Daily Archives: December 1, 2012

Teen fights back against GPS tracking chips in school ID cards


Are your child’s civil rights being bashed because your school needs more cash?

examiner.com | Nov 29, 2012

By HM Epstein

In the battle between school districts’ squeezed budgets and your child’s civil rights, including religious freedom and privacy, the only winners are the corporations that sell school districts the expensive, invasive technology. They may also be the sole non-combatants in lawsuits that are starting to reach the courts.

On Wednesday, November 28, a motion filed by a super-sized Texas school district fighting the refusal of a lone high school student to submit to its surveillance technology may take the issue into the federal court system. More legal actions are being planned in other states where parents and students believe their school district’s high-tech security or cost-saving measures are infringing on their rights.

Surveillance cameras, biometric palm readers, RFID chips, GPS tracking scanners

Surveillance cameras, biometric palm readers, RFID chips, GPS tracking scanners. Each of these are employed by public schools, grades K through 12, in California, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Maryland and more to track students in an effort to improve attendance.

San Antonio’s Northside Independent School District (NISD), which bills itself as “San Antonio’s Premier School District”, consists of 112 schools and almost 100,000 students. The “Student Locator Project” is a pilot program for two of the schools with the lowest attendance records, John Jay High School and Anson Jones Middle School. It requires all students to wear a personal tracking device. Using radio frequency identification technology (RFID) embedded in student identification cards means the school can track the exact location of every student on the school grounds, excluding bathrooms. According to the district’s website, this is in addition to the recent “massive technology project that installed digital cameras in all high schools and middle schools” and is currently being installed in the 71 elementary schools.

That seems like a lot of security. So, why has the district invested over a quarter of a million dollars more in an RFID pilot program? The district’s FAQ page on the Student Locator Project says it may yield up to “$2 million in additional revenues”. Like many school systems, NISD’s funding is attendance-based rather than enrollment-based. Regardless of the number of students enrolled at the school, if students are absent due to illness or cutting, the district loses revenue.

Constitutional attorney and founder of the Rutherford Institute, John W. Whitehead, says “it’s a money-making venture. It’s all based on money.” There is money to be made by the “mega-corporations” who pitch the school boards and money to be made by the school districts who see missing students as missing dollars. Whitehead notes that there are already “290 surveillance cameras” watching students in the Northside district. In 2006, Whitehead served on a “national committee with the Constitution Project” (a non-profit, bi-partisan think tank addressing serious constitutional and legal questions) studying the effectiveness of surveillance cameras. His, and their, conclusions? “They don’t work; they don’t prevent crime; they record it.”

Hernandez told school officials she refused to wear the RFID embedded tag because she equates it with the mark of the devil.

Andrea Hernandez, a sophomore at John Jay High School’s Science and Engineering Academy, and her family are religious Christians. Hernandez told school officials she refused to wear the RFID embedded tag because she equates it with the mark of the devil, based on certain Scriptures in the book of Revelation. NISD officials warned her she would be unable to access the school’s library or cafeteria, or even vote for Homecoming King and Queen, which seems silly in the face of Hernandez’s beliefs. She didn’t relent. The district offered to remove her chip as long as she wore the tags and appeared to participate. She refused. So the district sent a letter to her father, Steve Hernandez, which said her refusal to wear the embedded ID meant she would be withdrawn from the highly competitive magnet school program by November 26.

Whitehead represents Hernandez in her efforts to stay at the magnet school. On November 21, he won a temporary restraining order preventing the school district from removing Hernandez from the science and engineering program. He believes there are three constitutional amendments getting trampled by NISD in this case, the 1st, the 4th and the 14th. The 1st amendment guarantees include freedom of religion and speech. The 4th amendment deals with privacy issues; it’s the one that protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as the need to establish probable cause to get a warrant. The 14th amendment includes a procedural due process clause, which the Supreme Court interpreted to include the necessity of a hearing before a student may be expelled from public school.

Whitehead said he understands that the Hernandez family’s action has “brought the issue to the forefront” and inspired “quite a few people” in San Antonio to object to their children wearing the tags. One of the goals of the suit is to provide “those who object to it based on religion, conscience or just basic privacy rights” to opt-out of the program, something the district doesn’t permit now.

While 81 percent of parents of “online teens” are concerned with advertisers’ financial incentives and access into their child’s activities online, according to the November 20, 2012 study by Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, how many parents are aware of the daily high-tech intrusions by their public schools, into the non-academic actions of students as young as kindergartners?

What do the schools gain? Shorter lunch lines.

Some schools in Louisiana, Mississippi, Maryland and Florida now identify students, even elementary school students, with palm scanners using near-infrared light just to pay for lunch. Infrared palm scans show a vein pattern that is as unique as a fingertip pattern and can be matched instantly to a record of your palm stored in a central computer. What do the schools gain by using these ink-free fingerprint-like scans? Shorter lunch lines.

However, in Carroll County, Maryland, elementary students in a pilot program were scanned before the school notified the parents they could opt-out. Some parents protested and, according to an article in The Baltimore Sun, 20 percent of the parents have now opted-out. Yet, Carroll County is still planning to roll-out the program into the rest of the 43 schools in their district. Total cost for software and hardware to the district? $300 thousand plus maintenance contracts with PalmSecure, a product of the only company to manufacture the scanners to date, Fujitsu.

Other companies in the student tracking business include Dallas, Texas-based AimTruancy Solutions and Austin, Texas-based Radiant RFID . Aim Truancy’s controversial approach to solving serious truancy cases is to force the student to carry a mandatory GPS tracker for six weeks and check in frequently each day with a mentor or coach…or “parole officer.” AimTruancy claims stellar results, not just in improved attendance numbers but in the quality of students’ lives “on the path to productive citizenship.” However, the results chart displays their main sales point, “The AimTruancy program is a net revenue generator for schools.” One of their early clients was the San Antonio Independent School District. Radiant RFID began in 2004 tracking packages and now runs a program for schools promoted with the tagline, “Our Student Accountability Solution keeps track of your most important assets.”

The hubris displayed by school district’s assurances that the data is safe is astonishing.

The hubris displayed by school district’s assurances that the data is safe is astonishing. DCist.com reported several Washington D.C. public schools were robbed over the Thanksgiving holiday, windows smashed and more than 10 computers stolen. WMCTV, a Memphis, Tennessee station, reported $58 thousand of computers were stolen from four public schools over the course of the February 2012 holiday. Public schools are not high-security institutions and even those are subject to human error and opportunistic theft. On November 13, NASA headquarters informed their employees that a unencrypted laptop and NASA documents were stolen from an employee’s car on October 31, 2012. The information on the laptop could be accessible to unauthorized individuals and personal data of a “large number” of NASA employees and contractors might have been compromised.

Whitehead believes the pace of technology is outstripping most people’s ability to “understand the ramifications”, comparing our society to “the movie Minority Report which is supposedly taking place in 2050; but everything in that movie has come to pass, now.”

Whitehead is not exaggerating. The Tom Cruise movie Minority Report (2002) was about a government program, Precrime, that arrests and convicts citizens for crimes they are about to commit. The technology for that is coming FAST, or as Homeland Security calls it, Future Attribute Screening Technology, to “rapidly identify suspicious behavior indicators,” which was green-lighted last year for further development.

To learn more abut how to protect yourself and your family online and off, visit the website for the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC.org). EPIC is a non-profit research center in Washington, D.C. that focuses “public attention on emerging privacy and civil liberties issues.” Their website is a terrific clearinghouse and resource about the potential dangers of technology to privacy. To learn more about student privacy issues and children’s online privacy issues, click the links.
Teen fights back against tracking chips in school ID cards

Fairbanks: This November and last will be the coldest back-to-back Novembers on record


Think it’s cold now? Winter’s first cold snap hits Fairbanks

News-Miner | Nov 30, 2012

by Tim Mowry

FAIRBANKS — Does 30 degrees below zero qualify as a cold snap, or does it have to hit 40 below? It may be a moot point by the time you read this.

The mercury hit 30 below for the first time this winter at Fairbanks International Airport on Thursday morning, and the National Weather Service says it probably will drop to 40 below in Fairbanks by the weekend, if it hasn’t already.

“The usual places … North Pole, the Goldstream Valley … will probably hit 40 below (Thursday) night,” meteorologist Rick Thoman with the National Weather Service in Fairbanks said on Thursday.

“If it doesn’t cloud up over the weekend, we’ve certainly got a decent shot of 40 below at the airport.”

As for the chance of clouds moving into the central Interior, Thoman said it doesn’t look likely. A low-pressure system moving west from Canada might bring some clouds to the eastern Interior, but they probably won’t reach as far as Fairbanks, he said.

“They may get some clouds down around Tok, but getting them this far northwest does not look likely,” Thoman said.

Which means it’s probably going to remain cold for the foreseeable future.

“We’re cold for some time to come; it’s just a question of how cold,” Thoman said.

Consider it the season’s first cold snap. Thursday marked the sixth day in a row the temperature at the airport didn’t climb above 10 below. Wednesday was the first day with a high temperature of 20 below or colder — it was 21 below — at the airport.

It was even colder in the eastern Interior, where a low of 52 below was recorded in Chicken on the Taylor Highway. A low of 44 below was reported in Eagle and Dry Creek. It was 43 below at Circle Hot Springs.

The weekend forecast calls for lows in Fairbanks down to 45 below and highs in the 20 to 30 below range through at least Monday.

“It does look pretty likely over the weekend that the air mass is going to get colder,” Thoman said.

It will get colder in the hills, too, he said. The inversion that people living at higher elevations have enjoyed the past few days is expected to dissipate by Saturday.

“Temperatures in the hills are definitely going to go down,” Thoman said, noting that it was 1 degree above zero at his house on top of 3,000-foot Murphy Dome on Thursday morning when the temperature at the airport was in the high 20s below at the airport.

The cold snap is a fitting end to what will be one of the coldest Novembers on record. Through Wednesday, the average temperature for the month was minus 7.5 degrees, which is 11 degrees below normal, Thoman said. Thursday marked the 16th day of the month the temperature hit 20 below or colder.

“This month is going to be in the top few coldest Novembers of record,” Thoman said. “It’s not going to be the coldest, but it might be the fourth or fifth.”

That would put it just ahead of November 2011, which ranked as the sixth-coldest November on record with an average temperature of minus 8.2, in large part because of a pre-Thanksgiving cold snap that resulted in the coldest week — average temperature of 30.1 below — ever recorded in Fairbanks before Thanksgiving.

Thoman said this November and last will be the coldest back-to-back Novembers on record.

Whistleblower targeted by TSA for “revealing too much information”


presstv.com | Nov 29, 2012

A former TSA supervisor who alerted a news team to potentially dangerous security lapses at Nashville International Airport is now officially “under investigation” by the federal agency, which has accused him of revealing too much information.

As reported by WSMV news, Gerald Smith supplied the Channel 4 I-Team with information detailing how TSA screeners were routinely bypassing security checkpoints throughout the airport, and rarely having bags checked when passing into secure areas.

Smith also alerted the news team to the fact that TSA employees at the airport have continuously failed tests on identifying suspicious items in luggage.

Following WSMV’s expose, in which Smith appeared on camera, the former supervisor received a letter from the TSA warning him that he is now under investigation for supplying the news station with details on TSA training materials and other information pertaining to security screenings and personnel.

The letter identified several “violations” and warned Smith that he could face an $11,000 fine for each one.

In response to the threat, Smith told the news station “I guess if you’re the government and have unlimited resources, you can go after whoever you want to, but that doesn’t make it right.”

“When I was contacted about coming forward, I did it for one sole purpose. The question I was asked was, ‘Do you have any security concerns at the airport?’ And my answer was yes,” Smith said, adding that he felt it was his duty as an American citizen to speak out. Prison Planet


The video showed the employees flashed badges and entered a secure hallway. Without a guard looking to verify who was carrying the badges, the employees punch in a code and are allowed access into the concourses of the airport where the planes take off.

Emily Richard, spokeswoman for Nashville International Airport, confirmed 5,500 employees are granted the badges and allowed to enter through the doorway. wsmv.com

The Whistleblower Protection Act permits federal employees to provide the office with any communications, including confidential business information, that disclose government waste, fraud, abuse, gross mismanagement or health and safety issues, according to special counsel officials. nextgov.com

The Transportation Security Administration ordered for a computer program to snoop into the online activities of agency employees, including their keystrokes and emails, for signs of potential leaks, procurement documents reveal. TSA issued a solicitation for an “enterprise insider threat software package” in June. nextgov.com

Unhappy Birthday: The TSA’s First 11 Years


ACLU | Nov 30, 2012

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project

November 25 marked the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Homeland Security Act, which created the sprawling Department of Homeland Security. Included in this new behemoth agency was another agency that had been created a year earlier, the Transportation Security Administration. It’s worth taking a look back at the short history of this agency.

The first and biggest conclusion we can reach is that the vast bulk of the increased security that we’ve obtained since 9/11 has been due to two factors: the securing of airplane cockpit doors, and the fact that no planeload of passengers in a hijacked aircraft will ever again sit back placidly and wait to land in Cuba or whatever. We’ve been saying this for years and it remains true. It’s hard to believe in light of all that has followed, but a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, the ACLU issued a press release with the headline, “ACLU Applauds Sensible Scope of Bush Airport Security Plan.” What we were reacting to was a set of commonsense steps the administration had taken such as increased baggage screening and securing those cockpit doors.

In that same press release, however, we were already noting that far more dubious and intrusive ideas were beginning to circulate. Unfortunately, in the decade that followed we confronted more such proposals and programs than we ever imagined at the time. It’s worth a quick review of some of the lowlights:

  • Passenger profiling. I wrote here and here about this idea of ranking or rating the “trustworthiness” of everyone who flies through some kind of background check. Although the concept largely collapsed on its own unfeasibility (with Secure Flight the only remnant remaining), the profiling vision lives on in the new Pre-Check program.
  • Body scanners. Widespread introduction of this intrusive technology sparked widespread opposition, though the introduction of less-invasive “outline” technology has helped.
  • Pat-downs. Pat-down horror stories quickly began to circulate online and in the media after the TSA instituted new, far more intrusive pat down procedures. And the appalling complaints that poured into the ACLU made clear that the media stories were only the tip of the iceberg.
  • Watch lists. The airline watch list program (which we continue to challenge in court) has been one of the most truly Kafkaesque security programs we’ve seen in recent years, with uncounted individuals caught up with no meaningful remedy. Although the provision of dates of birth through Secure Flight seems to have ended the time when a victim could be found at every cocktail party and backyard barbecue, now we are seeing more intense harms affecting a smaller number of individuals.
  • Behavioral profiling. This intrusive new program is built on pseudoscience and, as we have long predicted, has led to racial profiling, but it continues to live on for now.

The TSA likes to talk about its pursuit of “layered security,” especially in response to critics who point out the security failings and gaps in each of the above programs. Unfortunately, what we’ve seen has been layer upon layer of intrusive and unpleasant programs that don’t necessarily add up to an airline system any safer than the system put in place at the time when we issued that first press release. Fortunately, actual attempts to attack on our airline system remain exceedingly rare as they have always been in a system that carries up to 2.5 million passengers a day on domestic flights alone. But for all the intrusion, inconvenience, time-waste and expense of the TSA’s efforts in the past 11 years, it is far from clear to me that a determined attacker’s chances of succeeding with a plot would be any lower. The marginal benefit (i.e. any additional security we’ve gained over what we got from locking the cockpit doors and other basic security steps) has been far too small to justify the costs.

And what have those costs been? In addition to the “tax” on the efficiency of our economy that these security measures bring due to wasted time and expense, and the general ruin of flying as a pleasurable activity, Americans now routinely feel the intrusive hand (often, literally) of the federal national security state bearing down on them in a way that is unprecedented in our history. To fly around our own country, Americans are now forced to accept privacy intrusions that would have left prior generations aghast. Many have made peace with today’s airline security system, but the fact remains, in a very real sense, we have lost some of our freedom.

TSA skips hearing on inappropriate pat-downs, stating congress doesn’t have proper “jurisdiction”

The incident included the niece of a U.S. congressman whose breasts were revealed during an enhanced pat-down.

An agency spokesman said TSA doesn’t believe the committee has proper “jurisdiction.”

wsbtv.com | Nov 29, 2012

WASHINGTON — Congress had some hard questions for the Transportation Security Administration after a security worker disrobed a 17-year-old girl during an airport pat-down.

Channel 2’s Scott MacFarlane broke the story about the investigation but has found out Congress still isn’t getting answers from the TSA.

The girl was traveling with a youth group from a Christian school in Texas and was wearing a sundress.

During a pat-down, the girl’s dress slipped. Her breasts were exposed in a terminal at the Los Angeles airport.

The girl is the niece of a Texas congressman.

In a U.S. House hearing Thursday, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., wanted to know how it happened.

“A TSA agent who cannot look at a 17-year-old girl in a sundress and say she doesn’t pose a risk without subjecting the traveling public and an innocent young lady to this kind of embarrassment?” Mica asked.

But TSA’s top administrator, John Pistole, couldn’t answer the question because he didn’t appear.

The TSA snubbed the House Transportation Committee’s investigation of aviation security and pat-downs Thursday.

An agency spokesman said TSA doesn’t believe the committee has proper “jurisdiction.”

Most of those who did show up represent the air travel industry, and much like some of the pat-downs themselves, the TSA’s no-show didn’t go over well.

“Their absence today shows why the public is so frustrated by the TSA. These people are public servants and should reflect that in their attitude, instead of the arrogance we see,” said Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis.

MacFarlane confirmed the agency did conduct an internal investigation of the incident with the teenage girl and ruled it accidental.

The employee wasn’t fired but was given extra training.

The teen isn’t alone in complaints about pat-downs. MacFarlane found 17,000 passengers have filed formal complaints with the TSA since 2009 about their pat-downs.

Lawsuit filed by NYPD officer punished for reporting illegal arrest-quota system is reinstated

Officer’s Lawsuit Over Quotas Is Reinstated

nytimes.com | Nov 28, 2012


Craig MatthewsA federal appeals court on Wednesday reinstated a lawsuit filed by a New York City police officer who accused his superiors of violating his First Amendment rights by punishing him for reporting the existence of an illegal arrest-quota system.

The officer, Craig Matthews, a veteran of the 42nd Precinct in the Bronx, had claimed in the lawsuit that he was subjected to a “campaign of retaliation and harassment” after he complained about a “highly developed” system that mandated numerical quotas for arrests, summonses and stop-and-frisk encounters.

But in April, a federal judge dismissed the suit on the grounds that the officer’s complaints were “made pursuant to his job duties,” and were therefore not constitutionally protected speech.

In a summary order overturning that ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said the record had not yet been “sufficiently developed” in the lower court to determine whether Officer Matthews had been speaking “pursuant to his official duties” when he made his complaints.

The appeals court did not rule on the merits of Officer Matthews’s claim, but said that for him to be able to sue for such First Amendment retaliation, he had to have spoken “as a citizen addressing matters of public concern.”

Christopher T. Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Officer Matthews, said the officer “chose to expose this corruption, and instead of commending him, the Police Department made his life miserable.”

“Today’s win puts us a step closer toward rectifying that wrong and ending this unlawful retaliation,” Mr. Dunn said.

Marta Ross, a lawyer with the city’s Law Department, said: “We are disappointed in the court’s decision.”

“We believe that we’ll be successful at the case’s conclusion,” she added. The Law Department said it was also speaking for the Police Department.

Three months ago, city officials praised Officer Matthews for being one of two officers who shot and killed a gunman in front of the Empire State Building.

In his lawsuit, Officer Matthews said that he had complained multiple times to his commanding officers about the quota system, contending that it “was causing unjustified stops, arrests, and summonses because police officers felt forced to abandon their discretion in order to meet their numbers.”

Gaza’s children suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder


Reuters | Nov 29, 2012

The repeated exposure to violence has left many of Gaza’s children suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Children, who account for more than half of the 1.7 million people in Gaza, have been back to school, but there is still a long way for them to be back to normal.

These children, who have lived through two wars with Israel, are still coming to terms with what happened during Israel’s week-long bombardment of Gaza.

Saad Hasanat, 13, who lost six of his cousins, said the memory of seeing their bodies still haunts him.

“When I remember that scene I feel my body shudder. Deep inside I imagine being in their place and people looking at my dead body. It’s too much to bear, it was so terrible,” said Saad Hasanat.

Death and destruction have become part of Gaza’s children’s life and their trauma is exacerbated by repeated exposure.

UK Shielding Israel From War Crimes Prosecutions

Gaza: “Pinpoint Accuracy” – More Child Sacrifices

Israel’s War on Palestinian Children

“It’s actually very hard to speak about post-traumatic stress disorder when the trauma keeps going on and keeps recurring. So, it’s no longer an event which happens in your life and then you have the time to deal with it but it’s something that keeps happening and that’s what these children keep witnessing,” said Karl Schembri, staff member of the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said 34 children were killed during the eight day war and hundreds more were wounded. Those who survived are still struggling to piece together what happened.

Mazem Rayyan, 16, and his family were at home when a missile hit their neighbor’s house. The family all managed to escape unharmed but their home was completely destroyed.

“All my life has changed. All, all, all, my life has changed from good things to bad things. You can say from one hundred to zero. It has been destroyed. I don’t know what I will do now. Really, I don’t know,” said Mazen Rayyan.

It will take time for Gaza to repair the damage of war but it will take far longer for the mental scars to heal.