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Surveillance Story Turns Into a Warning About Employer Monitoring

Soulskill posted about 9 months ago | from the but-that-doesn't-feed-my-paranoia dept.

Government 382

rtfa-troll writes "The story from yesterday about the Feds monitoring Google searches has turned into a warning about how work place surveillance could harm you. It turns out that Michele Catalano's husband's boss tipped off the police after finding 'suspicious' searches (including 'pressure cooker bombs') in his old work computer's search history. Luckily for the Catalanos, who even allowed a search of their house when they probably didn't have to, it seems the policemen and FBI agents were professional and friendly. Far from being imperiled by a SWAT raid, Catalano spoke to some men in black cars who were polite and even mentioned to Catalano that 99 times out of 100, these tip-offs come to nothing. Perhaps the lesson is to be a bit more careful about your privacy, so that what you do on the internet remains between you and the professionals at the NSA."

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382 comments

Private browsing (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455281)

Okay. So, accept that the NSA *could* be watching, but there's not much point in worrying about it if you don't even clear your browser history when you're done.

Re:Private browsing (5, Informative)

crafty.munchkin (1220528) | about 9 months ago | (#44455363)

Not sure if you realise... but when you're on a work computer, all your internet requests usually go through some form of proxy server - which is how your IT department finds out what you access regularly and blocks it. Clearing your browser history is useless since every request is logged in a centralised server before it goes out to the net.

Re:Private browsing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455527)

Google searches can be made over SSL. You could also tunnel to your home proxy server.

And besides, eavesdropping on employee's communications is illegal in civilized countries.

Re:Private browsing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455603)

Google searches can be made over SSL. You could also tunnel to your home proxy server.

And besides, eavesdropping on employee's communications is illegal in civilized countries.

Anonymous Coward living in a very civilized country, wondering if you've ever had a job involving computers.

Re:Private browsing (2, Informative)

datavirtue (1104259) | about 9 months ago | (#44455755)

A good proxy server is going to allow your system administrators to decrypt your SSL connection. The proxy feature works for SSL but not before exposing all of the information in your connection to the administrators. So using an external proxy and SSL is not going to provide any security. You are going to have to be a little more savvy than that which will also be obvious to your system admins that you are subverting their tracking/logging system.

Re:Private browsing (5, Informative)

MtHuurne (602934) | about 9 months ago | (#44455615)

If your work browser is configured to accept certificates from the proxy server, SSL might not give you privacy.

Re:Private browsing (1)

rtfa-troll (1340807) | about 9 months ago | (#44455733)

If your work browser is configured to accept certificates from the proxy server, SSL might not give you privacy.

Right. Unfortunately the Slashdot Editors seem to have started editing (I can see why the trolls keep complaining that this place is going downhill) and deleted my my sarky suggestion to use tor from [torproject.org]my submission [slashdot.org].. If you want to do anything from work you wouldn't want to know then make sure you use someone else's IP address to do it from. Alternatively buy an Android tablet and a data subscription.

Re:Private browsing (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455671)

eavesdropping on employee's communications is illegal in civilized countries

??? It's called "Work" because when you're there you're expected to "Work", that's what happens in a "Civilized Country". When you're at your job, using company tools and resources then you have absolutely NO RIGHT to do any kind of personal "surfing" unless your employer allows it and if they do you can be damned sure that in a "Civilized Country" your actions on a corporate network are watched to protect the company from potential liability.

Re:Private browsing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455767)

Being an opponent of dragnet snooping, I can think of reasons why your employer needs to monitor your http traffic. Your work computer could be abused by a human or by malware to siphon off trade secrets. Gmail+ssl would be a great way for a virus to steal blueprints of your employer's net product, developed at millions or billions of R&D investment.

Just use your own fucking device and your own fucking wireless internet connection for private purposes. Root the tracking device and use TOR, though. Otherwise NSA will look into your digestive tract.

Re:Private browsing (1)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | about 9 months ago | (#44455781)

And besides, eavesdropping on employee's communications is illegal in civilized countries.

I'm going to guess you were making a play on words regarding the uncivilized behavior commonly practiced by many employers in what people like to think of as "first world" countries.

Re:Private browsing (2)

hippo (107522) | about 9 months ago | (#44455785)

You should run an ssh tunnel through the corporate proxy to your own installation of an apache proxy running on your home server. Then use that as your proxy for firefox. At least then you'll be spared the embarrassment of a SWAT team turning up at work.

How will they be compensated? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455289)

Fair is fair. These people deserve compensation for the time, effort, hassle, and (especially) anxiety. If the victims of government failure were properly compensated every time, I think we would find that these commonplace "mistakes" would quickly become the exception rather than the rule.

Re:How will they be compensated? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455353)

Hm? RTFS... the boss sees someone searching for bombs, thinks "hey, this could be bad", tip the police, turns out it is nothing. No shady NSA program, just internet browser history.

Re:How will they be compensated? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455497)

You know damn well that if a private company sent armed thugs to your home making demands and accusations, you wouldn't be able to file the lawsuit fast enough. What makes government different?

Oh, I know. Appeal to authority [wikipedia.org] is what makes government different.

Re:How will they be compensated? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455747)

No, you don't. The modern police in the western tradition follow from the Peelian principles [wikipedia.org].

Maybe you're an anarchist, but clearly you're not a black guy in NYC [nyclu.org], or you would've thought this to be a relatively minor incident.

Re: How will they be compensated? (1)

turbidostato (878842) | about 9 months ago | (#44455361)

Are you sure? Please remember that in any case they are not impacting their bottomline but yours.

Re:How will they be compensated? (1)

alen (225700) | about 9 months ago | (#44455493)

you just described police work and baseball

90% of failing to do anything while shooting for that one hit

Re:How will they be compensated? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455555)

The guy used company property to search for "pressure cooker bombs". Are you sure you know who'll ask for compensation?

Re:How will they be compensated? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455563)

What was the damage? I don't think it was cool for the employer to spy on their employees but we shouldn't mind occasional false alarms too much. Someone once called the fire department thinking I had recklessly left my kids in a hot car without supervision. The fire department came and concluded everything was under control. I wasn't taken aback. I'm horrified at stories where children sweat to death in their car seats.

Re:How will they be compensated? (1)

Jeng (926980) | about 9 months ago | (#44455717)

Ok, imagine how different your anecdote would be if while the fire department was checking your car for an abandoned child they broke every window and cut the roof off?

Nobody gives a shit if the authorities are respectful and don't break your shit, it is when they break your shit that people get pissed off. So since the fire department did not break your car you have no reason to complain, so you don't. But there are people who do have a reason to complain, and we should listen to them and do something about it.

Re:How will they be compensated? (1)

Mitreya (579078) | about 9 months ago | (#44455567)

If the victims of government failure were properly compensated every time, I think we would find that these commonplace "mistakes" would quickly become the exception rather than the rule.

Hardly.
Who do you think covers such pay-off? The guy/gal who made the mistake or the taxpayer? (hint: it's the taxpayer)

If people responsible were required so much as to come over and apologize to the victims, then you might see a reduction in mistaken visits. But a compensation (assuming you mean money) only causes the agency's budget to increase, so there will be no disincentive.

Alright then. Carry On. (5, Insightful)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | about 9 months ago | (#44455299)

Oh I see. The man searched thinks it was all just a misunderstanding. I guess that makes it OK then.

I guess it also covers the costs in time, money, equipment and paperwork spent on a search that should never have happened. I guess it also makes up for any useful work the men involved could have been engaged in like looking for actual terrorists or investigating organised crime in the banks. I would worry about how the NSA's Ur-dragnet/Informer hotline is throwing up so many false flags that law enforcement is now too busy to deal with actual problem, but this splendidly chipper blog post had allayed all of my concerns.

I'm glad that's all cleared up then.

Re:Alright then. Carry On. (1)

smitty_one_each (243267) | about 9 months ago | (#44455341)

Except for the part where the taxes go up to pay for all the abuse. Oh, well: cost of doing business, I suppose.

Re: Alright then. Carry On. (0)

AvitarX (172628) | about 9 months ago | (#44455583)

I see little evidence of federal taxes going up to cover smith since the first bush president.

Re:Alright then. Carry On. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455439)

I guess it also covers the costs in time, money, equipment and paperwork spent on a search that should never have happened.

You're right, searching for bomb-making instructions on company time is a huge waste of resources.

Re:Alright then. Carry On. (5, Insightful)

Somebody Is Using My (985418) | about 9 months ago | (#44455449)

Even scarier is the acceptance of NSA monitoring as evidenced by the last line:

Perhaps the lesson is to be a bit more careful about your privacy, so that what you do on the internet remains between you and the professionals at the NSA."

It's not just /known/ that the NSA is monitoring everyone's conversation, it is seen as a good thing. Of course these "professionals" are listening. It's for the good of the country that the every citizen is monitored, after all.

The bar is being set ever lower and comments like these train people to see it as perfectly alright. Increasingly I am of the opinion that this is not accidental.

Re:Alright then. Carry On. (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455593)

Yeah. It's called INFO-OPS. Read Richard Tomlinson's book (google it) on how the spooks try to control public conscience.

Re:Alright then. Carry On. (3, Insightful)

kilfarsnar (561956) | about 9 months ago | (#44455805)

Even scarier is the acceptance of NSA monitoring as evidenced by the last line:

Perhaps the lesson is to be a bit more careful about your privacy, so that what you do on the internet remains between you and the professionals at the NSA."

It's not just /known/ that the NSA is monitoring everyone's conversation, it is seen as a good thing. Of course these "professionals" are listening. It's for the good of the country that the every citizen is monitored, after all.

The bar is being set ever lower and comments like these train people to see it as perfectly alright. Increasingly I am of the opinion that this is not accidental.

I took that last line as being sarcastic. Maybe professionals should have been in scare quotes.

You make a good point though. Various organizations actively try to influence the perceptions and attitudes of the public; from advertisers and marketers to political parties and the CIA. And people in the media are trained to use euphemisms and mild language to shape perception. So we get "enhanced interrogation" and "extraordinary rendition" instead of torture and abduction, and "detainee" instead of prisoner. Just last night I had to laugh when Brian Williams described Edward Snowden as having exposed a "massive data-mining effort" by the NSA. Really Brian, is it just a data-mining effort, or is it spying? How something is described matters quite a bit in how it is perceived. Just ask Frank Luntz, he's made a career out of it.

Re:Alright then. Carry On. (3, Interesting)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 9 months ago | (#44455461)

I'm glad that's all cleared up then.

Snarking is my job on slashdot. If you called up the police and reported suspicious activity, wouldn't you feel better if they showed up and looked around? Of course you would -- that's a stupid question. Emblazoned on the side of almost every police car is the words "protect and serve". A lot of times, that means going out on a wild goose chase, or knocking on the door of a neighbor who doesn't realize his TV's turned up too loud, or even conducting a health and welfare check because some over-protective mother didn't get a call back from her daughter right away and insists "it's not normal". Most of the time, it's nothing -- but that is not time and resources wasted.

It's the job of the police to investigate, and I'm pretty sure you and most everyone else would be blowing fuses left, right, and forward, if you rang up 911 and they said "Yeah, we could come out and have a look around, but you know how expensive gas is right now, so we're gonna pass." Well, I don't know about you, but if the police show up, act in a courteous and polite fashion, ask a few questions, and then leave satisfied nothing bad is going on, I consider that a job well done. They're out in the community, flying the flag, and helping people feel safe.

That's equally important to stopping actual crime; A reputation of a helpless and inadequate police force costs a lot more than a few gallons of gas and some time spent filing a report that says nothing of interest was found. If only every police investigation could be like that...

Re:Alright then. Carry On. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455575)

If you called up the police and reported suspicious activity, wouldn't you feel better if they showed up and looked around?

For one thing, I wouldn't inform the police of such a ridiculous thing to begin with. Have we become nothing more than paranoid cowards who watch everyone else's moves just because there is a 0.000000000000001% chance that they could be terrorists? Really?

It's the job of the police to investigate, and I'm pretty sure you and most everyone else would be blowing fuses left, right, and forward, if you rang up 911 and they said "Yeah, we could come out and have a look around, but you know how expensive gas is right now, so we're gonna pass."

It's much more important for individuals and the government to be able to tell when action needs to take place. This is just idiotic paranoia.

Stop wasting my fucking tax dollars.

Re:Alright then. Carry On. (2)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about 9 months ago | (#44455803)

Have we become nothing more than paranoid cowards who watch everyone else's moves just because there is a 0.000000000000001% chance that they could be terrorists?

Yes, we have. Not just out of paranoia, but because of the imbalance of our perceived risk. Schneier explains it well [schneier.com].

Re:Alright then. Carry On. (2, Insightful)

odigity (266563) | about 9 months ago | (#44455779)

If you called up the police and reported suspicious activity, wouldn't you feel better if they showed up and looked around?

I never feel better around police. They're the predominant remaining natural predator of humans.

Re:Alright then. Carry On. (2)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 9 months ago | (#44455809)

I never feel better around police. They're the predominant remaining natural predator of humans.

Well, if that's how you feel, consider this: Who's better qualified to hunt down other predators than a predator? -_- Not that I agree with your assertion, but logically, your statements aren't consistent.

Re:Alright then. Carry On. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455465)

RTFA... it was the local police department. Because they searched about bombs on a company computer.

No NSA, no dragnet, no black helicopters. Local LEO knocked on the door.

Re:Alright then. Carry On. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455617)

Just a pro-government, pro NSA propaganda Information Operation. That's what this piece is.

A different lesson (2)

mvdwege (243851) | about 9 months ago | (#44455309)

I take away a different lesson from this: maybe it's a good idea to wait until you have more facts before starting to run around screaming "The sky is falling!!!!111".

The fact that some real shady things in terms of corporate and governmental surveillance do go on is no reason to just give up being rational.

Re:A different lesson (1)

XxtraLarGe (551297) | about 9 months ago | (#44455473)

I take away a different lesson from this: maybe it's a good idea to wait until you have more facts before starting to run around screaming "The sky is falling!!!!111".

Nah, the cool new thing for security theater lemmings is "If you see something, say something."

Re:A different lesson (4, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 9 months ago | (#44455543)

I take away a different lesson from this: maybe it's a good idea to wait until you have more facts before starting to run around screaming "The sky is falling!!!!111".

Clearly, this middle manager only watches CNN and FoxNews. And let's be honest: It's the only thing playing in most break rooms, and middle managers aren't known for their critical thinking and investigative talents.

The fact that some real shady things in terms of corporate and governmental surveillance do go on is no reason to just give up being rational.

Neither is it a reason to ignore the fact that the police showed up, were polite and courteous, asked a few questions, and left satisfied. Now look, I'm no more happy having the police show up at my door than anyone else -- but by and far, the experiences have been professional, as this person learned. I've had people call in all kinds of things to the police about me; I know because they keep records of that kind of thing and I know the right people to ask to get them.

Every one of you past the age of 30 has something in their police file from a "concerned citizen." All of you. Yes, even you, Mr. Above Average Driver who pays all his bills on time and even helps his land lady carry out the garbage. But most of you don't know about it because the police conducted their search discreetly, found nothing, and moved on. Which is exactly how surveillance should work. And most of the time, that is how it works; you guys only hear about the 1 in 10,000 case where they screw it up, not the other 9,999 where nothing newsworthy happened because they did it right.

This wouldn't be news if it wasn't for the news agencies creating a story where there really isn't one to sell more advertising. "Over-zealous middle manager of questionable technical ability reports ex-employee after searching internet history and finding a few keywords and deciding it's a matter of national security..." is not exactly interesting to me, and it wouldn't be if not for the drum beat of "NSA... NSA... NSA..." all over the news right now. Please. Former employers are like ex-boyfriends -- take everything they say with a biiiig grain of salt.

Devices which have only one purpose (1)

Andover Chick (1859494) | about 9 months ago | (#44455311)

Certainly be careful about search strings which have no other determinable purpose than terrorism. A search for "chainsaw" could imply running a muck thru a bus station but might also relate to tree clearance. "Shot gun" might mean references to hunting or skeet shooting. But what would someone use a pressure cooker bomb or a ammonium nitrate bomb for other than blowing up people. Its not like one would run around the woods with a pressure cooker bomb to hunt deer or a car bomb as a party favorite.

Re:Devices which have only one purpose (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455385)

And a calorimeter bomb is for blowing up ... oh, wait, it's for measuring energy released in combustion. (And yes, I know the term is really "bomb calorimeter".)

Re:Devices which have only one purpose (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455405)

Some people might want to search for news stories pressure cooker bombs, or information about what they look like so they might be able to identify one if they see it on the sidewalk.

Re:Devices which have only one purpose (1)

Andover Chick (1859494) | about 9 months ago | (#44455751)

True. Certainly intellectual curiosity is hindered as well, as you mention, concerned citizens who merely wish to inform themselves on the threat. So the education here is how/where a person searches such devices. For example the person might have searched for "pressure cooker" which would have shown something like the bomb. The paradox is that, aside from self-educating concerned citizens, no one other than an engineer should be searching for such a thing (since only a engineer would only be able to build it) yet any engineer worth his/her salt should already have figured out how to build one or something equivalent without going to a website. For example, how long would it take a real engineer to figure out on his/her own how to build a fuel air bomb? Probably just a few hours.

Re:Devices which have only one purpose (2)

nine-times (778537) | about 9 months ago | (#44455621)

The devices might only have one purpose, but there might be other purposes for searching for it other than to build one. Reading this story made me want to google "pressure cooker bomb" just to see what it is. So then I would be searching for simple curiosity. A week from now, if I were trying to find a link to this story about a man being investigated for terrorism, I might google "pressure cooker bomb" because it's a detail I remember from the story. So then my interest might be in electronic privacy, and not bombs at all. In fact, I've now written the word "bomb" several times in this post. It's a suspicious word, but what I'm talking about here actually has very little to do with actual bombs. I just made a "bomb" related google search, just now, looking for information to support my arguments.

Aside from that, I'm not even sure I agree that bombs have no practical use other than terrorism. Maybe he wanted to build a small bomb, under safe conditions, as a method of learning about science/chemistry/construction. Maybe he wanted to blow something up, out in the middle of nowhere, for entertainment. Maybe he had a tree stump on some rural patch of property that he wanted to remove, and he got it into his head that he wanted to blow it up with a bomb. Maybe this guy is interested, not for terrorism, but for the purposes of general idiocy.

I don't necessarily blame the employer for reporting it, since he may have had legitimate reasons for concern. I don't blame the FBI for investigating it, because they kind of have to investigate something like this once it's reported. But I do blame you for implying that there's no valid reason to ever search for "bomb" unless you're a terrorist.

Re:Devices which have only one purpose (1)

cheekyjohnson (1873388) | about 9 months ago | (#44455693)

I don't necessarily blame the employer for reporting it, since he may have had legitimate reasons for concern. I don't blame the FBI for investigating it, because they kind of have to investigate something like this once it's reported.

Really? I blame them all.

Re:Devices which have only one purpose (1)

tlambert (566799) | about 9 months ago | (#44455685)

Certainly be careful about search strings which have no other determinable purpose than terrorism. A search for "chainsaw" could imply running a muck thru a bus station but might also relate to tree clearance. "Shot gun" might mean references to hunting or skeet shooting. But what would someone use a pressure cooker bomb or a ammonium nitrate bomb for other than blowing up people. Its not like one would run around the woods with a pressure cooker bomb to hunt deer or a car bomb as a party favorite.

The pressure cooker is out in left field, unless you are a curious person who follows current events and wants to know what the government is doing with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev these days (he pleaded not guilty on July 10th, is being represented by the Federal Public Defender's office, and is in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day to segregate him from the rest of the population at FMC Devens, a federal prison medical facility).

For ammonium nitrate, and nitrogen-phosphorus fertilizer + diesel fuel explosives, both of which were used during WWII, they were commonly used to remove tree stumps when clearing farmland. Typically, you either rent heavy equipment, have a large tractor, or call in someone with a stump grinder these days, unless you can wait 2 weeks and are willing to drill a bunch of holes straight down and poison the root-ball with Round-Up(tm) and pull it out two weeks later.

PS: Stump grinders were invented in 1956 by Vermeer, so before that time, they weren't an option for removing stumps; Round-Up(tm) wasn't invented until 1970, so that wasn't an option. So you either got hold of heavy equipment, used a machine called a "Back Breaker", burnt them down to as much nothing as you could (generally a very risky proposition), or blew them up.

Re:Devices which have only one purpose (1)

biek (1946790) | about 9 months ago | (#44455811)

Its not like one would run around the woods with a pressure cooker bomb to hunt deer or a car bomb as a party favorite.

Someone doesn't know any rednecks

Re:Devices which have only one purpose (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 9 months ago | (#44455813)

Ammonium nitrate explosives are used in mining and often illegally to remove tree stumps.

Malign (2)

Pino Grigio (2232472) | about 9 months ago | (#44455317)

Perhaps the lesson is to be a bit more careful about your privacy, so that what you do on the internet remains between you and the professionals at the NSA.

So, this story turns out to be nothing to do with the NSA but you think what the hell, I'll add a sarcastic sentence about the NSA to the summary to make it look like its malign.

The false accuser is an old enemy (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455321)

The false accuser was from ancient times recognised as a particularly low felon.

But not in todays USA Inc. Instead of flogging snitches we encourage them. The former employer should be punished severely for using the cops like this, but probably will be encouraged to do it again instead.

Re:The false accuser is an old enemy (1)

bws111 (1216812) | about 9 months ago | (#44455415)

I am confused. Which 'false accuser' are you speaking of? The guy who told the cops that he saw some searches for pressure cookers on the guys work computer? That wasn't a false accusation, it was a true statement. Or maybe you are referring to the hundreds of people who were accusing the goverment of doing deep packet inspection of all traffic, accusing Google of forwarding all searches, in real-time, to the goverment, etc. Those, as far as we know, were actually false statements.

Re:The false accuser is an old enemy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455487)

The geniunely scared fool is not a low felon though.

Comparison: I work IT at a large healthcare and back before we had auto screen-lock, a user reported that their browser history was full of scary-looking "al-qathingy" sites visited in the evening. He thought his cleaner was Osama.

Things could easily have gone the way this story did, but I have (marginally) greater phlegm than these guys and checked out the sites; they were Libyan Arabic-language ex-pat news sites and while very political, not suspicous at all. The cleaner was just exploiting an unlocked workstation to get access to news he didn't have at home.

The former employer should definitely apologise for jumping the gun and being such a nervous ninny, but that's about where this should end.

confused (1)

F9rDT3ZE (2860845) | about 9 months ago | (#44455329)

confused by your joint mention of "workplace monitoring" and being "more careful about your privacy." In most corporations, privacy and monitoring settings are, as your headline suggests, determined by the employer, and employees currently have no legal rights that trump the employer's right to determine those settings, in part to enable monitoring which the company is legally entitled and in some cases required to do, and in many cases is required to allow its systems to be open in various ways to law enforcement examination. If by "more careful about your privacy" you mean "don't search for backpacks to buy at work," I'm honestly not sure how to turn that into an effective privacy principle, beyond "don't do anything at work."

Re:confused (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455513)

Use your personal smartphone instead. Don't use company wifi either. Keep your personal and work life separate.

Easy to say, a hassle to do.

99 times out of 100 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455367)

So that's 1% detection rate. Times N people spending M hours, intimindating 99% of their visitees needlessly... Shirley a good use of police time, resources, money, and whatnot. It's telling that people are mostly glad it wasn't a SWAT squad.

I don't know which is worse. (1)

pecosdave (536896) | about 9 months ago | (#44455371)

A nice friendly just acting on a tip search where "nothing really happened" or a full on uncalled for swat raid.

For the affected family directly, sure the nice friendly one is better, but more attention is drawn by the swat raid and the public reacts more. This shit can't be tolerated without something really solid, and researching on the subjects of recent news items isn't anywhere near solid.

Er, no, that isn't the story (5, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 9 months ago | (#44455381)

Perhaps the lesson is to be a bit more careful about your privacy, so that what you do on the internet remains between you and the professionals at the NSA.

I know you're being snarky, Slashdot, but I'd trust the professionals at the NSA over middle management any day of the week. The NSA doesn't ruin your life if it goes through your google history and finds a few keywords. It doesn't assume the worst. The NSA gathers up the data, forwards it to a team of analysts, and, seeing this kind of thing every day, make an informed and reasoned decision to either forward it up the chain, or bin it. And as your own article says: 99 times out of 100, it's nothing. That's probably a conservative estimate; There have only been a few dozen acts of bona fide terrorism in the past year or so, and if the tin foil hat crowd is right, the NSA is monitoring everyone pervasively, so it's more like 999,999 times out of a 1,000,000.

The moral of the story here is that people who aren't law enforcement are really, really, epic bad at being judges of character. Especially when you're dealing with someone whose job is often earned on something other than critical thinking skills, investigative talent, and attention to detail... three things I think most will agree you don't find in most mid-level managers. It's like how during the midst of the Boston bombing, the internet armchair sleuth crowd wrongly identified many innocent people and forced the police to divert valuable resources to take those people into protective custody while the real bomber was left unidentified. The professionals, meanwhile, correctly identified them hours later, and then took them down without any innocent people getting caught in the cross fire.

I know it's politically popular right now to say law enforcement is a bunch of clueless, authoritarian, surveillance-happy asshats, but that's a slanted view. On the whole, they know what they're doing, and most of the time they get it right. You only hear about the times when they screw up. Now, considering how low of esteem they're held in for that track record, ask yourselves about the track record of middle managers, internet armchair pundits, and vigilantes have had doing the same things... and I'm betting their reputation with you is a lot better.

Chew on that for a bit.

Re:Er, no, that isn't the story (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455561)

Perhaps the lesson is to be a bit more careful about your privacy, so that what you do on the internet remains between you and the professionals at the NSA.

I know you're being snarky, Slashdot, but I'd trust the professionals at the NSA over middle management any day of the week. The NSA doesn't ruin your life if it goes through your google history and finds a few keywords

It doesn't ruin your life. It ends it, making you the 55th thwarted terrorist plot.

Re:Er, no, that isn't the story (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 9 months ago | (#44455619)

It doesn't ruin your life. It ends it, making you the 55th thwarted terrorist plot.

Only when the budget is up for review by Congress...

Re:Er, no, that isn't the story (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455601)

I know it's politically popular right now to say law enforcement is a bunch of clueless, authoritarian, surveillance-happy asshats, but that's a slanted view. On the whole, they know what they're doing

You're absolutely right - they're not clueless.

Re:Er, no, that isn't the story (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455631)

The NSA doesn't ruin your life if it goes through your google history and finds a few keywords. It doesn't assume the worst.

Maybe the NSA doesn't assume the worst and harass you, but other government organizations sure do. There are at least a few cases of people being arrested and harassed for obvious jokes that someone took seriously.

There is zero reason to trust the government (or corporations, for that matter).

I know it's politically popular right now to say law enforcement is a bunch of clueless, authoritarian, surveillance-happy asshats, but that's a slanted view.

It actually seems to be the truth.

You only hear about the times when they screw up.

You only hear about the times when they screw up and enough people notice.

Re:Er, no, that isn't the story (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455639)

You are forgetting the NSA officials are human. When they have the chance, they can't help themselves but spy on their acquaintances and, possibly, could even use the information for revenge, blackmail or political extortion. Hell, nurses spy on their patients in hospitals and leak their information to the press and their friends. Snowden claims the same level of "professionalism" is there at the NSA as well and I find it believable.

The funny thing is, the NSA is probably monitoring Congress and the POTUS as well. Maybe the representatives who voted for the NSA were afraid of the NSA leaking what they know about them...

Re:Er, no, that isn't the story (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455661)

The good guys are long gone.

Re:Er, no, that isn't the story (1)

Trailer Trash (60756) | about 9 months ago | (#44455711)

Perhaps the lesson is to be a bit more careful about your privacy, so that what you do on the internet remains between you and the professionals at the NSA.

I know you're being snarky, Slashdot, but I'd trust the professionals at the NSA over middle management any day of the week. The NSA doesn't ruin your life if it goes through your google history and finds a few keywords. It doesn't assume the worst. The NSA gathers up the data, forwards it to a team of analysts, and, seeing this kind of thing every day, make an informed and reasoned decision to either forward it up the chain, or bin it.

And, they've never caught a single terrorist. Pretty impressive results.

Re:Er, no, that isn't the story (2)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 9 months ago | (#44455769)

And, they've never caught a single terrorist. Pretty impressive results.

Yup. They're going to track you down personally and inform you of the results of any investigation that results in finding a terrorist straight away! The fact that they didn't is proof that no terrorists have ever been found.

What makes you think that law enforcement would advertise every capture of a terrorist, thus turning him/her into a martyr for his/her cause? If it were me, I wouldn't be making a press release on every terrorist I caught... I'd quietly take them into custody and interrogate the shit out of them to find their friends, and then rinse, wash, repeat. I'd be more interested in actual national security than consoling some armchair internet pundit's hurt feelings that he wasn't given access to high-level intelligence assets.

Re:Er, no, that isn't the story (3, Insightful)

Mitreya (579078) | about 9 months ago | (#44455739)

The NSA gathers up the data, forwards it to a team of analysts, and, seeing this kind of thing every day, make an informed and reasoned decision to either forward it up the chain, or bin it.

Your cute and idealistic assessment is at odds with (at least) the fact that the gathered NSA data was dumped into a huge database where a low-level outside contractor could access all of it. I'd feel better if the data went to a team of professional analysts and not into an easily abusable database which may or may not be studied by analysts.

There have only been a few dozen acts of bona fide terrorism in the past year or so, and if the tin foil hat crowd is right, the NSA is monitoring everyone pervasively, so it's more like 999,999 times out of a 1,000,000.

It is more likely to be nothing 1,000,000 out of 1,000,000 times. A "terrorist" that relies on google and pressure cookers to plan their act is a pathetic basement dweller that lacks the resources to actually do anything. I'd be interested in hearing about that 1 out of 1,000,000 where they caught someone credible, who could have succeeded. And (in TFA case) that same person would have to lack the capacity to not answer the door and move to another city after a visit from government agents.

Boston bombing ... The professionals, meanwhile, correctly identified them hours later, and then took them down without any innocent people getting caught in the cross fire.

However, they were neither able to prevent the act, nor have they used the years and years of indiscriminately stored data. They used current recordings from volunteers, I believe. So the result of the Boston bombing would have been the same without preventative surveillance.
They are competent, but NSA's total surveillance has not improved their ability to do their job.

Re:Er, no, that isn't the story (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455765)

Really? So, torture, rendition, human experimentation, assassinations, drone killing civilians, etc..is what you call "getting it right"?

Try putting a bullet in your brain, its obviously not being used for anything else.

Re:Er, no, that isn't the story (1)

odigity (266563) | about 9 months ago | (#44455791)

You've really fallen for that protect and server propaganda bullshit, haven't you.

You must have very little real world experience... and few interesting friends.

Prediction (4, Insightful)

swillden (191260) | about 9 months ago | (#44455383)

Prediction: this article will not get 850 comments [slashdot.org], and many people will continue pointing to this story as proof that Google lets the federal government rifle through all of everyone's data.

99 out of 100 (5, Interesting)

gsslay (807818) | about 9 months ago | (#44455389)

99 times out of 100, these tip-offs come to nothing

That's not quite what was said. From the original blog ; "they mentioned that they do this about 100 times a week. And that 99 of those visits turn out to be nothing."

So we have three possibilities;

1/ this statistic is a bullshit overstatement, talking up a minimal danger
2/ they are arresting terrorist bombers at a rate of 1 a week
3/ they are prosecuting 1 person a week on an unrelated matter, after gaining access to their house on the pretext of "war against terrorism".

Which do we think it is?

Re:99 out of 100 (1)

Gravis Zero (934156) | about 9 months ago | (#44455531)

i choose option 4.

4. they are trying to justify the massive amount of money that has been put into pointless SWAT teams.

Re:99 out of 100 (4, Insightful)

bws111 (1216812) | about 9 months ago | (#44455573)

None of the above. It is the equivalent of Columbo's 'oh, you know, headquarters makes me ask these questions, nothing to worry about'. It puts the person at ease, and maybe they let their guard down a bit.

Re:99 out of 100 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455581)

One percent of the American population is in prison. With such a high crime rate, it's likely that 1% of the tips will have something to hide.

Re:99 out of 100 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455605)

I think it's none of the above.

I do not read the statement -- either the Slashdot rendition or the verbatim quote** -- be that of a statistical nature. Any reasonable person knows that such statements ("99 out of a hundred", "9 out of 10", etc.) are commonspeak for someone trying to say "most of the time" or "the majority of the time". People who become pedantic and start digging into deeper meanings of these phrases are often looking for something that isn't there. Sure, I agree people should say what they mean, but again be reasonable: in English there are an almost infinite number of ways to say something, so what ultimately matters is the point the person is trying to get across. This requires full context (e.g. surrounding statements verbatim), being able to witness body language, and being able to hear the person's voice.

** -- Which, by the way, do in fact mean the same thing. The fact one admits they "do these about a hundred times per week" doesn't change the fact that 99 out of 100 times (doesn't matter if it's per week or per year or whatever -- it's still 99 out of 100) they turn out to be false alarms/nothing to worry about.

TL;DR -- Come on man, you know what they meant. Don't make a mountain out of a molehill.

Re:99 out of 100 (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 9 months ago | (#44455719)

So we have three possibilities;

1/ this statistic is a bullshit overstatement, talking up a minimal danger
2/ they are arresting terrorist bombers at a rate of 1 a week
3/ they are prosecuting 1 person a week on an unrelated matter, after gaining access to their house on the pretext of "war against terrorism".

4/ The guy being interviewed was trying to illustrate in layman's terms how un-newsworthy a police investigation like this really is, and how most of his job consists of investigations just like this.

Why do you expect this to be some kind of scientifically rigorous statement, is the better question. It clearly isn't. But in spite of the obviousness of this, you go on to weave a tapestry of half-truths and assumptions and then act like these are the only possible conclusions. False dichotomy, anyone?

As far as what "we" think it is... not a very interesting question. About 7% of the population believes the government is being run by lizard people, or aren't sure. "we" are very stupid people. However, I think that this is a case of a detective trying to tell the press there's nothing interesting to report, and the press ignoring that statement and trying to make a story out of it anyway, because fears about government surveillance are selling papers like hotcakes right now. And as far as arresting terrorist bombers "at a rate of 1 a week"... yeah. There's only one police department in the whole country doing this, the Suffolk Police Department. If your statistic had merit, most of America would be arrested for being terrorist bombers at that rate within a short time.

There was no prosecution. There was no arrest. There was no terrorism. There were some friendly guys who showed up at someone's house, asked a few questions, took the usual precautions for a report of this type, and after confirming what they already likely suspected, left and closed the file.

Which is exactly how it's supposed to go, and thankfully their deductive reasoning and investigative skill vastly outstripped Sir Armchair Internet Pundit here, who apparently is hiding under his bed right now thinking any minute now men in black are going to come busting down his door to take him away to Guantanamo.

Re:99 out of 100 (1)

Mitreya (579078) | about 9 months ago | (#44455787)

2/ they are arresting terrorist bombers at a rate of 1 a week

For some reason, I think that a terrorist bomber will not answer the door in this situation.
Since this is a "friendly" visit, I assume they have no warrant and would need to come back later.

It did seem a little peculiar. (2)

gallondr00nk (868673) | about 9 months ago | (#44455397)

If there was some sort of massive sifting of google terms by local law enforcement, or the NSA were passing on every single combination of "pressure cooker + backpack", there wouldn't be an isolated incident, there would be tens of thousands of these investigations. How many other terms would get similar scrutiny? Would local police act on all of the millions of searches that would throw up a red flag?

The police might be increasingly militarized, but they aren't limitless in either manpower or funding, as much as they would have you believe otherwise.

What I'd like to know from all this is why the police are now so frequently travelling around in armed units just to conduct inquiries.

black shirts ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455403)

I would of thought a brown shirt would be more fitting for the modern government employee.

moron (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 9 months ago | (#44455435)

Perhaps the lesson is don't search for a pressure cooker bomb at work, dumbass.

Re:moron (1)

Max_W (812974) | about 9 months ago | (#44455611)

So this device kills and inflicts heavy injuries on hundreds people on the streets, and we have no right to get any information on it.

I, for example, never saw such a thing. And now I am afraid even to make a search to have a look at its image. But how I will recognize one to save my colleagues or bystanders when I see one?

This could well be search suggestions. (5, Interesting)

jaseuk (217780) | about 9 months ago | (#44455445)

Typing "pressure cooker" lists pressure cooker bomb as the 3rd suggestion in Google.

Jason.

So what made this case different? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455489)

What made this different from all the other people who searched for "pressure cooker bomb" on Google after the Boston bombing and didn't have the MIB show up at their door? The employer?

Oh shit! (1)

sootman (158191) | about 9 months ago | (#44455503)

I googled 'pressure cooker bomb' recently because I didn't even know they existed until I heard about them on the news.

Moral of the story: don't be curious about Bad Things.

Or maybe the moral is "ban the news." It just spreads information about Bad Things.

the truth is being revealed.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455537)

So now we know the original story about how she was searching for information on pressure cookers while her husband was shopping for a backpack isn't quite true.
It was in fact searches of 'pressure cooker bombs' and 'backpacks' being done on the same computer.

Re:the truth is being revealed.... (1)

zoomshorts (137587) | about 9 months ago | (#44455651)

Pesky home canners! Pressure cookers have in the past and will in the future, explode. This has been happening since home pressure cookers were available. It is the nature of the beast. Proper training in the use of pressure cookers will lessen this possibility. Do not allow the vent system to become clogged, or dangerous pressure will develop and possibly cause it to explode. I suspect the backpack search was unrelated.

Non story is still a story (2)

onyxruby (118189) | about 9 months ago | (#44455541)

A surveillance society is still a surveillance society and this story simply reveals how this is done in the real world. While lots of people have fantasies about the NSA reading their email or looking at their porn habits in the real world this is done by peoples employers day in day out.

Put down the tin foil hats, have a wake up call and realize that your employers are the ones performing the real world surveillance on the contents of your browsing, email and other habits.

Re:Non story is still a story (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 9 months ago | (#44455599)

Put down the tin foil hats, have a wake up call and realize that your employers are the ones performing the real world surveillance on the contents of your browsing, email and other habits.

If this is anything to go by, I can rest easy knowing that middle management is exactly as incompetent as Dilbert portrays them to be. I'd rather have the NSA going through my browsing history than these marginally competent people who aren't exactly known for their critical thinking and investigative talents. Plus, over-zealous middle managers have ruined my life plenty of times. To date, no men in black appearing out of cadillacs to "ask me a few questions" have exacted that level of devastation on my life.

The NSA at least has rules for their surveillance, and can be sued or called into a congressional hearing if they screw up... corporate management though, lulz. They'll get a promotion for a "job well done" for fucking up.

Re:Non story is still a story (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455681)

So the fat. bald haired manager is worse than Felx Dshershinsky's heirs ? Yeah, makes a lot of sense for your employer. L3 Communications or is it Raytheon ?

Global Torture - anytime anywhere !

Fuck of you little 1% propaganda asset !

Re:Non story is still a story (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455705)

LOL. Hey, which boot polish would you say tastes better? Kiwi Shine Leather Paste Protector or Lincoln U.S.M.C. Black Stain Wax? How 'bout Saphir Pommadier Cream Shoe Polish in Hermes Red? It's made from an all-natural formula based on beeswax, turpentine, and carnauba, with six other nutrient waxes. Sounds delicious if your into licking boots.

Re:Non story is still a story (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455713)

In the real world, NSA profiles your porn habits for future use in setting up a honeytrap for you. "This guy needs a tall, blond girl with small breasts, according to his pornsurfing history. Make sure his wife learns about all after the third fuck".

What exactly do you think 1000000+ Intelligence-Industry-Complex employees do ?

Something doesn't add up (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455587)

So Catalano's husband loses his job in May, and his former employer is just now searching the internet history of the computer the guy worked on? Or if he found it earlier, when did he report it to law enforcement? And if he reported it back in May, why did law enforcement just now get around to investigating it? If they knew about it in May and just now got around to speaking with the Catalano's in August, they couldn't have thought it was an immediate or serious threat. This bit of info about the employer tip actually raises more questions about this incident.

That's it - I'm screwed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455655)

That's it - I'm screwed. If my employer ever hands my browsing history to any three letter agency, I'm done for. If I'm not, I will be when my employer looks at the sheer volume of websites visited and divides that by the number of hours in a day.

I protest (1)

vikingpower (768921) | about 9 months ago | (#44455703)

so that what you do on the internet remains between you and the professionals at the NSA

That is a disheartening line, to say the least. It implies that I, a citizen ( not of the USA, but that does not matter anything at all in the current security craze context ) should take the NSA's simply for granted.

Don't click this link if you are at work. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455729)

http://lmgtfy.com/?q=backpacks+pressure+cookers

"8 miles high about to fall..." Luke 10:18 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44455799)

"... And no one there to CATCH YOU..." - Black Sabbath Sign of the Southern Cross http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVNx4syIpVQ [youtube.com]

Aramaic - the oldest form of Hebrew:

Luke 10:18 = Jesus said "I beheld SATAN falling as Lightning (Aramaic = Baraq) from (O/U) the Heavens (Aramaic = Baw-Ma)"

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