Apple vs. FBI – The Spy Draft Marches On

Apple has sent out a letter declaring the need for encryption, and lots of people are talking about it, and fortunately for us, some of those people are intelligent and moral. Check out Bruce Schneier’s post, especially all the good posts he links to, like Julian Sanchez’s editorial and the EFF’s summary of the situation. Schneier doesn’t link to Techdirt’s takedown of the DoJ, but I won’t hold that against him.

As Schneier so aptly puts it, people are seeing this as “Apple privacy vs. national security”, when really, it’s “National security vs. FBI access”. To quote Julian Sanchez:

These, then, are the high stakes of Apple’s resistance to the FBI’s order: not whether the federal government can read one dead terrorism suspect’s phone, but whether technology companies can be conscripted to undermine global trust in our computing devices. That’s a staggeringly high price to pay for any investigation.

Once again, government forces are pushing for measures that will make all of us less safe. And once again, they’re forcing people and companies to cooperate with them. It’s spy draft 2.0, in which you must not only hand over information, but also perform labor, and build a world where infiltration and surveillance are permanently easy.

This must not stand. Do whatever you can to oppose this. Support organizations like the EFF and EPIC that fight against this. If you buy Apple, let them know that you love what they’re doing, but that you and your dollars will leave them if they give up the good fight. And tell your elected officials to make the FBI (and every other three-letter agency) stop fighting against real security in our technology.

This is a fight worth fighting. Resist the spy draft.

That Stinging Sensation

Thanks to Techdirt and Reason, I recently learned of a report by Human Rights Watch that describes the shenanigans that the FBI has been up to in the name of “national security”. The report, titled Illusion of Justice, doesn’t take long to get into some pretty infuriating stuff:

Indeed, in some cases the Federal Bureau of Investigation may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by conducting sting operations that facilitated or invented the target’s willingness to act. According to multiple studies, nearly 50 percent of the more than 500 federal counterterrorism convictions resulted from informant-based cases; almost 30 percent of those cases were sting operations in which the informant played an active role in the underlying plot. In the case of the “Newburgh Four,” for example, a judge said the government “came up with the crime, provided the means, and removed all relevant obstacles,” and had, in the process, made a terrorist out of a man “whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in scope.”

And then it gets worse:

All of the high-profile domestic terrorism plots of the last decade, with four exceptions, were actually FBI sting operations—plots conducted with the direct involvement of law enforcement informants or agents, including plots that were proposed or led by informants.

In other words, in order to catch terrorists, the FBI is actively creating terrorists, sometimes out of completely helpless people, and they’re doing it at an alarming rate.

First off, this is extremely cruel. Remember that some of these people are going to prison for things they would never have done if the FBI hadn’t asked them to do so. The government deceived them and then punished them. Second, this is extremely wasteful behavior. Every resource spent creating a new criminal to catch could have been spent catching an already existing criminal, or possibly doing something else entirely. And then, of course, the FBI uses the fact that they successfully caught and convicted a terrorist as justification for continuing their operations. They continue to receive funding and wield power, so that they can go create more “terrorists” to catch. We already have too much fear-mongering about terrorism going around; creating more terrorists is piling stupidity on top of stupidity.

But I am not here today merely to chastise the FBI for creating bogeymen to frighten us. You see, the FBI is not the only one doing this sort of thing. An anonymous commenter on Techdirt pointed me to a Watchdog Report from the Journal Sentinel that describes the actions of a different agency, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (what, no sex, drugs and rock’n’roll?). It seems that the ATF has been up to the exact same sort of shenanigans:

■ ATF agents befriended mentally disabled people to drum up business and later arrested them in at least four cities in addition to Milwaukee. In Wichita, Kan., ATF agents referred to a man with a low IQ as “slow-headed” before deciding to secretly use him as a key cog in their sting. And agents in Albuquerque, N.M., gave a brain-damaged drug addict with little knowledge of weapons a “tutorial” on machine guns, hoping he could find them one.

■ Agents in several cities opened undercover gun- and drug-buying operations in safe zones near churches and schools, allowed juveniles to come in and play video games and teens to smoke marijuana, and provided alcohol to underage youths. In Portland, attorneys for three teens who were charged said a female agent dressed provocatively, flirted with the boys and encouraged them to bring drugs and weapons to the store to sell.

■ As they did in Milwaukee, agents in other cities offered sky-high prices for guns, leading suspects to buy firearms at stores and turn around and sell them to undercover agents for a quick profit. In other stings, agents ran fake pawnshops and readily bought stolen items, such as electronics and bikes — no questions asked — spurring burglaries and theft. In Atlanta, agents bought guns that had been stolen just hours earlier, several ripped off from police cars.

Preying on helpless people, creating criminals and crime where none existed before, endangering innocent lives, and wasting resources. The FBI and the ATF are both doing it with reckless abandon. Our tax dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen. And if these two agencies are both doing it, completely independently of each other, you can bet that every other agency with enforcement powers is getting in on the act. In this article on C4SS, Kevin Carson notes that a county sheriff’s deputy (no connection to the FBI or ATF) pressured an autistic boy into buying drugs. This prompts Kevin to question the logic of stings in general:

I’ve never understood the logic by which someone in uniform can commit an act that’s defined as illegal by statute, in the course of a sting operation, without themselves breaking the law. If it’s illegal for a citizen to offer drugs or sexual acts for sale, or to solicit their sale from others, how is it legal for a cop to offer to buy or sell drugs from a citizen?

I think it’s a good question. After all, these people getting caught in the stings are just doing what they were told to do by police officers. Isn’t that what good citizens are supposed to do?

It’s time to put a stop to this. We put up with the existence of government agents and agencies only because they stop people from harming us; we cannot put up with these agents encouraging others to cause harm. If agents are allowed to create problems that they can then solve, they create a greater perceived need for their services while simultaneously doing the exact opposite of the service we expect them to do. I say that it’s time to declare sting operations illegal, and make it impossible to convict someone who was caught in a sting. Maybe then, the cops and g-men can finally go back to doing their job and protecting people, instead of tricking people and throwing helpless shmucks in jail.