Is it possible to arrest an unarmed homeless person without destroying the residence he's hiding in? To the Fresno County Sheriff's Department and Clovis PD (and far too many other law enforcement agencies), the question remains rhetorical.
David Jessen's farmhouse felt the full, combined force of two law enforcement agencies and all their toys last June. According to his lawsuit [PDF], a homeless man was rousted from a nearby vacant house after he was discovered sleeping in the closet. He left peacefully but was soon spotted by the construction crew breaking into Jessen's house. The construction worker, god bless him, called the police because he thought they could help.
Jessen was notified shortly thereafter. He returned home to find four sheriff's office cars parked at his residence (one of them "on the lawn," because of course it was) and a deputy yelling at his house through a bullhorn. According to the deputies, the homeless man refused to come out and threatened to shoot anyone who came in. Jessen was asked if he had any guns in the house. He replied he did, but two were unloaded and had no ammo and the third was hidden so well "only he could find it."
Jessen was asked to move his pickup truck and leave the area for his own safety. The deputies also asked for a house key and for the garage to be opened before he left. Jessen and his family went to a friend's house about a quarter-mile away. Several hours later, he was told he could return home. This is what Jessen returned to:
As David was driving toward the home from Jensen David counted approximately fifty-five (55) or more law enforcement vehicles. David was then ordered to park along Rolinda Avenue north of his home and instructed to walk to his home. On his way to his home David was stopped by a SWAT person who told him the “operation” was concluded, A second Fresno County Deputy Sheriff, that Jessen’s are informed and believe and upon information and belief allege was a Lieutenant, handed David a card and said “we have insurance for this.”
We'll pause there for a moment and consider the effect this must have on recipients. This is basically a message telling them their stuff has been damaged/destroyed. Not that the law enforcement agency cares. It might end up with higher premiums, but each officer involved still has an undamaged residence to go home to, unlike "civilians" like Jessen, whose houses happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Insurance in the hands of officers like these is a permission slip, rather than a liability buffer.
A third Fresno County Deputy Sheriff showed David the damage and David was overwhelmed by the severity and extent of the damage to the residence. The damage to the Jessens’ residence was massive and extensive. The magnitude of the damage to the Jessen’s’ home was unreasonable and unjustified, needlessly implemented to capture a singular, surrounded, unarmed, hungry, homeless person who posed no danger to anyone, and cooperated in leaving the neighbors residence earlier.
Here's the full list of what local law enforcement deployed to handle a single, resistant homeless person:
a. Utilized over 50 vehicles;
b. A K-9 unit,
c. Two helicopters;
d. Two Ambulances;
e. One Fire Truck;
f. A Crisis Negotiation Team arriving in a large motor home, that Plaintiffs are informed and believe included communications equipment and other support equipment;
g. A Robot;
h. SWAT Team; and
I. Back Up SWAT Team — Clovis City Police.
Now, the officers might have been concerned the homeless person had armed himself with one of Jessen's weapons, despite his assurances they were well-hidden/unloaded. Even so, they had plenty of options available that didn't include doing all the things they did instead.
a. Ripped out the wrought iron door and interior door to the Jessen’s home office;
b. Pulled the wall of the office off the foundation;
c. Broke the window to the office;
d. Teargassed the bathroom near the office;
e. Shattered the sliding glass door to the home for “robot” entry;
f. Ripped the wrought iron door off the laundry room;
g. Teargassed the laundry room;
h. Flash bombed the laundry room and the business office that resulted in breaking six (6) windows;
i. Teargassed the kitchen;
j. Teargassed the master bathroom;
k. Teargassed the sewing room;
l. Teargassed the bedroom in the northeast corner of the home; and
m. Destroyed over 90 feet of exterior fencing with a SWAT vehicle.
For reasons only known to the Sheriff's Department, a deputy continued to search for hidden handgun on Jessen's effed-up residence. He was only able to "recover" after receiving specific directions over the phone from Jessen to locate it. All guns were immediately returned to Jessen, making this last search -- which occurred nearly two hours after Jessen was given an insurance card and a broken home -- especially pointless.
In total, the interloping homeless person cost Jessen one window, an ice cream bar, some milk, and half a tomato. According to the lawsuit's allegations, the two law enforcement agencies rang up more than $150,000 in damaged property. Jessen alleges a long list of constitutional violations but also something a bit more whoa if true:
All of this military-like activity was implemented and completed without Jessen's request, approval, or consent. Jessens are informed and believe the training operation was undertaken because the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department and/or Clovis Police Department had found, by accident, the perfect location to conduct a training exercise on a rural home, on a dead-end street, in rural Fresno County, where “civilians” were not present, “civilians” were not going to congregate, “civilians” were not going to observe or interfere with the military training assault on the Jessen’s home and the situation posed no risk of injury to the officers. The Fresno County Sheriff‘s Department and Clovis Police Department seized upon this fortuitous opportunity to engage in a real-life training exercise.
Unless something amazing comes out of discovery during litigation, this claim is unlikely to survive. And chances are it won't survive an initial reading. Jessen is probably safer staying the Constitutional lane. But there is a hint of truth to the allegation, even if there was no provable intent to use Jessen's house as a SWAT team training ground. Law enforcement agencies spend a lot of money on tools and tactics which are rarely deployed. Recognizing a chance to take all the toys out for a spin isn't necessarily a conspiracy… it's just what happens when you have more power than restraint. That's what turns a "standoff' in which the suspect is armed with half an ice cream bar into a mostly-unusable house.
Late last year Google Fiber announced it would be pausing expansion into several new markets, axing its CEO, and shuffling a number of employees around. Reports subsequently emerged suggesting that Alphabet higher ups were growing frustrated with the high cost and slow pace of fiber deployment, and were contemplating an overall larger shift to wireless. While the company continues to insist that there's nothing to see here and that everything is continuing as normal, signs continue to emerge that the ground Google Fiber is built on may not be particularly sturdy.
This week numerous Kansas City residents say they were told that the company was cancelling their installations after waiting eighteen months for service. Users there are frustrated by Google's complete lack of explanation for the rash of cancellations:
"About April, May, I saw sometimes as many as four to five Fiber trucks in the neighborhood. I kept watching my email but never got anything in the mail to schedule my appointment or anything,” Muerer told 41 Action News.
That was back in October 2015.
Eighteen months later, Meurer still doesn’t have Google Fiber. He recently received an email saying the company had canceled his installation.
"I’m left wondering what is going on,” said Meurer.
Kansas City residents aren't alone. Portland was one of the cities Google Fiber was supposed to launch in, but locals there are similarly frustrated by Google's about face. Especially since the city had shuffled around city ordinances, laid the groundwork for the placement of Google Fiber "huts," and convinced state legislatures to pass a new state law providing notable tax incentives for Google Fiber. Chicago, Jacksonville, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, San Diego, San Jose, and Tampa were also in various states of contact with Google Fiber about potential builds that apparently will no longer be happening.
And while Google Fiber still exists, Google/Alphabet isn't helping restore confidence it the disruptive potential of the service. By and large the company continues to insist that everything is fine and there's nothing to see here despite ongoing evidence of cold feet at the executive level. Whenever press outlets inquire about last fall's decision, reporters are given a calorie-free rosy statement that tells people absolutely nothing substantive about what's going on. This statement, for example, is what I was given when I asked the company specifically why it was cancelling fiber installations in Kansas City:
"Google Fiber loves Kansas City and is here to stay. We’ve been grateful to be part of your community since 2011, and for the opportunity to provide superfast Internet to residents. We recently announced our expansion into Raymore, we are continuing to build in Overland Park, and we can’t wait for even more customers in Kansas City to experience what’s possible with Google Fiber."
Ars Technica received a similar non-answer from the company.
Granted Google's pivot to wireless could certainly work. The company is conducting wireless trials in the 71-76 GHz and 81-86 GHz millimeter wave bands, as well as the 3.5 GHz band, the 5.8 GHz band and the 24 GHz band. It seems fairly clear that Alphabet executives really don't know what they want to do just yet, but don't want to admit that to anybody. But confidence that Google Fiber would be the answer to solving the broadband mono/duopoly log jam is quickly wavering, something unaided by Google's bizarre refusal to be clear about the direction the project is headed.
Update: The bill has now officially been introduced.
Well, we all knew this was coming, but Rep. Bob Goodlatte has been passing around a draft of a bill to move the Copyright Office out of the Library of Congress. Specifically, it would make the head of the Copyright Office, the Copyright Register, a Presidentially appointed position, with 10-year terms, and who could only be removed by the President.
This is a bad and dangerous idea. It's one that's designed to give Hollywood and the recording industry even more power and control over an already deeply captured agency. As it stands now, having the Copyright Office in the Library of Congress provides at least some basic recognition of the actual intent of copyright law, as established by the Constitution to Promote the progress of science. That is, as we've pointed out for a long, long time, the intent of copyright is to benefit the public. The mechanism is to provide temporary monopolies to creators as an incentive, before handing the works over to the public. Yet, the Copyright Office eschews that view, insisting that the role of the Copyright Office is to expand those monopoly rights, and to speak out for the interests of major copyright holders (rarely the creators themselves).
Either way, by making this a Presidential appointment, the MPAA and RIAA know that it will give them significantly greater say over who leads the office. Right now they can (and do!) lobby the Librarian of Congress on who should be chosen, but the Librarian gets to choose. One hopes that the Librarian would take into account the larger view of copyright law, and who it's actually supposed to benefit -- and we're hoping that the current Librarian will do so (if given the chance). But making it a Presidential appointment will mean heavy lobbying by industry, and much less likelihood that the public interest is considered.
The usual think tankers and industry folks will tell you -- incorrectly -- that the Copyright Office is only in the Library due to "an accident of history." But that's not the case. The role of both overlap dramatically -- collecting, organizing and cataloging new creative works. Almost everyone agrees that the Copyright Office needs to be modernized, and that the previous Librarian failed (miserably) to do so. But because we had a bad librarian in the past is no reason to remove the Copyright Office entirely from the Library and disconnect it completely to its constitutional moorings designed around getting more creative works to the public.
Make sure to let your Congressional Representative know not to support this bill -- especially if they're members of the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Goodlatte has said that he'd only propose copyright reform bills that have widespread consensus. This is not such a bill.
Here come even more revelations of surveillance abuse by UK law enforcement. To date, various law enforcement agencies have been exposed as participating in very broad readings of very broadly-written anti-terrorism laws to spy on journalists and activists. The latest abuse detailed by The Guardian concerns the surveillance of activists by UK law enforcement on behalf of a foreign government.
The police watchdog is investigating allegations that a secretive Scotland Yard unit used hackers to illegally access the private emails of hundreds of political campaigners and journalists.
The allegations were made by an anonymous individual who says the unit worked with Indian police, who in turn used hackers to illegally obtain the passwords of the email accounts of the campaigners, and some reporters and press photographers.
Hacked passwords were passed to the Metropolitan police unit, according to the writer of the letter, which then regularly checked the emails of the campaigners and the media to gather information. The letter to Jones listed the passwords of environmental campaigners, four of whom were from Greenpeace. Several confirmed they matched the ones they had used to open their emails.
This is more of the same for any UK agencies with access to surveillance tools and easily-abusable laws. These complaints are adding to the pile sitting in front of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Not that the Commission will ever get to the bottom of this, as it's finding its oversight being thwarted by the agencies it's assigned to oversee.
Last month the IPCC said it had uncovered evidence suggesting the documents had been destroyed despite a specific instruction that files should be preserved to be examined by a judge-led public inquiry into the undercover policing of political groups.
The letter claimed that the shredding “has been happening for some time and on a far greater scale than the IPCC seems to be aware of”. The author added that “the main reason for destroying these documents is that they reveal that [police] officers were engaged in illegal activities to obtain intelligence on protest groups”
It's unclear what the Indian police -- who used hackers to obtain account passwords -- were looking for or why they turned to Scotland Yard for assistance. Those whose accounts were accessed were far from dangerous individuals. Although the activists may be vehemently opposed to UK government policies and the actions of several major corporations, the worst of the worst of those confirmed to be surveilled did 80 hours
hard time community service stemming from an incident where unwanted solar panels were forcibly installed on a deputy prime minister's house.
Presumably, the valuable info snagged from hacked accounts gave police on both sides heads up on planned demonstrations, as well as any other non-protest-related conversations the activists might have had. Considering what flows into the average email account, police could have gained access to financial transactions, medical information, and conversations between activists and those with zero interest in making the world a subjectively better place.
Fortunately, the documentation backing up the hacking accusations is still in the hands of repentant hackers, rather than headed for the Scotland Yard shredder.
Despite a last-ditch effort by the EFF and other consumer and privacy groups, Congress today voted to dismantle privacy protections for broadband subscribers in a 50-48 vote. The rules, passed last October by the FCC, simply required that ISPs clearly disclose what subscriber data is being collected and sold by ISPs. It also required that ISPs provide working opt out tools, and required that consumers had to opt in (the dirtiest phrase imaginable to the ad industry) to the collection of more sensitive data like financial info or browsing histories.
Another part of the rules, which simply required that ISPs were transparent about hacking intrusions and data theft, had already been killed off quietly by new FCC boss Ajit Pai.
The rules were seen as important in the face of greater consolidation in an already uncompetitive broadband market, where said lack of competition eliminates any organic market punishment for bad behavior on the privacy front (unlike the content or other industries). Now, with neither broadband competition -- nor meaningful regulatory oversight -- privacy advocates are justifiably worried about the repercussions to come.
The rules were killed by using the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to dismantle recently approved regulations with a simple majority vote. While the rules really were relatively straightforward, telecom lobbyists spent months deriding the rules as "onerous regulations" that would be "too confusing" for consumers, potentially stifling sector "innovation." Industry lobbyists also consistently pushed "studies" proclaiming that ISPs really don't collect much consumer data, in stark contrast to, you know, the truth.
One of the proposals sponsors, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, went so far in a speech Wednesday night to suggest that the rules somehow "restricted constitutional rights" (of giant ISPs like Comcast, apparently):
"In a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday night, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who introduced the bill, said the FCC regulations were an example of a “bureaucratic power grab.” "Passing this CRA will send a powerful message that federal agencies can’t unilaterally restrict constitutional rights and expect to get away with it,” Flake said."
ISP lobbyists had spent countless hours trying to convince lawmakers that FCC oversight of privacy was unnecessary, and that the FTC alone was well-equipped to handle consumer privacy complaints in the broadband sector. But in a recent interview, former FCC boss Tom Wheeler made it abundantly clear that this was largely bullshit -- and the goal is to shovel off privacy oversight to an FTC without rule making abilities, already overloaded by other enforcement obligations:
"It’s a fraud. The FTC doesn’t have rule-making authority. They’ve got enforcement authority and their enforcement authority is whether or not something is unfair or deceptive. And the FTC has to worry about everything from computer chips to bleach labeling. Of course, carriers want [telecom issues] to get lost in that morass. This was the strategy all along.
So it doesn’t surprise me that the Trump transition team — who were with the American Enterprise Institute and basically longtime supporters of this concept — comes in and says, “Oh, we oughta do away with this.” It makes no sense to get rid of an expert agency and to throw these issues to an agency with no rule-making power that has to compete with everything else that’s going on in the economy, and can only deal with unfair or deceptive practices."
In other words, the goal is quite simply to gut oversight of one of the least competitive (and most anti-competitive) sectors in American industry. First by hamstringing the FCC's oversight of the sector, then by inevitably pushing bills that hinder the FTC's oversight as well. All told, today's vote is one of the more embarrassing examples of our broken, cash-compromised legislative process in recent memory.
Update: Here's the roll call breakdown of who voted for or against the measure, in case you're the type that actually likes accountability.