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An Update On The “Pressure Cookers” Google Search Story

Presumably because I blogged about the issue this morning, I just recieved the following email from the public information office of the Suffolk County, New York Police Department: (click to enlarge)

Suffolk PIO Statement

 

Here’s the text of the statement:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 1, 2013

As a result of numerous media inquiries, received today by the Suffolk County Police Department regarding an internet blog posting, the following statement has been made available.

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.
Any further inquiries regarding this matter should be directed to the Suffolk County Police Department

Suffolk County Police Department
Public Information Office
(631) 852-6308

So, apparently, it wasn’t the FBI. Nonetheless, this raises as many questions as it answers.

Related Posts:

About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Jeremy R says:

    Nonetheless, this raises as many questions as it answers.

    Perhaps about the irresponsible media who ran with original blog post as fact, like The Atlantic Wire for example.

    Companies monitor employee internet use and search history all the time.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 29 Thumb down 6

  2. So you think it’s okay for the police to send out a task force to question a seemingly normal middle class family over a couple web searches?

    Man, it’s really sad to see what’s happened to civil liberties in this country

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 42 Thumb down 31

  3. Rusty Shackleford says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    Well… They’re seemingly normal now that they spoke to them and looked into the issue. They didn’t know that ahead of time. In what way were the husband and wife’s civil liberties violated? The company volunteered the information to the police, and the police asked if they could speak to the wife and look around the house.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 23 Thumb down 9

  4. Todd says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    … a seemingly normal middle class family

    Is this to imply that if they’d had say a different sounding name you might be more supportive?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 41 Thumb down 2

  5. michael reynolds says:

    Yeah, well this is misbehavior by private industry, the employer. The police seem to have acted reasonably. That’s very different than PRISM.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 20 Thumb down 9

  6. JohnMcC says:

    Without knowing what the former employer thought about the ‘recently discharged employee’, it seems pretty impressive that Our Gracious Host is certain that this was completely unjustified. Neighbors perhaps?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 3

  7. Andy says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Ok then, if this was unreasonable, can you please provide clear objective criteria for when police should conduct such a visit?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 2

  8. Jen says:

    A “recently released employee” was found to have researched bomb-making activity on the internet through the work computer…so, it’s an issue to have investigated this because there’s no such thing as workplace violence?

    Yeah, I’m going with nothing to see here, move along.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 34 Thumb down 5

  9. MM says:

    @Doug Mataconis: If the new release is accurate, the company gave the police the information because the company was alarmed at the search history. The police came out (probably a bit too earnestly, given there were 6 cops), found nothing and left. That’s not a civil liberties violation. Maybe a panicky former employer, but we don’t know how whichever Catalano left the company. Maybe it was an involuntary termination, maybe it got hostile. Maybe the sysadmin there has nothing better to do that root through logs because he or she is a busybody.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 3

  10. aFloridian says:

    The press release is a FAKE. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING!

    I guess I should go ahead and mention that I’m only kidding. Don’t want any knocks on my door. But seriously, while I would greatly object if all my scary Google searches caught up with me, if the press release is accurate then I don’t see why Doug feels any civil liberties were violated.

    And as another commenter pointed out, if this family’s last name had been Arab instead of Italian then would anyone question the propriety of the LEO house call?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  11. Warrantless Entry says:

    As reported – this was a warrantless search. This is tyranny and should be firmly rejected by a free people living freely. If there was no warrant, there should not have been an entry. If there was no warrant, then the police either did not have enough evidence to get a warrant or didn’t feel that the case was important enough to seek a warrant. This is unacceptable behavior, especially of a civilian police force, in a free state of free people living freely.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 10 Thumb down 24

  12. Stonetools says:

    Nothingburger. Like just about all the “civil liberties violations” turned up after the Snowden affair.
    In the meantime some real civil liberties violations are being perpetuated by the Texas and North Carolina legislatures. Maybe we should all focus more on those?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 2

  13. Rusty Shackleford says:

    @Warrantless Entry:
    You don’t need a warrant when the individual gives you permission.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 32 Thumb down 2

  14. Jeremy R says:
  15. Dan Mitchell says:

    ” Nonetheless, this raises as many questions as it answers.”

    Like what? Seems like some paranoiac at some private company called the cops, and the cops did their job and investigated, finding nothing wrong. Then some paranoiacs of a different kind — the Dale Gribble kind — went nuts on the Internet based on some bullshit blog post.

    So, what questions have been raised?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 2

  16. Warrantless Entry says:

    @Rusty Shackleford:

    Yes – that is true. But the presence of 6 armed police officers is also intimidation. This is the kind of behavior citizens should be protesting on a daily basis. We, the citizens, are at extreme risk of losing even the slim surface rights we currently are allowed to have… And without a warrant – this extreme show of force should be seen for what it is – intimidation by a overgrown, overzealous, over-proud police force. Where is the ACLU? Where are the laws preventing this kind of horrible abuse of power, force, and authority?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 7 Thumb down 19

  17. Dylan Reeve says:

    The media was all over the FBI for their failure to stop the Boston bombings.

    Now the media is all over a police department properly investigating a legitimate tip? Police (and associated agencies) are constantly in a no-win situation.

    If the recently dismissed employee had gone on to set off a bomb and it was found that the employer had chosen not to alert the police to their concerns, or the police had chosen not to investigate – then what?

    It’s probably not that relevant, but Police can use Google too, so if they’d Googled the author’s name they’d probably have found the photo on Flickr of M66 fireworks by her where she says – “As you know by know, I have this proclivity for fire, flames, things that explode, etc.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 4

  18. Rusty Shackleford says:

    @Dan Mitchell:

    Then some paranoiacs of a different kind — the Dale Gribble kind

    I resent that

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  19. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    So you think it’s okay for the police to send out a task force to question a seemingly normal middle class family over a couple web searches?

    Most middle class families seem to be normal even those where a family member is planning to kill other people.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  20. C. Clavin says:

    Key also is that it appears the same person did both searches…which is counter to the original story.
    Like most of these libertarian fever-dreams…when exposed to the real world…meh…

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 3

  21. Dylan Reeve says:

    @C. Clavin: It’s unclear who searched for what, when.

    The original blog author summised that her search for pressure cookers and her husband’s for backpacks were the reason for the police visit.

    The police say that in fact they were tipped off to suspicious search activity on a work computer by someone’s former employer.

    They are likely two entirely different things. She tried to understand what they visited and jumped to the conclusion it was as a result of the Google searches at home, whereas it was actually in response to a direct tip from a third party.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  22. C. Clavin says:

    So, apparently, it wasn’t the FBI. Nonetheless, this raises as many questions as it answers.

    Basically…the worst parts of this story were complete fiction…but you refuse to let it go.
    I think some introspection on your part is in order.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 24 Thumb down 3

  23. Dave D says:

    @PJ: Didn’t Arlington Road teach us to always be careful of middle class Tim Robbins because he will blow sh!t up and blame the neighbors?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  24. C. Clavin says:

    The danger here is an entire security apparatus being condemned on the basis of mis-information. Yes… If you are a libertarian…this case that has nothing to do with NSA metadata collection raises questions about NSA metadata collection.
    Between this and his nonsense economic posts…Is there any reason to take Mataconis seriously anymore?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  25. Joe says:

    Please provide us a link to the Press release on the Suffolk County website. I searched the website and there is no such Press release there.

    http://apps.suffolkcountyny.gov/police/morepress.htm

    Also note that the Techcrunch Press release picture (that you show here) is formatted differently from the other Press releases on the SCPD website.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 6

  26. Big Wayne says:

    @Warrantless Entry: You could say “liberty” nine times, too, you know. Your post would have so much more weight if you did.

    As for the “warrantless search,” the police don’t need a warrant if you let them into your home. And it’s not “tyranny” if you let them into your home. Free free freedom free people free. Freedom.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  27. Big Wayne says:

    @Rusty Shackleford: But, but, but … tyranny!!!1!

    Also: Free people living freely in a free state of free people living freely. Liberty!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  28. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Warrantless Entry:

    Melodrama serves nobody.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

  29. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Warrantless Entry:

    Where is the ACLU?

    In court, doing the hard work of fighting for your rights.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0

  30. Muudy Road says:

    It’s good that the contact was explained in a credible way, rather than leave it as evidence of routine BB monitoring by the government.

    Nonetheless, I think folks are missing an important issue here which is corporate spying at the workplace. It’s done routinely and considered quite legal. For example, literally, they can and do read personal emails from gmail accounts and so on.

    As for this incident, I wonder if it was really necessary to START with a SWAT TEAM style raid on the home. Doesn’t anyone in law enforcement know anything except SWAT raids?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  31. Jeremy R says:

    @Muudy Road:

    As for this incident, I wonder if it was really necessary to START with a SWAT TEAM style raid on the home. Doesn’t anyone in law enforcement know anything except SWAT raids?

    Plain clothes PD with holstered standard issue sidearms showed up, displayed their badges and were invited in. The husband consented voluntarily to an interview and a cursory look about his house. They shook hands and then left him to go about his day.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  32. Warrantless Search says:

    @Jeremy R:

    And you were there? So you know exactly what happened?

    Intimidation by the state is exactly why we have things like Miranda – which should be expanded to include a requirement for police officers to indicate that they either have a warrant or not – and that you have a right to not allow them to enter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 12

  33. Rob in CT says:

    Based on the info in this post, I don’t see the problem.

    A “recently released” (fired) employee searched for “pressure cooker bombs” (on a company computer, and they monitor those, ya know). The employer likely worried said employee might want to “go postal” but with a bomb instead of a gun. That’s a reasonable concern.

    By the way, Doug, I really don’t understand what “a seemingly normal middle-class family” is supposed to have to do with anything. Would the same scenario be different if it was a somewhat eccentric working-class family, perhaps with a strange last name? Think it through. I don’t think you have.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3

  34. mantis says:

    Dupes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  35. Warrantless Search says:

    @Rob in CT:

    There is no time indication of when said search terms were entered on said employer computer. The time frame and search terms may be entirely logical considering the events of the last few months. You are extrapolating reported information and coming to conclusions without having any actual situational information. If the police had a warrant, that would show they had probable cause – and that they had bothered to do their homework… but they didn’t have a warrant – and so the logical conclusion is that the police did not have probable cause and yet still showed up with 6 officers flashing guns and badges and blocking driveways — this shows the extreme laziness and sloppiness allowed by today’s police force… and should be a major alarm bell for those that care about remaining free from intimadtion and occupation by a power hunger police state…

    However, delusional people are bound to hold onto delusions… and the police are always on your side…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 13

  36. stonetools says:

    Alicublog on the background of the original blog post author:

    Michele Catalano was once upon a time a stalwart warblogger (the precursors to rightbloggers), sworn to the War on Whatchamacallit and denouncing those of us who weren’t as keen on it as traitors. Sample:

    I get more and more discouraged, more upset at the tone the AWC [anti-war crowd] has taken. I will not this time apologize for calling them traitors. I will not back down from those words. When you support an insurgency against your country’s soldiers, when you declare that you are in bed in with the enemy, then you are a traitor. And you should be treated as such. I wish that every vet who has returned home from Iraq would see those signs and act upon them.

    Charming . So you have an Instapundit Mini-Me who is also part of the virulently anti-Obama Pajamas Media mob. When she conjures up this “ZOMG Obama NSA worse than the Gestapo” story, the PJers and fellow travelers at Malkin media immediately swing into action and make this nonsense a thing on the Internets, and Doug falls into line. Populist libertarianism in action!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  37. stonetools says:

    @Warrantless Search:

    However, delusional people are bound to hold onto delusions

    Such classic projection. This is like a dictionary definition of what projection is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

  38. Warrantless Search says:

    @stonetools:

    Would that be projection on the x-y axis or the y-z axis? I don’t know – perhaps the police force is made of entirely non-political entities that always act in society’s best interests… and since we know this to be true, of course it’s fully acceptable to allow this sort of non-intimidation of the citizen populace by a citizen police force without a warrant, without probable cause, and without explanation of any common rights the citizen being questioned may or may not have…

    Or maybe the police in general feel that they are above the law — and routinely turn on their emergency lights to bypass traffic, make illegal u-turns, speed on the highways, and generally endanger travelers without fear of reprocussion… and perhaps the reported intimidation event is just an extension of the “I am the law – and so not subjected to it” attitude that is so prevelant in today’s young and very powerfully armed police officers…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 6

  39. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @stonetools:

    You know that if you feed them, they stay … :-D

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  40. Warrantless Search says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    And if you build it, they will come.

    Are all people who disagree with someone to be subjected to the over used label of troll?

    By all means – show the warrant. Or get off my lawn.
    Shooting the messenger does not nullify the truth.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  41. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Warrantless Search:

    No, just the conspiracy loonies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  42. Warrantless Search says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    No where did I indicate nor refer to any conspiracy of any kind… the suggestion that the police used intimidation tatics to get what they wanted without needing to indicate that the citizen in question had rights to reject the intimidation is undisputed fact in this case… I indicated that this a problem… and you indicated that my non-extroplated fact based reasoning is somehow akin to conspiracy theorists rantings… sure – ok – that makes sense…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 5

  43. Bob Corsaro says:

    @Warrantless Entry: The original article said that the police asked to come in and the home owner agreed. When he told them certain areas of the house were off limits, they didn’t search those places. If I were the home owner I would have told them to get lost right away, but that’s not what happened. There was no violation. If you give police permission to search your home, and they do, no law is broken.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  44. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Warrantless Search:

    When presented with pretty convincing evidence that the police acted properly, your first reaction was to question the validity of the evidence. That is the hallmark of a conspiracy theorist.

    They grab on to any factoid, however specious, that supports their agenda / delusion, while rejecting any evidence that challenges it.

    You, specifically, are off on some tear about jackbooted thugs, and I’m just not interested, either in hearing it or in further dignifying it as though it merited the slightest bit of attention.

    Go sell crazy elsewhere. I’m not buying.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  45. Warrantless Search says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    What is this convincing evidence?

    It would seem to me to be highly important when the search terms were entered.
    - However, there is no indication of the timeline.

    It would seem to me that it is highly important that if there is convincing evidence, that a warrant be sought to investigate properly. This would be important for reasons of validity of evidence at trial, as evidence that is obtained without a warrant is routinely discarded by jury trials.

    No – the police did not act out of good faith, nor following best practices, nor seemed to think that either good faith nor best practices were important in this case…

    And, unless you have better and more complete knowledge of the event than is posted by both the police and the citizen – you and others have unduly maligned the character of a fellow citizen based on no actual evidence…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 6

  46. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Warrantless Search:

    I’m guessing you don’t get when you’ve been dissed. Take the hint. No further response will be tendered.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  47. Warrantless Search says:

    @HarvardLaw92: @HarvardLaw92:

    It doesn’t matter to me if people are listening — but – oh the stupid – it burns!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  48. Kriegar says:

    I’m not sure what’s happening here-I follow a link that says he googled “pressure cookers”, and “backpacks”. Then I get here, and it says he googled “pressure-cooker BOMBS”?

    That’s a world of difference apart. I’m not sure a all that there is any story here, once you take in that his search was done on a computer at work, he was let go, and that his employer, or former employer, notified the police.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  49. Rob in CT says:

    @stonetools:

    I believe the appropriate comment is “Heh, indeed.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  50. Tpacek says:

    @Warrantless Entry: I don’t understand. If you have nothing to hide, then there is no reason why you wouldn’t want to let police take a quick look around in all the rooms of your house. Did you notice that the police did not go into the room where their son was sleeping? That shows they were considerate and this was an informal visit just to make sure there wasn’t a problem.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  51. carter says:

    So they say.
    I would like to have their statements and evidence corroborated before believing this release.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  52. C. Clavin says:

    “…If you have nothing to hide, then there is no reason why you wouldn’t want to let police take a quick look around in all the rooms of your house…”

    Well…except that a lot of people have died in order that I don’t have to let police take a quick look around my house.
    This has always been a conundrum for me…I’ve got nothing to hide…but still…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  53. Jeremy R says:

    @Warrantless Search:

    And you were there? So you know exactly what happened?

    My summation was from Michele’s initial post. She was recounting what her husband had told her:

    https://medium.com/something-like-falling/2e7d13e54724

    Six gentleman in casual clothes emerged from the vehicles and spread out as they walked toward the house, two toward the backyard on one side, two on the other side, two toward the front door.

    A million things went through my husband’s head. None of which were right. He walked outside and the men greeted him by flashing badges. He could see they all had guns holstered in their waistbands.

    “Are you [name redacted]?” one asked while glancing at a clipboard. He affirmed that was indeed him, and was asked if they could come in. Sure, he said.

    They asked if they could search the house, though it turned out to be just a cursory search.

    45 minutes later, they shook my husband’s hand and left. That’s when he called me and relayed the story.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  54. Diane P says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    Are you saying the police should not follow up if someone reports their concerns?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  55. nan says:

    Try this:

    Go to Google or Bing search in a web browser. If you’ve done something to disable the as-you-type suggestions, re-enable them (most people will have them enabled by default).

    Without typing quotation marks, enter the words pressure cooker into the search field. The search engine will try to associate your query with those made by other people, or information on and between pages – some internal suggestion logic. Because a few people in the world have recently been trying to make pressure cooker bombs and kitchen-related death is always a hot story, the search engine will helpfully provide the word bombs. If you’re curious, or just by accident, you’re likely to perform the search. If the search engine is ambitious it will actually do the search and provide the results on the fly, possibly before you’re done typing or even mentally completing your query.

    So who asked for bombs?

    When the cops arrive a few hours later, remember never to let them enter your home without a warrant. Forcing them to obtain one is really the only way to inform your legal system that it has become idiotic.

    Note that this small effect creates a notable difference between searching for “pressure cooker bombs” (with binding quotation marks) and pressure cooker bombs (without). Not that you can actually conclude anything about human intention either way. You need the rest of the NSA logs for that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  56. Jeremy R says:

    @nan:

    Try this:

    Go to Google or Bing search in a web browser.

    If the search engine is ambitious it will actually do the search and provide the results on the fly, possibly before you’re done typing or even mentally completing your query.

    So who asked for bombs?

    When the cops arrive a few hours later, remember never to let them enter your home without a warrant.

    Not that you can actually conclude anything about human intention either way. You need the rest of the NSA logs for that.

    It’s amazing how many people fail to read the actual article before commenting.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  57. bassline says:

    @Doug Mataconis: America ,the land where they praise vigilante citizens ,,and worry about Google searches

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0