Search ‘Backpack’ Get Visit from Terrorism Squad (Update)

Search ‘Pressure Cooker’ Get Visit from Terrorism Squad


Update: Mrs. Catalano now states that the police visit was “also” because of some searches her husband had previously performed at his old job. Techcrunch reports that it was Mr. Catalano’s ex-employer who called police.  However, Google does turn over information to the police every day and the terrorism squad who visited the couple makes 100 similar visits per week. The fact that we live in a culture of spying, whether by Big Brother, or by Little Brother, is what is most relevant.

Original article below:

Is a total police state right around the corner?

Be very careful about what you Google. Put in the wrong search term, like “backpack,” for example, and you could find your lawn crawling with members of a terrorism squad. They’ll come right up your lawn, fanning out over your property, looking for evidence you could be a terrorist. Edward Snowden warned us that we were all under surveillance, but the government has denied that law-abiding citizens are targets. The domestic spying program is only for people who are suspected of having terrorist ties, they say. But that’s not how it happened with Michele Catalano and her husband.

She was looking up how to cook quinoa in a pressure cooker; their son was Googling everything he could find about the Boston bombers; her husband had been shopping online for a new backpack. Apparently, looking up information about the Boston bombing and having two other people in the house Googling “pressure cooker” and “backpack” around the same time frame, even from different computers, can make any ordinary citizen a terrorism suspect. In the case of the Catalano’s, the cops were soon at the door.

They entered the property with black cars, blackened windows, and guns at their sides. They asked Michele’s husband if they could come in. Having nothing to hide, he invited them into the living room. They began questioning him, asking for all kinds of information about his life, his travels and if he had ever Googled information about pressure cookers and bombs. He asked them if they had ever been curious about either of those topics. Two of the agents said yes.

How did they know what the Catalanos were Googling? That question has not yet been answered, but rest assured it’s not just the Catalanos. As a matter of fact, the agents said they make 100 similar visits per week. That’s over 14 visits per day to law-abiding citizens just trying to go about their lives. And those 100 visits take place each week in just one county in one state in the country. Who know the total count of visits across the entire nation. Could the next visit be to your home?

As importantly, where does a normal citizen draw the line between being incredibly concerned about his or her right to privacy being eroded so completely and being a stark raving mad person afflicted with paranoia? The line between mental illness and valid concern has been whittled away to nearly nothing. What separates otherwise sane, rational people from the paranoid schizophrenic down the street? The paranoid, mentally ill person thinks the government is watching him, but the government is watching him, and you, and everyone.

The government is watching what we Google and what we say online. They’re listening to our phone calls. They’re standing at the ready each and every week to deploy members of the anti-terrorism task force to people’s homes and poke around, questioning innocent folks about their private lives and internet habits. And when they leave, what additional surveillance will they employ to watch everyone under suspicion? Will they leave the Catalanos alone from now on?

And will the Catalanos ever again feel comfortable that they enjoy a reasonable measure of privacy? Or will they fall victim to the “chilling effect” and simply not look up certain information anymore?

Will you?

By: Rebecca Savastio


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7 Responses to "Search ‘Backpack’ Get Visit from Terrorism Squad (Update)"

  1. David   August 2, 2013 at 8:20 am

    Wow. You sure are reading a lot into that one “also”. “Oh, he said *also*, so clearly this proves that Google searches from his home were involved!” (sarcastic paraphrase).

    “However, Google does turn over information to the police every day and the terrorism squad who visited the couple makes 100 similar visits per week.” You’re making a misleading connection here, implying that Google turning over information is what is causing the visits. There is zero evidence for that in this story.

    “The fact that we live in a culture of spying, whether by Big Brother, or by Little Brother, is what is most relevant.” True, but your information has turned out to be incomplete and inadequate. You could be a bit more humble about it.

    The article comes off as hysterical, and when new information arrives, you only harden your position. I regret reading it, and I regret commenting.

  2. Rebecca Savastio   August 1, 2013 at 10:35 pm

    @Bob: Actually, Ms. Catalano now says it was “ALSO” because of searches he did at work. That does not mean searches in the home did not play a role in it, and Google turns over information to police without warrants each and every day.

  3. bob bobson   August 1, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    Get your facts straight.

    “It turns out either Catalano or her husband were conducting these searches from a work computer. And that employer, “a Bay Shore based computer company,” called the police on their former employee.

    It was not because the “googled” anything.


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