One of the most fascinating results of the election is how the two political camps in this country have switched roles. Opposing the president, the need to restrain the State’s power, and secession were the topics of the Republicans for eight years. Now the Republicans are happy as can be because their guys are in office and the Democrats are talking about opposing the president, the need to restrain the State’s power, and secession:

In 2018, the issue of whether California should secede from the union could come to a head.

Yes California Independence Campaign, a fringe political group that calls for the state to become an independent nation, filed a proposed ballot measure with the Attorney General’s Office on November 21, The Sacramento Bee reports.

If it garners the half a million signatures required to appear on the 2018 gubernatorial ballot, the measure would strike language from the state constitution that would help clear a path to secession.

I know this won’t go anywhere but I’m going to allow myself to dream a little here.

I’ve often said that if any state started to become serious about secession I’d probably move there and help out. California is an exception to that sentiment though. Of all the states in the nation California is probably my least favorite. Freedom is all but illegal there. However, I still fully support California’s secession. Removing the most statist state from the United States can only be beneficial for those of us living here. So I’m willing to help move efforts along in any way I can outside of moving there.

Karma is a Bitch

A few months back Geofeedia was discovered to be buying user data on social networking sites and selling it to law enforcers. Needless to say, this didn’t go over well with anybody but law enforcers. Most of the social networking sites cut Geofeedia off. Apparently surveillance was the company’s only revenue stream because the company announced that it laid off half of its staff:

Chicago-based Geofeedia, a CIA-backed social-media monitoring platform that drew fire for enabling law enforcement surveillance, has let go 31 of its approximately 60 employees, a spokesman said Tuesday.


Geofeedia cut the jobs, mostly in sales in the Chicago office, in the third week of October, the spokesman said. It has offices in Chicago, Indianapolis and Naples, Fla. The cuts were first reported by Crain’s Chicago Business.

An emailed statement attributed to CEO Phil Harris said Geofeedia wasn’t “created to impact civil liberties,” but in the wake of the public debate over their product, they’re changing the company’s direction.

You have to love the claim that Geofeedia wasn’t created to impact civil libertarians even though the company’s only product was selling data to law enforcers. When you make yourself part of the police state you implicitly involve yourself in impacting civil liberties. I really hope the company goes completely bankrupt over this.

It’s also nice to see services like Facebook and Twitter cut off companies involved in surveillance. One of my biggest concerns is the way private surveillance becomes public surveillance. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that private surveillance companies stand to profit heavily by handing over their data to the State.

The Totality of the Situation

The line separating lethal and nonlethal force seems clear enough. Something that has a high probability of killing somebody, such as a gun or knife, is lethal whereas something that has a low probability of killing somebody, such as a punch to the gut or pepper spray, is nonlethal. But all too often people don’t consider the totality of the situation (a favorite phrase of cop apologists trying to excuse what appears to be obviously egregious behavior by an officer). Consider this story about the pipeline protests in North Dakota:

Tear gas was used to disperse a crowd of 400 protesters at the Dakota Access Pipeline late Sunday after clashes that authorities described as a “riot” prompted by “very aggressive” activists.

A law enforcement officer was hit on the head by a thrown rock during the confrontation, Morton County Sheriff’s Office said in an update at 1 a.m. local time (2 a.m. ET).

Videos posted to Facebook by activists showed authorities spray a continuous stream of water over demonstrators in below-freezing temperatures but sheriff’s spokesman Rob Keller told NBC News that no water cannon were deployed. He said the water was being sprayed from a fire truck to control blazes as they were being set by activists.


“Officers on the scene are describing protesters’ actions as very aggressive,” the release noted. “In order to keep protesters from crossing the bridge, law enforcement have utilized less-than-lethal means, including launching CS gas.”

In spite of what the police claimed, the videos and images from the protest make it clear that they were deliberately spraying the protesters with water cannons, not putting out fires. Even considering that normally water cannons are considered nonlethal because spraying somebody with a water cannon isn’t likely to kill them. However, at the time of this police action temperatures in the area were below freezing and anybody who lives up here in the northern states knows that hypothermia can become lethal quickly.

If we’re supposed to consider the “totality of the situation” when police officers do something seemingly terrible then police officers should be held to the same standard. Driving out firetrucks with the intention of spraying down protesters in below freezing weather is lethal force. The officers might as well have opened fire with rifles. They certainly don’t have grounds to claim they were utilizing less-than-lethal means.

The Surveillance State Hidden in Plain Sight

Everybody should have been suspicious of the giant unadorned building in New York City that looks like something ripped right out of the 1984 movie. As it turns out the building’s appearance betrays its purpose as it is part of the Orwellian surveillance state:

THEY CALLED IT Project X. It was an unusually audacious, highly sensitive assignment: to build a massive skyscraper, capable of withstanding an atomic blast, in the middle of New York City. It would have no windows, 29 floors with three basement levels, and enough food to last 1,500 people two weeks in the event of a catastrophe.

But the building’s primary purpose would not be to protect humans from toxic radiation amid nuclear war. Rather, the fortified skyscraper would safeguard powerful computers, cables, and switchboards. It would house one of the most important telecommunications hubs in the United States — the world’s largest center for processing long-distance phone calls, operated by the New York Telephone Company, a subsidiary of AT&T.


Documents obtained by The Intercept from the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden do not explicitly name 33 Thomas Street as a surveillance facility. However — taken together with architectural plans, public records, and interviews with former AT&T employees conducted for this article — they provide compelling evidence that 33 Thomas Street has served as an NSA surveillance site, code-named TITANPOINTE.

Inside 33 Thomas Street there is a major international “gateway switch,” according to a former AT&T engineer, which routes phone calls between the United States and countries across the world. A series of top-secret NSA memos suggest that the agency has tapped into these calls from a secure facility within the AT&T building. The Manhattan skyscraper appears to be a core location used for a controversial NSA surveillance program that has targeted the communications of the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and at least 38 countries, including close U.S. allies such as Germany, Japan, and France.

TITANPOINTE? Again, we have a National Security Agency (NSA) codename that sounds really stupid. Considering how obvious they were trying to be with the building design and such were I the NSA I’d have just called the project BIGBROTHER.

TITANPOINTE appears to be another example of the public-private surveillance partnership I periodically bring up. While all of the cellular providers are in bed with the State to some extent, AT&T appears to have a very special relationship with the NSA. From Room 641A to 33 Thomas Street we have seen AT&T grant the NSA complete access to its services. This means that any surveillance performed by AT&T, which is often considering “safe” surveillance by many libertarians because it’s done by a private entity, becomes NSA surveillance without so much as a court order. Since your phone calls and text messages are available to AT&T they’re also available to the NSA.

Fortunately, you can take some measures to reduce the information available to AT&T and the NSA. While standard phone calls and text messages are insecure, there are several secure communication tools available to you. Apple’s iMessage is end-to-end encrypted (but if you backup to iCloud your messages are backed up in plaintext and therefore available to Apple) as are WhatsApp and Signal. I generally recommend Signal for secure messaging because it’s easy to use, the developers are focused on providing a secure service, and it has a desktop application so you can use it from your computer. None of these applications are magic bullets that will fix all of your privacy woes but they will reduce the amount of information AT&T and the NSA can harvest from their position in the communication routing system.

Concealing a Cellular Interceptor in a Printer

As a rule technology improves. Processors become faster, storage space becomes more plentiful, and components become smaller. We’ve seen computers go from slow machines with very little storage that were as big as a room to tiny little powerhouses with gigabytes of storage that fit in your pocket. Cellular technology is no different. Cellular inceptors, for example, can now be concealed in a printer:

Stealth Cell Tower is an antagonistic GSM base station in the form of an innocuous office printer. It brings the covert design practice of disguising cellular infrastructure as other things – like trees and lamp-posts – indoors, while mimicking technology used by police and intelligence agencies to surveil mobile phone users.


Stealth Cell Tower is a Hewlett Packard Laserjet 1320 printer modified to contain and power components required implement a GSM 900 Base Station.

These components comprise:

  • BladeRF x40
  • Raspberry Pi 3
  • 2x short GSM omnidirectional antennae with magnetic base
  • 2x SMA cable
  • Cigarette-lighter-to-USB-charger circuit (converting 12-24v to 5v)
  • 1x USB Micro cable (cut and soldered to output of USB charger)
  • 1x USB A cable (cut and soldered to printer mainboard)

The HP Laserjet 1320 was chosen not only for its surprisingly unmentionable appearance but also because it had (after much trial and error) the minimal unused interior volumes required to host the components. No cables, other than the one standard power-cord, are externally visible. More so, care has been taken to ensure the printer functions normally when connected via USB cable to the standard socket in the rear.

It’s an impressive project that illustrates a significant problem. Cellular interceptors work because the protocols used by the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) standard are insecure. At one time this probably wasn’t taken seriously because it was believed that very few actors had the resources necessary to build equipment that could exploit the weaknesses in GSM. Today a hobbyist can buy such equipment for a very low price and conceal it in a printer, which means inserting an interceptor into an office environment is trivial.

Fortunate, Long-Term Evolution (LTE) is a more secure protocol. Unfortunate, most cell phones don’t use LTE for phones calls and text messages. Until everything is switched over to LTE the threat posed by current cellular interceptors should not be taken lightly.

Jeronimo Yanez Being Charged in the Death of Philando Castile

In July Philando Castile was killed during a traffic stop by Officer Jeronimo Yanez. One of the things that made this shooting different is that Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, live streamed the aftermath of the shooting. Another thing that made this shooting different is the fact that Castile had a carry permit so the usual go to justifications used by cop apologists, such as claiming the victim had a history of violence, couldn’t be used to excuse the shooting.

Yesterday, in a rather surprising turn of events considering the history of officer involved shootings, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced that Yanez would be charged:

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced Wednesday that he has charged police officer Jeronimo Yanez in the July 6 killing of Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights.

Yanez is charged by the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office with second-degree manslaughter and two felony counts for dangerous discharge of a firearm near the passengers in the car at the time of the shooting.

You can read the filed charges here [PDF]. The evidence, which includes the dashcam footage from the officer’s car, brought fourth by the prosecution team is pretty damning. According to the filing between 9:05:52 PM and 9:05:55 PM Castile calmly informed Yanez that he was carrying a firearm. By 9:06:02 PM Yanez had unloaded seven rounds into Castile. Further reading shows that the firearm Castile was carrying was still firmly in his pocket as the medical team removed it when they were placing him on a backboard.

I’m sure this case will get a decent amount of coverage but I’ll do my best to keep everybody updated regardless.

I also think that it’s important to discuss the matter of how permit holders should handle themselves when interacting with the police. In Minnesota you are not required to divulge the fact that you’re carrying a firearm to an officer unless they specifically ask you if you’re carrying. There are two schools of thought on how permit holders should respond if pulled over by an officer. The first school of thought is that you should, as a courtesy, voluntarily inform the officer that you’re carrying and ask them how they want you to proceed. The second school of though, which I subscribe to, is that you should keep your mouth shut unless the officer asks if you’re carrying. Castile’s death illustrates one of the risks of voluntarily divulging such information as it seems that immediately after being informed Yanez went from calm to trigger happy. You have to decide how you will handle interactions with police officers yourself but I would prefer if you made the decision after being informed of the risks.

You’re the Product, Not the Customer

If you’re using an online service for free then you’re the product. I can’t drive this fact home enough. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter make their money by selling the information you post. And, unfortunately, they’ll sell to anybody, even violent gangs:

The FBI is using a Twitter tool called Dataminr to track criminals and terrorist groups, according to documents spotted by The Verge. In a contract document, the agency says Dataminr’s Advanced Alerting Tool allows it “to search the complete Twitter firehose, in near real-time, using customizable filters.” However, the practice seems to violate Twitter’s developer agreement, which prohibits the use of its data feed for surveillance or spying purposes.

This isn’t the first time that a company buying access to various social media feeds has been caught selling that information to law enforcers. Earlier this year Geofeedia was caught doing the same thing. Stories like this show that there’s no real divider between private and government surveillance. You should be guarding yourself against private surveillance as readily as you guard against government surveillance because the former becomes the latter with either a court order or a bit of money exchanging hands.

Will Dataminr have its access revoked like Geofeedia did? Let’s hope so. But simply cutting off Dataminr won’t fix the problem since I guarantee there are a bunch of other companies providing the same service. The only way to fix this problem is to stop using social media sites for activities you want to keep hidden from law enforcers. Don’t plan your protests on Facebook, don’t try to coordinate protest activity using Twitter, and don’t post pictures of your protest planning sessions on Instagram. Doing any of those things is a surefire way for law enforcers to catch wind of what you’re planning before you can execute your plan.

They’re the Only Ones with Enough Training

Many advocates for gun control really don’t want gun control, they want to give law enforcers and the military a monopoly on possessing firearms. When you point out this hypocritical stance gun control advocates are quick to claim that those two groups of individuals are the only ones with enough training to responsibly own and carry firearms. However, despite their claims, we keep reading stories like this:

AUBURN, MI — A teacher was struck by a bullet when a Bay County Sheriff’s deputy fired a gun inside a high school classroom last week.

The shooting occurred at about 12:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 11, inside Bay City Western High School, 500 W. Midland Road. The deputy, a school resource officer, was in a room by himself when he negligently discharged a gun, said Michigan State Police Special 1st Lt. David Kaiser.

The bullet went through at least one wall and struck a female teacher in an adjacent room, Kaiser said.

“The teacher was struck in the neck area, but she was not injured,” Kaiser said. “The round did not break the skin.”

Why was the officer playing with his firearm? Even rudimentary training would have taught the officer that you leave your firearm in your holster unless you need to use it. Failing to do is can lead to a negligent discharge that his some poor teacher’s neck with a bullet.

Time and again we see stories involving officers negligently discharging firearms. This either shows a severe lack of training in many departments or that officers feel as though they can disregard their training. The latter seems plausible because officers common avoid suffering consequences for bad behavior, which is part of why I find gun control advocate’s willingness to allow police officers to remain armed so hypocritical. As a non-police officer I usually have to face the consequences of my bad decisions. If I negligently discharge a firearm and hit somebody I will likely end up facing some kind of criminal charge and then face a civil lawsuit if I hit somebody. Officers seldom have to face such issues. That being the case, I am going to be safer on average with a firearm than most police officers.