Category Archives: Civil Liberties

Why is Barr Sending Bureau of Prison ‘Riot Control’ Troops to Miami?

Attorney General William Barr is reported to be sending Bureau of Prison riot control troops to Washington, D.C. and … Miami.  I’m unclear if these are Special Operations and Response Teams (SORT), or Disturbance Control Teams, or something else — sadly we have so many different paramilitaries in this country that it is really hard to keep track.

Whichever they are, the fundamental idea is so broken that it almost seems pointless to look at its entrails, but after explaining why this is nuts in general, I’ll explain why it’s nuts in particular.

The idea is nuts in general, because it’s an almost inevitable rule that shows of force against generally peaceful protestors end in tears and tragedy.  Similarly, even a degree of restraint against an ugly mob throwing the occasional rock can pay off handsomly in saved lives and long-run peace. That doesn’t, however, mean police should, if they have the numbers, permit looting and arson, as those too have bad long-run consequences.  The problem with a lot of police presences around the country is that they’ve been too violent, not that they’ve been too ‘weak’. We have the videos to prove it.  And those are officers who, in theory at least, are trained to deal with citizens who are innocent until proven guilty.

Contrast that (desired) mind-set with the role of officers in the Prisons.  Prisons are places where the inmates have radically reduced rights.  I recall working on a pro se prisoner case as a law clerk more than 30 years ago.  The prisoner had alleged that during a prison riot he lay on the ground unmoving, but that an officer nonetheless came along and shot him in the back.  It turned out that circuit law precluded almost any claim a prisoner might make in a riot: for example if he had been standing, or hiding, or moving, his claim might be barred.  But claiming a constitutional violation for being shot in the back while lying face down unmoving in the open was not then precluded by 7th circuit precedent.  (I’d be unsurprised to hear that the 7th Circuit has filled that narrow gap by now.) So we let the case proceed past the government’s motion to dismiss and set it for discovery.  That is the mindset that Bureau of Prison riot control officers bring to a confrontation. Is that what we want to unleash on our citizens?  There’s no reason at all to think people habituated to treating anyone breathing as a target will be the least bit discriminating.

The idea of bringing people who for better or worse are trained at a particular kind of potentially indiscriminate violence onto our streets and unleashing them on our citizens would be madness in any but the most authoritarian regime.  Yet, this is only early June, who knows how deep rock bottom may lie.

In that context, speculating about why Miami and Washington, DC, are specially blessed seems almost besides the point.  But since I live just south of Miami, indeed in a county that outsiders often call Miami (it’s Miami-Dade), I have some interest in that question.

Let me start by saying I’ve paid a lot more attention to the news about developments here than in DC.  My sense, though, is that in Miami, and maybe to a very slightly lesser degree in DC, the police have behaved really well.  (And here in Coral Gables, both police and protestors had a very civil event.)  There was some protester or opportunist violence in Miami: five police cars were attacked, some destroyed, and a handful of business in the fancy Bayside Mall got looted.  But overall, given the scale of the protests, the primary disruptions were to transit and to traffic on I-95, which was blocked for hours. The police by and large seem to have handled all this with aplomb.

I gather there was some destruction in DC as well and (unlike Miami) numerous injuries to law enforcement personnel. At one point someone in the White House pulled the plug on the lights, and took Trump into a secure basement.  I presume this was out of caution, not a desire to emulate presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

It being the nation’s capital, and there being some fear running around in the White House, one can perhaps understand why someone there wants reinforcements.  But, why Miami of all places?  It’s not been perfect here, but it’s been a lot better than many other places.

So here’s some wild speculation:

Theory 1: The real goal is to create more violence. Team Trump is betting it’s 1970 all over again, and they want their Kent State to rally the base.  Thus, picking towns where there hasn’t been ‘enough’ violence makes sense.

Theory 2: DC gets the nod because it’s DC.  Miami because it’s close to Mar-a-Lago.

Theory 2A: The cities are close to where the relevant units are based (NB: I have no idea where they are actually based….)

Theory 3: DC is DC; Florida is an essential swing state and it’s suddenly slipping away.  The elderly vote has started to turn against Trump; playing the law-and-order card against ‘radicals’ (and those people), might win them back.

I’m open to other, better, explanations.  Bring them on, please.  Because right now it looks like cynicism overlaying evil.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Law: Criminal Law, Miami | Leave a comment

The Mailed Fist

Last night’s police violence summarized well here.  The images should disturb anyone.

Posted in Civil Liberties | Leave a comment

Masks and Freedom

You don’t often expect wisdom in the Miami Herald, but here it is, in the Weekend Section no less:

Masks are like shoes

Indeed, where are all the armed demos against the “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” signs?

Posted in Civil Liberties, COVID-19 | Leave a comment

I Take Back Everything I Said About the Cypherpunks Being Paranoid

Kevin Drum tips me over the edge:

This year’s Academy Award for the most pregnant use of an adverb goes to a Senior Administration Official speaking to the Washington Post about the homeless in Los Angeles:

We’re not rounding people up or anything yet. You guys in the media get too ahead of yourselves.

Quite so. All they’re doing is looking at cavernous storage facilities near the airport that might be used someday for rounding up the homeless. Why is everyone getting so upset already?

Posted in Civil Liberties, Trump | Leave a comment

Sean Shaw Can Give a Great Speech

Sean Shaw is running for Attorney General of Florida.  I had the pleasure of hearing Sean Shaw give a terrific speech yesterday.

(Apologies to those who hate portrait-mode video.)

Sean Shaw’s father, by the way, was Florida Chief Justice Leander Shaw.

Posted in 2018 Election, Civil Liberties, Florida | Leave a comment

10 Things You Can Do to Protect e-Privacy & Autonomy

At UM’s Data Privacy Day event I made 10 suggestions about what you can do to protect your e-privacy and autonomy.  Here they are:

  1. Trust cyber-civil liberties NGOs like EFF to recommend things to use and to do. If you take away nothing else, remember this URL: Eff.org.
    1. Use EFF’s Privacy Badger browser plugin.
    2. Take their audit – Panopticlick – of how unique your browser fingerprint is.  Unique fingerprints are a way you can be tracked. Block cookies and super-cookies.
    3. Use their Https Everywhere tool
    4. Find the EFF surveillance self-defense guide. It offers advice tailored for different groups that might have greater / lesser needs for privacy/defense (e.g. LGBTQ, activists, journalists, lawyers, activists).
  2. Use VPNs — virtual private networks.  And only use good ones – be careful about jurisdiction and policies:
    1. The UM off-campus VPN is a valuable service, and good to protect against third parties … but not against UM. Does UM log your usage? Do they record your originating IP#? The sites you visit? Despite some frantic Google searches, I can’t tell — it seems they don’t say. I think therefore you have to assume they do. And if were the UM General Counsel my first instinct would probably be to say they need to do the logging to protect themselves.
    2. Is your VPN service dirt-cheap or free? Does the service cost only a few dollars for a lifetime service? There’s probably a reason for that and your browsing history may be the actual product that the company is selling to others.
        1. Look for establishment in a democratic country with a strong commitment to the rule of law.  Without that, even the best promises in the Terms of Service (ToS) to not log web page access OR IP# and access times is meaningless.  Note that many, probably most, VPNs in most other countries are required to do some logging.https://it.miami.edu/a-z-listing/virtual-private-network/index.html
        2. Does the VPN promise to prevent DNS leakage to your ISP?
        3. Ideally, the VPN should support IPv6 as well as IPv4 to prevent leakage when the remote site is on IPv6. This will become more important in the future as more and more sites move to IPv6.
  3. Use Tor as much as possible.  (But see #8 below.)
  4. Inspect your browser settings on your phone and computer to set max privacy options (including blocking 3rd party cookies and enabling Do Not Track).  Use a privacy hardened browser on your phone such as the Warp browser.  On both computer and phone always use a search engine such as Duckduckgo that will not track you.
  5. Encrypt every drive, every email (when possible), and especially all cloud-stored data before uploading it.
  6. Get a password manager and use it – never re-use a password. Use 2-factor authentication for google, other services that support it. (Only 10% of google users do!)
  7. Don’t put any apps on your phone that connect to anything financial (due to risk of ID theft if phone stolen).
  8. Lobby UM to make it easier to use VPNs and Tor, on both the wired and wireless networks.  Ask UM to be more transparent about what cookies its web pages set and what they track and record.  And, importantly, ask UM to not require you take every single UM cookie in order to use the “remember me for 30 days” feature of its authentication app DUO.  Also, ask UM to promise that it has your back, and that it will challenge any request for your data to the maximum extent the law allows (right now it makes no such promises at all; even National Security letters are sometimes withdrawn if the data-holding entity says it will go to court to ask for it to be reviewed).
  9. Lobby for privacy laws that limit data collection – once data are collected major First Amendment issues come into play, making it hard to limit use and re-use of accurate data. Also lobby to stop the US government secretly introducing vulnerabilities into fundamental crypto standards.
  10. Resist the frame: understand that the true definition of the ‘greater good’ is one in which the individual is able to flourish. Remember that ‘terrorist’ is a label that fits best after conviction – before that what we have is a ‘suspect’; conceivably any of us can be a suspect. So arguments that we should control crypto or prevent privacy in order to give law enforcement access to all our data when they decide they need it should be viewed with great caution and a firm eye on how the powers they want could be misused by them or by others who get hold of their tools. And even if we someday find ourselves in a world where things have gone badly wrong, and we do find ourselves subject to pervasive surveillance, follow Vaclav Havel, who in his great work ‘Living in Truth’ reminded us that so long as we choose not to self-censor we have chosen not to surrender a key part of our freedom.

(Some links added after original posting)

Posted in Cryptography, Internet, Law: Privacy, Surveillance, Talks & Conferences | 1 Comment