Failures

by Tim Cushing


Filed Under:
journalism, lima, ohio, photographs, tanks



Government Pays $18k To Journalists Whose Tank Plant Photos It Deleted

from the just-put-it-on-our-civil-liberties-tab dept

A handful of deleted photos taken of a public structure is going to cost taxpayers $18,000. (via Poynter)
In what was seen as a victory for First Amendment rights, the U.S. government agreed Thursday to pay The Blade $18,000 for seizing the cameras of a photographer and deleting photographs taken outside the Lima tank plant last year.

In turn, The Blade agreed to dismiss the lawsuit it filed April 4 in U.S. District Court on behalf of photographer Jetta Fraser and reporter Tyrel Linkhorn against Charles T. Hagel, then the U.S. Secretary of Defense; Lt. Col. Matthew Hodge, commandant of the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center, and the military police officers involved in the March 28, 2014, incident.
The two journalists were apprehended by security staff at the Lima, OH, manufacturing center while taking pictures of the outside of the building. Despite there being plenty of photos of the tank parked proudly in front of the facility, as well as others detailing the interior of the plant, the security guards decided the journalists' activity was Terrorism Lite™ and deleted the photos from the camera. They also made derogatory comments about journalist Jetta Fraser's perceived lack of femininity and threatened to "go under her bra" to… well, I don't know what exactly, but given the context of the comments, apparently to "prove" for themselves that she was indeed female.

Like most settlements, there's no admission of wrongdoing to be found in the government's offer. Somewhat bizarrely -- considering the photos were apparently deleted -- the settlement demands pictures taken that day never be published.
Plaintiffs agree not to publish, distribute, reproduce, sell or share any of the photographs taken of the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, Ohio on March 28, 2014.
The Toledo Blade and its journalists offer no explanation for agreeing to these particular terms. The only logical explanation is that the photos could not be recovered, making this largely a moot point. Even so, this concession allows the censorious plant staff to salvage a partial victory from defeat and does nothing at all to prevent future abusive actions.

In fact, in its non-apologetic letter to the plaintiffs, the US Army pretty much vows to make the same "mistake" repeatedly in the future.
The letter, dated Feb. 25 and signed by Col. Ronald J. Shun, chief of staff for the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command... states that the Army “takes seriously its obligation to protect its military installations” and “acknowledges the important role that the press serves in a free society.”

“The Army is interested in a positive relationship with The Blade, its employees, and all members of the media,” Colonel Shun wrote.
But not that interested. The letter goes on to say that the US Army -- and representatives from its tank plant -- will only entertain press requests for statements and photos, so dropping by to snap pictures while in the area (as The Blade's journalists did) is still unwelcome and will likely result in extra attention from the plant's security. So, the First Amendment isn't really being protected here. It's just being humored.

The public embarrassment -- rather than the settlement -- will likely have more of a deterrent effect on plant personnel. Armed with the knowledge that snapping photos of the outside of the Lima plant is protected speech may lead to other photographers informally "polling" the plant's security staff in the future. But in the end, it's always the same. The government -- whose grasp of laws and rights should be better than its constituents -- will put on its "terrorist" blinders to violate more rights and allow taxpayers to pick up the tab.

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  • icon
    Paul Renault (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 4:42am

    So, did they publish the photos?

    It's very difficult to actually erase data on Flash memory. (BTW, this makes them a bit of a security risk.)

    Unless you take extraordinary methods, the photos would still be on the memory cards, even if the card was formatted. There are lots of tools to recover deleted files, a lots of 'em specifically for retrieving deleted photos.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      psiuuu, 19 Mar 2015 @ 5:14am

      Re: So, did they publish the photos?

      I really just hope the Blade is back out there this morning snapping away. "You deleted our photos last time, a-holes."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Chronno S. Trigger (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 7:38am

      Re: So, did they publish the photos?

      Fun fact about storage: The reason it's so easy to recover deleted files is because they're not really deleted, just removed from the index. A recovery program simply looks for files not in the index and can put them back.

      That is, unless something overwrote those sectors. On a platter drive, that data can still be recovered. There's leftover magnetic traces that can be detected and recovered. This is why programs like Darik's Boot and Nuke have an option to overwrite a drive 36 times.

      Flash drives, however, aren't magnetic storage. Once a bit is re-written, that original data is gone. A few bits here or there aren't a problem, so it's still possible to recover most of the file and not notice the missing peaces, but if someone actually wiped the card, it's not recoverable.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Chris Rhodes (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 9:27am

        Re: Re: So, did they publish the photos?

        Hard drive manufacturers these days, in a quest for higher data density, basically squeeze so many bytes out of every platter that it is no longer necessary to perform a crazy amount of rewrites to truly delete data on a standard hard drive. There's just not significant extra space hanging out at the margins as a buffer anymore.

        Also, wear-leveling algorithms in solid-state drives' firmware lets them remap which sectors of the flash memory are reported as what to the OS, so even if you tell an SSD to write to a particular sector, internally it may choose to write the data to somewhere different.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Chronno S. Trigger (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 10:23am

          Re: Re: Re: So, did they publish the photos?

          Not hard to get around wear-leveling. The Trim command was invented to wipe every sector marked for deletion. All SSDs support this due to their inherent problem with needing to wipe a sector before it can be written to.

          Any decent wiping program would ether take that into account, or just keep writing random data to a file until the drive is full. Ether way, fully wiping a flash drive is not hard.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2015 @ 11:11am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: So, did they publish the photos?

            The Trim command was invented to wipe every sector marked for deletion. All SSDs support this...

            Recovering Evidence from SSD Drives in 2014: Understanding TRIM, Garbage Collection and Exclusions”, Forensic Focus, Sep 23, 2014
             . . .

            Reality Steps In: Why Real SSDs are Often Recoverable

            In reality, things may look different from what was just described above in such great technical detail. In our lab, we’ve seen hundreds of SSD drives acquired from a variety of computers. Surprisingly, Belkasoft Evidence Center was able to successfully carve deleted data from the majority of SSD drives taken from inexpensive laptops and sub-notebooks such as ASUS Eee or ASUS Zenbook. Why is it so? There are several reasons...

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2015 @ 1:52pm

        Re: Re: So, did they publish the photos?

        Yes, but in order to actually overwrite/wipe any data, you need to completely fill the card, and then fill it again, if you want to make sure you actually destroyed the data you were targeting.

        The card's circuitry does 'wear leveling', so you never really know where your data is being written/overwritten. See here:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wear_leveling

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Rekrul, 21 Mar 2015 @ 10:12pm

        Re: Re: So, did they publish the photos?

        On a platter drive, that data can still be recovered. There's leftover magnetic traces that can be detected and recovered. This is why programs like Darik's Boot and Nuke have an option to overwrite a drive 36 times.

        That's a myth and it's easy to disprove;

        If it were possible to overwrite data on a drive and still recover it, hard drive manufacturers would be using it to double the storage capacity of their drives.

        Want more proof?

        Contact ANY data recovery service and tell them that you have a drive where the data was overwritten once, and ask how much they'll charge to recover everything. They'll tell you not to waste your money, your data is gone. Here's a company that charges thousands of dollars to recover data, they want your business and even they will tell you it's hopeless if the data has been overwritten.

        Under certain ideal conditions, it may be possible to pull a few bits of data at the edge of the tracks that wasn't 100% erased, but it's not like you're going to recover entire files. And as for the leftover magnetic traces, that doesn't work if the sector has been written to more than twice. If there are more than two magnetic patterns, there's no way to separate them, so it's all just jumbled together. Even with only two, the techs usually need to know what one of the patterns was so that they can separate out the other.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Vidiot (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 5:00am

    Throwing it open to all...

    Announcing... The Lima, OH Tank Plant Photo Contest! First Tuesday of every month, we all meet outside the plant at noon, and start snapping away.

    Runners-up (which is everybody else) get a free ride in a government vehicle. But one lucky winner takes home the $18,000 jackpot!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Rambler330 (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 5:10am

      Re: Throwing it open to all...

      I always thought that these type of incidents call for a "flash mob" type of response.
      Google "Joint Systems Manufacturing Center lima ohio" and click on Images and see top secret sensitive photos of the facility!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      psiuuuu, 19 Mar 2015 @ 5:11am

      Re: Throwing it open to all...

      Live up in the Detroit area. Kind of thinking about it. Should bring the wife and kids too, civic field trip for all!

      (and bail money)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2015 @ 5:37am

        Re: Re: Throwing it open to all...

        (and bail money)

        Why would you carry that with you, as doing so only enriches the cops when they seize it and accuse it of being involved in an illegal act.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 7:43am

      Re: Throwing it open to all...

      That would be nice. Organize a protest with a few hundred people armed with big cameras.

      Oh wait, don't, the focused energy of all those weapons could destroy the place.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Eponymous Coward (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 5:55am

    I'll volunteer to be next

    My father worked at the GD plant in Lima for several years in the 80's, and carried a security clearance as he worked on the armor systems. Each year they'd host a family day at the plant, including tours, demonstrations, and completed tanks set out to check out and walk around. There were plenty of cameras around, and I remember taking a number of pics myself.

    As the amount of information that 12 year old me gathered is staggeringly superior to what the Blade staff had to surrender, I would like to invite their security staff to come and intimidate me. I'm a bit doughy in spots, so my masculinity could be assailed, and so long as the eventual settlement is large enough I could be coerced to hand over some grainy Polaroids featuring the non-classified assembly areas and proving grounds.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2015 @ 6:25am

    Deadly photo rays

    If taking a photograph put out some kind of harmful rays, I might be able to understand the concern about taking photos of publicly viewable landmarks. However...

    Apparently our government has taken the perspective of quantum mechanics whereby merely viewing an object changes it. The question they haven't answered (at least to my satisfaction) is, is that change actually harmful? Does shooting a photo of a tank really render it harmless? If it does then all our enemies need to buy cameras instead of more lethal weapons.

    Or are they really insisting that photos of publicly viewable landmarks present such a severe violation of security that it warrants violating the first amendment under national security color? If this is so, then they should purchase sufficient land as to make such landmarks unviewable (a 6' tall person can see 16 miles to the horizon, so if the site or the viewer is on a hill...) Will there be any non-government land left if they take this thought seriously?

    Secondly, we should really do something about losers of lawsuits (even when settling) ability to make statements where they take no responsibility for the behavior that caused the suit in the first place. Make them 'man up' so to speak.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      psiuuu, 19 Mar 2015 @ 6:42am

      Re: Deadly photo rays

      If they feel photos of publicly viewable landmarks are a security risk...maybe they shouldn't have them out on display. As landmarks. Ya know?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 9:38am

      Re: Deadly photo rays

      If this is so, then they should purchase sufficient land as to make such landmarks unviewable (a 6' tall person can see 16 miles to the horizon, so if the site or the viewer is on a hill...)

      Way easier to just... build a fence.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2015 @ 6:43am

    As relationships with the US military goes, those reporters, and the newspaper that employed them, got off rather lightly. Certainly compared to Al Jazeera, which had its headquarters bombed, twice, in two different countries, by the US military. And no compensation of any kind was paid to Al Jazeera, except a promise to not break another promise to not bomb them again.

    This explains the difference between "in-bedded" and "out-bedded" reporters. Journalists who develop a history of writing pro-government stories can ask for a tour, and be granted exclusive access, interviews, the "whole nine yards."

    On the other hand, reports who are not proven "team players" -- or worse yet, those who write critical stories -- can expect to see the other end of the carrot-stick continuum. Like Al Jazeera.

    It's how the U.S. government maintains the illusion of a free press, to brag to the rest of the world about, when in reality it's anything but free.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2015 @ 6:57am

    What are the going to do!

    When cameras and tech are so universally available that people will be able to take high resolution photographs from a mile away? OutLaw cameras? Yep thats right... it only gets better from here folks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 9:42am

      Re: What are the going to do!

      When cameras and tech are so universally available that people will be able to take high resolution photographs from a mile away?

      Lenses are not like electronics. A lens that has enough zoom to take a detailed photo from a mile away is not getting significantly cheaper. And a higher resolution sensor only gets you so far, because packing so many pixels on a tiny sensor actually runs into problems with the size of photons, which cannot be solved, so you need a much bigger sensor, which is a lot more expensive to manufacture... there's a reason expensive cameras and lenses are expensive.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2015 @ 7:18am

    $18,000, pfah!

    The Blade's legal fees have to come out of that $18k. How much is left as recompense?

    And none of the individual defendants had to pay a cent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Eponymous Coward (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 7:28am

      Re: $18,000, pfah!

      In a stunning show of generosity (seriously, I'm in Toledo and the Block family isn't known for their largesse), none of the settlement monies are going toward legal fees. $5K to be donated to the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press, the remainder split between the plaintiffs.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        PRMan, 19 Mar 2015 @ 10:19am

        Re: Re: $18,000, pfah!

        "$5K to be donated to the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press"

        Not to by cynical, but that sounds like a standard 30% attorney fee to me...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Eponymous Coward (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 12:01pm

          Re: Re: Re: $18,000, pfah!

          Wouldn't surprise me if the Blade refused to engage its own legal team beyond the absolute minimum and let the RCfFotP do the heavy lifting.
          So, "donated".

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2015 @ 12:12pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: $18,000, pfah!

            ... the RCfFotP...
            Fwiw, the RCFP conventionally uses a FTLA(*) to identify themselves.

             

            (*) FTLA: Four-letter TLA(**).
            (**) TLA: Three-letter acronym.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 19 Mar 2015 @ 7:40am

    Maybe the guards thought the photographers were trying to steal their souls.........if they have any.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 7:55am

    Bribe, not settlement

    Plaintiffs agree not to publish, distribute, reproduce, sell or share any of the photographs taken of the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, Ohio on March 28, 2014.


    The inclusion of this term means that it's not a settlement, it's a bribe.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2015 @ 8:39am

      Re: Bribe, not settlement

      I am always fond of the "no admission of wrongdoing" language on settlements.

      It really is legalese for, "I did it, I'm glad I did it, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 9:17am

    Cognitive Dissonance Here

    Explain these 2 sentences with a straight face:

    " seizing the cameras of a photographer and deleting photographs "

    " Plaintiffs agree not to publish, distribute, reproduce, sell or share any of the photographs taken of the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, Ohio on March 28, 2014."

    So, yeah... they have to agree to not publish any of the photos which were deleted. Okay....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2015 @ 12:15pm

    Half a victory

    A full victory would be the realisation of the stupidity BEFORE the act

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 2:13pm

    When $.03, $3,000 and $30,000 are all interchangable

    Did any of those responsible for the siezure of the camera equipment, and/or the deletion of the pictures, get so much as a slap on the wrist for their actions? Did they pay so much as a single dollar of their own money towards the fine?

    If the answer is 'No', then once again they have been shown that they can do anything they want, because when it comes down to it, it's not their money that gets paid out, but that of the taxpayers, so why should they care how big or small the settlements come out to be?

    Make those in positions of authority or public servants personally liable with regards to settlements and fines, and then, and only then, will lawsuits like this actually serve as deterrents.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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