Entries Tagged "prisons"

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Private Police Forces

In Raleigh, N.C., employees of Capitol Special Police patrol apartment buildings, a bowling alley and nightclubs, stopping suspicious people, searching their cars and making arrests.

Sounds like a good thing, but Capitol Special Police isn’t a police force at all — it’s a for-profit security company hired by private property owners.

This isn’t unique. Private security guards outnumber real police more than 5-1, and increasingly act like them.

They wear uniforms, carry weapons and drive lighted patrol cars on private properties like banks and apartment complexes and in public areas like bus stations and national monuments. Sometimes they operate as ordinary citizens and can only make citizen’s arrests, but in more and more states they’re being granted official police powers.

This trend should greatly concern citizens. Law enforcement should be a government function, and privatizing it puts us all at risk.

Most obviously, there’s the problem of agenda. Public police forces are charged with protecting the citizens of the cities and towns over which they have jurisdiction. Of course, there are instances of policemen overstepping their bounds, but these are exceptions, and the police officers and departments are ultimately responsible to the public.

Private police officers are different. They don’t work for us; they work for corporations. They’re focused on the priorities of their employers or the companies that hire them. They’re less concerned with due process, public safety and civil rights.

Also, many of the laws that protect us from police abuse do not apply to the private sector. Constitutional safeguards that regulate police conduct, interrogation and evidence collection do not apply to private individuals. Information that is illegal for the government to collect about you can be collected by commercial data brokers, then purchased by the police.

We’ve all seen policemen “reading people their rights” on television cop shows. If you’re detained by a private security guard, you don’t have nearly as many rights.

For example, a federal law known as Section 1983 allows you to sue for civil rights violations by the police but not by private citizens. The Freedom of Information Act allows us to learn what government law enforcement is doing, but the law doesn’t apply to private individuals and companies. In fact, most of your civil right protections apply only to real police.

Training and regulation is another problem. Private security guards often receive minimal training, if any. They don’t graduate from police academies. And while some states regulate these guard companies, others have no regulations at all: anyone can put on a uniform and play policeman. Abuses of power, brutality, and illegal behavior are much more common among private security guards than real police.

A horrific example of this happened in South Carolina in 1995. Ricky Coleman, an unlicensed and untrained Best Buy security guard with a violent criminal record, choked a fraud suspect to death while another security guard held him down.

This trend is larger than police. More and more of our nation’s prisons are being run by for-profit corporations. The IRS has started outsourcing some back-tax collection to debt-collection companies that will take a percentage of the money recovered as their fee. And there are about 20,000 private police and military personnel in Iraq, working for the Defense Department.

Throughout most of history, specific people were charged by those in power to keep the peace, collect taxes and wage wars. Corruption and incompetence were the norm, and justice was scarce. It is for this very reason that, since the 1600s, European governments have been built around a professional civil service to both enforce the laws and protect rights.

Private security guards turn this bedrock principle of modern government on its head. Whether it’s FedEx policemen in Tennessee who can request search warrants and make arrests; a privately funded surveillance helicopter in Jackson, Miss., that can bypass constitutional restrictions on aerial spying; or employees of Capitol Special Police in North Carolina who are lobbying to expand their jurisdiction beyond the specific properties they protect — privately funded policemen are not protecting us or working in our best interests.

This op ed originally appeared in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

EDITED TO ADD (4/2): This is relevant.

Posted on February 27, 2007 at 6:02 AMView Comments

Social Engineering a Police Officer

Really nice social engineering example. Note his repeated efforts to ensure that if he’s stopped again, he can rely on the cop to vouch for him.

Smooth-talking escapee evades police

Woe is Carl Bordelon, a police officer for the town of Ball, La. His dashboard camera captured (below) his questioning of Richard Lee McNair, 47, on Wednesday. Earlier that same day, McNair had escaped from a federal penitentiary at nearby Pollock, La., reportedly hiding in a prison warehouse and sneaking out in a mail van. Bordelon, on the lookout, stopped McNair when he saw him running along some railroad tracks. What follows is a chillingly fascinating performance from McNair, who manages to remain fairly smooth and matter-of-fact while tripping up Bordelon. The officer notices that the guy matches the description of McNair — who was serving a life sentence for killing a trucker at a grain elevator in Minot, N.D., in 1987 — observes that he looked like he’d “been through a briar patch” and had to wonder why he would choose appalling heat (at least according to that temperature gauge in the police car) to go running, without any identification, on a dubious 12-mile run. But he doesn’t notice when McNair changes his story — he gives two different names (listen for it) — and eventually, Bordelon bids him farewell, saying: “Be careful, buddy.” McNair remains on the loose. (Note: Video is more than eight minutes long but worth it.)

Posted on April 13, 2006 at 7:03 AMView Comments

Big Brother Prison

This Dutch prison is the future of surveillance.

At a high-tech prison opening this week inmates wear electronic wristbands that track their every movement and guards monitor cells using emotion-recognition software.

Remember, new surveillance technologies are first used on populations with limited rights: inmates, children, the mentally ill, military personnel.

Posted on February 2, 2006 at 11:23 AMView Comments

Prisons and Guards

This Iowa prison break illustrates an important security principle:

State Sen. Gene Fraise said he was told by prison officials that the inmates somehow got around a wire that is supposed to activate an alarm when touched. The wall also had razor wire, he said.

“The only thing I know for sure is they went over the wall in the southwest corner with a rope and a grappling hook they fashioned out of metal from somewhere,” Fraise said.

Fred Scaletta, a Corrections Department spokesman, said the inmates used upholstery webbing, a material used by inmates who make furniture at a shop inside the prison, to scale the wall. The guard tower in that section of the prison was unmanned at the time because of budget cuts, he said.

“I don’t want to say I told you so, but those towers were put there for security, and when you don’t man those towers, that puts a hole in your security,” Fraise said.

Guards = dynamic security. Tripwires = static security. Dynamic security is better than static security.

Unfortunately, some people simply don’t understand the fundamentals of security:

State Rep. Lance Horbach, a Republican, criticized Fraise for suggesting budget cuts were a factor in the escape.

“In reality, we should explore why the taut wire system failed to alert guards and security staff that these two convicts were attempting to escape,” he said.

Actually, in reality you should be putting guards in the guard towers.

Posted on November 18, 2005 at 3:34 PMView Comments

Fingerprint-Lock Failure in a Prison

So much for high-tech security:

Prison officers have been forced to abandon a new security system and return to the use of keys after the cutting-edge technology repeatedly failed.

The system, which is thought to have cost over £3 million, used fingerprint recognition to activate the locking system at the high-security Glenochil Prison near Tullibody, Clackmannanshire.

After typing in a PIN code, prison officers had to place their finger on a piece of glass. Once the print was recognised, they could then lock and unlock prison doors.

However, problems arose after a prisoner demonstrated to wardens that he could get through the system at will. Other prisoners had been doing the same for some time.

Unfortunately, the article doesn’t say how the prisoners hacked the system. Perhaps they lifed fingerprints off readers with transparent tape. Or perhaps the valid latent fingerprints left on the readers by wardens could be activated somehow.

I would really like some more details here. Does it really make sense to have a tokenless access system in a prison? I don’t know enough to answer that question.

Posted on September 26, 2005 at 4:03 PMView Comments

Hacking Faxes

Prisoner is freed from jail based on a forged fax:

In West Memphis District Court yesterday, Tristian Wilson was set to appear on the docket for a bond hearing on the charges. When he did not appear, Judge William “Pal” Rainey inquired about his release and found that a jail staff member released Wilson by the authority of a fax sent to the jail late Saturday night.

According to Assistant Chief Mike Allen, a fax was sent to the jail which stated “Upon decision between Judge Rainey and the West Memphis Police Department CID Division Tristian Wilson is to be released immediately on this date of October 30, 2004 with a waiver of all fines, bonds and settlements per Judge Rainey and Detective McDugle.”

Jail Administrator Mickey Thornton said that these faxes are part of a normal routine for the jail when it comes to releasing prisoners, however, this fax was different.

Faxes are fascinating. They’re treated like original documents, but lack any of the authentication mechanisms that we’ve developed for original documents: letterheads, watermarks, signatures. Most of the time there’s no problem, but sometimes you can exploit people’s innate trust in faxes to good effect.

Posted on November 8, 2004 at 7:12 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.