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Google Searches For “Pressure Cooker” And “Backpacks” Lead To FBI Visit

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Michelle Catalano and her husband had a rather interesting experience earlier this week:

It was a confluence of magnificent proportions that led six agents from the joint terrorism task force to knock on my door Wednesday morning. Little did we know our seemingly innocent, if curious to a fault, Googling of certain things was creating a perfect storm of terrorism profiling. Because somewhere out there, someone was watching. Someone whose job it is to piece together the things people do on the internet raised the red flag when they saw our search history.

Most of it was innocent enough. I had researched pressure cookers. My husband was looking for a backpack. And maybe in another time those two things together would have seemed innocuous, but we are in “these times” now.

(…)

What happened was this: At about 9:00 am, my husband, who happened to be home yesterday, was sitting in the living room with our two dogs when he heard a couple of cars pull up outside. He looked out the window and saw three black SUVs in front of our house; two at the curb in front and one pulled up behind my husband’s Jeep in the driveway, as if to block him from leaving.

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. They walked around the living room, studied the books on the shelf (nope, no bomb making books, no Anarchist Cookbook), looked at all our pictures, glanced into our bedroom, pet our dogs. They asked if they could go in my son’s bedroom but when my husband said my son was sleeping in there, they let it be.

Meanwhile, they 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.

They searched the backyard. They walked around the garage, as much as one could walk around a garage strewn with yardworking equipment and various junk. They went back in the house and asked more questions.

As Catalano notes in her post, as well as in several Tweets regarding the incident collected by Gizmodo, the agents were respectful of her family and didn’t disturb the house in any significant way while conducting their “search.” After they’d determined that there was nothing untoward going on at her home, they left and one presumes that the last that she and her family will hear about this matter. Nonetheless, it does raise some interesting question about exactly what kind of Internet surveillance is going on out there. Quite obviously, the FBI would not have shown up at the Catalano home if some connection had not been made between Google searches conducted several weeks in the past, their IP address, and eventually their home address.  On a basic level, this would seem to require; (1) that there is a program out there monitoring seemingly random Google searches by American citizens, (2) that this program allows the government to track IP addresses, or obtain them from Google by some means, and (3) that they were then able to connect the IP address to a home address, presumably with information obtained from whichever company happens to provide the Catalano’s with their internet access.

All of this raises several legal questions, of course. For example, under what legal authority is the Federal Government monitoring the Google searches/Internet activity of American citizens, presumably without a warrant? Was all of this part of  the various NSA datamining programs that Edward Snowden’s revelations have brought to light? At the very least, it sounds like something that would fall well within the confines of the PRISM program that we learned about back in June. Of course, the purpose of PRISIM is supposed to be to monitor Internet activity involving people outside the United States, or at least that’s what they told us at the time. More important, though, is how the FBI managed to get it hands on this information and on the Catalano’s home address. Was there a FISA warrant issued? That would seem odd considering that they aren’t located in a foreign country and there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that anyone in the family was communicating with foreign nationals or terrorists, although Catalano does mention in her post that her husband has traveled to South Korea and China on job-related matters. Was there any warrant issued at all?

Catalano sums the entire experience up like this:

45 minutes later, they shook my husband’s hand and left. That’s when he called me and relayed the story. That’s when I felt a sense of creeping dread take over. What else had I looked up? What kind of searches did I do that alone seemed innocent enough but put together could make someone suspicious? Were they judging me because my house was a mess (Oh my god, the joint terrorism task force was in my house and there were dirty dishes in my sink!). Mostly I felt a great sense of anxiety. This is where we are at. Where you have no expectation of privacy. Where trying to learn how to cook some lentils could possibly land you on a watch list. Where you have to watch every little thing you do because someone else is watching every little thing you do.

All I know is if I’m going to buy a pressure cooker in the near future, I’m not doing it online.

I’m scared. And not of the right things.

Catalano relates in her post that one of the FBI agents told her husband that they do about 100 of these inquiries a week, and that 99 of them end up being nothing. I’m not sure if that’s a nationwide figure or one specific to the field office that these agents happen to operate out of, although I’m suspecting its the latter given the low number. In either case, one has to wonder if this is relative an efficient use of law enforcement resources if only 1% of the inquiries even lead to anything tangible, and who knows how many of that 1% actually lead to a possible terrorist. For one thing, at this point, one has to assume that terrorists are going to be smart enough to know that the U.S. Government is watching what they do online and adjusting their behavior accordingly. For another, this seems like a tremendous invasion of privacy with very little to show for it.

On Twitter, Catalano is saying that she’d prefer not to talk about the matter any further, and I can respect that. However, it seems fairly clear to me that America as whole deserve to know just how widespread a practice this is and under what legal authority its being conducted.

Update: The Washington Post raises some legitimate questions about Catalano’s post that are worth considering. It’s worth noting, for example, that the FBI is denying that they were involved in this matter at all, meaning it may have been local authorities instead. Nonetheless, one has to wonder what basis any law enforcement authority would’ve had for conducting a warrantless inquiry such as this to begin with. The fact that they didn’t feel the need to share that piece of information with the apparent “target” of their investigation seems to raise more questions than it answers.

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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. C. Clavin says:

    In other news, a man was stopped for driving while black.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 18

  2. DC Loser says:

    Is this what they mean when they say that no Americans are being collected against?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  3. rodney dill says:

    …on the other hand I’ve searched for ‘Illudium pu-36 Explosive Space Modulator’ any number of times without a visit from the FBI. (That I’m aware of)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  4. Ben says:

    Well, this at least answers Reynolds’ request for some “actual harm” coming from the domestic surveillance program. If having armed federal agents come to your house and search it, based on nothing other than their snooping on your google searches, isn’t “actual harm”, then we have a pretty fundamental disconnect on what is acceptable in our society.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 33 Thumb down 1

  5. Rafer Janders says:

    They asked if they could search the house, though it turned out to be just a cursory search. They walked around the living room, studied the books on the shelf (nope, no bomb making books, no Anarchist Cookbook), looked at all our pictures, glanced into our bedroom, pet our dogs.

    If the authorities ask if they can search your house, the only answer is “No.”

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 29 Thumb down 0

  6. Gustopher says:

    Are they sure it was the FBI and not just Google employees? House visits might just be another new service to distinguish themselves from Bing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  7. C. Clavin says:

    Sure Ben…
    But I’d love to see your response should this couple have actually produced and activated an IED…and it turned out that they had googled all this stuff…but no one had bothered to check.

    What I want to know…but will probably never know…is if many actual plots are being thwarted.

    If it’s effective fine…it’s a valid tool and security and freedom go hand in hand. If it’s a case of the FBI running around on these pointless calls all day then it needs to stop and that’s what Congressional Oversight is for. Unfortunately Congress is busy investigating non-existent IRS scandals for Jenos.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 22

  8. C. Clavin says:

    Why are all of my comments getting moderated all of the sudden?
    Am I being profiled?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 5

  9. There seems to be an issue with Askimet that’s causing it to be a bit flaky this afternoon.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. michael reynolds says:

    @Ben:

    I agree.

    This is a smoking gun. This is actual, real-world harm. I find it intolerable.

    Look at metadata, analyze, whatever. Send agents around to people’s houses off that data with nothing better and far more compelling to work from? Hell no.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 27 Thumb down 1

  11. Rodney Dill says:

    @C. Clavin: …mine was moderated too… someone beat me too it before I could approve it myself.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. C. Clavin says:

    @ Rodney…
    approving it yourself sounds dirty.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  13. Rafer Janders says:

    They went back in the house and asked more questions.

    These people were very silly — the second any law enforcement authorities start asking questions, you should decline to answer and refer them to your lawyer. Just shut up. Nothing you say can help you. You are far more likely to implicate yourself, even unknowingly, once you begin talking.

    Just. Don’t. Answer. Let your lawyer handle it.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 1

  14. Rafer Janders says:

    @C. Clavin:

    But I’d love to see your response should this couple have actually produced and activated an IED…and it turned out that they had googled all this stuff…but no one had bothered to check.

    If they had actually made an IED, do you think they would have allowed the FBI to search their home? This kind of check is only effective if the criminal is dumb beyond belief.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  15. gVOR08 says:

    Following the Boston Marathon attack I would expect that the FBI would have approached manufacturers, importers, distributors, and retailers of backpacks and pressure cookers and requested or subpoenaed their data base records of online inquiries. I don’t see that it’s clear this has anything to do with NSA surveillance as opposed to obsessively thorough traditional police work in the digital age. Like @C. Clavin: said, strikes me as a dog bites man story.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 8

  16. Boyd says:

    I don’t want to cast aspersions on anyone’s character here, but everyone appears to be starting from the basis that the story is 100% true, which, given human nature, is undoubtedly not the case.

    If the story confirms all of your deeply-held convictions, that’s the time to look at it with a critical eye, or at least give it some time to let it develop further before we presume this is evidence of the US turning into Nazi Germany.

    Here’s my prediction: something is going to surface which is going to cast doubt on significant elements of this story. Of course, the truly dedicated conspiracy theorist will view that as just more evidence of an evil plot.

    It never ends, it would seem.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 20 Thumb down 8

  17. Dave D says:

    @Rafer Janders: However, saying no has been used as an exigent circumstance to conduct a search anyway. Although I may be reading too much Radley Balko.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. John Peabody says:

    Is there are second confirmation on the story? Or is this one person’s article that got caught in the malestrom?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  19. Tony W says:

    @Rafer Janders: Remember from a couple months back though – being silent is admission of guilt.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  20. Rafer Janders says:

    @Dave D:

    You are always better off saying no.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  21. Jen says:

    The Atlantic article on this notes that it apparently was not the FBI, but a local joint terrorism task force. Not sure that it matters much in the overall scheme of things–it’s still weird as heck unless there’s more “there, there.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  22. rodney dill says:

    @C. Clavin: I’d wash afterward.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  23. michael reynolds says:

    @John Peabody:

    That was my question as well. Sounds sincere, but it’s a bit odd that we haven’t heard of this before if there are hundreds of such cases.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  24. C. Clavin says:

    Rafer…
    Did the kids from Boston strike you as rocket scientists?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  25. SJ Reidhead says:

    As a writer, who is in the process of a third murder mystery in the past year, I would hate to see what they think of my searches: Arsenic, firearms, UFOs, weather balloons, psychopaths, serial killers, how guns work, best ways to kill people, cyanide, names of firearms, money laundering, stalking, personality disorders, etc.

    Should I expect a knock on the door? I’ve not googled pressure cookers or backpacks, though.

    SJR
    The Pink Flamingo

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  26. Rafer Janders says:

    @C. Clavin:

    They struck me as people who, if the FBI had shown up on their doorstep saying “mind if we come in to search for the bomb you have sitting on your kitchen table” would have known enough to say “no.” They didn’t, after all, assemble and carry the bombs out in public, but made some effort to conceal them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  27. Ben says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Sure Ben…
    But I’d love to see your response should this couple have actually produced and activated an IED…and it turned out that they had googled all this stuff…but no one had bothered to check.

    My response would be the same. If the cost of living in a society where there is no terrorism is that I have to put up with constant surveillance of everything I do, count me out.

    What I want to know…but will probably never know…is if many actual plots are being thwarted.

    If it’s effective fine…it’s a valid tool and security and freedom go hand in hand. If it’s a case of the FBI running around on these pointless calls all day then it needs to stop and that’s what Congressional Oversight is for. Unfortunately Congress is busy investigating non-existent IRS scandals for Jenos.

    So your only worry regarding this story is that it’s an inefficient use of manpower? Oy vey.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  28. rudderpedals says:

    @SJ Reidhead: Thanks, man. Now everyone to post in this thread’s gonna get their door bashed in.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  29. anjin-san says:

    it apparently was not the FBI, but a local joint terrorism task force.

    Even more problematic. FBI agents are pros, and the FBI is a button down outfit, not really given to playing cowboy. Local law enforcement? Plenty of would be Rambos there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  30. Jeremy R says:

    @Doug

    Quite obviously, the FBI would not have shown up at the Catalano home if some connection had not been made between Google searches conducted several weeks in the past, their IP address, and eventually their home address.

    It isn’t obvious at all. Nowhere in Michelle Catalano’s narration is her husband informed that her pressure cooker searches and her husband’s backpack searches triggered anything. They’re not asked about those searches at all — that’s Michelle’s conjecture about what triggered the interview. The one question her husband was asked about internet searches involved researching bomb making, but if they already knew what he’d been searching that probably wouldn’t have been the question, instead it would have been more like, “Why *have* you been googling bomb making?” From the article:

    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.

    This sounds quite a bit like the interview Tamerlan Tsaernev’s family had because of his overseas trip and the Russian government’s request, and I wouldn’t be surprised if what actually triggered all this was her husband being on some watch list related to his own travels:

    They asked my husband about his work, his visits to South Korea and China. The tone was conversational.

    They never asked to see the computers on which the searches were done. They never opened a drawer or a cabinet.

    Finally, if they actually had any fore knowledge that gave even the slightest hint her husband could be making explosives, it’s hard to believe this is what would have arrived at her doorstep:

    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.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  31. Jeremy R says:

    @Jeremy R:

    Actually, I just noticed a bit where she seems to imply her son researched bomb making:

    If you are my exceedingly curious, news junkie 20-year-old son, you click a lot of links when you read the myriad of stories. You might just read a CNN piece about how bomb making instructions are readily available on the internet and you will in all probability, if you are that kid, click the link provided.

    I kind of doubt a CNN article helpfully provided that link but I guess that’s just what her son told her.

    That’s how I imagine it played out, anyhow. Lots of bells and whistles and a crowd of task force workers huddled around a computer screen looking at our Google history.

    This was weeks ago. I don’t know what took them so long to get here.

    Perhaps because what she’s imaging isn’t actually what happened.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  32. JohnMcC says:

    A very cute story and I have to admit, it just seems TOO cute. I am cynic enough to think that there is a greater than zero chance that there is some fiction to it; enough to ‘add to the debate’. In addition, the linked story includes, but Our Gracious Host does not, the information that the writer’s 20 year old son is a ‘news hound’ who seems to have gone deep into the Boston Marathon bombing case and ‘possibly’ followed links to the process of making IEDs. Which would lead a surveilling program to turn on a red light on the dashboard.

    Also, the ‘bio’ of the Michele Catalano at the bottom of the essay does not mention this but — ironically, using my google homepage — I searched her name and there is a Michele Catalano who wrote for PJMedia in ’08 and ’09. If they are the same person, there could be an agenda. And NOT including that part of a bio in the linked-to article would possibly move the cynic’s suspicion meter a bit further.

    But I guess I have the same uneasy feeling that Mr Mataconis and Ms Catalano express. In my house, I know what my wife is looking to buy because I get the ads from — again — google at all the places I visit. So the pressure cooker and the backpack do not surprise me. But the searches for the way Tsarnaev brothers made their ordinance — well, that’s somewhat more troubling because google is a seller of advertising space and their goal is to use that to the maximum advantage of their clients. Using information-seeking searches seems — well — different.

    Here’s the kicker though, to this story and to Mr Mataconis recounting of it: “…presumably without a warrent…” Knowing very little except that the Joint Terrorism Task Force responded to a series of business records kept by a seller of advertising space, would imply that a warrent for those search had been issued. At least to me. Which is also, of course, creepy.

    And quinoa turns out to be a pseudocereal of the goosefoot species which the United Nations has honored by declaring 2013 to be “the International Year of the Quinoa”. All by using the google.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  33. Jeremy R says:

    WaPo with some skepticism: Google ‘pressure cooker,’ get a police visit? Maybe not.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  34. Lt. Col. Podovsky says:

    When I first heard this story I couldn’t help but laugh my ass off. Why are you people even bothered by this? This and the whole Snowden fiasco is all a big joke. Honestly, what naive idiot didn’t know by now that the government has been spying on its citizens? You people are bothered by something insignificant and trivial like this and yet you could care less about actual problems like fluoride in your water, chemtrails in your sky, shredded metal in your cereals, mercury in your vaccines, etc, etc, etc… And why the fuck would an American even need a pressure cooker? You bastards can’t cook shit. The paragon of American cuisine is to mush perfectly good tomatoes, add water, and then have the audacity to call it “Tomato Soup”, or mix noodles and chicken and call it “Chicken Noodle Soup.” You savages bring shame to the word “soup.” Until you have tried Russian Soup, which requires fresh meat, a sea of vegetables, a pressure cooker, and classified recipes, then you have NEVER eaten real soup. My mom was cooking Borscht one time and her American pressure cooker fell apart! If American Pressure Cookers can’t even handle making Russian Borscht, then I sincerely doubt that they can serve as an IED for domestic terrorists. Maybe in decades past American Craftsmanship was good, but God knows it went to shit now. And why so glum about the prospect of having your Google searches and personal correspondences spied upon? Stop seeing the glass half empty and start seeing it as half full. Just imagine, somewhere out there, REAL people are being paid REAL money just to sit and read all the shit you have to say. How can you not be flattered? How can you not be honored? It’s like having your own personal scribe or a phantom pen pal. So relax and continue to march in your gay pride parades, cry crocodile tears over poor little Trayvon, believe you actually landed on the moon, give up your guns, and pay taxes on everything so that the glorious and benevolent U.S. Government can continue to give Israel over 8 million dollars per day.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 15

  35. patrick says:

    It’s quite obvious after some digging that the woman’s husband lied to her, or she took some significant poetic license. News outlets used to get two points of confirmation before printing anything as fact. Perhaps it’s time to return to a standard of journalistic ethics that isn’t just pointing to two other hysterical blogs as supporting of fact.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  36. CB says:

    @Lt. Col. Podovsky:

    … fluoride in your water, chemtrails in your sky, shredded metal in your cereals, mercury in your vaccines, etc, etc, etc…

    Well, that escalted quickly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  37. JohnMcC says:

    @Lt. Col. Podovsky: Gosh, Colonel, that was GREAT! Please visit often!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  38. JohnMcC says:

    @Lt. Col. Podovsky: And you know what? Mr google discovered 120 manufacturers of pressure cookers and every one of them was Chinese. Not a good Russia pressure cooker to be found. I think I see a career opportunity if comedy doesn’t work out for you, Sir!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  39. HarvardLaw92 says:

    under what legal authority is the Federal Government monitoring the Google searches/Internet activity of American citizens, presumably without a warrant?

    Smith v. Maryland? US v. Miller? Title III of the ECPA?

    The principle that you have no 4th Amendment expectation of privacy with regard to information that you voluntarily pass to third party service providers in the course of business in order to effect transactions isn’t exactly new.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  40. wr says:

    @Lt. Col. Podovsky: Does the Tsar have a cousin?

    At least this one is a little more amusing. Unless he decides to repeat his soup lecture in every single post for the next two years…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  41. michael reynolds says:

    I’m coming to Jeremy and McC’s position on this and thinking maybe this is all bullsh!t.

    If nothing else, it would be pretty lousy tradecraft. The NSA has a huge, secret capability which they casually reveal by sending FBI agents around to harass middle class people?

    Yeah. No.

    I’d like to amend my earlier remarks and say that if true, this would be a smoking gun.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  42. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    According to WaPo, FBI wasn’t involved at all. It was led by the Nassau County Police, assisted by Suffolk CP.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  43. mantis says:

    If this story were true, we would be hearing thousands of such stories.

    Also, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy on the Internet. Sorry.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  44. michael reynolds says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    So now we’re to believe that some backwoods police force is getting NSA information from their most secret program. Right. Yeah, even for our intel community, that would be a wee bit unprofessional.

    Good grief. I really should read the original linked piece before believing the summary. Shame on me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  45. Jeremy R says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Doug put out an update in a new post that the tip off came from an employer about searches on their workplace computer system. So this whole story was completely wrong. Here it is:

    http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/an-update-on-the-pressure-cookers-google-search-story/

    This OTB featured post could perhaps use a similar update too so as not to continue the misinformation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  46. Andy says:

    @michael reynolds:

    So now we’re to believe that some backwoods police force is getting NSA information from their most secret program. Right. Yeah, even for our intel community, that would be a wee bit unprofessional.

    Yes, you should believe that. Google up “Joint Terrorism Task Force” and read the DOJ website on it. This was part of the “information sharing” solution to the lack of communication that was a factor found by the 9/11 commission. Local cops can get “national security” information, though usually it is limited and sanitized. If you’re the City of New York, you have the resources to develop your own capabilities (and they have).

    And yes, you should be skeptical of this story. There is no actual link between Google, the NSA and these cops showing up other than Ms. Catalano’s assumptions – assumptions that are, right now, being report as fact by “news” outlets and accepted as fact by many people as a result.

    Edit: Just seeing the update about an employer tip. Not surprising at all it was a mundane explanation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  47. Boyd says:

    If only someone had advised skepticism and patience…

    Oh, that’s right, they did. :-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  48. rodney dill says:

    @rodney dill:

    …on the other hand I’ve searched for ‘Illudium pu-36 Explosive Space Modulator’ any number of times without a visit from the FBI. (That I’m aware of)

    That got a down vote? That’s funnier than my original comment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  49. michael reynolds says:

    I’ve been googling about how much natural gas locked in a basement it would take to blow up a skyscraper. Safety measures involving gas pipelines. Also googling various intelligence agencies. Plus nanotechnology, guns, private jet cockpits, New York stadia. . .

    As per the author above, half the writers in the country should be getting FBI visits.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  50. Jeremy R says:

    Brief update from Michelle Catalano:

    https://medium.com/something-like-falling/16592b1ff2a1

    clarification and update

    We found out through the Suffolk Police Department that the searches involved also things my husband looked up at his old job. We were not made aware of this at the time of questioning and were led to believe it was solely from searches from within our house.I did not lie or make it up. I wrote the piece with the information that was given. What was withheld from us obviously could not be a part of a story I wrote based on what happened yesterday.The piece I wrote was the story as we knew it with the information we were told. None of it was fabricated. If you know me, you know I would never do that. If it was misleading, just know that my intention was the truth. And that was what I knew as the truth until about ten minutes ago. That there were other circumstances involved was something we all were unaware of. Thank you.

    I feel a little bit bad for her since it’s hard to imagine she had any idea her repeating some story her husband told her, on a blog, would explode into an international story, forcing a response from the local PD. It’s rough to be fact checked in front of the entire internet and be found wanting.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  51. michael reynolds says:

    @Jeremy R:

    I agree with your sympathies. The shame is on people like me for buying it. If I could downvote myself I would.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  52. Franklin says:

    @Lt. Col. Podovsky: I’m the lone up voter. I thought it was kind of funny. I assume it was meant to be, but can’t be sure.

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  53. Paul Hooson says:

    This isn’t good. There’s too many search programs including Google that often alter a person’s search and sometimes steer you to something entirely different than you want in the first place. And there’s a few adult Website addresses that aren’t much more than misspelled versions of a legitimate search for something entirely nonsexual in nature. Government needs to take it more easy and to have a lot more evidence to consider before it confronts anyone who shops for a back to school backpack Online as a member of al Qaeda.

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  54. Eric Florack says:

    as a casual observation, it seems likely that every blogger, and for that matter commentor in the country, will Google “pressure cooker” at least once, just to see what happens.

    I should think that at the least, the traffic resulting from the spike would muddy the waters of anyone trying to keep track of people doing such searches… the sheer numbers involved…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  55. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    To Michael Reynolds: here’s your “actual harm.”

    Who cares who tipped them off. Such visits absent a warrant are not acceptable, no matter who shows up. Period.

    This couple should be glad this team wasn’t strung on out on testosterone. Go read Jonathan Turley’s blog for a weekly summary of what happens in those all-to-frequent cases.

    Privacy did not end with the digital age.

    Any elected official who repeats that Big Lie is ripe for removal. Reynolds will have better effect agitating for thing such as that.

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  56. rudderpedals says:

    @Eric Florack: The old NSA-sig-in-the-usenet-post thing? It’s cool. Let your old-timer freak flag fly

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  57. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @James in Silverdale, WA:

    Such visits absent a warrant are not acceptable, no matter who shows up. Period.

    Now we have wandered off into some alternate universe where the police need a warrant to talk to somebody or ask permission to search their home?

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  58. Mikey says:

    @James in Silverdale, WA:

    Privacy did not end with the digital age.

    You just keep telling yourself that.

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  59. michael reynolds says:

    @James in Silverdale, WA:

    Obviously there’s a difference between, “Cops show up after employer tips them to employee,” and “Super-secret NSA spy program sends FBI agents to house.”

    First of all, there’s local vs. Federal. Second, there’s tip vs. warrantless search.” Obviously cops follow up tips. Sounds like they did a respectful and respectable job of it.

    Third there’s the secondary but related question of just how dumb the Intel community had become. Not as dumb as it first seemed.

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  60. JohnMcC says:

    I will toss another line into this fishin’ hole but without re-reading the Original Post (whereupon I’ll probably make a fool of myself–short term memory, advancing age, etc)…. and say that we were led to believe that the Lady-of-the-House was googling ‘pressure cooker’ and the Gentleman-in-Residence was looking up ‘backpack’ and the 20yr son was following the case of the Tsarnaevs very closely. So now we should assume that the Gentleman was using his work computer to look up ALL of this? Of course this is stupid.

    For some reason his former employer thought his behavior warrented police attention. Maybe he was working for a paranoid crank — but none of the paranoid cranks I’ve worked for called the police on me. And there have been a few of them. The real story, as much as there is a story here, is what the former boss and the Gentleman had between them and what the Gentleman told the Lady to make her stick her neck out in such a public way. Frankly, I feel sort of sorry for her.

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  61. mantis says:

    @James in Silverdale, WA:

    . Such visits absent a warrant are not acceptable, no matter who shows up. Period.

    So police should not be allowed to visit a person when they receive a tip without a warrant? That is stupendously dumb.

    But then, so is believing the story as told by Catalano, who has been shown to be lying about several details, but that hasn’t stopped many people here.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

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  63. Eric Florack says:

    @rudderpedals: not particularly, no. I was actually considering the traffic spike on that string and the problems it might cause for those watching such things.

    And by the way, I’m unconvinced the argument that the local task force was the culprit.
    who but the federales would be gathers…. and disseminating… such info?

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  64. JohnMcC says:

    @Eric Florack: “who but the federales would be gathers (sic)… and disseminating… such info?”

    Turns out it was her husbands employer and the ‘info’ was on the guy’s work computer which of course was the company’s property and they had every right to the “intel”.

    Try to keep up.

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