A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘Law and Disorder’ tag

The Walls Have Ears

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It’s tough to avoid the gaze of Big Brother. As this article sent to me by Steven demonstrates, Big Brother even watches where he’s not supposed to:

KANSAS CITY, Kan.– The federal public defender’s office has asked for the release of 67 inmates from a Kansas federal prison and plans to seek freedom for more than 150 others because authorities secretly recorded conversations between prisoners and their attorneys that are supposed to be private.

Most of the federal inmates are being held on drug or firearms-related cases.

The practice first came to light in a prison contraband case during which criminal defense lawyers discovered the privately run Leavenworth Detention Center was routinely recording meetings and phone conversations between attorneys and clients, which are confidential under the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution. A court-appointed expert was brought in to independently investigate whether prosecutors had improperly listened to the recordings.

Once again we have a demonstration of the fact that the Constitution is nothing more than a piece of paper. It is incapable of enforcing the rules that it displays and thus powerless to stop individuals from violating those rules. Here is where constitutionalists tend to point out that while the rules were violated, now that the violation is known it is being corrected. To that I point out that the violation isn’t guaranteed to be corrected and, more importantly, even if the violation is corrected, those who are in prison because of those violations can never get the years of their life back (and will likely receive little in the way of compensation).

This is not to say that parts of the Constitution, such as the Bill of Rights, aren’t nice concepts but to point out that they are simply concepts. Far too often people, especially libertarians and conservatives, fall into the trap of attributing almost godlike powers to it. So while the Constitution guarantees certain protections against state surveillance, those guarantees aren’t actual guarantees and you must operate as if you are under state surveillance even when you’re in situations where you’re supposed to be legally protected from it.

Not Enough Slaves

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Senator Tom Cotton has a reputation for saying incredibly stupid shit. However, I think he may have outdone himself:

Sen. Tom Cotton on Thursday slammed his colleagues’ efforts to pass sweeping criminal justice reforms, saying the United States is actually suffering from an “under-incarceration problem.”

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“Take a look at the facts. First, the claim that too many criminals are being jailed, that there is over-incarceration, ignores an unfortunate fact: for the vast majority of crimes, a perpetrator is never identified or arrested, let alone prosecuted, convicted, and jailed,” Cotton said during a speech at The Hudson Institute, according to his prepared remarks. “Law enforcement is able to arrest or identify a likely perpetrator for only 19 percent of property crimes and 47 percent of violent crimes. If anything, we have an under-incarceration problem.”

The country with the highest incarceration rate in the world has an under-incarceration problem?

Moreover, Cotton’s statements about the inadequacies of law enforcers doesn’t add any weight to his argument. Assuming Cotton’s statistics are correct (which they probably aren’t), why do law enforcers only identify perpetrators in 19 percent of property crimes and 47 percent of violent crimes? Could it be that instead of focusing their efforts on crimes where individuals were actually wronged they are focusing their efforts on victimless crimes that are profitable for the department like drug crimes?

Moreover, even if law enforcers were able to identify perpetrators in a majority of property and violent crimes, why should that increase the incarceration rate? The purpose of justice is supposed to be to make a victim as whole again as possible. For example, if somebody steals a $400 television, justice would be for the criminal to repay that $400 value to the victim as well as any expenses incurred (including personal time invested) for finding the thief and bringing them to justice. If that happens, the victim is back to where they were before the theft and thus is as whole again as reasonably possible.

Incarceration doesn’t make victims whole, it merely locks a criminal away so they can become a slave laborer for the state or one of its cronies. So what Cotton is really saying is that there aren’t enough slaves to work the prison plantations and he believes that any form of prison reform will only worsen the situation. If his concern was actually justice, he would still seek a reduction in incarceration rates.

No Law Too Petty

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I give the United States legal system a lot of shit because I live under it. However, the United States doesn’t have a monopoly on the creation and enforcement of petty laws:

OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada agreed Thursday to hear the case of a woman who was ticketed and arrested after she refused instructions to hold onto an escalator handrail.

Bela Kosoian was in a subway station in the Montreal suburb of Laval in 2009 when a police officer told her to respect a pictogram with the instruction, “hold the handrail.”

She replied that she did not consider the image, which also featured the word “Careful,” to be an obligation. She refused to hold the handrail, and tensions mounted after she also refused to identity herself.

She was “taken by force” by the officer and another who had arrived as backup, according to court documents.

This case of a woman refusing to hold the rail on an escalator not only resulted in her arrest but has made it all the way to the country’s supreme court. Laws don’t get much more petty than that.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 20th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Risking Lives to Enforce Petty Offenses

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There’s no offense so petty that law enforcers won’t risk lives to enforce it:

In Bloomington, police topped 90 miles per hour in a chase to nab a driver whose car had a missing license plate.

In nearby Eagan, an officer reached speeds up to 107 miles per hour in hopes of catching a driver wanted for shoplifting.

State troopers chased a car at 115 miles per hour after spotting an air-freshener hanging from the rear-view mirror.

Over the last three years, law enforcement officers throughout Minnesota have overwhelmingly engaged in high-speed, high-risk chases for low-level offenses, a 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation has found.

An examination of more than 700 court cases since 2016 shows police officers, deputies and Minnesota State Patrol troopers chased drivers for non-violent offenses 95 percent of the time.

Not only is risking lives to enforce petty offenses far riskier than the payoff justifies but high speed chases are also unnecessary in a surveillance state.

Law enforcement departments throughout the country have invested heavily in surveillance technologies. Many cities are now covered with license plate scanners and those scanners are often sophisticated enough to identify the make and model of a vehicle as well as to uniquely identify a vehicle by bumper stickers and other external features. It’s quickly becoming impossible to evade law enforcement using a vehicle. This means that instead of engaging in a high speed chase, law enforcers could instead tell dispatch to track the vehicle using the expensive surveillance technology already in place. The suspect can still be arrested and innocent bystanders don’t have to be put at risk to do it.

But using tracking technology doesn’t offer the adrenaline rush that engaging in a high speed chase does so I can see why that option isn’t utilized very often.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 15th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Go Be Homeless Somewhere Else

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Minneapolis made national news because of its Hooverville. What didn’t get as much headline attention is St. Paul’s Hooverville. Fortunately for the government of St. Paul (but unfortunately for the homeless individuals) the lack of national attention has meant that it has more freedom to deal with its homeless encampment. The St. Paul Police Department distributed flyers that informed the individuals in the encampment that have to go be homeless somewhere else:

Late last week, St. Paul city officials said they were increasingly worried about how the onset of wintry weather was affecting a camp of homeless people at the base of Cathedral Hill, and hoped to come up with a plan for them over the next couple weeks.

Early Tuesday morning, they took action: police officers and workers from the Department of Safety and Inspections visited the encampment alongside Interstate 35E and handed out fliers.

“To protect your health and safety,” the flier told campers, “this site will be permanently cleared at 10 a.m. on Thursday, November 15th. You are required to vacate the site and not return.”

To protect their health and safety their community will dismantled and their meager possession will be taken if not cleared out by the deadline. Makes sense.

The flyers do promise the homeless individuals transportation to the handful homeless shelters in the area, which will appease the residents of St. Paul who want the homeless people gone but in a manner that won’t upset their conscious. However, if the homeless shelters were able to provide these individuals what they need, they probably would be using them instead of camping in tents in the winter. The homeless shelters in the Twin Cities are overcrowded and usually kick guests out in the morning so they have to find somewhere to hunker down until the shelter opens up again. But none of this matters because the existence of the shelters is only being mentioned on the flyers to make the act of destroying the encampment appear magnanimous.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 15th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Jim Crow Never Went Away

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If you ever need an illustration of just how stupid the average voter is, find a voter who is complaining about racist government policies and ask them how they plan to change it. 99 percent (a conservative estimate, it’s probably higher) of the time the voter will tell you that they’re planning to beg the government to change its policies. If you point out how stupid that idea is, they’ll point to the elimination of slavery and the striking down of Jim Crow laws as proof that their strategy works, which should prove to you that the person you’re conversing with is extremely gullible (on the upside you probably just found a buyer for that bridge that you’re trying to offload).

While the government has said that it eliminated slavery and Jim Crow laws, it really just changed some legal definitions. If you’re being held against your will and forced to provide labor, you’re not legally considered a slave, you’re legally considered a prison laborer. Likewise, there are no longer laws that overtly treat people differently based on the color of their skin, instead there are algorithms that do the same thing but provide plausible deniability:

But what’s taking the place of cash bail may prove even worse in the long run. In California, a presumption of detention will effectively replace eligibility for immediate release when the new law takes effect in October 2019. And increasingly, computer algorithms are helping to determine who should be caged and who should be set “free.” Freedom — even when it’s granted, it turns out — isn’t really free.

Under new policies in California, New Jersey, New York and beyond, “risk assessment” algorithms recommend to judges whether a person who’s been arrested should be released. These advanced mathematical models — or “weapons of math destruction” as data scientist Cathy O’Neil calls them — appear colorblind on the surface but they are based on factors that are not only highly correlated with race and class, but are also significantly influenced by pervasive bias in the criminal justice system.

As O’Neil explains, “It’s tempting to believe that computers will be neutral and objective, but algorithms are nothing more than opinions embedded in mathematics.”

For the record, when people were celebrating California’s decision to eliminate cash bail, I predicted that it would result in this outcome (although I didn’t predict the use of algorithms, I did predict that since the decision to let somebody out on bail would be the sole decision of some bureaucrats, nothing would actually change).

Plausible deniability is the staple of modern politics. A politician who wants to pass a racist policy just needs to make sure that race is never mentioned in their law and when the policy results in the politician’s desired outcome, they can claim that they had no way to predict such a result. Additional plausible deniability can be added by handing decisions over to algorithms. Most people think of algorithms as mysterious wizardry performed by the high priests of science and are therefore impartial and infallible (because, you know, scientists are always impartial and never wrong).

However, algorithms do exactly what they’re created to do. If you want a machine learning algorithm to perform in a certain way, you either write it to do exactly what you want or you provide it learning data that will skew it towards the results you want. When the masses wise up and realize that the algorithm is racially biases, you can just claim that the complexity of the algorithm prevented anybody from accurately predicting what it would do. Their ignorance will make your explanation believable to them and you can claim that you’ve now made improvements that should (i.e. won’t) lead to more impartial results.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 13th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Intended Consequences

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That didn’t take long:

FERNDALE, Md. — Two police officers ordered to remove firearms from a house on a “red flag” protective order fatally shot an armed man Monday morning in Ferndale, Maryland, police said. Anne Arundel County Police arrived at the house at 5:17 a.m. to remove guns from the home under a new law that temporarily allows for the seizure of firearms if a person shows “red flags” that they are a danger to themselves or others, CBS Baltimore reports.

Let’s pretend for a moment that you hate the fact that individuals outside of the government can legally own guns. You’ve advocated for every single overt gun control bill only to see your hopes and dreams mostly squashed by politicians who preferred to deal with issues that weren’t proverbial third rails. What could you do? If you’re observant, you would quickly realize that law enforcers have a track record of gunning down people, especially when they’ve heard the word “gun” shortly before an encounter. You could then combine that factoid with a piece of legislation that isn’t overt gun control. So instead of pushing a bill that would make standard capacity magazines illegal, you would push a bill that would give law enforcers the freedom to steal guns from individuals without due process by using the magical term “dangerous individual.” From there you would just have to sit back and wait for law enforcers to start killing gun owners.

I’m fairly certain this was the thought process that many advocates of Maryland’s “red flag” law followed. Not that they would admit it. But it’s certainly an obvious solution considering the leeway law enforcers are given to use deadly force.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 13th, 2018 at 10:30 am

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

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A fight breaks out in a bar and results in four individuals being shot. One of the suspects flees but the armed security guard at the bar manages to catch him and pin him down. He calls the police and when the police arrive they see that there is an armed black man. Can you guess what happens next? Exactly what you would expect… from the old slave patrols:

An armed security guard at a bar in suburban Chicago was killed by police as he detained a suspected gunman, according to officials and witnesses.

After gunfire erupted around 04:00 local time on Sunday, Jemel Roberson, 26, chased down an attacker and knelt on his back until police arrived.

Moments after police came on the scene, an officer opened fire on Roberson, who was black, killing him.

Law enforcers in this United States have a tendency to dislike unarmed black men so it should be no surprise that they also have no tolerance for armed black men, even when they do a law enforcer’s job for them by detaining a suspect.

Government Helping the Homeless Again

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The Kansas City Health Department discovered that a group of individuals were feeding the homeless and decided to step in and help those poor homeless individuals in the only way it knows how:

A coordinated wave of Kansas City Health Department inspectors simultaneously shut down large picnics across the city Sunday that were serving food to homeless and hungry people.

On Monday, a city health official said they trashed the food out of concern for public safety.

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It looked ugly Sunday. Home-cooked chili, stacks of foil-wrapped sandwiches, vats of soup and other food prepared by volunteers with Free Hot Soup Kansas City were dumped in bags and soaked in bleach to make sure no one went back to try to recover it.

Homeless individuals can’t get food poisoning if they starve to death!

Despite what health officials claim, this has nothing to do with concern for the homeless. This has everything to do with making the lives of homeless individuals so miserable that they have no choice but to go somewhere else. If they’re forced out of the city, city officials can claim that they solved the homeless problem and the morons who are gullible enough to believe bureaucrats will assume that all of the homeless individuals were given homes or otherwise provided for.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 9th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Making Surveillance Easy

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We’re only a few days away from yet another “most important election in our lifetime.” Since the Republicans are in power, the Democrats and their sympathizers are pissed and when they’re pissed it’s not uncommon for them to protest (Remember the last time they were out of power? They actually protested the wars that the party in power started! Those were the days!). Nobody likes it when people protest again them so the party in power wants to keep tabs on the people who might take action against them. Fortunately for them, most protesters make this easy:

The United States government is accelerating efforts to monitor social media to preempt major anti-government protests in the US, according to scientific research, official government documents, and patent filings reviewed by Motherboard. The social media posts of American citizens who don’t like President Donald Trump are the focus of the latest US military-funded research. The research, funded by the US Army and co-authored by a researcher based at the West Point Military Academy, is part of a wider effort by the Trump administration to consolidate the US military’s role and influence on domestic intelligence.

The vast scale of this effort is reflected in a number of government social media surveillance patents granted this year, which relate to a spy program that the Trump administration outsourced to a private company last year. Experts interviewed by Motherboard say that the Pentagon’s new technology research may have played a role in amendments this April to the Joint Chiefs of Staff homeland defense doctrine, which widen the Pentagon’s role in providing intelligence for domestic “emergencies,” including an “insurrection.”

A couple of years ago a few friends and I had the opportunity to advise some protesters on avoiding government surveillance. They were using Facebook to organize and plan their protests. We had to explain to them that using Facebook for that purpose meant that every local law enforcement agency was likely receiving real-time updates on their plans. We made several recommendations, most of which involved moving planning from social media to more secure forms of communications (Signal, RetroShare, etc.). In the end they thanked us for our advice, decided that using anything but Facebook was too difficult (which made me suspect that there were undercover law enforcers amongst them), and kept handing law enforcement real-time information.

The moral of the story is that government agencies pour resources into social media surveillance because it works because most protesters are more concerned about convenience than operational security.