Update: NYPD Accepts Coins

A few weeks ago, I mailed the NYPD over $800 in coins to cover some court costs. Initially, it seemed that they refused the shipment, but I just received a check from the NYC Law Department for $8.05, presumably a refund from putting a few too many coins in the box (I got a little excited). Pleasure doing business, po-po! :)

No-Fly List Conclusion: Government Declines to Appeal, Full Order To Be Released (?)

If you’ve been following, I’ve been covering the case of Rahinah Ibrahim, the university professor who was accidentally placed on the no-fly list — which came with a whole host of other issues — because an FBI agent accidentally checked the wrong box. This woman was forced to go to court to correct this obvious mistake, because either the government was embarrassed or, perhaps, simply doesn’t care.

The case was a circus, with the government attempting to protect her inclusion on the list as a “state secret,” in addition to being classified. This argument was sternly rebuked by the judge. The government also blocked a witness for the plaintiff from entering the country. The judge’s ruling on that is largely redacted. In the end, the judge ruled in favor of Dr. Ibrahim and ordered that she be removed from any lists she found herself on as a result of the FBI’s error.

The government’s time frame to file an appeal has now expired, and so Dr. Ibrahim’s case is finally over. It has now been demonstrated that there is a right to due process with the no-fly list, and the government cannot simply take away your right to travel and say, “sorry, that’s a secret.” Those redactions may also be short-lived, and we may get a fuller story soon, as the judge found that his ruling should not be redacted and agreed to keep his conclusions a partial secret only pending appeal. It will be exciting to have the final pieces of this story laid out.

Is The TSA Finally Starting To Do Something Right?

Bomb-Sniffing Dogs Greetings from SXSW week in Austin, TX, where at the local airport I passed through security without taking my shoes off, removing my laptop from my bag, being groped, or having my nude body imaged using radiation. A sign indicated that bomb-sniffing dogs may be in use. Imagine that!

The first part of that was thanks to the TSA involuntarily giving me Pre-Check status. The result of having Pre-Check is that you’re treated like a normal person — like airport security used to treat people pre-9/11 — instead of like a terrorist. My only criticism is that it shouldn’t take paying money, submitting to background checks, or suing the government into submission in order to be treated like a person rather than a terrorist. The TSA seems to be rapidly expanding who it includes in Pre-Check, and perhaps will eventually include most of us. But, that still will leave, as per usual, foreign tourists, the poor (who fly infrequently and have more limited interaction with the government), and others who have no voice to protest the government in a situation where they are subject to the peak of TSA assholery circa 2011.

The last part of my walk through security — that notice about bomb-sniffing dogs — is much more promising than the government keeping a naughty-or-nice list of who gets groped and who doesn’t. I have been advocating for the TSA to use alternative (to scope & grope) technologies for the detection of non-metallic explosives for years now, and it seems that, perhaps, they are finally catching on to the fact that these alternatives are more effective, less invasive, and less intrusive — meaning there’s no reason not to use them. The TSA has continuously stonewalled in courts of law and the court of public opinion as to why they persist on using the scanners, stating that they know best and their considered national security decisions shouldn’t be second-guessed by the plebs, but providing zero evidence to back that up. I am thoroughly convinced that the evidence supporting the body scanners over the alternatives is not some sort of secret, but rather is entirely non-existent.

When the TSA does something right, it should be recognized, and so a rare thank you from me to the TSA for slowly taking small steps in the right direction. Please continue to expand Pre-Check to everyone who participates in the Secure Flight program (if you give your gender and date of birth when making a reservation, that’s you) unless there is a specific concern about an individual, and allow redress for those denied access to “normal person” screening. Most importantly, continue with the K-9 crews, as they provide meaningful, unobtrusive protection against explosives on airplanes.

Two Years Later: Scanners Still Broken

Two years ago marks the publication of my infamous video devastating the TSA’s arguments that the nude body scanners keep us safer. I demonstrated, on camera, one of many flaws in the technology that allowed me to take anything through the checkpoint undetected.

That flaw still exists today. So why are we still using these expensive, invasive scanners if any terrorist with half a brain could beat them? That’s a good question. Is it the questionable ties between the manufacturers and the government? Is it that the TSA likes shiny new toys and maxing out their budget? Is it that the government wants us to become accustomed to submitting to electronic body searches? Is it that the TSA is simply too embarrassed to admit that they wasted over a billion dollars?

There really is no good explanation as to why the TSA continues to use this technology. After having read through ten thousand pages of their documents and third party documents, it seems to simply be stubbornness absent a good reason at this point.

NYPD Court Costs Paid With 20,000+ Coins — Change We Can Believe In!

ReceiptOur “Change We Can Believe In” donation drive to cover $820.15 in costs due from my NYPD stop-and-frisk lawsuitdismissed by a judge who said that I couldn’t prove that the 4 men who detained and unlawfully searched me were actually cops — was a huge success and generated more than enough in donations to cover the fee. Mailed to the city last Thursday was over 16,000 pennies, plus nickles, dimes, quarters, half-dollars (had to order these off eBay — the mint apparently doesn’t circulate half dollars anymore!), and dollar coins, as well as a few small bills to make sure the exact amount fit in the flat-rate Priority Mail box (cost to ship incl. insurance: $25). The package came to over 60 lbs., heavy enough that the post office asked me to carry it into the loading dock for them.

The city, of course, refused the shipment, as online tracking confirmed today. I’ve let the city know that if they want their money, they can arrange pickup, otherwise, I will donate the change to local homeless people (I think it would be interesting to respond to, “Can you spare some change?” with 60 lbs. of coins :) ).

This is just a small part of the coins used in the final product...

This is just a small part of the coins used in the final product…

Box o' Change before the few bank notes were added

Box o’ Change before the few bank notes were added

The final box...

The final box…

A love note to the NYPD's attorney on the case...

A love note to the NYPD’s attorney on the case…

All set to head out to the Ministry...

All set to head out to the Ministry…

The Most Sued NYPD Officer: 28 Times in 8 Years, $884K Paid in Settlements

Det. Valentin -- NYC's Most Sued CopMeet Detective Peter Valentin. Det. Valentin makes approximately $125,000 per year, including overtime, for his role as a narcotics officer with the NYPD. In the last 8 years, this cop has been sued for violating the civil rights of the people 28 times, or about once every 3 months or so. The suits that have settled have already cost the city (read: the taxpayers) over $884,000, as exposed by the NY Daily News.

The fact that these suits were settled means that the city found them to be credible. New York doesn’t simply settle lawsuits to get rid of them if it thinks they can win, and as you may have noticed on my blog, goes through great lengths to convince the courts (often successfully) of some very creative defenses. Yet, despite the fact that the city has plenty of reason to believe that this cop routinely violates the citizens, Det. Valentin is still a member of the NYPD.

Although Det. Valentin holds the record for “most sued officer,” he is hardly alone. The top 12 most sued NYPD officers were involved in a total of 231 cases and have cost the taxpayers at least $7,709,071. All of them are still employed. And there’s another interesting anomaly: of the top 12, nine of them are narcotics officers. The “war on drugs” is, of course, responsible for the rise of the American police state moreso than any other factor, and brings us all of these “no-knock warrants” that leave 80 year old men shot in their beds, searches authorized by dogs rather than warrants, and “I smelled marijuana!” as the universal justification for police assholery.

Why is it that these men are allowed to continue to victimize the population? Possibly because despite costing the city $7.7M, in addition to their salary, narcotics officers bring the city significant revenue in the form of civil forfeitures. Perhaps the NYPD looks at these lawsuits, and the beatings and false arrests doled out to innocents caught up in the dragnet, as “the cost of doing business.” After all, despite the fact that these cops are sued personally, the city still picks up the tab, so there is zero reason for these officers to behave as long as they keep bringing in the dollars.

Sad.

The Day We Fight Back

The Day We Fight Back

Today is “The Day We Fight Back” against NSA mass spying — a day sponsored by a broad coalition including EFF, Demand Progress, ACLU, Reddit, Mozilla, Amnesty International and at least a dozen others. The goal: to flood the offices of Congress with e-mails and phone calls for a day with our demands: that our privacy, as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment, be respected once again. To participate, click the banner above. It takes about 2 minutes.

TSA Gives Me PreCheck Access… Without Asking

You can imagine my surprise when I received this boarding pass yesterday…

That’s right — the guy who sues, publicly humiliates, and fights before Congress the TSA now has TSA PreCheck, meaning that I’ll personally almost never encounter a body scanner or pat-down again.

I never asked for it, never opted-in, and had no notice that I was included. I intentionally avoided it because I don’t think it’s fair that one should have to do anything to avoid being abused by their government. Their inclusion of me in this program is further ironic since in 2010, when I filed a motion for a preliminary injunction that would require the TSA not to scan or molest me, the TSA argued that such an “ad hoc” exclusion would devistate the TSA’s inpenetrable fortress. But here we are in 2014, and the TSA has done just that.

How and Why

There are many ways that people can get PreCheck status, according to the TSA, the most common being allowed to opt-in as a result of frequent flyer status. I do have that status, but I’ve never opted in, so I assume this not to be the reason.

More likely is the TSA’s new “risk assessment” program, where the TSA somehow decides, based on information like your name, address, and travel history, that you must not be a terrorist. Perhaps this is how I’ve made it through.

Or perhaps the TSA simply thinks that if it keeps me away from the body scanners, I’ll shut up. Nope — what the TSA is doing is wrong, and it’s wrong whether they decide to give me special treatment or not. “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

U.S. Court of Appeals Orders Me to Take Down Blog Posts

You may recall that back in October of last year, I filed a brief that discussed secret information provided to me by the TSA under court order not to release, and the clerk of the court mistakenly published that brief for the world to see. It contained information that was quite embarassing to the TSA and undermined their assertions that abusing us at airport checkpoints is necessary and was picked up (and mirrored) by major news and social media sites across the world.

The attorneys at the Department of Justice proceeded to flip out on me for discussing this “secret information” that was no longer actually secret, through no fault of my own, and demanded that I refrain from talking about something that anyone can read in the news, effectively making me the only person in the world who is barred from speaking on the subject. The court today temporarily granted their request and ordered me to delete the contents of any blog post that contains the not-so-secret information, pending the outcome of the case, at which point they will decide whether to make their gag order permanent.

I’d say that the court’s order was obnoxious censorship, but thinking about it, it seems more likely that they just want the government to stop bothering them about this nonsense. I say this for two reasons. First, the court entirely ignored the issue for about 2 months, allowing my Web site to remain as-is, before finally addressing the issue, which suggests to me that they really don’t care. Second, the court specifically granted me permission to link to the news sites that discuss (and host a copy of) my leaked brief, meaning they acknowledge that the information is still going to be around.

So, if you’d like to read the information that the court has ordered me not to discuss, click here to read the news article about it, which includes a link to the full, unredacted leaked brief. I can’t discuss what you might find at the link above, I can only provide the link.

Censorship is stupid. Paritally because it’s wrong, and partially because it’s ineffective.

NYPD Pays $18M to Settle 2004 RNC Protest Arrests

I grew up with a grandfather who was a retired police captain. Needless to say, respect for police officers was a highlight of my upbringing, and until I moved away from the small town in which I grew up, I never understood why people would feel uncomfortable in the presence of law enforcement.

RNC Protests in Union Square, 2004.  Cell phone camera quality wasn't quite what it is today. :)

RNC Protests in Union Square, 2004. Cell phone camera quality wasn’t quite what it is today. :)

In the summer of 2004, I went to some protests in Union Square, a small park in lower Manhattan near where I was living where political speech was (and still is) a mainstay. I didn’t go to protest — if anything, my 20-year-old self thought it would be more entertaining to watch the crazy hippies, liberals, and even communists ranting on a megaphone about how much they hate George W. Bush. It was, in fact, the first time I met someone who would openly and happily proclaim they were a communist. All very strange to me at the time.

The protesters would be out there almost daily, and I’d probably see them a few times a week. Once in a while, a few cops would come and confiscate a megaphone. You see, use of a “sound amplification device” without a permit is against the law in New York City, and I’ll let you guess who issues the permits. But, everything was always peaceful, and the protesters would continue with just their voices and would collect donations to go buy a new megaphone, which they invariably did, sometimes same day.

The peaceful atmosphere ended as the Republican National Committee’s conference began. There weren’t really that many more protesters than usual in Union Square, but the police presence rapidly grew. Eventually, a few dozen officers lined up and began arresting the people who were speaking. People were thrown to the ground, injured, as they resisted being arrested for doing nothing more than speaking. These protesters were doing nothing that they hadn’t been doing there for the months (really, years) prior, but with the RNC in town, the order was out: protesters go to jail. As they took away the organizers, a friend of mine yelled at the police to stop, at which point they grabbed her and took her away too. My friend, a 20-year-old slender young woman from upstate Privilegeville, NY, was charged with “jumping on an officer’s back.”

At least 2 video cameras captured the incident showing that she did no such thing, and 4 witnesses, including myself, came forward to say that the charge was fabricated. The DA’s office, however, was instructed to prosecute all protesters no matter what, and they took the matter to trial, forcing this girl to endure the possibility of a 1 year prison sentence for doing nothing more than yelling at a cop. Thankfully, a jury deliberated for about 20 minutes before returning a unanimous “not guilty” verdict.

The city fought against over 400 individual lawsuits, plus one class-action lawsuit with another 1,200 victims, by protesters who were arrested and beat their charges (or were never charged). Think about that for a second: during a few weeks of a convention, the city wrongfully arrested over 1,600 people. It took 10 years, but they have finally been given justice: an $18 million settlement has been reached.

The incidents during the RNC cost the city (really, the taxpayers) a huge sum of money. But it also cost them my respect. It’s a sad day when you learn that your government really isn’t there to protect you.

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