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DOJ, DHS rejecting law school grads based on online comments

Apr 04, 20136 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

Spying on the First Amendment and gross police misconduct sadly seems out-of-control.

If you think what you say online doesn’t matter in the big picture of life, then you might be interested in knowing that the Justice Department looked up top-ranked law school graduates on the Internet and then the “screening committee deselected 40% of highly qualified liberal applicants and only 6% of highly qualified conservative applicants” based on what they found online. Former President George W. Bush appointees made up the screening committee that used online items such as an applicant’s law review article before claiming that candidates’ views on Guantanamo Bay were “contrary to the position of the administration.” Another applicant was labeled an “anarchist.” Internal hiring instructions were to “deselect ‘wackos’ or individuals who did not have ‘views consistent with the Attorney General’s views on law enforcement.”

The lawsuit was based on a 2008 DOJ Office of Inspector General report, but the Privacy Act claim was dismissed. However, a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals recently revived the lawsuit and ruled that the DOJ “intentionally destroyed” proof of political hiring. The applications had handwritten notes based on online searches about the applicants. Judge Judith Rogers said “a reasonable trier of fact could find that the record destruction was neither accidental nor simply a matter of utilizing the Department’s record destruction schedule.”

DHS spying on peaceful activists

Another article used documents received via FOIA requests to show how the DHS has been spying on peaceful demonstrations and activists as a matter of policy, especially if the demonstration received any media attention. Justice Online said the DHS was “engaging in what appears to be ‘off the books’ intelligence gathering.” We know there is a list of ‘hot’ NOC keywords that DHS monitors on social media, but after reading some of the heavily redacted FOIA documents, there was indeed a mention of a specific Occupy meeting that the agent found on Twitter. Yet another article about activists talked about how an Austin grand jury failed to hold aggressive police accountable for roughing up peaceful street activists.

Out-of-control cops

While browsing Courthouse News, there seemed to be a multitude of cases featuring alleged gross police misconduct. One lawsuit is about dog-killer cops in Chicago. Also in Chicago, a woman claimed the police manhandled her so badly that she miscarried her 5-month-old fetus. A small-town North Carolina cop allegedly raped a 13-year-old girl while he was on duty; this same cop was hired “without any psychological screening after he had raped an 11-year-old.”

In Alabama, a lawsuit was filed against police who allegedly love Tasers and pepper spray. The incident was over supposed traffic violations by a minor. When the mother didn’t know where her son was, she was arrested and threatened by a Taser-wielding cop. One of her sons yelled at that cop who then handcuffed and pepper-sprayed the son. The minor son showed up and then fled, but one of three cops shot him with a Taser, handcuffed the boy and then allegedly Tased him again.

Gross police misconduct

Perhaps the worst lawsuit that is posted on Courthouse News today was about a Chicago police commander who tortured suspects and lied about it. Jon Burge was the head of the “Chicago Police Department’s Area 2 headquarters on the city’s South Side.” He was later fired and sentenced to 4 1/2 years in federal prison after “it was revealed that police in the violent crimes section had been torturing suspects to obtain confessions.” Upon appeal, witnesses stated that “Burge had bragged about the beatings and ‘did not care if those tortured were innocent or guilty because, as he saw it, every suspect had surely committed some other offense anyway.'”

“The 7th Circuit upheld the conviction of a police commander who ‘presided over an interrogation regime where suspects were suffocated with plastic bags, electrocuted until they lost consciousness, held down against radiators, and had loaded guns pointed at their heads during rounds of Russian roulette.'” The ruling added, “Witnesses described how they were suffocated with plastic bags, electrocuted with homemade devices attached to their genitals, beaten, and had guns force into their mouths during questioning.”

Not all cops are bad and just because there is a lawsuit doesn’t mean the police misconduct is fact. People may lie, but so do cops, such as in Baltimore where a City DEA Task Force Officer lied on a sworn affidavit. Based on that, police were then able to get a search warrant and bust a drug dealer. The dealer’s lawyer advised him to make a plea. When the DEA officer was later charged with numerous “fraud and theft-related offenses,” an appeal was filed. The cop’s lie cost the government the case.

Fruit of the poisonous tree

Disgusted with all the bad news, or perhaps discouraged about our legal system, led to thoughts about the fruit of the poisonous tree. This basically means that evidence obtained illegally cannot be used unless it meets the criteria of four exceptions. Such “fruits” of illegal search were also featured in a warrantless cellphone case and weighed against the expectation of privacy. There is no clear rule on warrantless smartphone searches.

This led to an article titled, A Forest of Poisonous Trees: The US Criminal (In)Justice System. “This fruit of the poisonous tree cannot be allowed in court because it pollutes the justice system and encourages illegal behavior by police.” Attorney King Downing said, “This is not just one bad apple, but a rotten tree.” The article added, “Actually the U.S. criminal justice system has become a rotten forest. No matter where you look, you see poison.”

Legal, or not so much, we’ve looked at injustice at the Justice Department, DHS monitoring peaceful activists who were exercising their First Amendment rights, and out-of-control cops. They say justice is blind and that seems to increasingly be the case with the constant erosion our civil liberties like Free Speech. America is a democracy, and her citizens are innocent until proven guilty, but still surveillance and government secrecy are the rise as if we were on the wrong side of the iron curtain during the Cold War. We can surely do better than this.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.