In a little-known city program that critics say may be unconstitutional, cops join fire and building inspectors as they enter homes without a warrant and then arrest residents if they find anything illegal.
On a gloomy recent morning in West Oakland, tenants at the David Gray Building — or, Off-Ramp Studios, as everyone who lives there calls it — stood in the hallways outside their lofts. They gathered around their doors in nervous clusters and spoke in hushed tones, wondering aloud whether they should head to work or stay and observe while two Oakland police officers, two building services code enforcers, a fire inspector, and three property management representatives entered all of their units one by one.
Traditionally the entire procedure would have required a search warrant. But on this day, the group of cops and city officials were operating under a little-known Oakland city program, called “SMART” — Specialized Multi-Agency Response Team — that some legal experts say may be unconstitutional. That’s because they enter people’s homes without consent or a warrant.
WASHINGTON — Fighting homegrown terrorism by monitoring Internet communications is a civil liberties trade-off the U.S. government must make to beef up national security, the nation’s homeland security chief said Friday.
As terrorists increasingly recruit U.S. citizens, the government needs to constantly balance Americans’ civil rights and privacy with the need to keep people safe, said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
But finding that balance has become more complex as homegrown terrorists have used the Internet to reach out to extremists abroad for inspiration and training. Those contacts have spurred a recent rash of U.S.-based terror plots and incidents.
According to a graduate student’s research into the spying policies of major U.S. telecommunications companies, at a recent security conference a Sprint surveillance manager told a group of onlookers that half of all police requests include the target’s text messages.
Half of millions — including some 8 million automated, web-based requests for GPS location, all in just over a year’s time.
The revelation was made by Indiana University grad Christopher Soghoian, as part of his PhD dissertation published Dec. 1, 2009.
He attributes the stunning number to Paul Taylor, an Electronic Surveillance Manager with Sprint Nextel, who was speaking recently at the Washington, D.C. International Securities Systems conference, otherwise known as ISS World.
“Looking around at the name badges pinned to the suits milling around the refreshment area, it really was a who’s who of the spies and those who enable their spying,” he wrote. “Household name telecom companies and equipment vendors, US government agencies (both law enforcement and intel). Also present were representatives from foreign governments — Columbia, Mexico, Algeria, and Nigeria, who, like many of the US government employees, spent quite a bit of time at the vendor booths, picking up free pens and coffee mugs while they learned about the latest and greatest surveillance products currently on the market.”
According to Soghoian, it was during the telecom service providers roundtable discussion that Taylor dropped the bombs.
“[M]y major concern is the volume of requests. We have a lot of things that are automated but that’s just scratching the surface,” he said in an audio recording that has since been removed due to alleged copyright violation. “One of the things, like with our GPS tool. We turned it on the web interface for law enforcement about one year ago last month, and we just passed 8 million requests. So there is no way on earth my team could have handled 8 million requests from law enforcement, just for GPS alone. So the tool has just really caught on fire with law enforcement.”
New York Times
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday significantly cut back the ability of the police to search the cars of people they arrest.
Police officers have for a generation understood themselves to be free to search vehicles based on nothing more than the fact that they had just arrested an occupant. That principle, Justice John Paul Stevens acknowledged in his majority opinion, “has been widely taught in police academies” and “law enforcement officers have relied on the rule in conducting vehicle searches during the past 28 years.”
The majority replaced that bright-line rule with a more nuanced one, and law enforcement officials greeted it with dismay. “It’s just terrible,” William J. Johnson, the executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, said of the decision. “It’s certainly going to result in less drug and weapons cases being made.”
In a dissent, four justices said the majority had effectively overruled an important and straightforward Fourth Amendment precedent established by the court in a 1981 decision, New York v. Belton.
Justice Stevens denied that. The precedent of Belton had often been applied too broadly, he said. Vehicle searches should be allowed only in two situations, he wrote: when the person being arrested is close enough to the car to reach in, possibly to grab a weapon or tamper with evidence; or when the arresting officer reasonably believes that the car contains evidence pertinent to the very crime that prompted the arrest.
In the case decided Tuesday, Rodney J. Gant, an Arizona man, was arrested on an outstanding warrant for driving with a suspended license. He was handcuffed in the back of a patrol car while his car was searched.
The police found cocaine and a gun, and Mr. Gant was convicted on drug charges and sentenced to three years. The Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the search of Mr. Gant’s car had violated the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and suppressed the evidence against him. The United States Supreme Court affirmed that decision on Tuesday.