Thursday, June 26, 2008

American Police State: Airport Laptop Searches Draws Fire; Camaras Installed in NYC Subways

June 26, 2008

Laptop Searches in Airports Draw Fire at Senate Hearing

New York Times

WASHINGTON — Advocacy groups and some legal experts told Congress on Wednesday that it was unreasonable for federal officials to search the laptops of United States citizens when they re-enter the country from traveling abroad.

Civil rights groups have said certain ethnic groups have been selectively profiled in the searches by Border Patrol agents and customs officials who have the authority to inspect all luggage and cargo brought into the country without obtaining warrants or having probable cause.

Companies whose employees travel overseas have also criticized the inspections, saying that the search of electronic devices could hurt their businesses.

The federal government says the searches are necessary for national security and for legal action against people who bring illegal material into the country.

“If you asked most Americans whether the government has the right to look through their luggage for contraband when they are returning from an overseas trip, they would tell you ‘yes, the government has that right,’ ” Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, said Wednesday at the hearing of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee.

“But,” Mr. Feingold continued, “if you asked them whether the government has a right to open their laptops, read their documents and e-mails, look at their photographs and examine the Web sites they have visited, all without any suspicion of wrongdoing, I think those same Americans would say that the government absolutely has no right to do that.”

In April, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Customs and Border Protection agency could conduct searches without reasonable suspicion.

In her testimony, Farhana Y. Khera, the president and executive director of Muslim Advocates, said Muslim Americans traveling abroad had often had electronic storage devices seized without apparent cause. She said several had also been questioned about their political views.

Susan K. Gurley, executive director of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, said the seizing of laptops could hurt people who travel overseas for business.

“In today’s wired, networked and borderless world, one’s office no longer sits within four walls or a cubicle; rather, one’s office consists of a collection of mobile electronic devices such as a laptop, a BlackBerry, PDA, and a cellphone,” Ms. Gurley said in prepared remarks.

She said the searches meant that “you may find yourself effectively locked out of your office indefinitely.”

Ms. Gurley said a concern was the lack of published regulations explaining what happened to data when it was seized and who had access to it.

Tim Sparapani, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in an interview, “You can’t go into my home and search my computer without a warrant, but simply because I’m carrying my computer with me as I travel, you can search it.”

But Nathan A. Sales, an assistant professor at the George Mason University School of Law, said in a statement: “The reason the home has enjoyed uniquely robust privacy protections in the Anglo-American legal tradition is because it is a sanctuary into which the owner can withdraw from the government’s watchful eye. Crossing an international border is in many ways the opposite of this kind of withdrawal.”

Mr. Feingold expressed discontent that the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the customs and border agency, did not send a witness to testify. He said a written statement by Jayson P. Ahern, deputy commissioner for the agency, provided “little meaningful detail on the agency’s policies.”

Mr. Ahern’s statement said that the agency’s efforts did not infringe upon privacy and that it was important to note that the agency was “responsible for enforcing over 600 laws at the border, including those that relate to narcotics, intellectual property, child pornography and other contraband, and terrorism.”

June 26, 2008

More Delays for Cameras in Subways

New York Times

Aging fiber-optic cable in Brooklyn and Queens has become the latest obstacle to a planned high-tech system of surveillance cameras meant to safeguard the subway and commuter railroads, according to Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials.

The system, which is expected to cost at least $450 million, is a crucial component of a larger program to thwart terrorist attacks on the region’s transportation network, but it has met repeatedly with technical problems and delays.

On Wednesday, the authority’s board authorized the replacement of 84,000 feet of old fiber-optic cable, which was installed in the late 1980s. The replacement will cost $5 million and is being done as part of a separate project to build out the subway’s data network.

According to a board document, tests on the cable showed that it had “many broken fibers unsuitable to carry the high bandwidth required” to transmit large amounts of data, which hindered the surveillance camera project. The document did not say how long it would take to replace the cable.

The authority’s board received a lengthy closed-door briefing on the security project on Wednesday and was told that it continued to face significant problems, including delays and increased costs, according to an official who attended the meeting.

“It is clearly significant,” the official said, referring to the severity of the problem.

Plans for the surveillance system were announced in August 2005, when officials said that they expected to have it up and running in three years. The system, which is being built by the defense contractor Lockheed Martin, is to include at least 1,000 surveillance cameras and 3,000 motion sensors, mostly concentrated at major travel hubs and high-volume stations, like Grand Central Terminal, as well as in tunnels and other areas.

It is also supposed to combine several advanced technologies and packages of software that could integrate information collected across the region’s vast transportation network.

But officials now acknowledge that the original schedule was far too ambitious.

“Any I.T. person will tell you,” another authority official said, referring to information technology experts, “that a contract like this could not have been done in the time they allotted. They couldn’t do it in three years.”

The official estimated that it could take two or three more years to complete, although some aspects of the system could be in operation sooner.

The two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the nature of the security measures, said, however, that they had not been told when the authority expected to have the system finished.

Jeremy Soffin, a spokesman for the authority, said that he could not comment on security matters.

A report released in January by the New York State comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, said that the surveillance camera project was behind schedule and was scheduled, at that time, to be finished in December 2009. The officials said on Wednesday that they did not know whether the date had been pushed back further.

The comptroller’s report also said that the surveillance project had been scaled back because of problems adapting the cameras’ software to conditions in the authority’s facilities.

One of the officials who spoke on Wednesday said those problems involved the cameras’ ability to spot an unattended bag or briefcase left on a train platform or other busy area and then alert law enforcement to the possible hazard. That capability had originally been promoted as a major feature of the system, but the official said it had failed in tests.

“There are too many people, too many things moving around in the system,” the official said.

The damaged fiber-optic cable is mainly on elevated portions of the J and Z lines, running from the Broadway Junction station in East New York, Brooklyn, to the Sutphin Boulevard station in Jamaica, Queens, and then along the E line to the Union Turnpike station.

Paul Fleuranges, a spokesman for New York City Transit, the arm of the authority that runs the subway, said that the because the cable was outdoors, it had deteriorated faster than similar cable in tunnels underground.

The replacement cable is being installed as part of a $200 million project that is separate from the security program, to create an up-to-date fiber-optic network throughout the subway system.

That project was expanded last year to include a $21 million upgrade to add technology that would allow larger amounts of data to move along the network. The extra capacity was needed to accommodate the surveillance camera system. However, the board document said the damaged cable could not handle the larger volume of data.

Officials refused to say how the Brooklyn-to-Queens segment of the fiber-optic network fits into the surveillance camera system. When it is complete, the surveillance system will send images and other data to a control center beside the Sunnyside railyard in Long Island City, Queens.

The comptroller’s office has issued periodic reports highlighting delays and increasing costs in the authority’s security program, which was conceived after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. The program includes the surveillance system as well as other projects to improve the security of bridges, tunnels and other facilities.

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