You Actually Think Your Cell Phone Conversation is Private … LOL

1429880843phu9r

Worried about government overreach? How about the pesky invasion of your privacy by law enforcement officials and agencies?

Does it bother you that the government has the capability to see practically every step you make and listen to nearly every word you speak? Or, does your next book need a cool high-tech twist? Yes or no, you might want to take a moment to ponder this bit of information regarding the government’s nearly insatiable quest to spy on … well, everyone.

  • Homeland Security and the Justice Department have spent nearly $100 million on secret cellphone tracking technology. Together, the two agencies own more than 400 cell-site simulators that can be used to zero in covertly on the locations of cellphones. Covertly = the phone user has no idea that someone is secretly listening to their calls, and/or the same “spy” knows the location of each cell phone.
  • The FBI has 194 cell-site simulators (see below for descriptions of cell-site simulators).
  • The U.S. Marshals Service has 70.
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has 59.
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection has 33.
  • The  Drug Enforcement Administration has 33.
  • U.S. Secret Service has 32.
  • The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has 13.
  • The Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations division has two.
  •  The Treasury inspector general has one.
  • Some of the devices are small enough to use in vehicles, meaning that as the “spy” drives through a neighborhood, he can collect phone data from every user he passes.
  • Nearly $2 million in grant money has been awarded to local law enforcement agencies specifically for the purpose of purchasing cell-site simulators.
  • Currently, federal policy requires that all federal law enforcement officials obtain a warrant prior to utilizing a cell-site simulator. However, the rule does not apply to local police, who may freely use these devices.
  • Current law requires nondisclosure agreements that require prosecutors to abandon criminal charges rather than disclose local police use of cell-site simulators. A bipartisan reports indicates a need to eliminate this nondisclosure agreement.
  • A bill has been introduced to mandate that all law enforcement agencies, including local police, obtain a warrant prior to utilizing a cell-site simulator.

The costs of these devices range between a few thousand to $800,000, each.

1. Cellbrite Battlefield Recovery – a portable handheld device used to suck a device/phone dry of its data. Extracts photos, text messages, videos, and call logs. You could purchase this cool thingamajig for $9,920, plus a 1 year fee of $900 to cover support and maintenance.

2. Raven – used to interrogate and geolocate target phones. *To interrogate a phone means to trick the target phone into sending its identifiers. Geolocate is to determine the location of a target phone. The Raven can be utilized from fixed wing aircraft or on the ground. The Raven price tag is a modest $800,000.

3. Blackfin – for listening in on calls and viewing text messages. For the low, low fee of $75,000, you, too, can own one these little darlings.

4. DRT (aka “dirt box”) – targets and locates up to 10,000 devices (phones) and tricks them into “thinking” the DRT is a cell tower. DRT then collects and analyzes data, including voice data. Can be used from aircraft or ground. DRT, a soup-up version of the Stingray, has the capability of capturing data from up to 10,000 devices during a single flight/operation. DRT = $100,000. Stingray = $134,952.

5. Stargrazer III – locates devices, captures their data, and jams their signals preventing users from making and receiving calls.

6. Thoracic – handheld cell phone tracking device. Pinpoints location of target phones. $7,500.

*It is believed (it’s true, but you didn’t hear from me) that devices such as the Stingray and DRT are capable of intercepting private conversations by using the person’s cell phone as a “bug.” Simply use the phone’s firmware remotely and it’s like becoming the “fly on the wall.” Some of you may remember the old party-lines where you could pick up your receiver and listen in on the conversations of your neighbors? Yeah, it’s like that.

Isn’t it funny how we’ve traveled full circle, from people wanting to move away from party line phones because they weren’t private, to sophisticated cell phone technology that requires expensive high-tech equipment and resources to transform our newfangled and complicated gadgets back into party line phones.

*For those of you who’ve never had the pleasure of sharing your phone line with neighbors.

*By the way, there’s practically no end to the surveillance citizens are subjected to each day. For example, We-Vibe, the sex toy maker, has agreed to pay customers up to $7,600 each for selling them a “smart vibrator.” Not a big deal you say? Well, these “toys” tracked the customers’ sexual habits without their knowledge.

The device comes with an app-enabled function that allows the vibrator to be remotely activated and controlled. However, security flaws within the app allowed anyone within Bluetooth range to gain control of the device. The app also collected information such as the temperature of the device, the vibration intensity, the number of times it was in use, etc. This extremely personal data was immediately sent to the manufacturer.

So yeah, “they” are watching and listening.

Are we ever truly alone?

Read more
A Pictorial Guide to Handcuffing: It’s an Open and Shut Case

IMG_1760

Handcuffs, the jewelry worn by most, if not all captured bad guys.

OJ’s worn them. Charles Manson and Martha Stewart too.

In fact, practically everyone who’s run afoul of the law has been introduced to the feel of steel circling their wrists.

The unmistakable sound made when the ratchet locks in place is a noise like no other. Trust me, there’s not much in this world that’ll ruin a person’s day more than hearing that sickening “clickity-click” when the ratchet teeth slide across the corresponding notches of the pawl (see diagram below).

Screen Shot 2016-11-25 at 10.42.28 PM

But there’s more to handcuffing than merely slipping the “bracelets” over a suspect’s wrists.  Before we continue, though, let’s take a moment to first learn a bit about these extremely important restraint devices.

I’ve already mentioned “pawl” and “ratchet,” and it’s easy to understand how those two parts work because they’re basically backward/opposite-facing teeth that, when pushed together, form a tight lock. They cannot be pulled apart. However, the locking action of the pawl and ratchet only works in one direction. In other words, they can continue to tighten since the rear-facing teeth only lock in one direction. The ratchet can continue to move forward against the pawl, but cannot be pulled backward.

Screen Shot 2016-11-25 at 10.32.27 PM

Parts of chain-link cuffs (above).

Ratchet teeth face in a backward direction (below).

IMG_1781

Closeup of the pawl between the two cheek plates (below).

IMG_1783

To lock the cuffs in place, the ratchet is inserted into the receiver/cheek plates where it locks against the corresponding teeth of the pawl.

IMG_1786

Hands and/or paws should ALWAYS be cuffed to the rear.

20161122_111457

suspect-handcuffed-from-rear

Each pair of handcuffs is fitted with two locks. The first is the automatic lock that connects when the pawl hooks to the ratchet. This allows the officer to apply cuffs to the wrists of combative suspects without having to fumble around while trying to locate a lock, insert a key, etc., while the bad guy is throwing punches to the officer’s nose and jaw.

The second lock (double-lock), a button inset, is found on the underside of the body of the cuff near where the end of the ratchet exits the cuff body.

IMG_1774

Double-lock button (above).

To activate the double-lock, the officer uses the pointed tip of the handcuff key, the double-lock tip/actuator, to depress the button. This action prevents the ratchet from moving in either direction. Otherwise, the cuffs could, and often do, continue to tighten on the wearer’s wrists which could cause injury. Double-locking also prevents the wearer from picking the lock.

Officers double-lock cuffs after they’ve gained control of the suspect, but prior to placing the bad guy inside the patrol car/transport vehicle. ALWAYS double-lock cuffs before placing bad guys in the car. ALWAYS!

IMG_1777

Above – Actuator tip, or double-lock tip.

IMG_1778

Above – Use double-lock tip to depress double-lock button.

To release handcuff locks, officers insert the L-shaped portion of the key, the key flag, into the keyhole and turn the key to the left, much like unlocking your front door or a padlock. Turning the key releases the connection between the pawl and the ratchet, opening the cuffs. This action ONLY unlocks the first lock (when cuffs have NOT been double-locked)..

IMG_1765

Above – Key flag

IMG_1762

Above – Keyhole

IMG_1769

Above – Handcuff key inserted into keyhole.

To release the second lock, the double-lock, the key must first be turned 90 degrees to the left to unlock the pawl and ratchet. Next, the officer turns the key back to the right, 90 degrees past the starting point where the key was first inserted. So, left 90 degrees and then 180 degrees in the opposite direction. Make sense?

IMG_1772

So now you know the full details of, well, an open and shut operation.

IMG_1787

Read more
Happy Cops Whistle While They Work

Minneapolis_Police_1959_traffic_control

While sitting at my desk trying super hard to come up with a new blog topic for the day, I heard the sound of a whistle blowing outside. The sharp but distant tweetings were coming from a nearby soccer field, signaling that what was likely an exciting game was currently underway. And then it hit me, I once wrote an article about, of all things, police whistles. So, without further adieu, I present to you … a Saturday “tweet.”

file0001193830479

Police officers use whistles to attract the attention of motorists and pedestrians, and to call for assistance from fellow officers.

Prior to the use of whistles, officers used hand rattles to summon back up. Radios eventually took the place of whistles; however, the shrill-sounding devices are still used when directing traffic or for signaling pedestrians.

Types of police whistles.

(Wikipedia photo)

The model 300, a solid brass, nickel-plated whistle, comes with a water-resistant cork ball. This high-quality piece of police equipment can even be imprinted with a logo of choice.

Finger whistles are equipped with an adjustable finger band.

Whistles are available in various colors, such as those pictured below. They’re made of molded plastic.

Whistle with lanyard and rubber safety tip.

Rubber safety tips in assorted colors.

Whistle hook (pins to uniform shirt).

20″ snake chain with button hook (attaches to shirt button and whistle).

Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 9.48.04 AM

Civilian Safety Packs contain a whistle for blowing when in danger, and a key ring that can be used as a weapon of self-defense. The manufacturer advertises this pack as being ideal for people who live alone, college students, women, and senior citizens.

24K gold-plated whistles are sometimes presented as awards. They come in velvet-lined walnut cases.

And, just for fun, the number one song on this day in 1966.
 

 

Read more
Gunpowder and Lead: The Firearms Stuff You Might Not Know … But Should

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Guns. Whether you love ’em or hate ’em, they’re here and they’re not going anywhere any time soon. As writers, though, you probably handle them, if only in your minds, more often than the average person. Therefore, it’s a good idea to know what it is you’re trusting your characters to carry and use as part of their crime-fighting tool box. So, to help your heroes sound as if they really know their stuff, here are a dozen not-so-well-known firearm facts.

1. Not all firearms require official registration under the National Firearms Act (NFA). Those that do include machine guns, short-barrel rifles (barrel less than 16? in length) and shotguns (barrel less than 18? in length), silencers, gadget-type firearms (pen and cellphone guns, etc.), *destructive devices, and what ATF calls “any other weapons.”

*Destructive devices include Molotov cocktails, bazookas, anti tank guns (over .50 cal.), and mortars. Interestingly  grenade and rocket launchers that attach to military rifles are not considered to be destructive devices. However, grenades and rockets are listed as destructive devices.

*Any other weapons include Ithaca Auto-Burglar guns, H&R Handy-gun, and cane guns.

Violators caught with a non-registered NFA firearm may be fined not more than $250,000, and imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.

2. Dealers who sell gas masks must be registered with ATF. It takes 4-6 weeks for the agency to process the registration paperwork.

3. Parts or devices that are designed to convert a firearm into a NFA firearm must be registered with ATF.

4. The semi-automatic assault weapon (SAW) ban went into effect on September 13, 1994. The law made it illegal to manufacture or possess SAW’s. The law expired 10 years later on September 13, 2004.

5. The ban on large capacity ammunition feeding devices (magazines, belts, drums, etc.) went into effect on September 13, 1994. It, too, expired 10 years later, on September 13, 2004.

6. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, is in place to instantly determine whether a prospective buyer is eligible to buy firearms or explosives (not a convicted felon or otherwise ineligible). The system is utilized each time someone purchases a firearm from a licensed dealer. NICS is maintained by the FBI. More than 100 million checks have been conducted since the system was initiated. 700,000 of those checks resulted in denials.

7. Muzzleloading cannons are NOT classified as destructive devices.

8. Machine guns may be legally transferred (sold) from one registered owner to another. *Note – the firearms you’ve seen in the news, the ones so often incorrectly referred to as assault weapons, are NOT machine guns.

9. It is illegal to manufacture, import, and/or sell armor-piercing ammunition. However, this law does not apply to those who manufacture and sell armor-piercing ammunition to the government of the United States or any its departments or agencies, or to any state government or any department and/or agency thereof. It is also legal to manufacture and sell armor-piercing ammunition for the purpose of exporting to other countries.

ATF defines armor-piercing ammunition as:

(a) projectile or projectile core which may be used in a handgun and which is constructed entirely (excluding the presence of traces of other substances) from one or a combination of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper, or depleted uranium; or

(b) a full jacketed projectile larger than .22 caliber designed and intended for use in a handgun and whose jacket has a weight of more than 25 percent of the total weight of the projectile.

10. Brandish – to display all or part a firearm, or make it known a firearm is present, for the purpose of intimidating another. “Cops charged my cousin with brandishing a firearm. He’ll do six months in county for this one. It’s the second time he’s done it.”

11. It is illegal for persons convicted of crimes of violence to purchase or possess body armor.

12. Gun sales to foreign embassies on U.S. soil are considered exports; therefore, typical gun sale paperwork is not required. Instead, dealers need to obtain only one of the following – an official purchase order from the foreign mission, payment from foreign government funds, a written document from the agency head stating the weapons are being purchased by the embassy, not an individual. Standard laws apply to individual parties/diplomats.

Bonus – It is illegal to knowingly sell a gun to anyone who is an unlawful user of or addicted to controlled substances. It is also illegal to knowingly sell a firearm to someone has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to a mental institution.

*     *     *

I’m goin’ home, gonna load my shotgun
Wait by the door and light a cigarette
If he wants a fight well now he’s got one

I’m gonna show him what little girls are made of
Gunpowder and lead

Miranda Lambert ~ Gunpowder and Lead

Read more
Revolver v. Pistol: Do You Know the Difference?

Pistol (semi-automatic)

The term “Pistol” means a weapon originally designed, made, and intended to fire a projectile (bullet) from one or more barrels when held in one hand, and having:

  • a chamber(s) as an integral part(s) of, or permanently aligned with, the bore(s);
  • and a short stock designed to be gripped by one hand at an angle to and extending below the line of the bore(s).

Pistol nomenclature (below)

Revolver

The term “Revolver” means a projectile weapon of the pistol type, having a breechloading chambered cylinder so arranged that the cocking of the hammer or movement of the trigger rotates it and brings the next cartridge in line with the barrel for firing.

Revolver nomenclature (below)

*All of the above (text and images) are from ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives). Thanks to the folks at ATF for allowing the reproduction and use.

For Writers: Semi-autos and fully automatic (machine guns) automatically eject spent cartridges. Revolvers DO NOT. Therefore, writers, chances are slim and mostly none of finding empty revolver cartridges at a crime scene. Please remember this when writing the “aha” moment in your WIP.

Read more
Body Cameras: Smile While You’re Hitting Me

Kamera_policia

If only police wore body cameras…

“Body cameras will reduce violence.”

“Wear a camera and assaults against officers will decrease.”

“There will be less incidents of force by officers if they’re forced to wear body cameras.”

Those were just some of the comments we heard when the issue of police body cameras first began to emerge. So yes, police officers across the U.S. have begun to wear cameras as part of their duty gear, but the results of their use are a bit surprising.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge worked with eight police forces across the UK and US—West Midlands, Cambridgeshire and Northern Ireland’s PSNI, as well as Ventura, California and Rialto, California. The research (a large study involving 2,122 officers, 2.2 million officer-hours, and interaction with 2 million citizens) was comprised of ten randomized-controlled trials where officers either wore body cameras that were switched on the entire time of their shifts, did not wear body cameras, or they wore cameras but were permitted to switch them on or off at the officers’ discretion.

The results:

  • Use of force incidents by officers wearing cameras fell by 37% (suspects readily complied with officer commands).
  • Use of force rose by 71% among officers who were permitted to switch cameras on and off at their discretion.
  • The rate of assaults against officers wearing cameras increased by 15% as opposed to non-camera-wearing officers.
  • Assaults against officers were greater in number when the officer told a suspect they were being recorded or when they announced they were switching on their cameras.
  • Officers wearing cameras reported more assaults against them as opposed to the officers who were not wearing cameras. It’s thought that officers wearing cameras felt they could report assaults because they had video proof of the incidents.

Further study is needed to determine if wearing a body camera causes officers to feel less confident/self-assured which could result in being more vulnerable and susceptible to assault. This could be the cause for the increase in number of attacks against camera-wearing officers.

An odd thing about the study is that it showed the results varied from one area to another, meaning that camera use in one location within a city may produce a different reaction in another. For example, the presence of a body camera could be welcomed in the south side of AnyTown, but in the north side the presence of a body camera they might anger those residents. The same is true from town to town. Town A citizens might love seeing their officers wearing cameras. However, Town B citizens may feel resentment or enticed to use violence against the officers who’re recording their actions.

My take on the study results – body cameras may or may not be a good thing, and whether they are or are not is controlled by a number of influences over both the police and citizens, including human judgement, human error, and even human emotion—fear, shame, pride, etc. So, like anything else where split second decisions are made…it depends. That’s my answer and I’m sticking to it…maybe.

 

Read more