Friday, May 31, 2013

Anonymous, Texas, and other stories

Here are a few odds and ends that could and perhaps should have made it into independent posts but wound up in this roundup instead at the end of a busy week:

'FBI scrutinizes Dallas DA'
The headline from the Wall Street Journal says it all. Their story for now is on the free portion of their site. And the Dallas News reported that District Judge Bob Brotherton will decide next week whether to dismiss the pending contempt ruling against Dallas DA Craig Watkins stemming from the same episode that drew the FBI's attention. Wrote reporter Jennifer Emily, "If Brotherton does not dismiss the contempt case, a date will be set for a hearing to determine whether the charge should be upheld." If John Creuzot wasn't all in for the 2014 Democratic primary already, there's certainly no excuse now for not jumping in with both feet. Run, Judge, run!

Snitching works both ways
The Texas Observer has the story of an Hidalgo County Sheriff's deputy wearing a wire to uncover a major South Texas corruption scandal. The mantra of the allegedly corrupt cop at the center of the scandal gives insight into the corrupting influence of asset forfeiture: “We don’t arrest them. We take their shit." Meanwhile, in Fort Worth a police officer allegedly tipped off crooks before police raids, demonstrating that the use of human intelligence can work in both directions.

Anonymous, Texas
Now that Texas' warrants-for-email bill has hit the national press, several folks who work on electronic privacy issues nationally have reached out to Grits and one of them asked my opinion of the Barrett Brown case. "Who is Barrett Brown?," I sheepishly replied. If that was your reaction, here's a sympathetic but detailed account. See more from Vice, the New York Times and The Guardian. Sounds like he's not really a central Anonymous hacker and is mostly being prosecuted for being a punk (chiefly the case stems from a You Tube threat against law enforcement). Given that that's the one thing of which Mr. Brown appears to be actually guilty, my guess is he'll get the max.

Accuracy of historical location data
During the legislative fight over HB 1608, law enforcement claimed that historical location data from a personal cell-phone was relatively inaccurate compared to real-time pinging and they shouldn't have to demonstrate probable cause to obtain it. That argument was mooted in large part by the example, shown in the House committee hearing, of Malte Spitz, a German politician who obtained his historic cell-location data for six months and teamed up with a newspaper to graphically map it. Then, the same week the bill was heard, new research was published showing that even a few location data points reveal a lot about an individual. The ABA Journal has an article detailing the flip side of that argument, calling prosecutors' use of historical location data as evidence "junk science." Cops can't have it both ways: Either historic location data is accurate enough to use as evidence or it's so inaccurate that it shouldn't require a warrant. Right now it seems law enforcement is making one argument at the Legislature and quite different ones in court.

Which two prison units will Texas close?
The Legislature left the decision to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, but the odds on favorite prison units most likely to be closed are still the ones Sen. Whitmire wanted: the Dawson State Jail and a unit in Mineral Wells, both run by Corrections Corporation of America. There could be other sensible choices, though. The Connally unit comes to mind (they can't even secure adequate water there, much less staff), or Dalhart, which has been perennially understaffed. Or if you wanted to base things on cost per prisoner, they might look at closing some of the units coming up on a century old or more, some of which have higher per-prisoner costs than units with modern designs. The easiest, though, would be Dawson and Mineral Wells. Both are on contracts that are about to expire so the close-out costs would be less than for any other option. There are many incentives for the TDCJ board to comply with the wishes of the Senate Criminal Justice Chairman. For example, the Lege reduced TDCJ's budget precisely by the amount it cost to run those two units! My money is on those two to remain the frontrunners, though we won't know for sure until TDCJ meets again to decide.


Anonymous said...

I'd jump for joy if they shut McConnell down. My son just went there and I can't tell you the stories I've heard in such a short period of time.

Anonymous said...

Grits, wasn't it Connally that had water problems?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You are correct 3:52, I fixed it in the post. My brain plays tricks with the similar sounding names, but you're exactly right. Also, McConnell at one point had been on my short list for possible closure because of contraband issues.

Anonymous said...

But McConnell would cause a bit of a logistical problem if it closed because its a medical , transportation, and release unit. Connally would close before McConnell.

Anonymous said...

Beeville will star having water issues ( Garza and McConnell units) soon if the drought persistsband i have seen first hand how much water is wasted at work.

Anonymous said...

Re: The corrupt Hidalgo County deputies.

The "shit" they were taking was the marihuana or other narcotics, not assets through seizure and forfeiture. They stole the drugs and turned around and sold them.

I know that squads like this are started with those lofty forfeiture ideas in mind, but these guys took it to another level.