iconic photos of prisoners in the yard, fists up (Power to the people!). The Attica uprising has also been demonized—lies told about the event, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Heather Ann Thompson, helped fuel mass incarceration. A state commission wrote in 1972 that the police assault that ended the uprising was, with the exception of late-19th century Native American massacres, “the bloodiest one-day encounter between Americans since the Civil War.”

I landed at Attica in 2007. Six years earlier, while caught up in the drug-dealer lifestyle, I shot and killed a man on a Brooklyn street. Soon after, I was caught, tried, convicted and sentenced to an aggregate term of 28 years to life—25 for the murder and three more for drug sales. Of my more than 16 years incarcerated in jails on Rikers Island and in maximum security prisons in upstate New York, I spent nine in Attica.

I was fortunate to get involved with programs at the prison that helped me change my life. In a 12-step meeting hosted by civilian community members in recovery, I got sober. In a privately-funded college program, I earned an associate’s degree. In a creative-writing workshop taught by an English professor, I learned how to write. I took to journalism and soon saw Attica as a never-ending story.

John J. Lennon, a journalist and prisoner at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, N.Y. Lennon, who is serving a sentence of 28 years to life, has been published in a number of major media outlets.

Still, it was a nasty joint. I’d served time in other max prisons, but only in Attica did I see COs make their own rules. Only in Attica were men subjected to random frisks entailing the infamous “credit card swipe,” in which a CO would run his hand up the crack of a prisoner’s ass. Only in Attica did they restrict prisoners to once-a-week law library access. Only in Attica was I limited to two showers per week (in other joints, it’s three.) Only in Attica did shirts, sweatshirts, even sweaters have to be fully tucked. (It looked ridiculous.) Only in Attica did COs constantly carry their batons strapped to their wrists, tumbling them in and out of their hands like yo-yos. It was unsettling to be walking the corridors with a CO right behind you, baton in hand.

Turn around and you got, "Eyes forward!”

Wrapped in more than a mile of wall are piles of brick that make up Attica’s five cellblocks—A, B, C, D, and E. At one time or another, I lived in every one of them. The action—between prisoners, between COs and prisoners—went down in the corridors, in the cellblocks (A and C were the worst), the foyers, the companies, and the yard. Until recently, none of these areas had cameras.

For the most part, discipline in Attica followed this drill: Head down, clipboard and pen in hand, a CO would speed-walk the tier, taking the mess hall and yard list. Prisoners who weren’t on their bars would miss the list and starve and go stir crazy. No mess hall. No yard. If a prisoner yelled a heads up that the officer was coming, or if there was loud singing, maybe a freestyle rap battle, the COs would cut off the electricity on the entire company.

Sometimes the officer would make it more personal, taking to the catwalk in the back of the cells and yanking out the electrical wires or pulling the fuse for a cell of a particular prisoner. The prisoner singled out for special attention usually got an “asshole” tag on the cell electrical panel in the COs’ station, meaning his cell likely wouldn’t open for mess hall or yard runs. If the guy was lucky, some passing friend would toss him a few ramen noodles from commissary so he wouldn’t go hungry. It’s called being “on the burn.” It sucks.

On rare occasions, a prisoner would lash out in response. This is what I believe happened when Shondell Paul stabbed two A Block COs in 2004. Back then, I was in Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora with his brother, Tajuan Paul. Tajuan, or “TP,” was my poker buddy, and we worked as porters. Together, the Paul brothers were serving more than 200 years for robbing and killing people at street craps games in Syracuse. What we heard was that Attica COs had been harassing and burning Shondell. He got tired of it. When his cell finally opened for a mess hall run, he had a 7-and-a-half-inch shank taped to his wrist. He casually walked into the foyer, slid the shank into his palm, and unleashed fury.

But calculated attacks like that were rare. When they happened, prisoners were happy to spread the news, as if they were celebrating a winning battle in the us-them war.

Most incidents were frustratingly reported by the prison rumor mill, and sounded a lot like this: Kenneth Harris, whose nickname is Justice, was nearly four years in on an 11-to-20 year sentence for robbery. After a disagreement with a favored prisoner, Harris said, it didn’t take long for C Block COs to red-flag him, especially since his pedigree indicated he was a Blood. On March 19, 2014, Harris’s cell opened, he thought, so he could help cut hair in the C Block barbershop, as he’d done a few times before. When he entered the cellblock lobby, he told me, COs told him to grab the wall. It was the so-called beatdown crew. They latched the foyer doors and posted officers at both ends of the corridor.

Then it went down—blows to the back of his head. Harris hit the deck, curled up and covered up. Then they put the boots to him, chipping one of his front teeth and loosening another.

I was in C Block when this happened. Beatdowns were so common and calculated, we’d hear them but never see them. I’d be in my cell, hear batons tap on the floor—clack clack clack—and then two bells like fire alarms. Then the boom of the boots, keys jangling, COs running to the scene.

“Stop resisting!”

“I’m not resisting!”

Then screams. Then silence.

Harris’s incident sounded like so many before and after. I’d become numb to them. Apathy provided a psychological safe space in Attica; it’s better to appear stoic and indifferent than shocked and empathetic. At first it’s an act. Then it’s not.

A lumped and bruised Harris was taken to the prison hospital, where he told a nurse about his teeth. Then it was off to the box. Two days later, he said, he was called out to the dentist, who bonded the chipped tooth and performed a root canal on the loose one. When Harris received the misbehavior ticket—assault on staff, weapon, and more—it said that while he was being frisked on the wall, a shank fell out of his waistband and as an officer bent to grab it, Harris kneed him in the head. Then, a report detailing the use of force claimed, three COs used strikes, mechanical restraints, and body holds to get a combative Harris under control. According to the report, the only injury Harris suffered during the incident was an abrasion on his left clavicle.

At the disciplinary hearing, Harris pleaded not guilty and tried to explain that he’d never seen the shank before and that the incident didn’t go down as described in the ticket. Nonetheless, he was found guilty and received 160 days box time, 200 days loss of privileges, and three months recommended loss of good time on his sentence.”

– John J. Lennon, “Spying On Attica.” The Marshall Project, April 9, 2018.

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Tiqqun, Introduction to Civil War, p. 158
Semiotext(e), Los Angeles 2010

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“None of us is sure to escape prison. Today less than ever. Police control [quadrillage] over day-to-day life is tightening: in city streets and roads; over foreigners and young people; it is once more an offence to express opinions; anti-drug measures increase arbitrarily. We are kept under ‘close observation’ [Nous sommes sous le signe de la «garde à vue»]They tell us that the system of justice is overwhelmed. We can see that. But what if it is the police that have overwhelmed it? They tell us that prisons are over-populated. But what if it was the population that was being over-imprisoned? Little information is published on prisons. It is one of the hidden regions of our social system, one of the dark zones [cases noires] of our life. We have the right to know; we want to know [Nous avons le droit de savoir, nous voulons savoir]. This is why, with magistrates/legal officers [magistrats], lawyers, journalists, doctors, psychologists, we have formed a Groupe d’Information sur les Prisons.

We propose to make known [de faire savoir] what the prison is: who goes there, how and why they go there, what happens there, and what the life of the prisoners is, and that, equally, of the surveillance personnel; what the buildings, the food, and hygiene are like; how the internal regulations, medical control, and the workshops function; how one gets out and what it is to be, in our society, one of those who came out.

This information is not in the official reports that we have found. We will ask those who, for some reason, have an experience of the prison or a relation to it. We ask them to contact us and tell us what they know [ce qu’ils savent]. A questionnaire has been compiled which can be requested from us. As soon as we have sufficient responses, the results will be published.

It is not for us to suggest reform. We merely wish to know [connaître] the reality. And to make it known almost immediately, almost overnight, because time is short. This is to inform opinion and to keep it informed. We will try to use all means of information: daily [newspapers], weeklies, monthlies. We therefore appeal to all possible platforms.

Finally, it is good to know what threatens us, but knowledge is also good to defend oneself [Enfin, il est bon de savoir ce qui nous menace; mais il est bon aussi de savoir comme se défendre].”

– “Manifesto of the Groupe d’Information sur les prisons,” from “43 YEARS AGO TODAY: FOUCAULT’S STATEMENT ON FRENCH PRISONS.” Feb. 8, 2014

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How did you get started working on poverty and surveillance?

I came up working in the Bay Area’s community technology center movements of the 1990s [which sought to expand access to computers and the early internet]. I was really excited about the possibilities of that work. But I also struggled to reconcile the utopianism of that moment with the reality of San Francisco in the 1990s. Public housing was being knocked down, the city was visibly whitening, and people were being displaced.

So I left San Francisco to escape a sort of personal, political crisis. I moved to a small town in upstate New York called Troy. And, coincidentally, I moved there just as the city decided to put all of their eggs in the basket of high-tech development.

You couldn’t escape it.

Right. And that was the question that I started asking myself. There’s something here I can’t escape. How am I going to make sense of it?

I started doing community technology work in Troy, working primarily with poor and working-class adults out of a YWCA. A lot of people were coming out of the prison system or out of recovery. And they challenged me deeply in the ways I was thinking about technology.

There was this idea at the time that the major inequality issue in tech was the “digital divide” — you know, low-income people aren’t interacting with technology so they’re being left behind. But the people I was working with told me, “No. Listen. Technology is totally ubiquitous in our lives. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” They were seeing tons of technological innovation, just not where I was looking for it. They were seeing it in the criminal justice system, in the welfare office, and in low-wage employment.

I had this conversation with a woman who I called “Dorothy Allen” in my first book. We were talking about her EBT [Electronic Benefit Transfer] card. She told me, “Yeah. It’s more convenient. It’s great to not have to carry around paper [food] stamps anymore. But also, my caseworker uses it to track all of my purchases.” And I had this look on my face, a look of total shock. And Dorothy said, “Oh. You didn’t know that, did you?” I did not. She said, “You all” — meaning middle-class people like me — “You all should be paying attention to what happens to us, because they’re coming for you next.”

That conversation, and others like it, is where my interest in technology in the welfare system came from.

Part of what I enjoyed about your book is how it lays out a continuous history from the poorhouses of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries — where the indigent were incarcerated and forced to work — to the high-tech containment of today. Can you trace that a bit?

I think we tend to talk about these kinds of technological tools as if they arose outside of history. Like they just fell from the sky. One of the major arguments in the book is that these tools were more evolution than revolution. They’re very much in line with the kind of punitive policy, processes, and tools that came before them.

There’s two moments I’ll draw your attention to. First is the scientific charity movement of the 1870s, which was deeply informed by eugenics and the desire to “breed” out the moral inadequacies that produce indigence. It kicks off after the fall of Reconstruction and the violent reassertion of white supremacy that took hold then. You see the rise of Jim Crow, the exclusion of African Americans in public life, immigration restrictions that are based on scientific racism, and the involuntary sterilization of poor whites.

This all comes out of a moment where social service technologies are changing really fast; indiscriminate giving is being replaced by what was called “scientific giving.” The first “big data” set in the United States was the Eugenics Records Office in Cold Spring Harbor. It was the public arm of the eugenics movement. They sent scientists out into the world to collect these very detailed family trees that tried to track how poverty, “imbecility,” “depraved living” — all these words that they used at the time — were genetically carried.

The second moment is the rise of the “digital poorhouse,” which began in the late sixties, early seventies, really, in response to the successes of social movements in opening up public programs.

The welfare rights movement.

That’s right. In the mid to late sixties, into the early seventies, the national welfare rights movement was having extraordinary successes. Particularly legal successes. Supreme Court victories in 1968, ’69, and ’70 made it impossible to discriminate against folks receiving AFDC [Aid to Families with Dependent Children]; they enshrined due process rights for welfare recipients; and they prohibited “man-in-house” rules that allowed caseworkers to raid the homes of poor women to look for evidence of male cohabitants. These victories came toward the end of the sixties, and by 1971 you see these new technological tools implemented. It’s a backlash.

And it’s entwined with the backlash against civil rights in general. Suddenly all these black women are receiving benefits, too. And welfare becomes firmly linked with being black.

There’s this deep, deep, deep connection in the American mind between poverty and being a person of color, specifically being African American. You don’t get a welfare system like the one we have without using race. In each of these systems, race has been deployed as a narrative, as an organizing method.

Meanwhile, technology became a way of smuggling politics into the system without having an actual political conversation. In the 1970s, with the promise of increasing efficiency, you start seeing computerization to detect fraud and tighten eligibility rules. We think the real anti-welfare backlash started with Reagan. But the drop-off really began in the early seventies. That’s when they started culling the rolls — using these technical means. Around 1973, almost 50 percent of people living under the poverty line were receiving some kind of cash assistance. A decade later, it dropped to 30 percent. Now it’s less than ten.

At the same time the government is scrutinizing caseworkers more closely, cutting down on their discretion. As surveillance of recipients increased, so did surveillance of frontline workers. They introduced much more punitive processes, with much less human connection. And that also has continued in the systems we see today.

That’s something that immediately struck me reading the book, how many intimate stories you tell about individuals on both sides of welfare provision. You’re rendering them as these really human characters, who are not just numbers.

That was a really important part of telling the story. My intention in the work that I do is always to start with the folks who are getting the pointiest end of the stick. It’s harder, in many ways, than talking to the administrators or the policymakers. It requires me spending a lot of time with people, developing trust and developing understanding of their situations. But if we’re missing their voices, we’re missing a huge part of what this new regime of data analytics is about.

Another reason for including those stories is that I really see recipients of public services and frontline caseworkers as possible allies. And in fact, there have been a lot of historical moments where that collaboration has been really threatening to the status quo.

For example, one of the things that happens in the 1960s is the New York City welfare caseworkers strike: eight thousand caseworkers strike on behalf of recipients and their own working conditions. They say, “We’re not going back to work until you treat them better.” That’s a terrifying moment for the system.

Do you see prospects for that kind of solidarity today?

I did welfare rights organizing for fifteen-plus years. One of the great challenges of the work is realizing that caseworkers are, indeed, the deliverers of the attitude of the system. And recipients often see them that way.

But many are also just one sickness, one period of bad luck away from being on public assistance themselves. And so there are a lot of horizontal lines there. It’s a difficult relationship, but they’re also natural allies in some important ways.

– Sam Adler-Bell interviews Virginia Eubanks about

Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor, “The High-Tech Poorhouse.” Jacobin. January 29, 2018.

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