NYPD Used Reverse Warrants To Round Up Proud Boys Members Suspected Of Beating Antifa Members

from the bringing-Google's-data-slurping-to-a-hashtag-war dept

The first documented case of the NYPD using reverse warrants to find criminal suspects has been revealed. It made its appearance in perhaps the most 2019 of cases: the trial of two members of the Proud Boys facing assault charges for allegedly attacking members of Antifa.

Reverse warrants work this way: law enforcement agencies approach tech companies with geographic coordinates, asking for phone data for all phones within the geofenced area during a certain time frame. Using this data, law enforcement works its way backwards to probable cause, sifting through records to find what phones were in the area when the alleged crime was committed.

Obviously, this is a highly-imperfect way to track down suspects. For one, GPS data collected by companies like Google isn't exactly precise. For another, "fenced-in" areas will always contain numerous people who aren't criminals or even suspects, but the data turns them all into suspects until investigators sort them out. The more heavily-trafficked an area is, the more likely the chance officers will pursue the wrong phones/people.

This case was made a bit trickier by the victims' unwillingness to cooperate with the investigation. As George Joseph reports for Gothamist, the lack of victims to question nudged the NYPD towards deploying the legally-dubious tactic.

The use of this surveillance technique has not been confirmed in New York City until now. An investigator for the Manhattan DA revealed it during testimony last week in a case involving a politically-charged assault from last year.

The defendants are members of the Proud Boys, a group of pro-Trump rightwing extremists who allegedly beat up four leftist protesters, believed to be associated with Antifa, outside an Upper East Side event last October. The four protesters refused to cooperate with police, and authorities were unable to identify them.

According to the New York Times' account of this trial, the victims are evoked repeatedly in the court, despite no one knowing their names. This oddity has lead to the composition of sentences no one has ever read before.

The four who were assaulted refused to talk with the police. They were identified in an indictment only as Shaved Head, Ponytail, Khaki and Spiky Belt. Their whereabouts are unknown.

The two accused Proud Boys members are using the general perception of Antifa as violent to argue these attacks -- which were caught on video -- were actually acts of self-defense. The manhunt for the Proud Boys suspects may have taken the NYPD a bit longer, but the same Antifa that aggravated its own assault also provided law enforcement with plenty of useful information.

“There was a tremendous amount of what we call ‘doxxing,’” the detective, Thomas Mays, testified, using a slang term for the practice of disclosing personal information online. “Names that were given for the individuals.”

However you may feel about this comeuppance of the still-presumed-innocent Proud Boys members, the fact that the NYPD used this tactic successfully should be more than a bit chilling. Here's what the NYPD demanded from Google.

According to the investigator’s testimony, authorities were looking for location records from “Google’s Android platform and Google-based apps, such as Google Maps, [that] utilize location service[s].” The warrant requested records from multiple sites, including where the conflict broke out on 82nd Street and other locations where participants in the clash may have been that evening.

New York City is home to a densely-packed 8.6 million people. Throwing up geofences almost anywhere in the city is bound to return hundreds, if not thousands, of records that have nothing to do with the crime being investigated. At that point, the data is in the NYPD's hands and residents are at the mercy of investigators' haystack-sorting skills.

To make matters worse, if the use of reverse warrants in Minnesota is any indication, judges aren't being given enough information to make judgment calls on the mass harvesting of phone records in search of a suspect. In most cases, all they get are geographic coordinates that tell them next to nothing about the size -- or population density -- of the area targeted. And yet (or perhaps despite this), these warrants are being approved in minutes, suggesting judges are simply trusting the cops know what they're doing with all their highly-technical toys.

In the end, these warrants are surveillance dragnets that grab everyone located inside the coordinates. And it's left up to the discretion of these blue-suited fisherman to determine which of these hundreds of fish gets tossed back into the suspicion-free ocean. Reverse warrants aren't really warrants. Warrants require probable cause. Reverse warrants require only guesswork and faith.

Filed Under: 4th amendment, antifa, nypd, privacy, proud boys, reverse warrant
Companies: google


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  1. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 17 Aug 2019 @ 3:29am

    those statements preceded his actions against who he eventually targeted, for whatever reason

    And if you could link those statements to the mass murders as his motivation for committing those murders, you might have a point.

    there is ample evidence that right wing elements in Dayton, international elements elsewhere, and speech monitors from other places are targeting these men and boys well before they go ballistic

    Tell us something we don’t know.

    Equally, a substantial body of evidence -including your own writings -substantiate that an Israelified narrative, and FBI /DHS /NGO/ police tactical CVE social engineering, including Fusion Center monitoring of first amendment speakers online and off contributes to the pre -ballistics in these events.

    Anti-semitism and conspiracy theorism? Damn, son, all you need to do now is say something nasty about gays and you’ll have an alt-right trifecta.

    where is the conspiracy that you claim, without evidence -that I reference?

    You’re the only one talking about conspiracy theories here, son.

    I had long suffered a delusion that you made sense, practiced reasoned, balanced journalism with integrity, and now you burst my bubble, overlooking the shooters own statements

    Nobody is overlooking the statements made by Some Asshole in Dayton. But unless those statements are directly and definitively declared to be the motive for his act of mass violence, there isn’t any sense in leaping to that conclusion. In contrast, the mass murderer in El Paso provided a manifesto that clearly linked his political beliefs to his motivation for those murders.

    exactly what about the shooters ACTUAL STATEMENTS online, in the link I provided, indicate that he was not against fascists, aka antifa?

    The El Paso asshole made clear the connection between his politics and his act of violence in his manifesto. What did the Dayton asshole leave behind that clearly and directly links his politics to his violence?

    CVE manufactured domestic terror creation is a real thing too

    And Techdirt regularly publishes stories about how the FBI manufactures terrorists to score “wins” (i.e., good press).

    comments that arent satire, or online guerilla performance art, expressed nefariously in a racialized, tribalized climate of politically charged deplatforming

    How can anyone tell the difference between your serious posts and your allegedly “satrical” posts when they all look like the same garbage?


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