NYPD Puts Terrorism On The Run By Ordering Twitter To Turn Over Parody Account User Data 'Linked' To Brooklyn Bridge Flag-Switching

from the because-you-can't-know-how-low-you'll-sink-until-you-try dept

Late last month, some audacious pranksters (or possibly ultra-dangerous individuals) snuck to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge's two towers and replaced the American flags with the universal symbol for surrender: white flags. Or to be more specific, bleached-white American flags.

As city law enforcement mobilized into "panic mode," a tweet claiming responsibility went out from a long-running parody Twitter account:
If you can't read/see the tweet, it's sent from @BicycleLobby and says the following:
Earlier today we hoisted two white flags to signal our complete surrender of the Brooklyn Bridge bicycle path to pedestrians.
The New York Daily News fell for it. More surprisingly, the Associated Press did as well, infecting an untold number of local outlets with its automated breaking news feed. In their hurry to be proven fools, the Daily News and the AP ignored both a) EVERY TWEET EVER MADE BY THE ACCOUNT and b) the second line of the account's profile.
An all-powerful enterprise.
Parody account.
The parody account heaped more scorn on the two news agencies, suggesting they google "Dorothy Rabinowitz," the inspiration for the account. Rabinowitz, a Wall Street Journal editorial board member, once famously said, "The bike lobby is an all-powerful enterprise," as she attempted to protect average New Yorkers from the two-wheeled menace that was "begriming" upscale neighborhoods with "blazing blue Citi Bank bikes."

Apparently, the NYPD can't take a joke. Sure, it's taken DNA from the "crime" scene, along with grabbing cell tower dumps, surveillance footage and searches of the ALPR database for plates spotted in the vicinity, but it can't seem to wrap its mind around a parodic tweet from a parody account.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office has issued a subpoena for information about the Twitter account @BicycleLobby.

The anonymous, satirical account announced Friday that the company Twitter had received a summons to appear before a grand jury against John Doe defendant in a criminal investigation.

“On Monday, Twitter alerted this account that it had received a subpoena from the office of the District Attorney of the County of New York,” the account tweeted Friday afternoon — clarifying that it was being “100%” serious about the legal notice.
It's the real deal (embedded below). The straight-faced subpoena demands that Twitter turn over:
Any and all records including but not limited to account opening documents, user Contact information (subscriber information, including email addresses, billing information, associated telephone numbers), Group Contact information, and all available IP logs for the Twitter account(s) associated with the following…
If Twitter fails to do so, it may be facing "imprisonment for one year." The subpoena also warns Twitter against notifying the end user:
Pursuant to 18 USC § 2705(b), this Court orders Twitter not to notify or otherwise disclose the existence or execution of this subpoena/order to any associated user/accountholder, until the conclusion of this investigation or otherwise by court order.
If Twitter didn't just shrug this off, then it's likely the investigation has concluded or the court has rescinded its order. The subpoena went out on July 23rd and the account holder was notified August 4th. The person behind the parody account has retained legal assistance, not that he or she should actually need it. The NYPD's investigative "technique" apparently consists of grabbing as much data as possible (surveillance, cell tower dumps, "DNA," parody Twitter accounts) and running it through some sort of angsty, terrorism-fueled centrifuge until either a) discretionary spending is increased for counterterrorism units or b) the actual culprit outs him or herself by walking into the police station, dripping with blood flag bleach and shouting "DETECTIVE!" until someone starts paying attention.

While there is legitimate concern that a highly-symbolic structure (like a flagpole atop the Brooklyn Bridge) could be so easily accessed (and without leaving a trace despite pervasive surveillance), the response so far should raise serious questions about the NYPD's counter-terrorism skills.
Cops were similarly stumped, although they hoped some answers might come from the quintet caught on blurry video crossing the bridge about 20 minutes before the tower lights went out and the flags were stolen around 3:30 a.m…

The graveyard-shift cops who missed the trespassers jumping a locked gate, scaling the two towers and hanging the bleached flags will not be disciplined, police sources told The News.
The answer, of course, is to add more cameras to the exact spot where something has already happened. Someone "inside the police department" posited that it could have been a dry run for a terrorist attack, and the response has been a lot of barn-door kicking and the hassling of any other person who might cross the Brooklyn Bridge on foot during the early hours of the morning.

This clumsy fear-driven thinking is only exacerbated by willing accomplices like the NY Daily News -- the same entity so quick to claim a parody Twitter account did it -- which rushed out this reductio ad absurdum headline the next morning:

That's how the NYPD ends up throwing more cameras at the same spot the previous cameras captured the flag-switchers at work, as though more unwatched eyes will somehow prevent an attack. And that's how a local judge signs off on a subpoena ordering Twitter to hand over user data on a clearly parodic Twitter account -- one that has also claimed to have faked the moon landing. If our main "weapon" in the War on Terror is "swift and disproportionate" reaction, no wonder everyone in the intel community believes we're "losing."
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Filed Under: bike lobby, brooklyn bridge, nypd, parody, privacy, secrecy, subpoena, white flag
Companies: twitter

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2014 @ 7:56am

    Re: logic?

    The only reason I could see it remotely working is to leave a threat if you want to raise levels of fear. Say for instance they wanted New York to ban oysters, have the mayor required to appear in all press conferences dressed like a clown, or make the NYPD uniforms bright pink for some reason, spray painting or leaving a note saying. "Dye or die, if the NYPD aren't wearing bright pink uniforms by next year this bridge is going to go tumbling down!"

    It wouldn't be so much of a dry run as a warning if they were serious or just a politically motivated hoax if they were bluffing.

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