The anti-terrorism surveillance, we are told, involves just aggregate data and in any event wouldn’t be a bother to ordinary law-abiding citizens. But a Long Island woman happened to be researching pressure cookers while her husband was shopping for backpacks. Whereupon six men from an anti-terrorism task force showed up at their home and subjected them to interrogation.This was evidently not part of the NSA project as exposed by Edward Snowden. (But according to new revelations from Snowden, the NSA does have the ability to tap into your internet searches and e-mail.) Rather, it was a “suspicious computer search” reported by the couple’s workplace. Still, the incident demonstrates that our computers are, in fact, under surveillance.
<<Michele Catalano was looking for information online about pressure cookers. Her husband, in the same time frame, was Googling backpacks. Wednesday morning, six men from a joint terrorism task force showed up at their house to see if they were terrorists. Which prompts the question: How’d the government know what they were Googling?
Update, 7:05 p.m.: Because the Googling happened at work.
The Suffolk County Police Department released a statement this evening that answers the great mystery of the day.
Suffolk County Criminal Intelligence Detectives received a tip from a Bay Shore based computer company regarding suspicious computer searches conducted by a recently released employee. The former employee’s computer searches took place on this employee’s workplace computer. On that computer, the employee searched the terms “pressure cooker bombs” and “backpacks.”
After interviewing the company representatives, Suffolk County Police Detectives visited the subject’s home to ask about the suspicious internet searches. The incident was investigated by Suffolk County Police Department’s Criminal Intelligence Detectives and was determined to be non-criminal in nature.
Catalano (who is a professional writer) describes the tension of that visit.
[T]hey were peppering my husband with questions. Where is he from? Where are his parents from? They asked about me, where was I, where do I work, where do my parents live. Do you have any bombs, they asked. Do you own a pressure cooker? My husband said no, but we have a rice cooker. Can you make a bomb with that? My husband said no, my wife uses it to make quinoa. What the hell is quinoa, they asked. …
Have you ever looked up how to make a pressure cooker bomb? My husband, ever the oppositional kind, asked them if they themselves weren’t curious as to how a pressure cooker bomb works, if they ever looked it up. Two of them admitted they did.
The men identified themselves as members of the “joint terrorism task force.” The composition of such task forces depend on the region of the country, but, as we outlined after the Boston bombings, include a variety of federal agencies. . . .
They mentioned that they do this about 100 times a week. And that 99 of those visits turn out to be nothing. I don’t know what happens on the other 1% of visits and I’m not sure I want to know what my neighbors are up to.
One hundred times a week, groups of six armed men drive to houses in three black SUVs, conducting consented-if-casual searches of the property perhaps in part because of things people looked up online.
But the NSA doesn’t collect data on Americans, so this certainly won’t happen to you.>>
[See the woman’s account of what happened here.]