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August 1, 2013 1:49 PM   Subscribe

Two searches meant a surprise visit. Local police visited a Long Island family allegedly because of their recent Google searches.
First discussions from the Atlantic, the Guardian, and Hacker News.

They mentioned that they do this about 100 times a week. And that 99 of those visits turn out to be nothing. I don’t know what happens on the other 1% of visits and I’m not sure I want to know what my neighbors are up to.
posted by doctornemo (130 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Quinoa? This month's miracle food isn't it?
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:53 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, then there's this...

"A Long Island woman named Michele Catalano posts photos of M-66 explosives (that look to me like extra-large firecrackers) publicly on Facebook. A few weeks later the local cops show up and ask her husband if they have any bomb-making equipment.

Instead of drawing the most likely conclusion, she instead blames this on local Long Island cops MONITORING HER GOOGLE SEARCHES. "
posted by GuyZero at 1:54 PM on August 1, 2013 [33 favorites]


The most pathetic and scary part of all these anecdotes about security-state interactions we hear about in articles like this is the apparent utter ineptitude of the authorities. These people have no idea what they're doing. And they have a great deal of power.
posted by aught at 1:58 PM on August 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


I think using that picture in the Atlantic article from the search after the Boston bombing is pretty inflammatory.
posted by blurker at 2:00 PM on August 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


Meanwhile, my dog, ever in search of new friends to pet him, is at home google searching up a storm.
posted by phunniemee at 2:00 PM on August 1, 2013 [21 favorites]


Yeah, this set off the bullshit alarm big-time this morning. I would bet good money this was not a result of her Google searches being monitored.
posted by eugenen at 2:01 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


but wait - I thought all this internet dragnet was not supposed to target people domestically...?
posted by H. Roark at 2:02 PM on August 1, 2013


I'm kind of WHAT over the feds going "So can we come in and look around" and the husband doesn't say "Do you have a warrant?" and just lets them in.

I was talking with a friend who posted this on fb earlier and of course we wondered exactly how many people have gotten or are going to get these kinds of visits. Am I? I'm pretty sure I googled some "suspicious"-looking stuff in the days following the Boston bombings.
posted by rtha at 2:02 PM on August 1, 2013 [14 favorites]


"A Long Island woman named Michele Catalano posts photos of M-66 explosives (that look to me like extra-large firecrackers) publicly on Facebook. A few weeks later the local cops show up and ask her husband if they have any bomb-making equipment.

Gee, if only there were some ridiculous (and at least notionally patriotic) tradition in early July that involved the handling of small explosives, such that the private handling of small explosives were still perfectly innocent and normal. I mean, even if that photo were the reason, I still think this investigation was officious and unwarranted.
posted by gauche at 2:02 PM on August 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


I think using that picture in the Atlantic article from the search after the Boston bombing is pretty inflammatory.

Oh, yeah. That's just garbage journalism.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:02 PM on August 1, 2013


If this is a thing, it would be chilling. Which would be pleasant, this summer, except, No, I'd like to be able to Google without getting a house search. I do have way too many old computers, so if they took some of the real boat anchors, that would be okay.
posted by theora55 at 2:04 PM on August 1, 2013


Gee, if only there were some ridiculous (and at least notionally patriotic) tradition in early July that involved the handling of small explosives, such that the private handling of small explosives were still perfectly innocent and normal. I mean, even if that were the photo, I still think this investigation was officious and unwarranted.

Sure, but the outrage is about Google searches. If she wasn't targeted based on her search history, there's no story. And my money's on "no story." We'll see.
posted by eugenen at 2:05 PM on August 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


Now imagine how this would have gone if she hadn't been white.
posted by elizardbits at 2:05 PM on August 1, 2013 [27 favorites]


For the record, I actually find the whole fireworks business to be tacky and obnoxious and wouldn't mind one bit if we stopped using them to celebrate how big America's penis is, but I also don't think a person putting photos of firecrackers on facebook in early July is a national security threat worth investigating. Don't they know there's a sequester going on?
posted by gauche at 2:06 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Now imagine how this would have gone if she hadn't been white.

Likely worse, but that seems unrelated to the point of the story.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:07 PM on August 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


I mean, even if that photo were the reason, I still think this investigation was officious and unwarranted.

Absolutely. But the point is that there have been really dumb reasons for searches before and it doesn't require Internet-ESP to get a bunch of nosy officials to come to your door. All it takes is a cranky neighbour, a believable story and the phone number of a local FBI office.
posted by GuyZero at 2:07 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Michele Catalano previously (second link in the post) on MeFi. (She's walked back the whole warblogging/voting-for-Bush-'cause-of-terrorism thing, but still.)
posted by asterix at 2:07 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


not supposed to target people domestically
"The supervisor must endorse the analyst's "reasonable belief," defined as 51 percent confidence, that the specified target is a foreign national who is overseas at the time of collection."

I'm sure that if the analysts' and supervisors' beliefs are miscalibrated they will receive a stern talking-to.
posted by roystgnr at 2:07 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am about to leave for the day, so a couple things:

1. The only source any of these news outlets have is her original post. At no point in her post does Catalano mention the authorities actually confirming that her Google searches were what brought them to her house. She appears to have drawn that connection herself, and a lot of outlets are reporting this as fact.

2. It seems a little bizarre that the task force would go to the house these searches originated from but not want to talk to the 20-year-old son or look in his room. If I were on one of these teams, that would be the first person I'd want to talk to, especially in the wake of spree killings by kids of similar ages.

3. It also seems a bit weird that this is allegedly happening a hundred times a week, but this is the first we're hearing about it.

4. At first, she claimed the FBI were the ones who showed up, then she said it was a joint terrorism task force. The FBI stated they were not involved in this, but that the Nassau County police were, in conjunction with the Suffolk County police. The Nassau County police department says they have no record of this visit. The Suffolk County police department has not commented yet.

5. Catalano was originally willing to talk to the press but busy at the time. Then people started asking her to clarify some weird parts of her story. Suddenly she was not giving interviews. Then announced she was getting off Twitter for the day.

It kind of seems like some parts of this don't add up. I don't think she made it up out of whole cloth but there are parts of it she's leaving out. I suppose it remains to be seen what those are.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 2:08 PM on August 1, 2013 [52 favorites]


All it takes is a cranky neighbour, a believable story and the phone number of a local FBI office.

Yeah, complain to the cops about stolen property and nothing will happen unless you do all the legwork yourself.

But snitch to the authorities that someone [who you don't like] posted a picture of a bomb (ie. firecracker) to Facebook, and they get a housecall from the feds.
posted by ceribus peribus at 2:14 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


One thing that concerns me is that I can't really even see any practical point to conducting informational interviews like this other than that of demonstrating power and reminding people they live in a surveillance state.

What, like a terrorist is going to be all "cripes, ya got me!" and pull off his fake moustache?
posted by threeants at 2:16 PM on August 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Actually my car window got busted one time and my GPS unit got stolen (in my own driveway!).

The local police came out, photographed the scene and even dusted for prints. Now, I realize the odds of this case being solved are zero but I was quite surprised how responsive my local police were. The office was super nice about it all.

But yeah, I realize that's not what happens in most places.
posted by GuyZero at 2:17 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]



Update, 3:40 p.m.: It is still not clear which agency knocked on Catalano's door. The Guardian reported this morning that an FBI spokesperson said that "she was visited by Nassau County police department … working in conjunction with Suffolk County police department." (Catalano apparently lives on Long Island, most likely in Nassau County.)

Detective Garcia of the Nassau County Police, however, told The Atlantic Wire by phone that his department was "not involved in any way." Similarly, FBI spokesperson Peter Donald confirmed with The Atlantic Wire that his agency wasn't involved in the visit. He also stated that he could not answer whether or not the agency provided information that led to the visit, as he didn't know.


Hmmm...
posted by Artw at 2:17 PM on August 1, 2013


What, like a terrorist is going to be all "cripes, ya got me!" and pull off his fake moustache?

Sometimes this happens...

"ROSELLE PARK (WABC) -- Police are investigating a home in New Jersey where they say bomb-making materials were discovered following a traffic stop...

Authorities followed up, visiting the apartment Dulk shares with his mother. There, police reportedly found cannisters of black powder, several pieces of PVC and metal piping, disassembled firearms, high-capacity magazines and an M-4 assault weapon."

Sometimes they go looking for bombs and actually find bombs.
posted by GuyZero at 2:19 PM on August 1, 2013


Now imagine how this would have gone if she hadn't been white.
Now imagine how this would have gone if she had used Bing!
posted by fullerine at 2:20 PM on August 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Now imagine how this would have gone if she had used Bing!

Yeah, she never would have found out about how pressure cookers work.
posted by GuyZero at 2:20 PM on August 1, 2013 [51 favorites]


As to what kind of thing the FBI might think I'm building based on my Google searches, I could not say, but I bet it's pretty rad.
posted by Artw at 2:20 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not the FBI, not the local Police... OMG, the rumors about Google Cops are true!

Yeah, sure.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:21 PM on August 1, 2013


The Washington Post doesn't think this was based on personal Google searches, nor that the FBI was involved
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 2:23 PM on August 1, 2013


Here's the thing about signals intelligence - the more you use it, the more your opposition knows about it, the less useful it is. Sending the FBI to visit a bunch of randos based on a couple of searches would be a spectacularly poor use of a supposedly-secret Google monitoring program.
posted by Artw at 2:24 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


whoa whoa. Those links contain all the keywords. Just by clicking on them we may all get visits.

we need a new label. maybe (Not Safe In America) or something
posted by Ad hominem at 2:25 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


"M-66" is a brand of firecracker. Looks like you can buy a whole box of 36 for about $12. Michele posted a picture of them on the 4th of July according to the Facebook record
posted by Bwithh at 2:26 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just by clicking on them we may all get visits.

Some days I am a little lonely and I think this would be just grand.
posted by jessamyn at 2:27 PM on August 1, 2013 [35 favorites]


I keep coming back to the thought that they (the Feds, the police, whomever) cannot have the budget for this kind of "personalized service" for something as ridiculous as a combination of Google searches for pressure cookers and backpacks.

If they really do this 100 times a week, we're talking 20 times a day, assuming they take weekends off, which, using a conservative 10 hour workday (yeah, right) is one visit every 30 minutes. Really? How many six-person three-vehicle search teams are we talking about here? Who is paying for this? And that's not even counting the time and effort to do the data search and put the list of suspects together.

No wonder we can't afford roads and schools and healthcare...
posted by blurker at 2:28 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


FBI visit Meetup at jessamyn's place!
posted by kmz at 2:29 PM on August 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


If anyone ever did a keyword search of my internets history in the 8-12 month period post-Inception release I would be in gitmo forever. Unless the NSA has a "no, wait, it's okay, it was just for fanfic" division.
posted by elizardbits at 2:29 PM on August 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Sometimes they go looking for bombs and actually find bombs.

If law enforcement thinks someone has bombs, they should obtain a search warrant and go look for bombs.
posted by threeants at 2:29 PM on August 1, 2013 [12 favorites]


I'm in! I'll bring my backpack!
posted by blurker at 2:29 PM on August 1, 2013


Who is paying for this?

Ted, from accounting.
posted by elizardbits at 2:30 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


That was in response to kmz. Sorry. :)
posted by blurker at 2:31 PM on August 1, 2013


Some days I am a little lonely and I think this would be just grand.

Good point. I'll put on a pot of coffee while I wait for the knock.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:31 PM on August 1, 2013


Also yeah, those m-66 dealies, which may be better known as m-80s are pretty damn illegal in New York. I almost got shot lighting one when I was a kid. I've never seen so many cops run with their guns drawn so fast.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:35 PM on August 1, 2013


Bwithh: ""M-66" is a brand of firecracker. Looks like you can buy a whole box of 36 for about $12. Michele posted a picture of them on the 4th of July according to the Facebook recor"

M-66 sounds like a brand trying to sound like M-80, which is a real thing but that many other normal firecrackers are also called to fool people into buying them.
Now, I know a guy, he can get some of those real ones, and also get... um, how do I say this to get around being monitored...Dy-no-Might!
posted by Red Loop at 2:36 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Assuming that this is another incident of someone posting something to the Internet (firecrackers to Facebook), getting reported by some naive/malicious person, and then being investigated by the cops, then we did this thread a few weeks ago. Just to plug the same thing I did back then, This American Life did a good story on how a comedian got in some similar trouble.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:36 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


What, like a terrorist is going to be all "cripes, ya got me!" and pull off his fake moustache?

If the movies are anything to go by, it will lead to exciting chases over rooftops and through alleys of a gritty cityscape. Probably a trashcan will be overthrown to slow down the pursuing officers. A fruit cart might get involved.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:39 PM on August 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


phunniemee: "Meanwhile, my dog, ever in search of new friends to pet him, is at home google searching up a storm"

You should probably break it to him gently that petting is not the main thing SWAT teams do to dogs when they raid homes.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:44 PM on August 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


I keep coming back to the thought that they (the Feds, the police, whomever) cannot have the budget for this kind of "personalized service" for something as ridiculous as a combination of Google searches for pressure cookers and backpacks.

If they really do this 100 times a week, we're talking 20 times a day, assuming they take weekends off, which, using a conservative 10 hour workday (yeah, right) is one visit every 30 minutes. Really? How many six-person three-vehicle search teams are we talking about here? Who is paying for this? And that's not even counting the time and effort to do the data search and put the list of suspects together.

No wonder we can't afford roads and schools and healthcare...


Given that the NSA just admitted they've spent billions on billions to learn about 1 terrorist plot, this sort of thing might seem like a wise and restrained use of money to them.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:47 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


He walked outside and the men greeted him by flashing badges.

Tom Sawyer Detective Agency? Junior Birdmen? He didn't think to look a little more closely at these un-uniformed whomevers before allowing them inside the house? Granted, stressful situation, but pity he wasn't a little bit more on the ball here.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:49 PM on August 1, 2013


For what we're paying for these programs, couldn't we just find random threatening-seeming guys and give them a few hundred thousand dollars? Then America will become your beloved lottery-winning uncle rather than terrible. Or at least it'd be about as likely to stop terrorism and might randomly improve things, too.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:51 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I lived in a warehouse that contained 4 things:

a mosque without a planning permit that was giving sanctuary to undocumented immigrants,

an artists workshop called mechanarchy where giant robots and protest art was made, including a mock missile with a radioactive symbol which was used at anti nuclear protests. The missile was so big that it had to be parked out the front.

a Jewish owned furniture wholesaler, whose owner had a collection of very nice vintage luxury cars.

a Muslim owned plaster fittings manufacturer that had the radio blaring in arabic all day.

On more than one occasion the 'intelligence' services turned up after a tip off that included frenzied revelations of 'muslims, missiles, uranium, burkas, middle eastern looking guy in a fancy car, busy workshop etc...'

Because I don't live in the US, the intelligence service aren't well enough funded to turn up guns drawn to every tip off, but all the same I am glad it was never me that had to explain
posted by compound eye at 2:54 PM on August 1, 2013 [20 favorites]


So this was a creative writing project that just happened to hit enough of the right buttons for it to be treated like news?
posted by peeedro at 2:54 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fireworks, of the kind not set off by professionals that explode in pretty colors overhead for appreciative crowds one day per year, are the entertainment domain of assholes. I say this as an owner of pups that shit the bed when the banging starts, and who monitors the "lost dogs" list the days after the man-children have lit off their toys.
posted by maxwelton at 2:55 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I do wonder how cordial and accommodating those same cops would've been if he'd asked them for a warrant and been less open. I've thought about this a few times when I've thought about what I'd do in similar situations. It seems cowardly and complacent to not force them to respect your rights against unwarranted searches, but it also seems like a good way for them to piss off a bunch of people who have the ability to trash your shit.
posted by codacorolla at 2:55 PM on August 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


To be clear, when I'm dictator, that's who will feel the heel of my jackboot.
posted by maxwelton at 2:56 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think kinda the buried lede here is how the G-Men ( or whoever) that did the search were so laid back - clearly they didn't believe this was a worthwhile mission... So what's up with the supervisory structure or process that makes them go through with so many of these ?
posted by Bwithh at 2:56 PM on August 1, 2013


"You should probably break it to him gently that petting is not the main thing SWAT teams do to dogs when they raid homes."

IF you know that law enforcement is coming over I would have a muzzle and kennel ready for each dog. They tend to just shoot any dog over 20lbs, no chance to even restrain your dog before they decide the dog is a threat.

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/chat/3023941/posts?page=95

I am terrified for the life of my three 60lb dogs --I only have one kennel and one muzzle available. How can I prevent such a violent end to my beloved dogs' lives? Of course I do not search for anything suspicious online but there have been "raids" on the wrong house in many instances. Looks like now Google and other collaborators are a threat to my dogs' lives. Assholes!
posted by RuvaBlue at 2:58 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think kinda the buried lede here is how the G-Men ( or whoever) that did the search were so laid back - clearly they didn't believe this was a worthwhile mission... So what's up with the supervisory structure or process that makes them go through with so many of these ?

Exactly.
posted by blurker at 2:58 PM on August 1, 2013


oneswellfoop: "OMG, the rumors about Google Cops are true!"

when Google Cops are after you the trick is to run and find an iPolice squad. Once the two groups of enemies spot each other they will immediately stop following you and instead battle each other. Cheap AI implementation.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:58 PM on August 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


To be clear, when I'm dictator, that's who will feel the heel of my jackboot.

It's ok. When I'm dictator, there will be fireworks every night, because fireworks are awesome. I guess it's a race. Or maybe you can be dictator of that patch and I can be dictator of this patch, and you can keep your incontinent dogs over there and I can burn gunpowder here? I don't know, we'll work it out somehow.
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:00 PM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Picture asside, no actual SWAT teams are involved in this story.
posted by Artw at 3:02 PM on August 1, 2013


So what's up with the supervisory structure or process that makes them go through with so many of these ?

Well, the reason that some enforcement agencies (one example that I've heard about on the radio is the IDF in Palestinian communities) do this is to say "We're watching you, and you know we're watching you." They'll do early morning sweeps of residences to record and photograph young members of the family, make a big deal of making maps with conspicuous marks on them, and make a big show of it. When they get back to base they throw all of the collected data in the trash and erase the memory cards of the cameras because they don't give a shit about the information, they just want to do a bit of theater.
posted by codacorolla at 3:02 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is made up. If this weren't made up, these six fellas, making 100 visits a week, would have visited 5200 homes per year. There are 448,500 households in Nassau County. That means these six guys visit 1.2% of the households in Nassau County every year. And no one's said anything about this so far?
posted by samofidelis at 3:07 PM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Of course I do not search for anything suspicious online

Like different kinds of bags? Or things that cook stuff?
posted by rtha at 3:10 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm really leery after reading this WaPo story.

It seems like she's really sort of obfuscating which police, etc. Certainly it should be looked into, but the FBI denies being involved and its some sort of local outfit.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:13 PM on August 1, 2013


Well, the reason that some enforcement agencies (one example that I've heard about on the radio is the IDF in Palestinian communities) do this is to say "We're watching you, and you know we're watching you." They'll do early morning sweeps of residences to record and photograph young members of the family, make a big deal of making maps with conspicuous marks on them, and make a big show of it. When they get back to base they throw all of the collected data in the trash and erase the memory cards of the cameras because they don't give a shit about the information, they just want to do a bit of theater.

This is not Palestine. We are not living under the conditions they are forced to live in. We elected every person who has ultimate authority. The Palestinians don't really even get that.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:16 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe these are imported lawmen from Oklahoma where Google's favorite right wing Senator is from.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:22 PM on August 1, 2013


The whole system is unjust, codacorolla. This is just one side of it.

The system was sold to the US Government by a salesman, who is going to take home hundreds of thousands of dollars. And in return, the government agent will swing out to lobbyland and collect his "salary" after he has made sure that there is no longer "conflict of interest." Allow me to demonstrate how this relationship works:

"Hello, wealthy Congressmen Bob! How is your job in Congress going?" said Fred.

"Swell, wealthy Lobbyist Fred! How is your latest project to lower taxes for our -- I mean your -- industry going?" said Bob.

"Quite well, thanks! Listen, while I'm treating you to a $200 lunch, you should really consider giving us massive tax breaks. And after your term is over, who knows, maybe I'll pay you a quarter million dollars per year to eat free lunch in Washington, DC. Though you may have to show up four days per week." Fred winked at Bob, but of course, it meant nothing.

"Thank you, Fred. I will consider taking a look at the laws you have drafted and given to me to hand to an assistant so it can be pushed through congress, buried in some obscure tax code that will be attached to a bill to save kittens and protect freedom. I assume you will have this conversation with hundreds of other 'members of congress' and make similar offers of monetary campaign support. In no way will any of these discussions about a quarter of a million dollars in salary and benefits or possible political donations to my massive re-election effort affect my judgement." Bob gleamed back at Fred, but of course, it meant nothing.

"Well, that sounds great! America is a wonderful country to do business in, isn't it Lobbyist Bob?"

"It sure is, Congressman Fred."

Anyway, looping back to the current story, billions of dollars in possible revenue for private corporations are quite an incentive to find crime where none exists. I think the amount of terrorism that has been claimed to have been stopped versus the hundreds of billions we have spent on the "problem" is not just evidence of a failed, unconstitutional government program. It's evidence of a racket.
posted by deanklear at 3:29 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is not Palestine. We are not living under the conditions they are forced to live in. We elected every person who has ultimate authority. The Palestinians don't really even get that.

Sure, but you mean to say you've never seen a gratuitous show of force from police in the US?
posted by hoyland at 3:32 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


This reminds me of someone I encountered a while back. We both lived on Long Island, and were in a professional networking group on Facebook together. She was convinced a terrorist was a fan of her business Facebook page because the person's posts were in Arabic and the pictures were "scary" and she was going to report them to the police.

We Long Islanders are really good at paranoia.
posted by inertia at 3:33 PM on August 1, 2013


It wasn't Google searches, probably, that draw the police to the house.

But with the NSA's horrifying internet surveillance mechanisms, can you be absolutely sure?
posted by JHarris at 3:48 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of the discussion here a couple of months ago about whether the FBI could retrieve the audio from a call to Tsarnaev's widow, and whether it was technically possible to record all phone calls made in the country. Boy, we've sure learned a lot since then, right?

The details of this incident don't really matter. We're just skating towards the puck of truth. We should instead ask, where is the puck headed? Or rather, the fuzzy quantum superposition of fact and disinformation that has to substitute these days, since some asshole slapped the puck up on top of that abandoned building with the wire fence and no one wants to go over there and get poison ivy again.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 3:50 PM on August 1, 2013


Where does this woman live, East Meadow, maybe?
posted by etaoin at 3:52 PM on August 1, 2013


But with the NSA's horrifying internet surveillance mechanisms, can you be absolutely sure?

Might as well start making stuff up and reporting completly unsubstantiated and somewhat unlikely stories then.
posted by Artw at 3:59 PM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Etaoin, I think so, because I was just a creeper and looked through her Flickr feed. I used to live there!
posted by inertia at 4:00 PM on August 1, 2013


This blogger once wrote about Islam that "Our democracy is a threat to their perversion of a religion." So that's where we start with her. She called people asking for reason in the buildup to our stupid war a "sick cancer." You can find that over here. Ok, so we have that.

Then we read her mea culpa for her warblogging, over here. Where she seems to acknowledge that she bought into a mass delusion. She admits that she and her other circle of dumb people wrote and wrote and wrote to try to stir American passion for war, to enflame and anger American citizens against the Arab world. And yet -- and yet! -- she says she still couldn't have voted for Kerry. Ok, so there's that.

Now, isn't is possible that this blogger is once again deluded and full of shit and buying into a panic?

Why am I supposed to keep giving idiots another chance.
posted by samofidelis at 4:05 PM on August 1, 2013 [21 favorites]


I took this story at face value and spread it around a bit when I first saw it but it does seem like this is one of those situations where we need to back down and wait for it to develop. The Google search stuff is just pushing the right buttons for the mood people are in right now.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:06 PM on August 1, 2013


On the plus side, Google data can help get your stolen painting back.

http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2013/02/20/the-long-arm-of-the-google/
posted by Bella Donna at 4:08 PM on August 1, 2013


A former war blogger getting targeted by an overzealous, unjustified terrorism investigation is actually another storyline people might want to believe. Paranoia full circle.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:09 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


this reminds me of a story from a few years ago when a woman's son was arrested and held for 24 or 48 hours or whatever, and she said he was being held "under the Patriot Act" and the brainless media outlets breathlessly and falsely repeated it like it was gospel.
posted by jpe at 4:13 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


aught: These people have no idea what they're doing. And they have a great deal of power.

My own guess is that this gets to the root of the whole dynamic - "these people" truly don't know what they're doing, and are frantically trying to use More and More Power to counterbalance their ineptitude and attempt to be more effective at enforcing law and protecting the country from legitimate threats. Everybody's an amateur, and like many amateurs they hope that better and more expensive tools will improve the outcome.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:14 PM on August 1, 2013


Employer Tipped Off Police In Pressure Cooker/Backpack-Gate, Not Google
posted by ryoshu at 4:15 PM on August 1, 2013 [16 favorites]


JUst in from Suffolk cops:
August 1, 2013



As a result of numerous media inquiries, received today by the Suffolk County Police Department regarding an internet blog posting, the following statement has been made available.



Suffolk County Criminal Intelligence Detectives received a tip from a Bay Shore based computer company regarding suspicious computer searches conducted by a recently released employee. The former employee’s computer searches took place on this employee’s workplace computer. On that computer, the employee searched the terms “pressure cooker bombs” and “backpacks.”



After interviewing the company representatives, Suffolk County Police Detectives visited the subject’s home to ask about the suspicious internet searches. The incident was investigated by Suffolk County Police Department’s Criminal Intelligence Detectives and was determined to be non-criminal in nature.

Any further inquiries regarding this matter should be directed to the Suffolk County Police Department.
posted by etaoin at 4:22 PM on August 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


The details of this incident don't really matter.

Every time someone says this, it's just a nice way of saying "I've already made up my mind on this issue, facts be damned." That is not the sort of behavior we want to encourage.
posted by kiltedtaco at 4:23 PM on August 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


Employers playing at being Stazi is not much of an improvement of the situation.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:26 PM on August 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


... we have a rice cooker. .... My husband said no, my wife uses it to make quinoa.

Well damn, that makes sense. Can't believe I hadn't thought of that. Anyone know what setting is best?
posted by stp123 at 4:28 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Employers playing at being Stazi is not much of an improvement of the situation.

Yes, but it was around for ages before that latest round of NSA monitoring issues. Let's keep our bogeymen straight.
posted by GuyZero at 4:29 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


For good measure I deleted my search history on Chrome. On my work computer. I'm self-employed but whatever.
posted by jsavimbi at 4:33 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


BS story or not, I quite liked this quote at the end: I’m scared. And not of the right things.
posted by dabug at 4:33 PM on August 1, 2013


we need a new label. maybe (Not Safe In America) or something


Not Safe in America
posted by whyareyouatriangle at 4:45 PM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've found myself looking at the news and thinking "well, that's blatantly illegal" a little too much for comfort as of late. Glad I'm wrong this time, I guess.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 4:52 PM on August 1, 2013


The Atlantic updated:
" Because the Googling happened at work."
posted by doctornemo at 4:56 PM on August 1, 2013


searches conducted by a recently released employee

OK, so we have the perfect intersection of:

-overzealous paranoid police state
-corporate overreach
-a shit economy leading to (the expectation of) desperation and violence

You really couldn't get a better microcosm of the United States in 2013.
posted by like_a_friend at 5:07 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]




Pro-tip: You cook lentils in a pressure cooker and you are DEFINITELY looking at an exploding pressure cooker.

posted by mudpuppie at 5:15 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, but it was around for ages before that latest round of NSA monitoring issues.

I'm not aware of private employers always being able to send in the cops at their whim by virtue of knowing your non-work-based interests.

Union-busting by Pinkertons, etc., sure. Or firing you for your private Facebook posts, etc. But I'm fairly certain this stuff charts newer territory along the abusive corporate-government collusion axis.

And as someone upthread points out, we can no longer really know for sure when the NSA is or isn't handing over our private data to LEOs on request, for whatever bureaucratic, political or other purpose. That's the cost of having secret laws and secret courts in the freest, most open democracy in the world, I guess.

Terrorism is such a broad term, these days. The Taliban may not have military strength, but boy did their mission ever succeed, to make this country's leaders treat its own people like a foreign enemy.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:22 PM on August 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Pro-tip: You cook lentils in a pressure cooker and you are DEFINITELY looking at an exploding pressure cooker.

Terrorists!
posted by homunculus at 5:28 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


And I don't even know why you would need a pressure cooker for quinoa. So you can have quinoa in five minutes instead of 10?
posted by rtha at 5:35 PM on August 1, 2013


Pro-tip: You cook lentils in a pressure cooker and you are DEFINITELY looking at an exploding pressure cooker.

Terrorists!
posted by homunculus
at 8:28 PM on August 1
I knew what it was without clicking. :)
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 5:41 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The correct answer to "May we search your x" is "No."
posted by Dr. Zira at 5:41 PM on August 1, 2013


I read this woman's account of the incident earlier today and rolled my eyes at it. The whole piece was more than slightly tinged with hysteria ("I have been questioned even though I am innocent and I am afraid of what my neighbours are up to!"), and even if I had taken the whole thing at face value I couldn't see how her rights had been violated.

Now that her story is being questioned my guess is that this woman will lose all credibility forever more, as she should, because she's a reactionary twit.
posted by orange swan at 5:47 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I am extremely disappointed that repeated Googling of Idris Elba has not yet resulted in a visit from Idris Elba.
posted by Dr. Zira at 5:53 PM on August 1, 2013 [31 favorites]


And as someone upthread points out, we can no longer really know for sure when the NSA is or isn't handing over our private data to LEOs on request, for whatever bureaucratic, political or other purpose. That's the cost of having secret laws and secret courts in the freest, most open democracy in the world, I guess.

Has there been a specific example of this occurring? I might have missed such in the most recent round of revelations. (I would not include examples of NSA data being used on foreign nationals as particularly unreasonable.)
posted by Going To Maine at 6:04 PM on August 1, 2013


So the police force has just given up on capturing Long Island's active serial killer? I would prioritize "beaches littered with corpses" over Facebook pictures of fireworks.
posted by gentian at 6:09 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


looking at the bright side...
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:39 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


So the police force has just given up on capturing Long Island's active serial killer?

Yes they have. This is the proper conclusion to take from this series of events. Yes.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:44 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


"They mentioned that they do this about 100 times a week. And that 99 of those visits turn out to be nothing."

...Suffolk County police check up on employer suspicions of work Google searches, 100 times a week?
posted by naju at 7:05 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


...Suffolk County police check up on employer suspicions of work Google searches, 100 times a week?

They must have quite a backlog, given that the target of the investigation left the company in April.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:52 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, this happened to me with my former employer. Apparently there is some security software that can scan all your company's servers for "sensitive" keywords and flag the files. If employee search histories are stored somewhere, then presumeably they would be flaggable as well.

My former employer ran this scan for the first time about six months after I departed and found some documents on explosives I had saved to a shared drive. The IT director called the FBI who then called me. I explained that I had downloaded this stuff upon request because the air quality scientists I worked for had a DOD subcontract studying dust emissions from open detonations. The FBI guy verified this with the scientists and that was the last I heard of it.

My FBI guy was very nice and laid back about the whole thing as well -- not sure if that's because they're trained to be friendly and conversational to try to get people to open up or if they really just have to spend a lot of time following up on bullshit reports from paranoid employers. We were both laughing and joking about it by the end of the phone call.

Although two anecdotes aren't enough to draw conclusions from, I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out that the companies producing the scanning software are marketing it to companies using "could some of YOUR employees be TERRORISTS?!" scare tactics and feeding the James Bond fantasies of bored IT staff.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:53 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dude got fired, perhaps for searching "pressure cooker bombs" and "backpacks" while on the company dime, boss reports him for suspicious searches, cops show up and are polite and even friendly with the dog, opting to NOT wake up sleeping son.

Sorry, but I feel that when someone reports a situation like that, having friendly, affable police officers show up to do their job is a good thing, not a bad thing. Maybe I'm just jaded, but I don't find a single thing to complain about now that all the facts seem to be out.
posted by GoingToShopping at 10:35 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


FBI Cybersquad getting tips from Bonzai Buddy
posted by Ad hominem at 11:59 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Even if she's not entirely credible on her interpretation of how these events came about, isn't it still true that she and her husband were targeted for a visit from armed officials effectively on the basis of nothing more than a couple of Google searches deemed to be suspicious--and now if I'm understanding correctly, it seems the husband's employer may have reported him to the authorities and possibly even terminated his employment in a spasm of paranoia over an internet search? How does this sort of thing not still seem to illustrate that we're reaching a point where security obsession is turning us into one of those nasty places where vague suspicions and innuendo are actively undermining social cohesion and fostering hostility and paranoia? Who's looking over your shoulder, comrade--that sort of thing? I get a little nervous when people start impuning someone's credibility too lightly in such situations. People who don't want inconvenient facts exposed usually reach for the discrediting tool-kit right away--hell, Nixon and Liddy plotted to secretly dose Ellsberg with LSD before a public appearance to discredit him after he leaked the Pentagon Papers. This isn't anywhere near that level of a disclosure, but it's not like nothing that seems a little chilling and out of character for "the freest nation in the world" didn't happen here.
posted by saulgoodman at 4:29 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Could you include a few more gratuitous scary references in your summary there? She wasn't just visited by armed officials, she was visited by armed officials trained in high power rifles who shoot to kill, based on nothing more than pressing a few buttons in some order that happened to correspond to some words, and her husband was possibly fired, possibly secretly jailed and interrogated and tortured, and this could all be the result of a psychotic rage the employer had over certain cooking methods that they were morally opposed to? Right, Comrade?

There's a substantial tendency here to decide that because some police force did something related to computers, that's obviously exactly the same as the Gestapo, and therefore we just need to find the missing links in the story that will prove this fact.
posted by kiltedtaco at 6:58 AM on August 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


isn't it still true that she and her husband were targeted for a visit from armed officials effectively on the basis of nothing more than a couple of Google searches deemed to be suspicious

I am rabidly anti-police in most of these types of situations, but in all fairness to the cops I do think the fact that it was a 3rd party that called it in to the police changes the calculus somewhat. The cops have a built-in understanding in situations like this that it's not just "someone googled pressure cooker bombs, and backpacks" but also "...and also threw up enough other, maybe hard-to-pinpoint or even subconscious, red flags that their employer decided they needed to call the police". That is, unfortunately, one of the biggest issues with dealing with police - "someone felt the police needed to get involved" is frequently, in the minds of cops, damning evidence of guilt, all by itself.

There is definitely a really uncomfortable intersection of the power of employers over their employees and the overly-eager, hungry-for-terrorist-plots-to-stop police, but at least in my mind more blame in this particular case goes onto the employer, whose first move was "call the cops" rather than "ask person why they were googling this stuff, and also tell them not to google random stuff at work". It's a reminder that everyone has "something to hide" from our NSA surveillance state, because "something to hide" can be as loosely defined as just having a boss that hates you.
posted by mstokes650 at 7:44 AM on August 2, 2013


Even if she's not entirely credible on her interpretation of how these events came about, isn't it still true that...

This "liberal-minded" emotions-blogger is looking for a way to quietly transition her online presence into "anti-NSA Nobama" since the whole Bush cheerleader thing didn't work out? Absolutely.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 7:57 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


"They mentioned that they do this about 100 times a week. And that 99 of those visits turn out to be nothing."

...Suffolk County police check up on employer suspicions of work Google searches, 100 times a week?


Do the Suffolk County police check up on suspicious google searches 100 times per week, or do they check up on people reported to the police as suspicious for any number of reasons? Those two are very, very different.

Someone got fired, his employer found out he had been searching for "pressure cooker bombs" and called the cops.

A bomb threat was called into my office building a while back (a few days after the bombings in Boston, so tensions were running high). I heard that it was called in by a recently dismissed employee from another company that in my building, but this was not confirmed by any official source. Regardless, it resulted in hours of lost productivity for hundreds of people while the police department searched the building and determined there was no real threat. Hours of lost productivity for hundreds of employees, costing companies thousands of dollars, because of a phone call.

This is a really roundabout way of saying that this situation could be either crazy corporate OMG terrorists paranoia, or a company thinking their recently dismissed employee could pull a stupid stunt like calling in an empty bomb threat just to screw with them.
posted by inertia at 8:29 AM on August 2, 2013


The various news organizations and anyone who repostrd them got scammed by transparent bullshit because they wanted a story that fit a particular narrative. Sorry, there's not much of a way around that here.
posted by Artw at 8:29 AM on August 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I also wonder if a company would be found at least partially liable if they neglected to report something like this to the police and their employees were injured or killed in some kind of attack against the company. Companies are often extremely paranoid about lawsuits.

Hopefully, they are more concerned about keeping their own employees safe than getting sued, but well...
posted by inertia at 8:39 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


While the current overreach of surveillance of citizens is a major problem and pretty outrageous, this seems like a terrible case to use as an example of the problem, due to:

1) Lack of corroborated details about what happened with the employer, and
2) the fact that it appears to have been triggered by a tip from the employer (i.e. not the police/homeland security people just randomly targeting them based on searches).

Who knows, maybe he got fired? I've definitely been in more than work scenario where the fired employee seemed like they might do something in retaliation (ond at least one where they did, although nothing like terrorism). In those cases if the work's net/email search software had turned up a bunch of unusual searches, calling the cops would have been totally reasonable.

This seems like a non-story.
posted by freecellwizard at 8:50 AM on August 2, 2013


Michele Catalano is my friend, a rumination on Internet fame and the online news cycle by MeFi's own Mat Honan.
posted by Nelson at 8:57 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


FBI Cybersquad getting tips from Bonzai Buddy

That... that's gotta be a photoshop. Look at all those toolbars! Look at that taskbar!

Computer illiterate aunts and uncles don't have computers that bad. That's got to be a photoshop. Please, tell me that's a photoshop!
posted by JHarris at 9:01 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Computer illiterate aunts and uncles don't have computers that bad. That's got to be a photoshop. Please, tell me that's a photoshop!

Maybe. That would be pretty subtle though.

I hope it is some kind of lab computer for studying toolbars, and bonzai buddy
posted by Ad hominem at 9:30 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Could you include a few more gratuitous scary references in your summary there? She wasn't just visited by armed officials, she was visited by armed officials trained in high power rifles who shoot to kill, based on nothing more than pressing a few buttons in some order that happened to correspond to some words, and her husband was possibly fired, possibly secretly jailed and interrogated and tortured, and this could all be the result of a psychotic rage the employer had over certain cooking methods that they were morally opposed to? Right, Comrade?

No, because if I took it one more notch up, I'd have reached the level of hyperbole in your improved paraphrasing of my comment, which would have been ridiculous. As it is, which part isn't true? Were the police not armed when they arrived at their house? Were they not showing up at the house because of a Google search?

I really wouldn't mind if I were wrong on any of those details, and I would point out that, in context, I wasn't saying this incident necessarily rises to a "Look over your shoulder, comrade" level thing or not; I was just asking rhetorically whether it seems to others that it's still in that territory. And obviously, I never even implied that anyone was tortured or locked away.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:17 AM on August 2, 2013


Michele Catalano is my friend, a rumination on Internet fame and the online news cycle by MeFi's own Mat Honan.

I mean, it's a nice article, but c'mon:

And so, here’s the thing: it turned out that she got a key assumption wrong. Yes, they were there to ask about search history, but that questioning was triggered by an employer, not government monitoring. She accurately portrayed her perception, but she didn’t know a key detail, and it turned out to be one that would have avoided a subsequent frenzy.

It's not just that she didn't know a key detail. It's that she made an assumption and presented it as fact. It's that her assumption represents the difference between a very troubling situation (the government spying on your Google searches and sending armed investigators to your house) and a completely mundane one (your employer having access to your online activity when you use their computers and some high-strung idiot freaking out over a perceived red flag). And that is a really big difference.

And the thing is, even before she ragequit for the day, people were asking her questions which would have cleared this whole thing up. Some were shitty, because this is the internet, and some of them were completely civil about it. More than one person asked her how she knew this was because of the government spying on her Google searches and she refused to address the question; she simply insisted that she was telling the truth and that all of her followers know this and then stormed off in a huff.

I don't doubt that she's really good friends with the author and is super neighborly and makes a positively delightful peach cobbler, but that doesn't mean she can't do stupid things, and she handled this whole thing really stupidly.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:19 AM on August 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


Do the Suffolk County police check up on suspicious google searches 100 times per week, or do they check up on people reported to the police as suspicious for any number of reasons? Those two are very, very different.

Someone got fired, his employer found out he had been searching for "pressure cooker bombs" and called the cops.


Hmm. Well, that definitely does cast the whole story in a different light.

I agree that it sounds like the employers may have been the ones who overreacted, or at least, behaved in a way that wasn't particularly gracious toward a former employee. Still suggests a lot of paranoia out there, but not necessarily anything deeper than that, based on this. I may have to reconsider.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:22 AM on August 2, 2013


Computer illiterate aunts and uncles don't have computers that bad. That's got to be a photoshop. Please, tell me that's a photoshop!

Yes, it is a 'shop. They pasted this image on to the screen.
posted by zsazsa at 10:30 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes, it is a 'shop.

Good to know. But I feel bad for Bonzai Buddy now. Another historic piece of software lost.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:47 AM on August 2, 2013


It's a shame to think I'm still seeing people in my FB feed cite/respond to this as if it were actually related to the bigger NSA revelations. Glad I didn't dutifully propagate the story in my own postings. I still say it's a shame there's so much paranoia in the air now (and that a search on a topic a lot of people might have been legitimately curious about in the aftermath of recent events, as a part of simply trying to understand them, can lead to a police house call), but this story doesn't seem to relate to Federal surveillance activities at all.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:28 AM on August 2, 2013


Now that her story is being questioned my guess is that this woman will lose all credibility forever more

I wish I were as certain of this. My guess is that none of this has any significant effect on her credibility at all. Believers gonna believe, unbelievers aren't. Partly because, as a result of a decade's worth of security theater and data harvesting, it has become harder to know what all of the overlapping circles of government, law enforcement, and business know about us and what punitive measures they might take; but also partly because, in the wake of all this Americans seem increasingly ready to jump to worst case scenarios almost immediately.

We're getting a feedback loop on paranoia and incitement to paranoia (to say nothing of the rewards for paranoia) and the results are not going to be kind.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:06 PM on August 2, 2013


In other news, not far from Suffolk County, The AP won a Pulitzer for their investigation into NYPD spying on Muslims in 2012. Investigative reporting at its best.

AP’s Probe Into NYPD Intelligence Operations (links to all the articles that were part of the series)

Links to classified NYPD reports the AP obtained (bottom of the page).

AP's investigation has revealed that the NYPD dispatched undercover officers into minority neighborhoods as part of a human mapping program. Police also used informants, known as "mosque crawlers," to monitor sermons, even when there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

The AP also determined that police subjected entire neighborhoods to surveillance and scrutiny, often because of the ethnicity of the residents, not because of any accusations of crimes. Hundreds of mosques and Muslim student groups were investigated and dozens were infiltrated. Many of these operations were built with help from the CIA, which is prohibited from spying on Americans but was instrumental in transforming the NYPD's intelligence unit after 9/11.

posted by mlis at 8:22 PM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, Catalano refers to the "joint terrorism task force" but the NY JTTF was not involved.
posted by mlis at 8:31 PM on August 2, 2013


Oversight: Thank you for volunteering, citizen. Or: what happens when you privatize Big Brother.

From the same guy who made this.
posted by homunculus at 10:56 AM on August 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


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