We've seen a few lawsuits filed over autocomplete suggestions, but those have all been aimed at Google by people who failed to understand a) how search engines work, and b) the unintended consequences of their actions. Targeting a search engine for unflattering autocomplete suggestions tends to make the problem worse. Each legal effort only results in more stories "confirming" the autocomplete suggestions.
This lawsuit is a bit different. The plaintiff is arguing that an accidental search triggered by an autocomplete suggestion ruined his life. But it's not Google's fault. It's… well, it's pretty much damn near everyone else.
Jeffrey Kantor, who was fired by Appian Corporation, sued a host of government officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry in Federal Court, alleging civil rights violations, disclosure of private information and retaliation…
He also sued Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Rand Beers, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, EPA Administrator Regina McCarthy and U.S. Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta.
That's a lot of big names, all of which are somehow related to Jeffrey Kantor's errant search, a mistake anyone could have made. But in this era of pervasive surveillance, a mistake may be all it takes.
"In October of 2009, Kantor used the search engine Google to try to find, 'How do I build a radio-controlled airplane,'" he states in his complaint. "He ran this search a couple weeks before the birthday of his son with the thought of building one together as a birthday present. After typing, 'how do I build a radio controlled', Google auto-completed his search to, 'how do I build a radio controlled bomb.'"
From that point on, Kantor alleges coworkers, supervisors and government investigators all began "group stalking" him. Investigators used the good cop/bad cop approach, with the "bad cop" allegedly deploying anti-Semitic remarks frequently. In addition, his coworkers at Appian (a government contractor) would make remarks about regular people committing murder-suicides (whenever Kantor expressed anger) or how normal people just dropped dead of hypertension (whenever Kantor remained calm while being harassed).
Kantor also claims he was intensely surveilled by the government from that point forward.
He claims government officials monitored his book purchases and home computer, and implied that everything he did was being monitored…
Kantor [also] claims the stalking spilled over into his personal life when the government secretly attached a GPS antenna to his car to track him.
Kantor alleges this harassment continued long after he lost his job at Appian (who he's currently suing as well). The claims of stalking, harassment and surveillance fill a great deal of the 33-page filing. His suit also claims that personal information obtained through "FISA warrants" was routinely used against him (and repeated back to him) by a number of people -- the so-called "group stalking" or "gang stalking."
Kantor also makes the rather novel claim that the statute of limitations (for incidents over 2 years old) doesn't apply because the exposure of the NSA's PRISM program
(which is how the accused apparently gathered much of Kantor's private info) didn't occur until 2013.
Section 223 of the Patriot Act gives citizens two years from the time they discover that their civil rights have been violated to sue. These privacy violations occurred between 2010 and 2013. Many of the privacy violations occurred in the last two years. Other violations that Kantor alleges occurred in 2010 and early 2011, which is beyond 2 years. However, the law says that the timeline is based on when the citizen had a reasonable chance to discover the violation. Since the PRISM program was only declassified in July of 2013, these earlier violations should not be time-barred.
All in all, the filing doesn't build a very credible case and comes across more as a paranoiac narrative than a coherent detailing of possible government harassment and surveillance. Here are just a few of the highlights.
One day in 2010, Kantor went to an adult web site from his home computer. The next day at work, a CRGT manager, Tony Buzanca, came up to Kantor, who was working at his computer, bent over and whispered in Kantor's ear, "people who go to pom sites are going to hell." Kantor contends that the government monitored Kantor's internet traffic, disclosed this private information to Buzanca, and had Buzanca repeat it back to Kantor for the purpose of harassment and group stalking. There was no legitimate investigative purpose to this disclosure of Kantor's private information, which must have been obtained through the Patriot Act enabled FISA warrant...
Two days before Kantor requested to be transferred, he drove to a park area of Ft Belvoir after work. He hiked on a trail and retumed to his car, which was in an isolated area (where no one normally parks). There was a van next to his car and there were three men. As Kantor returned to his car, one man said to the other, "He has been here two years 'and he won't quit. I guess he is trying to prove a point." Kantor later discovered that an antenna had been affixed to his Audi A4. The government must have been using GPS tracking to track Kantor and the stalkers were using this GPS information to follow Kantor around and stalk him…
Kantor had driven to lunch with his Appian manager, Mike Kang. Mike Kang asked Kantor what movies his wife likes. Kantor answered and politely asked Mike Kang what movies his wife likes. Kang stated that his wife likes "the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and the "Harry Potter" movies. Kantor thought that this was strange since at the time the only version of "the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" that existed was in Swedish and Harry Potter was a kids' movie. Kantor also thought this was disturbing because those were the exact two books that he was reading, and he had borrowed these books from his local library. The second book Kantor was reading to his son…
As Kantor left work that afternoon, he was followed by an African-American man in a suit. The man sat across from Kantor on the Metro train. At the West Falls Church exit, which is one stop before the Dunn Loring exit, the man got up and started screaming at the top of his lungs at Kantor, "You respect my privacy, I'll respect your privacy, bitch!" He screamed this around five times at Kantor at the top of his lungs, and then got off the train right as the doors were about to close...
[Kantor' boss] also sent Kantor an email that said, "It's the end of the world as we know it." Kantor forwarded the email to his house. The next day he showed his father, Lawrence Kantor Jr, the email, with the title, "It's the End of the World as We Know It" and Kantor's browser history, which showed that he had emailed for the chords and lyrics to REM's "It's the end of the World as We Know It" the night before his manager sent him the email. This group stalking had occurred hundreds if not thousands of times, but this was an instance where there was digital proof and a witness on Kantor's side that had seen it in action…
Kantor in this very draft alleged that he was being wrongly investigated as a terrorist and complained overhearing his coworkers saying that his car was being searched for an AK--47. In the evening of 8/5/2013, a Vienna police officer walked into the volunteer office and said to Kantor and the three other volunteers in the room, "So this is where all the terrorists hang out. I am going to go look for an AK-47." The police officer then left. He said nothing prior to this comment and nothing after it. Kantor had never seen the police officer before or hence. This illustrates that the privacy violations and group stalking are still occurring. Is Kantor supposed to Contact the town police and complain that police officers are stalking him (which is a crime that they themselves like the FBI are supposed to be preventing, instead of engaging in)?
Kantor has retained Christopher Swift of Swift & Swift, an attorney who apparently specializes in patent law
, to represent him in this lawsuit against several government officials. The lawsuit seeks $13.8 million in compensatory damages and $45 million in statutory damages, as well as an injunction against the government to prevent it from further stalking him.
But that's not all!
The lawsuit also asks the judge to find that the PATRIOT Act is unconstitutional and
illegal and order the FBI to turn over all calls and contacts where violations of the PATRIOT Act are alleged to the DoJ and the administration's "privacy advocate."
Now, there are a couple of ways of looking at this. Kantor may have undiagnosed mental issues which have led him to believe everyone (at several consecutive jobs) is out to get him and has access to his personal info. Certainly, the idea that the government has access to all of this info is less dubious than it was back in 2009 when the harassment allegedly began, but the rambling nature of this filing (which was apparently written with the assistance of an attorney) sounds a bit more like unhinged near-ravings than a blow-by-blow account of long-term harassment.
On the other hand, there would be no better way for the government to harass someone out of the workforce (while maintaining plausible deniability) than to create a situation so over the top and ridiculous that it instantly strips the victim of all credibility. So, there's that to consider as well.
The alleged starting point (the wrong Google search) is also not that far off either, as far as that goes. With certain keywords
triggering NSA activity, it's not exactly paranoid to express a concern that a few erroneous searches could result in some sustained surveillance.