Fault Lines
20 July 2017

Ever Alert, Feds Watch Your Grease

January 30, 2017 (Fault Lines) — As a Public Defense Investigator, cameras are your friend. Not just your own camera or the cameras of witnesses or bystanders, but the cameras that sit as silent unintentional witnesses in bagel shops, jewelry stores, the corner drug store and the city bus.

These can record things that somehow failed to appear in a police report detailing the arrest of your client. For instance, the cops claiming in their report that only two officers were involved in the arrest of client and the injuries he sustained were obtained during his flight from alleged justice. But the camera from the store two doors down, while at the wrong angle, captured 12 sets of tactical boots and the bloodied face of your client as he had the shit kicked out of him.

Case against client goes bye-bye.

As a side note, the above type of scenario is the most common cause for the “they just let them back on the street” argument used by many in law enforcement.

Sometimes when investigating a case, you come to a government firewall. Lee Colleton, a Seattle Privacy Coalition member, was walking in a solidarity march honoring the victims of Dylann Roof when he looked up and saw a surveillance camera on a utility pole. He decided to find out who put it there.

It turns out the feds put it there. It turns out the feds have more than one camera watching people in Seattle and that at least one judge agrees with the warrantless surveillance of neighborhoods due to some sensitive criminal investigations and, apparently, also to observe restaurant workers illegally dumping grease down city drains.

As the Seattle weekly points out. This means the feds aren’t concerned with limiting surveillance to federal criminal investigations. Given the attack posture of the new White House Administration, the existence of these cameras and exactly what they are there for should be a concern for everyone. And not just in Seattle.

If this was going on in Seattle and only discovered because a privacy advocate happened to look up at just the right moment, it should also make one wonder how many cities have utility poles hosting federal surveillance cameras. In Seattle, it seems the fFeds were able to slip in and install the cameras possibly without informing anyone but Seattle City Light. So far, those who were asked if they knew are pleading ignorance.

How much of America is ignorant right now?

As an investigator, I had my own handmade map of where the cameras were in my city. On poles, in stores, parking lots, front porches and back yards. They are the investigators’ bread and butter for showing a police report to be a pack of lies, or having the attorney on the case advise the client to take the offered plea.

They are accessible to a certain degree, depending on how you approach the owner or manager of the property. But unless court ordered, and usually with great reluctance or not at all if they can help it, footage from government-installed cameras is rarely available despite all the great stuff you’ve seen on YouTube. That stuff is the exception.

It’s known, but little discussed, that the feds have planes used for surveillance of cities all over the country. As it turns out, most of this aerial surveillance also takes the weekends off apparently due to habit of big-time hard-core criminals to spend their weekends swilling beer in front of barbeques. Or is it because they are engaged in mass data collection with no specific focus? This program needs serious scrutiny, not just from the courts but from everyone.

In Oakland, California the feds were trying to trip-up a bid rigging scheme, so they planted recording devices outside the courthouse where property auctions were held. Jeff Harp, a former FBI agent, said:

They put microphones under rocks, they put microphones in trees, they plant microphones in equipment. I mean, there’s microphones that are planted in places that people don’t think about, because that’s the intent!

In other parts of the world, the surveillance state is normalized, yet crime still flourishes and terrorist acts occur regularly. Big Brother doesn’t work; it’s too big to manage and the wrong people become victims while the guilty become chameleons. In the end we will be reduced to three types of people: The elites, the watchers and the watched.

How do you think that will end?

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