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Your Browsing History – SOLD! To the Highest Bidder; No Longer Private.

Soon,  every search you’ve ever made online will not only be available to your internet service provider (ISP)-  it will be available to any corporation or foreign government who wants to see your interests, peculiar as they may be.

Yesterday (March 28, 2017) via the House’s decision, ISPs can sell your entire web browsing history to literally anyone or any entity without your permission: The CRA resolution.  Literally, it would take an act of Congress to enact legislation now to prevent this massive governmental overreach.   The House basically repealed all prior legislation that would have prevented ISPs from marketing your private browsing history.

Why did the House make this move?  You don’t benefit, the government doesn’t either, so why?  So that a few Too-Big-To-Fail corporations can make a few more rubles and so that politicians – who have received millions in campaign contributions from the ISPs for decades – can continue to sell us out.

How did this happen?

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) was passed in 1996 to allow Congress to overrule regulations created by government agencies.

Prior to 2017, Congress had only successfully used the CRA once. But since the new administration took over in January, it’s been successfully used 3 times — for things like overturning environmental regulations.

“Relying on the government to protect your privacy is like asking a peeping tom to install your window blinds.” — John Perry Barlow

All that’s left is for the President to sign the resolution, which he most certainly will do.

So what kind of shady things can ISPs now legally do with our data?

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, there are at least five creepy things the FCC regulations would have made illegal. But thanks to the Senate, ISPs can now continue doing these things as much as they want, and it will probably be years before we can do anything to stop them.

  1. Sell your browsing history to basically any corporation or government that wants to buy it
  2. Hijack your searches and share them with third parties
  3. Monitor all your traffic by injecting their own malware-filled ads into the websites you visit
  4. Stuff undetectable, un-deletable tracking cookies into all of your non-encrypted traffic
  5. Pre-install software on phones that will monitor all traffic — even HTTPS traffic — before it gets encrypted. AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile have already done this with some Android phones.

We will be updating this article as our research on wrap-around solutions is completed.  In the meantime, contact your Senator and Congressional representative and tell them, “Hell, no – they have no need to know!”

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

Update On An Old Scam – eGreeting Cards.

Virtually every scam out there is one that has existed since the beginning of social use of the Internet; it’s simply been re-purposed in an updated digital format. In this Bulletin, we will focus on the greeting card scam – a perversion of the e-greeting card that you receive in your email inbox and seems to be coming from a friend.

If you open this email and click on the card, you will probably wind up with malicious software that will be downloaded and installed on your operating system.

The malware may be just an annoying program that will launch pop-ups with ads, resulting in unexpected windows all over the screen. However, it can also be ransomware or one of the worst financial malware that’s been around, part of the infamous Zeus family.

If your system becomes infected with such dangerous malware, you will become one of the bots which are part of a larger network of affected computers. In this unfortunate event, your computer will start sending private data and financial information to a fraudulent server controlled by IT criminals.

To keep yourself safe from identity theft and data breach, we recommend that you treat unexpected email greetings with caution and ensure that your computer is using a security program against this type of danger.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

 

Is It Possible To Create A Person Online?

Very often. those who professionally investigate human beings have to determine if she is dealing with a real person or an invented identity.

In social discussion, countless times I’ve heard people refer to “the fake me” – a conjured identity that the user employs for his own reasons, which can range from the benign (isolating marketers) to the dangerous (a criminal seeking new prey).  More often than not, the braggart is not an IT person – or a detective – and believes that by cobbling together a few “borrowed” digital photos and planting them as profile pics on social media, he can tweet away under his fake identity with no one the wiser.  Professional investigators look for this rather lazy pattern (same pics across various platforms) as one of the first clues that they are dealing with a manufactured identity rather than an actual person.

Few people really know how to create an alternative identity and one of those rare people is Aaron Brown.  His story, in his own words, is as fascinating as it is correct.

(Reprinted with permission.)

HOW TO INVENT A PERSON ONLINE

by Curtis Wallen, (07/23/2014), The Atlantic

It’s not an exaggeration to say everything you do online is being followed. And the more precisely a company can tailor your online experience, the more money it can make from advertisers. As a result, the Internet you see is different from the Internet anyone else might see. It’s seamlessly assembled each millisecond, designed specifically to influence you. I began to wonder what it would be like to evade this constant digital surveillance—to disappear online.

From that question, Aaron Brown was born.

My project started at a small coffee shop in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. With the help of Tor—a software program that uses layers of encryption to anonymize online activity—I searched Craigslist and tracked down a handful of affordable laptop computers for sale in New York City. I registered a new email address with the (now-defunct) Tormail anonymous email provider and arranged to buy a used Chromebook.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx@xxxxxxx.com (1/27/13 – 11:23):

I’m punctual, I will be there on time at 1. Theres an atrium at citi center, will let you know when I’m there.

clcrb@tormail.org (1/27/13 – 11:25):

Perfect. See you there.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx@xxxxxxx.com (1/27/13 – 12:59):

Im here in the atrium at 53rd and lex… Gray jacket, blonde hair. Sitting at a table

The meeting was quick. I wore a hat. I kept my head down. The man at the table in a gray jacket was a real person—in a busy public place full of cameras—who could later potentially connect me to the computer. These face-to-face moments left me the most vulnerable. If I was going to evade online surveillance, I had to avoid any ties between my digital footprint and the physical world.

When I got home I immediately reformatted the computer’s hard drive and installed a Linux partition. This meant I could encrypt and cosmetically “hide” the part of my computer that was using Linux. My new laptop would boot up Chrome OS like any other Chromebook, unless I gave it the command to boot up Linux instead. I never connected to anything using  Chrome OS. And on the Linux side, I never accessed the Internet without Tor, and I never logged into anything that had any connection to Curtis Wallen.

Up to that point, I had been largely operating on instinct and common sense. Now that my project was expanding, I figured it’d probably be a good time to reach out to someone who actually knew what she or he was doing.

I created a new Tormail account, the first evidence of my new person—aaronbrown@tormail.org––and sent an encrypted email to the enigmatic researcher Gwern Branwen, asking what advice he’d give to someone “new to this whole anonymity thing.” Branwen replied with a simple but crucial piece of advice:

“Don’t get too attached to any one identity. Once a pseudonym has been linked to others or to your real identity, it’s always linked.”

Taking Branwen’s advice to heart, I put a sticky note next to my keyboard.

When most people think of Internet surveillance, they imagine government bureaucrats monitoring their emails and Google searches. In a March 2014 study, MIT professor Catherine Tucker and privacy advocate Alex Marthews analyzed data from Google Trends across 282 search terms rated for their “privacy-sensitivity.” The terms included “Islam”, “national security”, “Occupy”, “police brutality”, “protest”, and “revolution.” After Edward Snowden’s leaks about NSA surveillance, Tucker and Marthews found, the frequency of these sensitive search terms declined—suggesting that Internet users have become less likely to explore “search terms that they [believe] might get them in trouble with the U.S. government.” The study also found that people have become less likely to search “embarrassing” topics such as “AIDS”, “alcoholics anonymous,” “coming out,” “depression,” “feminism,” “gender reassignment,” “herpes,” and “suicide”—while concerns over these more personal terms could have as much to do with startling Google ads, the notable decrease observed in the study suggests the increased awareness of surveillance led to a degree of self-censorship.

In other words, people are doing their best to blend in with the crowd.

The challenge of achieving true anonymity, though, is that evading surveillance makes your behavior anomalous—and anomalies stick out. As the Japanese proverb says, “A nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” Glenn Greenwald explained recently that simply using encryption can make you a target. For me, this was all the more motivation to disappear.

Aaron had a face, but lacked “pocket litter”—an espionage term that refers to physical items that add authenticity to a spy’s cover. In order to produce this pocket litter, I needed money—the kind of currency that the counterfeit professionals of the darkweb would accept as payment. I needed bitcoin, a virtual currency that allows users to exchange goods and services without involving banks. At that time, one of the few services that exchanged cash for bitcoin was a company called Bitinstant. I made my way to a small computer shop in the Chinatown neighborhood of Manhattan to make the transfer.

At a small, teller-like window, I filled out the paperwork using fake information. Unwisely, I wrote down my name as Aaron Brown— thus creating one of the links to my real identity I should have been avoiding. As a result, my receipt had “Aarow Brown” printed on it. It seemed fitting that the first physical evidence of Aaron’s existence was a misspelled name on a receipt from a computer shop.

When I got home, 10 bitcoin were there waiting for me in my virtual wallet, stored on an encrypted flash drive. I made the necessary contacts and ordered a counterfeit driver’s license, a student ID, a boating license, car insurance, an American Indian tribal citizenship card, a social security card scan (real social security cards were a bit out of my budget), and a cable bill for proof of residency. The final bill came out to just over 7 bitcoin, roughly $400 at the time.

As I waited for my pile of documents, I began crafting Aaron’s online presence. While exploring message boards on the darknet, I came across the contact information for a self-proclaimed hacker called v1ct0r who was accepting applications to host hidden services on a server he managed. I messaged him with a request to host Aaron’s website. He was happy to offer a little space, under two conditions: “no child porn nor racism; Respects the rules or i could block/delete your account.”

I also set up a simple web proxy so that anyone could contribute to Aaron’s online presence. The proxy serves as a middleman for browsing the Internet, meaning any website you visit is first routed through the proxy server. Anyone who browses using the proxy is funneling traffic through that one node—which means those web pages look like they’re being visited by Aaron Brown.

Aaron’s Twitter account worked much the same way. There was a pre-authenticated form on the project website, allowing anyone to post a tweet to Aaron’s feed. As Aaron’s creator, it was fascinating to see what happened once strangers started interacting with it regularly. People would tweet at their friends, and then Aaron would received confused replies. Under the guise of Aaron, people tweeted out, jokes, love messages, political messages, and meta-commentaries on existence. I even saw a few advertisements. Ultimately, the account was suspended after Spanish political activists used it to spam news outlets and politicians.

In a sense, I was doing the opposite of astroturfing, a practice that uses fake social media profiles to spread the illusion of grassroots support or dissent. In 2011, the Daily Kos reported on a leaked document from defense contractor HBGary which explained how one person could pretend to be many different people:

Using the assigned social media accounts we can automate the posting of content that is relevant to the persona. … In fact using hashtags and gaming some location based check-in services we can make it appear as if a persona was actually at a conference and introduce himself/herself to key individuals as part of the exercise … There are a variety of social media tricks we can use to add a level of realness to all fictitious personas.

Aaron Brown turned that concept inside out. With a multitude of voices and interests filtering through one point, any endeavor to monitor his behavior or serve him targeted ads became a wash. None of the information was representative of any discrete interests. The surveillance had no value. I’d created a false human being, but instead of a carefully coordinated deception, the result was simply babble.

“The Internet is what we make it,” wrote security researcher Bruce Schneier in January 2013, “and is constantly being recreated by organizations, companies, and countries with specific interests and agendas. Either we fight for a seat at the table, or the future of the Internet becomes something that is done to us.”

For those of us who feel confident that we have nothing to hide, the future of Internet security might not seem like a major concern. But we underestimate the many ways in which our online identities can be manipulated. A recent study used Facebook as a testing ground to determine if the company could influence a user’s emotional disposition by altering the content of her or his News Feed. For a week in January 2012, reseachers subjected 689,003 unknowing users to this psychological experiment, showing happier-than-usual messages to some people and sadder-than-usual messages to others. They concluded that they had “experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks” because users responded by publishing more positive or negative posts of their own, depending on what they saw in their own feeds.

The U.S. Department of Defense has also figured out how influential Facebook and Twitter can be. In 2011, it announced a new “Social Media in Strategic Communication” (SMISC) program to detect and counter information the U.S. government deemed dangerous. “Since everyone is potentially an influencer on social media and is capable of spreading information,” one researcher involved in a SMISC study told The Guardian, “our work aims to identify and engage the right people at the right time on social media to help propagate information when needed.”

Private companies are also using personal information in hidden ways. They don’t simply learn our tastes and habits, offering us more of what want and less of what we don’t. As Michael Fertik wrote in a 2013 Scientific American article titled “The Rich See a Different Internet Than the Poor,” credit lenders have the ability to hide their offers from people who may need loans the most. And Google now has a patent to change its prices based on who’s buying.

Is it even possible to hide from corporate and government feelers online? While my attempt to do so was an intensely interesting challenge, it ultimately left me a bit disappointed. It is essentially impossible to achieve anonymity online. It requires a complete operational posture that extends from the digital to the physical. Downloading a secure messaging app and using Tor won’t all of a sudden make you “NSA-proof.” And doing it right is really, really hard.

Weighing these trade-offs in my day-to-day life led to a few behavioral changes, but I have a mostly normal relationship with the Internet—I deleted my Facebook account, I encrypt my emails whenever I can, and I use a handful of privacy minded browser extensions. But even those are steps many people are unwilling, or unable, to take. And therein lies the major disappointment for me: privacy shouldn’t require elaborate precautions.

No one likes being subliminally influenced, discriminated against, or taken advantage of, yet these are all legitimate concerns that come with surveillance. These concerns are heightened as we increasingly live online. Digital surveillance is pervasive and relatively cheap. It is fundamentally different than anything we’ve faced before, and we’re still figuring out what what the boundaries should be.

For now, Aaron’s IDs and documents are still sitting inside my desk. Aaron himself actually went missing a little while ago. I used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk marketplace to solicit descriptions from strangers, and then hired a forensic artist to draw a sketch. He resurfaced on Twitter. (You can go here to try tweeting as Aaron Brown.) But other than that, no word. I have a feeling he’ll probably pop up in Cleveland at some point.

Everyone always seems to get sucked back home.

******

One thing we seem to forget as we go through our daily online lives is to trust our gut instincts.  If something feels off, your primal brain is sensing it before the logical side can identify the issue.  Trust your instincts – after all, we are – literally and virtually – all strangers online.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

Bitten By A Stingray? You’ll Need A Criminal Defense Attorney.

stingray

 

(Did you really think this was going to be about a protected species along the seashore and that I’d gone all tree-huggy??)

In this week’s article, I am referring to the FBI’s new dance in getting around the now oft-litigated prohibitions against 4th Amendment warrantless searches vis-a-vis cell phones.  Their latest gig is called the “stingray”.

Obviously tracking cars is a strict no-no without a warrant for law enforcement professionals, but what about cell phone data? As it turns out the law is a bit murkier on how that applies when it comes to cell phone data and “stingrays,” as Ramsay C. McCullough notes in a post for The Corporate Compliance & White Collar Advisor:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is taking the position that search warrants or other court orders are not required when deploying cell-site simulators, known as “stingrays,” in public places which imitate cell phone towers and capture the locations, identities, calls and texts of mobile phone users.  With the pervasive use of smart phones in business today and with those phones containing confidential personal and business information, this may present real concerns for employers.

McCullough continues by saying that nine states have passed laws banning practices by law enforcement.

The problem is, no one can get to the bottom of exactly how these things should be regulated or even how they’re working, since the FBI has multiple non-disclosure agreements with local law enforcement in regards to stingrays. It’s gotten so bad that prosecutors are dropping cases rather than disclose the details of the stingray operations. And despite how shadowy this whole thing may seem, these devices are largely unrestricted in the United States.

For a country making a big push behind the internet of things, we are shockingly unprepared for how this will change the scope of privacy in the state.   Let’s make sure that with all of this great responsibility in being a technology leader, we don’t forget such little things as oh say, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and related court decisions.

NEW NEWS: New bill would require husbands to get their wives permission for a Viagra Rx. in KY.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

 

Civil Asset Forfeiture – A Good Concept Gone Awry?

asset-forfeit

(This article in a point/counter point manner to quickly argue both sides of the issue of police seizing assets first, investigating later.)

Point: (from Syracuse.com)

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Justin Lucas gathered up $50,000 in cash in 2011 to bail his brother out of jail on a drug charge.

But when Lucas brought the money to the Otsego County jail in a brown paper bag, sheriff’s deputies seized the cash without releasing his brother. They told him the money was the subject of a drug investigation.

How much did your police agency get? Check out our national database (below).

Lucas’ brother eventually pleaded guilty to a felony marijuana possession charge. But even with the case over, Lucas couldn’t get his money back. The sheriff’s office had already used a federal law to force him to forfeit the money to the government.

 Investigators cited the fact that their drug-sniffing dog picked up the scent of marijuana on the cash, and Lucas’ admission that $10,000 of it had come from his brother’s co-defendant.

The federal civil asset forfeiture law allows local police to get up to 80 percent of money or property seized, with the rest going to the federal government for their role in the investigations and for administering the program.

Lucas’ case was among 117 in the 32-county Northern District of New York over the past five years in which the federal government used the law to seize $43 million in assets without having to charge the owners with a crime.

Revenue from alleged criminal activity

This is the asset forfeiture revenue for the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury for the fiscal years 2001-2013. The money and goods are seized under the premise that they were obtained by illegal activities, and therefore, are subject to seizure by law-enforcement agencies. The revenue is split 80/20 with the larger portion going to the agency that seized the goods and money. The other 20 percent pays for the administration of the seizure programs.   Below is in billions of dollars.

Under the federal law, law enforcement agencies such as the FBI or DEA can seize someone’s property without charging him or her with a crime. The law allows the government to take the property, then requires the owners to prove their possessions were legally acquired.

For police to keep someone’s assets, they have to be able to prove only that it’s more likely than not that the money or property was used to commit a crime or was the proceeds of a crime. That’s lower than the standard for convicting someone of a crime – “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

If federal prosecutors agree with the law enforcement agency’s decision, they file a civil lawsuit against the property, not the owner. That’s why the lawsuits have odd captions, such as “United States of America vs. One 1999 Chevrolet Pickup Truck.”

 

Counterpoint: (from Heritage.org)

Criticisms of Civil Asset Forfeiture

One of the main criticisms of civil asset forfeiture is that the deck is stacked against any property owner who wishes to contest the forfeiture. Because the legal proceeding is against the property rather than the property owner, the owner does not enjoy many of the constitutional protections that are afforded to those who are accused of engaging in criminal activity. Such inequities prompted Brad Cates, director of the asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department from 1985 to 1989, to declare recently that “[a]ll of this is at odds with the rights that Americans have.”

First, the vast majority of cases never see the inside of a courtroom.  Any amount of currency can be administratively forfeited; the only time administrative forfeiture is not available is when the forfeiture involves any real estate or personal property worth more than $500,000 (except for so-called hauling conveyances: that is, vehicles, vessels, and aircraft allegedly used to transport illegal drugs, which, like cash or other monetary instruments, can be subjected to administrative forfeiture regardless of their value).

In an administrative proceeding, the agency that stands to gain directly from the forfeiture acts as investigator, prosecutor, judge, and jury. The rules and deadlines governing these proceedings are complicated and opaque, a minefield of technicalities full of traps for an unwary (and often unrepresented) property owner.

With the exception of the Customs Service, there is no effective judicial review from an administrative ruling, and the administrator does not even need to write an order justifying his or her decision. While there is within many agencies a process whereby someone can file a petition for mitigation or remission of the harsh effects of forfeiture, the rules do not allow someone to file such a petition while at the same time contesting the validity of the forfeiture itself.  Moreover, it is once more an agency official, not an impartial arbiter, who acts on the petition.

Second, unlike a criminal case, there is no entitlement either to representation by counsel or (except as to real property) to a pre-seizure hearing.  Forfeitures are often for an amount small enough that it would make little financial sense for a property owner to hire counsel to contest the forfeiture. Forfeiture cases can take months or years, effectively tying up somebody’s property and creating an extreme hardship for people of modest means or people who run small businesses.

Adding insult to injury, the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (CAFRA) lays out specific filing deadlines that must be met by property owners challenging forfeitures. Failure to meet a filing deadline by even a day often results in immediate forfeiture, whereas agencies can allow property to languish in their custody for years.

Third, unlike a criminal case in which a prosecutor must prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, in a civil forfeiture case, the prosecutor only needs to establish the basis for the forfeiture by a preponderance of the evidence. Defenders of current civil asset forfeiture procedures note that preponderance of the evidence is the standard of proof that is traditionally used in civil cases. While a true statement, this does not mean that it is the appropriate standard to use in civil asset forfeiture cases given the clear connection between this type of action and a typical criminal case. Moreover, unlike a dispute between two private citizens, there are tremendous disparities in available resources and expertise between the property owner contesting the forfeiture and the governmental entity seeking the forfeiture.

Fourth, also unlike a criminal case in which the prosecutor must prove that the person who used or derived the property acted intentionally or at least was willfully blind to its misuse, in a civil case, the government does not have to prove any of that. Rather, the burden is placed on the “innocent owner” to prove a negative: that he did not know about its illegal use and that, if he did know about it, he did all that could reasonably be expected under the circumstances to terminate such use.

Defenders of current civil asset forfeiture procedures note that the Supreme Court of the United States has held that an innocent owner defense is not constitutionally required,  yet the law provides a claimant with the opportunity to present such a defense. Again, while true, that does not mean that the current procedure is fair or the most appropriate standard under the circumstances. The Constitution provides a floor, not a ceiling, when it comes to providing rights; it states what must be provided at a minimum, not what ought to be provided to ensure fairness and strengthen the integrity of the process.

=================================

With a new administration in power and a President and an AG who are allegedly on the side of law and order, we’ll keep an eye on any legislation going through Congress on this matter.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

Profiling A Perpetrator & Distinguishing an M.O. From Signature

profile

NEW NEWS: IRS releases 2017 Standard Mileage Rates for Business: 

  • 53.5 cents per mile for business miles driven, down from 54 cents for 2016

============================================================================

BEACON BULLETIN

Based on crime scene evidence, one basic method of characterizing  offenders divides them into three categories:

  • Organized offenders: These criminals are more sophisticated in their approach, and their crimes show evidence of planning. These types tend to be of average or better intelligence, employed, and in active social relationships such as with spouses and families. Even though they’re driven by their fantasies, they maintain enough control to avoid being impulsive. They prepare and even rehearse. They tend to target specific victims or types of victims and use control measures such as restraints to maintain victim compliance. They bring the tools they need to gain access to and control of the victim and avoid leaving behind evidence. As killers, they generally hide or dispose of the body and are likely to have a dumpsite already selected.
  • Disorganized offenders: These criminals usually live alone or with a relative, possess lower-than-average intelligence, are unemployed or work at menial jobs, and often have mental illnesses. They act impulsively, or as if they have little control over their fantasy-driven needs. They rarely use ruses to gain the victim’s confidence, but rather attack with sudden violence, overwhelming the victim. The crime scene often is messy and chaotic. This type of offender doesn’t plan ahead or bring tools along, but rather uses whatever is handy. As killers, they typically leave the body at the scene and exert little effort to avoid leaving behind evidence. Some have sexual contact with the victim after killing him or her.
  • Mixed offenders: Some offenders leave behind mixed messages at crime scenes. They show evidence of planning and a sophisticated MO, but the assault itself may be frenzied or messy, which may indicate some control over deep-seated and violent fantasies.

Profilers have developed categories of descriptors, describe the types of individuals who commit the crimes. Some of the descriptors used in serial killer profiling are as follows:

  • Age: Most serial killers are in their 20s or 30s.
  • Sex: Almost all are male.
  • Race: Most don’t cross racial lines. That means, in general, White offenders kill Whites, while Black offenders kill Blacks.
  • Residency: Organized offenders may be married, have a family, and be well liked by their friends. Disorganized offenders, because of their mental instability and immaturity, tend to live alone or with a family member.
  • Proximity: The location of the perpetrator’s home in relationship to the crime scene is important. Most kill close to home, a factor that is particularly true with the first few victims. The area close to home is a comfort zone. With experience, however, the killer may move his predatory boundaries farther and farther from home.
  • Social skills: Killers who use a ruse to ensnare their victims, like Ted Bundy did, typically possess good social skills, whereas those who use a blitz-style attack are less comfortable with conversation.
  • Work and military histories: Organized offenders more often have a stable work history and are more likely to have left any military service with an honorable discharge. Disorganized offenders often are quite simply too unstable to hold a job in the long term or to complete military service.
  • Educational level: Organized offenders tend to have more schooling than their disorganized counterparts.

Using these descriptors, profilers can create a pretty good picture, or profile, of the type of person who likely committed the crime.

  • Method of entry
  • Tools that were used during the crime
  • Types of objects taken from the crime scene
  • Time of day the crime was committed
  • The perpetrator’s alibi
  • The perpetrator’s accomplices
  • Method of transportation to and from the scene
  • Unusual features of the crime, such as killing the family dog or leaving behind a note or object to taunt the police

In contrast to an MO, a signature is an act that has nothing to do with completing the crime or getting away with it. Signatures are important to the offender in some personal way. Torturing the victim, overkill, postmortem mutilation or posing, and the taking of souvenirs or trophies are signatures. These actions are driven by the killer’s psychological needs and fantasies.

Unlike an MO, a signature never changes. It may be refined over time, but the basic signature remains the same. For example, if a serial killer poses victims in a religious manner, praying or as a crucifix, details such as candles, crucifixes, or other ceremonial objects may be added later. The signature has changed, but its basic form and theme remain the same.

Obviously, a professional profiler should be contacted if you believe there is a need for such; the above is simply a broad explanation of criminal profiling.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

 

Blood is Thicker Than Ink: Familial DNA In The Evidence And Court Rooms.

familial-dna

This article in Wired got me hooked on all things “familial DNA”.  Here’s an intriguing excerpt and lead-in explanation to the concept:

From WIRED:

THE THREE MEN who showed up at Michael Usry’s door last December were unfailingly polite. They told him they were cops investigating a hit-and-run that had occurred a few blocks away, near New Orleans City Park, and they invited Usry to accompany them to a police station so he could answer some questions. Certain that he hadn’t committed any crime, the 36-year-old filmmaker agreed to make the trip.

The situation got weird in the car. As they drove, the cops prodded Usry for details of a 1998 trip he’d taken to Rexburg, Idaho, where two of his sisters later attended college—a detail they’d gleaned by studying his Facebook page. “They were like, ‘We know high school kids do some crazy things—were you drinking? Did you meet anybody?’” Usry recalls. The grilling continued downtown until one of the three men—an FBI agent—told Usry he wanted to swab the inside of Usry’s cheek but wouldn’t explain his reason for doing so, though he emphasized that their warrant meant Usry could not refuse.

The bewildered Usry soon learned that he was a suspect in the 1996 murder of an Idaho Falls teenager named Angie Dodge. Though a man had been convicted of that crime after giving an iffy confession, his DNA didn’t match what was found at the crime scene. Detectives had focused on Usry after running a familial DNA search, a technique that allows investigators to identify suspects who don’t have DNA in a law enforcement database but whose close relatives have had their genetic profiles cataloged. In Usry’s case the crime scene DNA bore numerous similarities to that of Usry’s father, who years earlier had donated a DNA sample to a genealogy project through his Mormon church in Mississippi. That project’s database was later purchased by Ancestry, which made it publicly searchable—a decision that didn’t take into account the possibility that cops might someday use it to hunt for genetic leads.

Usry, whose story was first reported in The New Orleans Advocate, was finally cleared after a nerve-racking 33-day wait—the DNA extracted from his cheek cells didn’t match that of Dodge’s killer, whom detectives still seek. But the fact that he fell under suspicion in the first place is the latest sign that it’s time to set ground rules for familial DNA searching, before misuse of the imperfect technology starts ruining lives.

Mitch Morrissey, Denver’s district attorney and one of the nation’s leading advocates for familial DNA searching, stresses that the technology is “an innovative approach to investigating challenging cases, particularly cold cases where the victims are women or children and traditional investigative tactics fail to yield a solid suspect.” Familial DNA searches have indeed helped nab people who might otherwise have evaded justice. In the most celebrated example, Los Angeles police arrested a man believed to be the Grim Sleeper serial killer after discovering that the crime scene DNA shared a significant number of genetic markers with that of a convicted felon—who turned out to be the man’s son.

Pitching forward to today when over the weekend, I caught this bit of news on the radio:

Bill Medley’s (of the Righteous Brothers) ex-wife’ s murderer was captured – 44 years later and via the use of familiar DNA – a suspect identified through examination of his family member’s DNA.

From the Washington Post:

Nearly 41 years to the day after the brutal death of Karen Klaas, her 1976 murder has been solved, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

The case captivated the public four decades ago because of its shocking circumstances and a celebrity connection: Klaas had been attacked at her home in Hermosa Beach, a small oceanfront California city that even now sees only a handful of murders per decade.

Klaas also was the ex-wife of Righteous Brothers singer Bill Medley, whose voice had become ubiquitous in the 1960s with hits like “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ ” and “Unchained Melody.”

On Jan. 30, 1976, police found the 32-year-old Klaas unconscious at home. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled with her pantyhose, police said.

Klaas was taken to a hospital, where she remained comatose for five days. She died Feb. 4, 1976.

 

Her murder would remain Hermosa Beach’s longest-running cold case, detectives said in 2009, when they renewed their plea to the public for any witnesses to come forward, the Associated Press reported then.

At the time, detectives released new details about the suspected killer — a “shaggy-haired, bearded man in a trench coat and blue jeans” — based on two witnesses who said they had seen him leaving Klaas’s house, the AP reported.

Detectives had been able to obtain a DNA profile of Klaas’s murderer in the 1990s, but no profiles in the national DNA database were ever a match, according to the AP.

In statements over the weekend, the sheriff’s department did not name suspects or specify whether any arrests had been made — only noting that the case had been solved by using “familial DNA, which identified the killer.”

The use of familial DNA emerged over the past decade as a way for investigators to search for “close-to-perfect matches” among relatives of a convict, The Washington Post reported in 2008.

However, the technique has also attracted criticism and ethical questions from those who argue that family members could become “genetic informants” without consent.

“If practiced routinely, we would be subjecting hundreds of thousands of innocent people who happen to be relatives of individuals in the FBI database to lifelong genetic surveillance,” Tania Simoncelli, science adviser to the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Post at the time.

(We waited as long as we could for that update today but it was finally time to publish.  We will be updating this Bulletin accordingly this week.)

Truly life becomes a circle – with the present affected by the past for future outcomes (investigation, trial, sentencing) – with criminal evidence science.

We’ll keep you posted.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, be safe.

 

 

fMRIs In The Courtroom, Gaining Acceptability?

fmri

New News: President Donald Trump, by executive action, has pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

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For several years now, since reading the fascinating case out of India, wherein a woman was convicted of murder via fMRI (functional MRI) evidence, we have remained riveted on this relatively new neuro-imaging tool as it relates to courtroom application.

Below we bring you up to date on the use of fMRIs in US courtrooms and the arguments for its use in a legal venue.

fMRI Use in the courtroom: 

Grey Matters publication, Fall 2016

Neuroimaging evidence is a complex topic, and an important one to understand, considering how it could potentially alter the way cases involving the NGRI plea are tried. As demonstrated by the cases of Dugan and Hinckley, the legal system must now decide how to evaluate the potential neuroimaging offers.  Full article (starts on page 20)

In support of fMRIs in the courtroom:

One of the best arguments for continued research into the application of fMRIs (functional MRIs) in the courtroom comes from Sunaina Rajani, in the Kennedy School Review, (a Harvard Kennedy School student publication), October 2016:

(excerpt):

Objective Criteria of Criminal Responsibility

Robert Proctor, clinical instructor at the Harvard Law School’s Criminal Justice Institute, says that “expert opinion is often presented under a veneer of objectivity.” Norms, implicit biases, and lack of neuroscientific knowledge affect determination of criminal culpability, thereby increasing the chance of human error. Not only does this bias shape judges’ evidentiary calls but also their statutory interpretations. Often an expert’s evaluation entails a review of the defendant’s medical records, an interview of the defendant, and, if the defendant is lucky, essential interviews with witnesses and family members.  This evaluation, too, is ultimately subjective but could be enhanced by neuroscience.

In jury trials, determination of insanity remains a subjective conclusion that a jury may or may not accept. The question, then, is whether neuroscientific advances will be useful in the courtroom. Proctor adds, that we can help improve criminal responsibility analysis by “applying universally accepted scientific sources and methods of analyzing and interpreting the science of mental disease and defect” to ultimately will ensure fair access to justice in our criminal justice system.

In the neuroscientific sphere, fMRI studies have developed a robust composite of average brain activity that can be compared to a defendant’s state of mind. In doing so, courts might be able to assess capacity, impulsivity, and fear management through a more objective lens. For example, when one experiences fear, scientists can assess to what degree can one generally ‘distinguish right from wrong’ by comparing brain activity. Moreover, recent brain imaging techniques can assess impaired EF and other cognitive abilities, thereby improving a jury’s overall evaluation of the defendant’s ability to distinguish right from wrong.

It is important these neurotechnologies are applied not only in individual courts, but uniformly throughout the justice system. Depending on the justice system’s level of neuroscientific awareness and the court’s standards, judicial interpretations vary. Unfairly, similarly-situated defendants may receive different outcomes, especially in terms of sentencing. Setting standards using awareness of neuroscientific advances could ultimately help reduce these disparities and better tailor sentencing outcomes to minimize recidivism.

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Also in favor of fMRIs in the courtroom but from the perspective of mentally ill defendants is this well thought out piece from the Center For Law and Science

fMRI in the Courtroom: Brain Scans and Mental Illness

Published: June 5, 2015

One of the many obstacles facing juries throughout the history of the legal system has been the question of expert testimony. It has long been the practice of both prosecution and defense to hire professionals from any field to testify in hopes of tilting the case in favor of their client. However, deciding whether evidence presented by these individuals is actually “expert” frequently proves challenging. In the case of determining whether a defendant has a mental illness, juries have historically had to rely on the often-vague characterizations found in the DSM-IV and “expert” psychiatrists to interpret them.

Fortunately, breakthroughs in fMRI scanning may turn the tables on this highly subjective system and give juries something much more concrete to use. Over the past decade, many mental illnesses have been reliably localized by consistently abnormal hemodynamic response in various brain areas. This has not only allowed observers the ability to see general categories of mental disorder, but even to distinguish between various degrees and small variations within an individual disease’s spectrum. The most recent breakthrough happened this past September for Postpartum Depression, while researchers have been progressively better at localizing Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia.

It is my hope that an increased use of such fMRI evidence in the courtroom will lend jurors a much clearer view of mental illness, without the need of subjective interpretations from expert testimony. While these middlemen may understand the nature of mental illness, many lay people do not recognize that a mental disorder indicates structural abnormalities in the brain, not simple weakness in character. While our imaging technology may not be advanced enough to locate mental abnormalities in the same way that an X-ray would locate a fractured hip, I think that fMRIs will be continue to increase in accuracy and relevance to major courtroom issues.

However one stands on the ethics or scientific application involved in fMRI use in the courtroom, we cannot deny its inevitability.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

 

 

Witness Statement Checklist; Motor Vehicle Accident (MVA)

NEW NEWS:   New York passes law making it illegal to list short-term rentals on Airbnb (update 01.13.2017) Unless you’re renting it out for longer than 30 days, renting out your apartment in NY is against the law.

car-accident

Witness statements are critical to just about every case a lawyer undertakes.   Among the many items that a thorough statement provides the attorney, the initial intake should contain verification of the incident occurrence, liability potential and causal factors.  For the purpose of being thorough, we have developed proprietary witness statement checklist for various types incidents – ranging from motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) to construction site accidents to elevator/escalator incidents and everything in between.  Below is a sample of our standard MVA witness statement checklist. (Of course, each incident is unique so the investigator taking the statement should be aware of all of the comments made by a witness, including those not listed on this checklist.)

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MVA WITNESS STATEMENT CHECKLIST

This checklist contains items that must be addressed for a witness statement to be considered complete.  (One checklist per vehicle involved.)

1. WITNESS PEDIGREE (to include name, address, phone, DOB, SSN, employment/education and licensed driver info)

2. WEATHER CONDITIONS (including possible glare)

3. LIGHTING CONDITIONS

4. SURFACE CONDITIONS (roadways, shoulders…)

5. DEBRIS/CONSTRUCTION PRESENT

6. DESCRIPTION OF ROADWAY (# of lanes, travel direction, divider present…)

7. TRAFFIC SIGNS/ DEVICES/ PRESENCE OF TRAFFIC AGENT

8. DIRECTION OF TRAVEL OF PARTICIPANTS (drivers/pedestrians…)

9. DESCRIPTION OF ACCIDENT (detailed)

10. ALCOHOL/DRUG INVOLVEMENT

11. WHERE WAS THE DRIVER GOING?

12. RATE OF SPEED

13. FORCE OF IMPACT

14. DAMAGE TO VEHICLE (detailed)

15. POSITION OF OCCUPANTS

16. OBSERVABLE INJURIES SUSTAINED (detailed)

17. MEDICAL ATTENTION RENDERED AT SCENE

18. EMERGENCY/OFFICIAL VEHICLE AND PERSONNEL RESPONSE

19. POSITION OF VEHICLE AFTER IMPACT

20. SUMMONSES ISSUED

21. STATEMENT(S) MADE AT SCENE

22. ADDITIONAL WITNESSES

23. WAS THE VEHICLE TOWED? WHERE?

Our witness statement reports contain not only the witness statements themselves, but assessments of the witnesses interviewed (and the packet can be expanded to a full site survey which includes diagrams, 360-degree photos/video, 3-d modeling, if required. light sequences and full measurements).  The investigator is usually the first in the field, well before the attorney takes a witness’ deposition months from the date of occurrence, therefore, it is vital for the attorney, from the outset,  to have an indication of the witness’ recall, stability and ability to withstand examination.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, be safe.

 

Alexa, Can You Dial 911 While Recording My Murder? The Electronic Ear & The Law.

policeline

Unless you are living under the proverbial rock, I’m sure by now that you’ve heard of the criminal case in Arkansas which has the police subpoenaing Amazon for the cloud-maintained audio files that may have been recorder by  the alleged murderer’s IoT gadget, the personal electronic assistant known as Echo.

Case Background (as featured in Engadget):

Amazon’s Echo devices and its virtual assistant are meant to help find answers by listening for your voice commands. However, police in Arkansas want to know if one of the gadgets overheard something that can help with a murder case. According to The Information, authorities in Bentonville issued a warrant for Amazon to hand over any audio or records from an Echo belonging to James Andrew Bates. Bates is set to go to trial for first-degree murder for the death of Victor Collins next year.

Amazon declined to give police any of the information that the Echo logged on its servers, but it did hand over Bates’ account details and purchases. Police say they were able to pull data off of the speaker, but it’s unclear what info they were able to access. Due to the so-called always on nature of the connected device, the authorities are after any audio the speaker may have picked up that night. Sure, the Echo is activated by certain words, but it’s not uncommon for the IoT (Internet of Things) gadget to be alerted to listen by accident.

Police say Bates had several other smart home devices, including a water meter. That piece of tech shows that 140 gallons of water were used between 1AM and 3AM the night Collins was found dead in Bates’ hot tub. Investigators allege the water was used to wash away evidence of what happened off of the patio. The examination of the water meter and the request for stored Echo information raises a bigger question about privacy. At a time when we have any number of devices tracking and automating our habits at home, should that information be used against us in criminal cases?

Bates’ attorney argues that it shouldn’t. “You have an expectation of privacy in your home, and I have a big problem that law enforcement can use the technology that advances our quality of life against us,” defense attorney Kimberly Weber said. Of course, there’s also the question of how reliable information is from smart home devices. Accuracy can be an issue for any number of IoT gadgets. However, an audio recording would seemingly be a solid piece of evidence, if released.

Just as we saw with the quest to unlock an iPhone in the San Bernardino case, it will be interesting to see how authorities and the companies who make smart home devices work out the tension between serving customers, maintaining privacy and pursuing justice.

Update: An Amazon spokesperson gave Engadget the following statement on the matter:

“Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.”

As a refresher, Echo only captures audio and streams it to the cloud when the device hears the wake word “Alexa.” A ring on the top of the device turns blue to give a visual indication that audio is being recorded. Those clips, or “utterances” as the company calls them, are stored in the cloud until a customer deletes them either individually or all at once. When that’s done, the “utterances” are permanently deleted. What’s more, the microphones on an Echo device can be manually turned off at any time.

I think we will all find the ever-changing digital landscape an interesting venue for the evolution of electronic law. The ramifications of the anticipated ruling may change the way we view individual privacy forever.  If we don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy in our own homes… where then?

We will be following this case with particular interest and will bring you updates as developments occur.

Until this case resolves, and if you own a digital personal assistant,  you might want to drop that habit of talking to yourself.  The walls literally have (electronic) ears.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

 

 

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