Your Thursday Shiver

Michele Catalano shares her recent run-in with the FBI and Homeland Security [see update] a “joint terrorism task force”, whose agents searched her home after her family’s combined search history produced keywords like “pressure cooker” and “backpack”. It’s a vivid reminder of the police surveillance state we now live in to protect ourselves from deaths by terrorist. Philip Bump speculates how the feds could end up at her door:

It’s possible that one of the two of them is tangentially linked to a foreign terror suspect, allowing the government to review their internet activity. After all, that “no more than two other people” ends up covering millions of people. Or perhaps the NSA, as part of its routine collection of as much internet traffic as it can, automatically flags things like Google searches for “pressure cooker” and “backpack” and passes on anything it finds to the FBI.

Or maybe it was something else. On Wednesday, The Guardian reported on XKeyscore, a program eerily similar to Facebook search that could clearly allow an analyst to run a search that picked out people who’d done searches for those items from the same location. How those searches got into the government’s database is a question worth asking; how the information got back out seems apparent.  It is also possible that there were other factors that prompted the government’s interest in Catalano and her husband. He travels to Asia, she notes in her article. Who knows. Which is largely Catalano’s point.

Update from a reader:

The Atlantic updated their story to clarify that this was not the feds. From there the speculation is all nonsense. There are any number of ways that this could be happening. None of them have much to do with XKeyscore which, judging by the map in the slide show, doesn’t have enough data collection points in the US to cover all of this. One very explanation is that Boston area ISP’s are flagging these searches since the terrorist attack. This sounds like a possible violation of the wiretap act on the part of the authorities to me. I’m looking forward to hearing how they legally justify it.