Wall Street’s Spy Center and the NSA Court Decision

By Pam Martens: December 18, 2013

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund Is Sponsoring "Thank You Edward Snowden!" Ads on Buses in Washington, D.C.

On Monday, Judge Richard Leon raised a hornet’s nest of questions about the constitutionality of the government’s Orwellian spy tactics against citizens about whom it hasn’t the slightest suspicion of wrongdoing in his decision in Klayman v. Obama.

Judge Leon came down on the side of Larry Klayman and Charles Strange, two of the plaintiffs suing the government over its massive collection of tens of millions of phone records of law abiding citizens, which it has given itself the right to probe and analyze for a period of five years. The lawsuit grew out of the revelations made by National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower, Edward Snowden.

The Judge found the program to be in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, writing that he could not “imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systemic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval.”

The Fourth Amendment requires “probable cause” prior to a search as opposed to a vast dragnet that sets the government up as a surveillance state with impunity to potentially target political activists seeking a realignment of their democracy. The Fourth Amendment reads as follows:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

If the government’s indiscriminate phone spying is illegal according to Judge Leon, then all eyes should focus next on the even more Orwellian spy center set up in the Wall Street area of lower Manhattan. Called the Lower Manhattan Security Coordination Center, the program tapped $150 million of taxpayers’ money to staff a super high-tech surveillance program with employees from the same Wall Street firms that are serially charged with crimes, sitting elbow to elbow with officers from the New York City Police Department, monitoring the comings and goings of people on the streets of Manhattan. As with the phone spying program, there is no probable cause to believe that the majority of the people under surveillance have committed any crimes.

The Wall Street spy center operates around the clock utilizing more than 2,000 street-based private video cameras owned by Wall Street firms and other corporations as well as more than 1,000 owned by the NYPD. More than 700 additional cameras scour the midtown area of Manhattan. The cameras send live feeds to the downtown spy center where the data is analyzed by artificial intelligence programs. The system has the capability to track one individual around Manhattan based on an item of clothing, such as a red hat, according to statements made in 2011 by its head, Jessica Tisch, in a 60 Minutes interview. (That interview, by the way, was a fawning look at the high-tech surveillance program and failed to reveal the fact of its co-staffing by Wall Street employees.)

Video tracking of individuals without a warrant is prohibited under New York State law. New York Code, Section 700.15, requires a warrant for video surveillance and the warrant is only issuable “Upon probable cause to believe that a particularly described person is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a particular designated offense.” Blanket surveillance of hundreds of thousands of law-abiding citizens with cameras that pan, tilt and rotate to track individuals to the doorsteps of their psychiatrist, debt counselor, Alcoholics Anonymous, or a protest at Zuccotti Park – shared with Wall Street firms that are simultaneously being charged with serial crimes against the public, is as Orwellian as it gets.

The New York Civil Liberties Union, in a 2006 report on the camera surveillance network, wrote that “Today’s surveillance camera is not merely the equivalent of a pair of eyes. It has super human vision. It has the capability to zoom in and ‘read’ the pages of the book you have opened while waiting for a train in the subway.” The report further explained that “New York City has a long and troubled history of police surveillance of individuals and groups engaged in lawful political protest and dissent. Between 1904 and 1985 the NYPD compiled some one million intelligence files on more than 200,000 individuals and groups — suspected communists, Vietnam War protesters, health and housing advocates, education reform groups, and civil rights activists.”

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard and Carl Messineo are civil rights attorneys who co-founded the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF). The organization is playing a major role in filing lawsuits and Freedom of Information Act requests to bring sunshine to the sprawling surveillance state. To galvanize public attention to the problem, they are currently sponsoring a fund drive to keep giant “Thank You Edward Snowden!” ads running on the outside of buses all over Washington, D.C. where they can’t be missed by Congress and the Obama White House.

Last year I asked Ms. Verheyden-Hilliard her views on the Lower Manhattan Security Coordination Center. She had this to say:

“The clearly stipulated and clearly defined requirement of probable cause, a central guarantee that protects individuals from over-reaching police authority, has been eviscerated in practice and in policy by the all-pervasive surveillance tools that make certain people and groups the ‘usual suspects’ in an environment that authorizes racial, religious and political profiling as the de facto law of the land. The NYPD is engaged in mass surveillance and mass aggregation of data on persons who not only have engaged in no criminal activity, but for whom there is no probable cause or individualized suspicion to believe they have engaged, or are engaged, in criminal activity. This is a perversion of civil rights and civil liberties by the government that is spreading across the country.”

Now, a Federal Court Judge, Richard Leon, has vindicated that view.

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