Officers showed up at our door suspecting we were terrorists because we looked up info on pressure cookers and backpacks
It was a confluence of magnificent proportions that led to six agents from the joint terrorism task force to knock on my door Wednesday morning. Little did my husband and I know that our seemingly innocent, if curious to a fault, Googling of certain things were 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. And in these times, when things like the Boston bombing happen, you spend a lot of time on the internet reading about it and, 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.
Having 3 black SUVs block the driveway and 6 men spreading out around the house would have freaked me out.. That was a brave man to step outside.
All because his family did searches on the Internet that in combination looked like a terrorist profile. Looking for pressure cookers. Searching for a backpack.
Like this won’t be abused.
The databases are not doing their job if there are 99 false positives out of every 100 searches. I would suspect that you could pick 100 houses to search at random and do better than that.
This is again a place where “the computer must be right” can really be abused. What happens when some official says that the police need to show much more for their efforts than 99 safe citizens? Sending out 6 people in 3 SUVs costs a lot of money. Will there be pressure to find something, anything? To get the arrest numbers up?
What would have happened if he had refused a search of the house? Would he have been arrested as a suspected terrorist, ruining his family’s reputation?
Searching for pressure cookers and having a teenage son – boom, a visit from authorities. What would have happened if he did have the ‘wrong’ book on the shelf?
This video suggest that you should never talk with police. Once they start looking they can almost always find some crime that all of us have broken, there are so many of them.
They might have gotten off eventually but $200,000 in debt from legal fees, with no outlet for having their lives damaged. Or they might have a crusading prosecutor looking to make a name and face several hundred years of charges because a computer was involved in something.
Life would never be the same simply because they searched for pressure cookers.
Bad algorithms searching bad databases makes for very bad law and and intimidating atmosphere for a democracy.