I want to follow up on my post last Thursday raising concerns about the way the Patriot Act will be used by law enforcement and the government against Occupy Wall Street protesters. This assertion is based on a long history of Patriot Act abuses - particularly pertaining to the prior targeting of anti-war, environmental, and anti-globalization protests.
As I pointed out, according to a report by the ACLU, there have been 111 incidents of illegal domestic political surveillance since 9/11 in 33 states and the District of Columbia. The report makes it clear that law enforcement and federal officials work closely to monitor the political activity of individuals deemed suspicious, an activity common during the Cold War – including protests, religious activities and other rights protected by the first amendment. The report also noted how the FBI monitors peaceful protest groups and in some cases attempted to prevent protest activities.
Before I get to the article, another concern protesters should have was illustrated by a bill in California (SB 914 - Vetoed by the Governor): police can seize and search your smart phones...and perhaps even download that information (or at least the FBI has such technology).
The legislation was a response to a recent California Supreme Court decision (People v. Diaz) allowing police to rummage through all of the private information on your smart phone as part of an arrest, including your text messages and e-mails. SB 914 would have clarified that an arrestee’s smart phone can only be accessed with a warrant, except in circumstances where there is an immediate threat to public safety or the arresting officer. The bill acknowledged that accessing information on a mobile phone – particularly smart phones that contain all kinds of personal, private information - is fundamentally different than searching an arrested person’s wallet, cigarettes or pockets.
So, while the revelations I want to share with you today are unrelated to the Patriot Act per se, they perfectly illustrate the point I was driving at...which were the inherent threats to privacy and civil liberties Americans, particularly protesters, now face.
The story that caught my eye was by Pam Martens or Counterpunch entitled, "Wall Street Firms Spy on Protesters In Tax-Funded Center".
Would you believe, as the article details, that $150 million of taxpayer money is funding a government facility in lower Manhattan where Wall Street firm representatives have joined the New York Police Department to spy on law-abiding citizens simply taking advantage of their First Amendment rights?
According to newly unearthed documents, the planning for this high tech facility on lower Broadway dates back six years. In correspondence from 2005 that rests quietly in the Securities and Exchange Commission’s archives, NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly promised Edward Forst, a Goldman Sachs’ Executive Vice President at the time, that the NYPD “is committed to the development and implementation of a comprehensive security plan for Lower Manhattan . . . One component of the plan will be a centralized coordination center that will provide space for full-time, on site representation from Goldman Sachs and other stakeholders.”
At the time, Goldman Sachs was in the process of extracting concessions from New York City just short of the Mayor’s first born in exchange for constructing its new headquarters building at 200 West Street, adjacent to the World Financial Center and in the general area of where the new World Trade Center complex would be built. According to the 2005 documents, Goldman’s deal included $1.65 billion in Liberty Bonds, up to $160 million in sales tax abatements for construction materials and tenant furnishings, and the deal-breaker requirement that a security plan that gave it a seat at the NYPD’s Coordination Center would be in place by no later than December 31, 2009.
The surveillance plan became known as the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative and the facility was eventually dubbed the Lower Manhattan Security Coordination Center. It operates round-the-clock. Under the imprimatur of the largest police department in the United States, 2,000 private spy cameras owned by Wall Street firms, together with approximately 1,000 more owned by the NYPD, are relaying live video feeds of people on the streets in lower Manhattan to the center. Once at the center, they can be integrated for analysis. At least 700 cameras scour the midtown area and also relay their live feeds into the downtown center where low-wage NYPD, MTA and Port Authority crime stoppers sit alongside high-wage personnel from Wall Street firms that are currently under at least 51 Federal and state corruption probes for mortgage securitization fraud and other matters.
In addition to video analytics which can, for example, track a person based on the color of their hat or jacket, insiders say the NYPD either has or is working on face recognition software which could track individuals based on facial features. The center is also equipped with live feeds from license plate readers.
According to one person who has toured the center, there are three rows of computer workstations, with approximately two-thirds operated by non-NYPD personnel. The Chief-Leader, the weekly civil service newspaper, identified some of the outside entities that share the space: Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, the Federal Reserve, the New York Stock Exchange. Others say most of the major Wall Street firms have an on-site representative. Two calls and an email to Paul Browne, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information, seeking the names of the other Wall Street firms at the center were not returned. An email seeking the same information to City Council Member, Peter Vallone, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, was not returned.
The project has been funded by New York City taxpayers as well as all U.S. taxpayers through grants from the Federal Department of Homeland Security. On March 26, 2009, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) wrote a letter to Commissioner Kelly, noting that even though the system involves “massive expenditures of public money, there have been no public hearings about any aspect of the system…we reject the Department’s assertion of ‘plenary power’ over all matters touching on public safety . . . the Department is of course subject to the laws and Constitution of the United States and of the State of New York as well as to regulation by the New York City Council.”
The NYCLU also noted in its letter that it rejected the privacy guidelines for the surveillance operation that the NYPD had posted on its web site for public comment, since there had been no public hearings to formulate these guidelines. It noted further that “the guidelines do not limit police surveillance and databases to suspicious activity . . . there is no independent oversight or monitoring of compliance with the guidelines.”
Read more here.
If that isn't enough, apparently the individual who did write the privacy guidelines for this operation (you can read this in the article) has family ties to both Wall Street firms AND the company that will profit off this very surveillance system.
So for those keeping score, the VERY same criminal enterprises on Wall Street that - through their recklessness and thievery - crashed the global economy and caused untold suffering to literally tens of millions of people, only to get bailed out by the SAME people they scammed...and are now making record profits 3 years later while record numbers are unemployed, living in poverty, and going hungry, are now using OUR MONEY to spy on us!
If that's not enough to make your blood boil, and run out to the nearest Occupy Wall Street (or whichever city you live in ) protests I don't know what will. This story really has it all, from taxpayer fraud to intrusive surveillance to the possible use of facial recognition technology to the creepy collusion of corporate and government authorities to subvert American's constitutional right to privacy and on down the line.
As Pam Martens aptly concludes, "Wall Street is infamous for perverting everything it touches: from the Nasdaq stock market, to stock research issued to the public, to auction rate securities, mortgages sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, credit default swaps with AIG, and mortgage securitizations. Had a public hearing been held on this massive surveillance sweep of Manhattan by potential felons, hopefully someone might have pondered what was to prevent Wall Street from tracking its employee whistleblowers heading off to the FBI offices or meeting with a reporter. One puzzle has at least been solved. Wall Street’s criminals have not been indicted or sent to jail because they have effectively become the police."
In many ways this story EPITOMIZES exactly why the Occupy movement is both just and righteous...and growing.