Someone, Somewhere, Really Is Combing Through Your Google Search History (Updated)
August 1, 2013 - 9:43 am
This would put a kink in anyone’s day.
What happened was this: At about 9:00 am, my husband, who happened to be home yesterday, was sitting in the living room with our two dogs when he heard a couple of cars pull up outside. He looked out the window and saw three black SUVs in front of our house; two at the curb in front and one pulled up behind my husband’s Jeep in the driveway, as if to block him from leaving.
Six gentleman in casual clothes emerged from the vehicles and spread out as they walked toward the house, two toward the backyard on one side, two on the other side, two toward the front door.
A million things went through my husband’s head. None of which were right. He walked outside and the men greeted him by flashing badges. He could see they all had guns holstered in their waistbands.
“Are you [name redacted]?” one asked while glancing at a clipboard. He affirmed that was indeed him, and was asked if they could come in. Sure, he said.
They asked if they could search the house, though it turned out to be just a cursory search. They walked around the living room, studied the books on the shelf (nope, no bomb making books, no Anarchist Cookbook), looked at all our pictures, glanced into our bedroom, pet our dogs. They asked if they could go in my son’s bedroom but when my husband said my son was sleeping in there, they let it be.
Meanwhile, they were peppering my husband with questions. Where is he from? Where are his parents from? They asked about me, where was I, where do I work, where do my parents live. Do you have any bombs, they asked. Do you own a pressure cooker? My husband said no, but we have a rice cooker. Can you make a bomb with that? My husband said no, my wife uses it to make quinoa. What the hell is quinoa, they asked.
Quinoa is one of the healthiest foods ever, but that’s beside the point here.
That’s Michele Catalano, formerly of the blog A Small Victory, writing above. For what it’s worth, A Small Victory was an anti-terrorism blog, among other things.
So who were the men in the SUV, and why did they show up at her house? They were members of a “joint terrorism task force.” They showed up and peppered Catalano’s husband with questions and searched their house evidently because while Michele was in one part of the house Googling pressure cookers to figure out how to cook lentils a few weeks back, her husband was Googling backpacks on a computer in another part of the house, because he was looking to buy a backpack.
Googling pressure cookers and backpacks, after Boston, apparently earns an American citizen — on whom the NSA is forbidden by law to spy — a casually terrifying visit from armed government men driving around in SUVs. The men told Catalano’s husband that they conduct about 100 similar visits to American households per week.
Yet, the Tsarnaevs somehow flew under the radar.
How are government officials putting search histories together on people who haven’t broken any laws? Just how much information is the government collecting on all of us? If the information state is as pervasive as Catalano’s experience suggests it is, the potential for misuse and abuse is staggering. This isn’t a Republican thing or a Democrat thing or a Libertarian or libertarian thing — it’s an American thing.
Simply put, we’re not really free in our own homes anymore.
h/t Atlantic Wire
Update: The Suffolk County Police have issued a statement on the visit. It turns out that it wasn’t the NSA that was combing through the couple’s Internet searches. It was the husband’s former employer.
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.
Catalano responds here. She been in the blogosphere and isn’t one to make things up. She certainly didn’t make this visit up, which resulted from innocuous searches on a work computer.