The Tenderloin & San Francisco: A (Photographic) Tale of Two Cities

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San Francisco may be one of America’s most iconic cities that draws thousands of tourists and transplants every year, but there’s one neighborhood in town that virtually everyone prefers to avoid: the Tenderloin. As a freelance writer concerned about this country’s growing socio-economic inequality, however, I decided to head into an area VICE has described as “the most hellish neighborhood in San Francisco” to see what I could learn for myself. The New York Times, for what its worth, refers to the Tenderloin as “ragged, druggy and determinedly dingy.” As I approached the Tenderloin, I asked a man familiar with the area how to reach the neighborhood’s most infamous corner—Turk & Taylor—and he looked at me like I had three heads. “What business you got on Turk & Taylor?,” the man asked, taken aback that a young white man carrying a $2,000 camera would be interested in going there in the first place.

“Photography,” I responded.


As you can see from some of my images, much of what I observed in the Tenderloin is consistent with what you may have heard. First and foremost is the widespread, heart-breaking poverty. Spend just a few minutes in the Tenderloin and you will see people rummaging through trashcans looking for a meal, sleeping on sidewalks hoping for a dream, and smoking from pipes reaching for an escape. There are people with bloodstained jeans milling about, aimlessly mumbling to themselves that they “cannot deal with these fucking extraterrestrials today.” The police questioned a man right in front of me as I walked around; the man sat cross-kneed on the ground handcuffed, and down his chin ran a small trail of blood. At one point, just a few feet from me, I saw for the first time in my life that most devastating of drugs: heroin. The man holding it tied a belt around his arm, quickly scanned his surroundings, and pressed the syringe deep into his vein.

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On the other side of all this, however, is a part of the Tenderloin that is bursting with color, life, and hope. Few people seem to talk about this part of the Tenderloin. You’ll see from the images below that the Tenderloin is home to a wide array of intricate graffiti and street art, each more impressive than the next. Nearly every block had a detailed piece to observe, and the artwork covered a wide range of themes, from idealized versions of the neighborhood to devastating portrayals of a life beset by poverty.

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I encourage readers to visit the Tenderloin the next time you find yourself in San Francisco. While the neighborhood does have a high crime rate and one should exercise caution, I had absolutely no issues roaming the neighborhood alone for hours—while carrying my camera, iPhone, and computer—during the day. Those seeking to learn more about the Tenderloin should read this article from KQED. I hope you enjoy my photographs, and thank you for reading.

Find me on Twitter @4thEstateWatch.


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On the Decline of 4th Amendment Freedoms & the Rise of Police Power


My criminal procedure professor from law school would always argue that 4th Amendment cases were fundamentally about the tension between the power of the state and the freedom of the individual. As the final arbiter on these matters, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) makes decisions that have a significant impact on your individual freedom and police power. And when it comes to the Constitutional right “of the people to be secure … against unreasonable searches and seizures” as outlined in the 4th Amendment, the Court has often weighed in on the side of the police. Indeed its most recent decision in this area—Fernandez v. California—reduces your personal freedom by expanding the ability of the police to enter your home without a warrant. But we should not necessarily be surprised; the decision is merely the latest in a series of holdings that have chipped away at the core protections of the Fourth Amendment.


Here’s what you need to know for relevant background: in a case from 2006 (Georgia v. Randolph) the Court held that the objection of one person to a search of his/her property was “dispositive as to him, regardless of the consent of the fellow occupant.” If you objected to a search but a physically-present cotenant agreed to one, in other words, your “no” was the final word. Your refusal would negate your cotenant’s consent. That’s a logical rule that squares with the 4th Amendment’s aim to protect our right to be free from unreasonable searches at home. But the Court in Fernandez, however, crafted a loophole: if you are “absent due to lawful detention or arrest” from the property, the police can ask your cotenant once again for consent to search even though they know full-well you previously objected. With you no longer present to say “no” to the search—even though you clearly and definitively said that before—your cotenant’s consent now overrules you.


The real-world implications of Fernandez are simple: your express refusal to a warrantless search means less than it once did. Your Constitutional right to be secure “against unreasonable searches and seizures” now appears bound by temporal and geographical limits, your exercise of 4th Amendment rights now dependent on time and place. The police can simply wait until they’ve devised an objectively reasonable way to remove you from the property, at which time your previous refusal to a search apparently vanishes into thin air. But the right to be secure in our homes should surely mean more than that, and our Constitutional rights should not be circumvented after we’ve invoked them.


But Fernandez creates an atmosphere ripe for circumvention of the warrant requirement as it leaves a structure of perverse incentives in its wake. Justice Ginsburg makes an important point in her dissent when she observes that “[i]n this case, the police could readily have obtained a warrant to search the shared residence”, a concern the Court derides as “beside the point” (internal citations omitted, emphasis mine). It’s actually the Court that misses the point here. Ginburg’s observation speaks to a disturbing truth: the police could have complied with 4th Amendment search-and-seizure requirements in this case by obtaining a warrant, but nevertheless they deliberately chose not to. Not only did the police appear uninterested in pursuing a warrant, they removed the only individual at the scene who refused to grant consent for a warrantless search. What does it say about our right to be secure in our homes when the police can bypass the warrant requirement even when they have ample time to comply with it?

Without delving into a detailed legal analysis, the beginning of my piece hinted at the answer: our 4th Amendment rights have been steadily diluted by SCOTUS for many decades now. This has been particularly true since Justice Brennan retired, and the Fernandez case is little more than a new chapter in an old story.

The Tech Industry & Housing Market Realities: On the Changing Soul of San Francisco

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“Any city, however small, is in fact divided into two, one the city of the poor, the other of the rich; these are at war with one another.”—Plato, c. 380 BC

There’s no doubt that technology has impacted our world dramatically, but perhaps nowhere are the changes more visible than in San Francisco. And I’m not talking about the city’s free Wi-Fi. Specifically, I want to address how the influx of wealth to the city from the tech industry has started to change its soul from counter-culture to computer-culture. Whether this change is viewed as a net benefit or loss is almost beside the point, as there’s little to indicate we can stop it. Market realities are altering this city one way and another, and two recent articles published in New York demonstrate that San Francisco’s housing market is one of the primary factors driving this change.

Kevin Roose called San Francisco “the new American capital of real-estate kvetching,” with “supra-Manhattan rents and gentrification at a pace that would make Bushwick blush.” He’s not exaggerating. The New York Times reported late last year that “San Francisco has the least affordable housing in the nation” and that “[t]he median rent is also the highest in the country[.]” Under circumstances like these, the market reality is that many lower-income individuals eventually find themselves priced out. And when they leave, their historical memory of the city—its traditions, trials, and triumphs—leave with them. The Mission District, which used to be heavily influenced by Latino culture, has morphed into a brave new world. Anyone who’s recently walked from Mission St. to Valencia St. can attest to that. The former dotted with small bodegas and pawn shops, the latter bedecked with “[u]pscale restaurants [that] pop up at regular intervals … [with] everything from the $4 artisanal toast … to the underground supper clubs serving kombucha pairings with sustainable-seafood dinners.” Few people can afford such luxuries, and Valencia no longer exhibits a strong affiliation with any culture outside that of high-end consumerism. The end result is that newly-arrived twenty-somethings, often from out-of-state but with money and a college education, dominate one of the Mission’s most famous streets. The primary method of communication has changed from Spanish to smartphone.

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And these relatively wealthy twenty-somethings are not only taking over the streets, they are pushing San Francisco’s housing market to stratospheric levels. Daniel Alarcón’s piece—entitled “The Mission: Creative Destruction in Eleven Parts”—offers a stark example of this phenomenon. Alarcón recounts that “Facebook founder [Mark Zuckerburg, age 29] bought his San Francisco home for $9,999,000. It had last switched hands for less than one-seventh that price” (emphasis mine). Can the average prospective homeowner compete with such increases? Another individual in Alarcón’s article pondered: “Can you be an artist if you have to pay $3,000 a month?” Unfortunately, the answer to both questions is no. In fact, it’s not just artists who can’t pay rent. All sorts of other professions have been priced out of San Francisco, as the NYT has reported there’s “not a single home now on the market is within the reach of the average public-school teacher.” “Five years ago,” by contrast, “police officers and teachers could have afforded 36 percent of the homes on the market[.]” With no evidence to suggest these trends will change anytime soon, San Francisco appears set to experience a significant cultural and socioeconomic shift.

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Real estate realities will dictate demographic changes. Lower-income individuals who have lived in the city for years will increasingly be unable to afford rent, and the person likely to replace them will be a higher-income individual who has been in the city two weeks. There’s no predicting how these changes will affect the city that was so important to the counter-culture and protest movements of the 1960s-’70s, but the San Francisco as it exists in cultural memory will soon be a relic of a distant past. And indeed, that may already be the case today. “More wealth is concentrated in the San Francisco Bay Area,” the NYT reports, “than just about any other place in the nation.” I’m not surprised. The city that once spoke the language of rebellion and revolution now talks of robots and riches. Knowledge of counter-culture activism has been replaced with a concern for M&As and IPOs. San Francisco’s character will be shaped by those who live there, but what happens when those who can afford to live there increasingly view the world from expensive apartments and through Google Glass? We’re about to find out.

Note: the images included in this piece were all taken by me in San Francisco’s Mission District. Those interested in finding me on Twitter can do so @4thEstateWatch or @DmitriLs.

Feinstein’s Allegations about the CIA Should not Surprise Us: A Historical Perspective


As the public dispute between CIA Director John Brennan and US Senator Dianne Feinstein continues, it is worth recalling a bit of history. Even a cursory review of the CIA’s past reveals that the Agency has acted outside the rule of law numerous times before and that it is willing to engage in extralegal activity to achieve its aims. In other words, when Feinstein declares that “[t]he interrogations and the conditions of confinement at the CIA detentions sites [post-9/11] were far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to us,” we should not be surprised. There’s little doubt the CIA’s interrogation methods—particularly waterboarding—amounted to torture, but this should not be viewed as breaking news. The CIA’s history of covert, illegal activity is too long to catalogue here, suffice it to say that Feinstein’s main allegation against the CIA—“that on two occasions CIA personnel electronically removed committee access to CIA documents after providing them to the committee”—appears far less extraordinary when placed in a historical context. Instead, it emerges as merely the latest link in a long chain of illegality.


If the CIA of 2014 is being accused of removing documents from computers to inhibit a Congressional investigation, we would do well to remember that the CIA of 1953 carried out the overthrow of a democratically-elected government. Documents declassified last August demonstrate that the CIA has admitted to engineering the coup d’etat that toppled Iran’s democratically-elected Prime Minister at the time, Mohammad Mosaddeq. And the Agency didn’t stop there. Just one year later, in 1954, the democratically-elected President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman of Guatemala “was overthrown in a coup planned by the CIA.” In short, we should not be startled that an Agency that previously orchestrated coups would seek to inhibit an investigation into their interrogation and detention methods.

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In addition to their legally-questionable and anti-democratic activities abroad, the CIA has a checkered past here at home. A Congressional investigation into the Agency’s intelligence-gathering activities during the 1970s, to pick just one example, bluntly concluded: “[t]he record shows that the CIA has engaged in a variety of clandestine collection programs directed at the activities of Americans within the United States. Some of these activities have raised constitutional questions related to the rights of Americans to engage in political activity free from government surveillance” (emphasis mine). Before the NSA overtook them as the kingpins of surveillance, it seems, the CIA was a national leader in domestic spying. Should we really be surprised that such an Agency would seek to hinder the SSCI’s investigation into their post-9/11 methods? The CIA is the same agency that executed the targeted killing of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, an action that was “extremely rare, if not unprecedented.” To be clear: we are talking about an Agency whose stock-in-trade is covert action with little transparency or accountability.


And let’s not forget the CIA’s actions that form the core of the present controversy: its egregious post-9/11 methods of detention and interrogation. The NYT editorial board informs us “[t]he interrogations included a variety of brutal methods,” which Feintein herself has stated include: “beating a detainee in Afghanistan, who later died in custody, with a heavy flashlight; threatening a detainee with a handgun and a power drill; staging a mock execution; threatening to kill a detainee’s family; choking a detainee to the point of unconsciousness[.]” These activities should shock the conscience, but they shouldn’t necessarily surprise us. History shows us illegal activities are not rare or extraordinary for the CIA—quite the opposite, they are relatively common.

Instead of focusing on the details of the present scandal, we should really be asking ourselves how to bring meaningful, substantive reform to the CIA. It’s been observed that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, and Feinstein’s current allegations are only the latest marker in a long history of unaccountability and chicanery at the CIA. The maintenance of a Constitutional democracy demands better.

Senator Feinstein’s Accusations Against the CIA: All Bark, no Bite?

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In what The Guardian called a “bombshell statement” and The New York Times dubbed an “extraordinary denunciation,” Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) accused the CIA of engaging in an “unauthorized search of the committee computers” relating to the SSCI’s investigation of the CIA’s interrogation and detention methods post-9/11. In particular, Feinstein said that “on two occasions CIA personnel electronically removed [SSCI] access to CIA documents after providing them to the [SSCI]. … This was done without the knowledge or approval of committee members or staff, and in violation of our written agreements.” There’s no need to write about the hypocrisy of Feinstein—one of the NSA’s staunchest defenders in Congress—crying foul about the “constitutional implications” of a “CIA search [that] may also have violated the Fourth Amendment,” because the cognitive dissonance there is obvious. And while there’s little doubt that Feinstein’s allegations raise serious questions about the CIA’s conduct and the efficacy of Congressional oversight of intelligence agencies, they should not pull our attention away from the big picture. The reality is that this entire episode, as H.L. Mencken might have recognized, is little more than “rumble and bumble”—a war of words between the CIA and SSCI that’s all bark, no bite.

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The accusations against the CIA have no bite because they are unlikely to bring real, substantive reform to the CIA. Let’s stop kidding ourselves. It was current CIA Director John Brennan, after all, who ushered in the era of targeted killing of US citizens when he “directed that lead responsibility for the [Anwar al-] Awlaki hunt would be shifted to the [CIA].” The New York Times has said that decision to place a US citizen on a list for targeted killing is “extremely rare, if not unprecedented,” and Glenn Greenwald has previously explained that the targeted killing of U.S. citizen of Anwar al-Awlaki by the CIA—conducted with zero transparency and no independent, impartial oversight—flipped the Due Process Clause on its head. Brennan was intimately involved in these “unprecedented” discussions that have serious Constitutional ramifications, and yet in the wake of Feinstein’s allegations he told MSNBC, in a phrase that sounds penned by a PR-firm: “I, along with my CIA colleagues, firmly believe in and honor not only the Constitution, but also the Bill of Rights, as well as all subsequent amendments to our Constitution.” Viewed in the context of Brennan’s prior (and present) endorsement of drone strikes against US citizens, his comment makes no sense. How can one honor in the Constitution at the same time one embraces a policy that violates one of its most sacred principles? Casting aside questions as to the efficacy or wisdom of drone strikes, there’s no doubt that when the government believes it has the power to execute US citizens abroad without due process, transparency, or accountability, we’ve crossed a dangerous line.

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And since the CIA was leading the way on the road towards the targeted killing of US citizens—with President Obama’s full knowledge and approval of the policy—the notion that the CIA will suddenly suffer serious rebuke or consequence for its role in the SSCI affair is unlikely. Brennan knows that Obama meant what he said after he was first elected President: when it comes to investigation of CIA interrogation methods post-9/11, “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” That probably explains why President Obama disregarded the CIA’s post-9/11 conduct and, far from rebuking the agency in any meaningful way, elevated their role in counterterrorism operations. WIRED reports that the CIA today “works intimately with [Joint Special Operations Command],” a unit that is better known as JSOC, or as The Guardian memorably put it, “Obama’s Secret Assassins.” It’s critical to keep in mind that JSOC has “imprisoned and interrogated 10 times as many [people as the CIA], holding them in jails that it alone controls in Iraq and Afghanistan” and that it “operates with practically no accountability.” In short, some of the US government’s most elite forces are working hand-in-hand with the very agency that was responsible for the egregious post-9/11 interrogation and detention that the SSCI is now investigating. With a President who spoke of  “looking backwards” on CIA torture five years ago and links the CIA with some of the government’s most elite forces today, what are the odds that he will want to “look forward” towards a future where the CIA operates under a meaningful framework of transparency and accountability? My bet is slim to none.


Compounding the issue of the CIA’s expanding role in Constitutionally-troubling counterrorism operations is that Feinstein is not the person to lead us down the road to reform and accountability. She has a history of sidestepping reality on CIA drone strikes or supporting them outright, and she has never delivered a “bombshell” or “extraordinary” denunciation of due-process-less targeted killing from the Senate floor as she did regarding the CIA activities involving the SSCI. By focusing on one issue at the expense of the other, Feinstein seems to be suggesting that the CIA targeted killing of US citizens (not to mention the NSA’s numerous bulk surveillance programs) are Constitutional and appropriate, whereas the CIA’s alleged removal of documents from a handful of computers the SSCI had access to are not. That could only be true in an upside-down world. There’s a whole slew of issues to unpack in the targeted killing debate—U.S. Constitutional law, international law, sovereignty issues, the laws of war, etc.—that are at least (if not more) serious than those raised by Senator Feinstein yesterday. But those listening to her speech on the Senate floor wouldn’t know it, as she focused her energies solely on the issue of the SSCI investigation. And even on that very subject, Feinstein’s “bombshell” and “extraordinary” accusation did not appear to demand much from the Agency at all: “I have asked for an apology and a recognition that this CIA search of computers used by its oversight committee was inappropriate.”

I’m not expecting much more.

Allow me to (Re)-Introduce Myself & The Fourth Estate Watch

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Hello and welcome to the Fourth Estate Watch. I have been writing in this space anonymously for a few weeks now (see some of my previous articles here and here), but today I want to reveal who I am. My name is Dmitri Ls and this is my website. While I’m a licensed attorney  on paper, I’ve always maintained a keen interest in politics and writing. The Fourth Estate Watch is where those interests meet. As an alum of The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University and Boston College Law, I plan to focus my writing on the intersection between law and international relations, particularly as they relate to U.S. foreign policy.

I’ve named this space the Fourth Estate Watch because many media outlets are not explaining these issues well. Genuflecting at the altar of so-called “objectivity” (which can’t and doesn’t exist in journalism), they appear content reporting events (i.e., describing them) rather than analyzing them. But this posture does themselves—and the public—no favors. Journalists need to challenge those in power, not coddle them in exchange for access. This is especially true in the context of U.S. foreign policy, where a less-than-adversarial press can take us down paths that end with The New York Times apologizing for its reporting during the lead-up to the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. The statement from the NYT over one year after the invasion is worth quoting at length as it speaks directly to the reasons that motivated me to start this website. Per the NYT: “we have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged—or failed to emerge” (emphasis mine). The lesson has yet to be learned. Look at much of the current reporting on the various NSA surveillance programs, for example, and it is clear that not much has changed.

Here at the Fourth Estate Watch, then, I aim to offer readers a rigorous and aggressive analysis of the topics outlined above. Guided by Judge Murray Gurfein’s observation in the Pentagon Papers case that “[a] cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know,” I hope I can provide some clarity on issues that have been ill- or mis-reported. Everyday life notwithstanding, I plan on writing as often as possible.  Thank you for reading.

If you would like to contact me, do so here or on Twitter at @DmitriLs.

The RightsCon Big Picture: Has the Battle for Privacy Rights Online Already Been Lost?


San Francisco, CA—At the risk of committing a thoughtcrime, it’s hard to walk away from RightsCon day two without thinking that the battle for our privacy rights online has already been lost. While I would undoubtedly prefer to believe the opposite were true, that seems unlikely given present reality. Many people at RightsCon appear optimistic about the likelihood that one day we will be able to enjoy the Internet with our privacy rights intact, but the facts suggest that conclusion is unwarranted. Those who work and think about this issue should make no mistake about it: securing our privacy online will be a Herculean task.


As a starting point, the ongoing NSA revelations make absolutely clear that the United States is actively and aggressively involved in surveillance activities that infringe on your privacy rights online. The United States is not alone in digital surveillance, either, as it is joined by its Five Eyes partners (including the UK and Canada) as well as Russia and China, among others. But governments are not the only players in the game. As many people at RightsCon pointed out, private (and public) companies are collecting mind-boggling amounts of data from our Internet-based activity every day. Information about our activity online is being plucked by private and public hands from the moment we log in until the moment we shut down. Viewed from a distance, the end result is clear. The fight to secure online privacy begins from a near-impossible-to-overcome starting point: there’s essentially no privacy on the Internet as it currently exists.


And the people at RightsCon know this. That’s why you can easily find someone here who uses VPN, PGP, and/or Tor—they know that not doing so will mean exploring the Internet as it exists for everyone else, and that Internet is a place where you have no privacy. But the bad news doesn’t stop there. Outside of RightsCon and back in the real world, most people have no clue what VPN or PGP are, let alone how to use them competently and effectively. By comparison, just yesterday the Los Angeles Times published an article indicating that 11% of Americans think HTML is a sexually-transmitted disease. Here again the picture comes into focus when assessed from afar. On one hand, the people at RightsCon understand that the Internet offers no guarantees whatsoever regarding privacy and that the only way to protect oneself online is through an array of computer programs, and on the other hand you have the reality that most people can barely manage email and online shopping. Privacy online can be secured, it seems, but only through technological means that are as understandable to most people as Egyptian hieroglyphics. What are the odds the situation can be reversed?

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Numbers may help provide a sense of scale to the gargantuan hurdle facing digital privacy-rights advocates. The U.S. census indicates that the U.S. population last year was approximately 316,000,000. According to Tor’s own numbers, for reference, approximately 370,000 people use the software every day. Notwithstanding the millions of Americans who don’t use the Internet at all, you don’t need to be a mathematician to see that the number of people using Tor is greatly outstripped by the number of people using the Internet in general. And Tor is just one method of protecting your online privacy out of many. Most of us, in other words, experience the Internet in precisely the way that the people at RightsCon know leaves you exposed with zero privacy. Shockingly, Americans appear unconcerned, as 45% of them “say the government should be able to go further than it is” in its online surveillance, according to a Washington Post-Pew Center poll regarding the NSA last June.


On our current trajectory, there seems to be little reason to think that we will be able to secure privacy online in any meaningful sense anytime soon. How to believe otherwise? Both governments and private entities are extracting, aggregating, and analyzing data from our online activity everyday. The majority of Internet users have only the slightest idea of how the Internet actually works, let alone Internet security or encryption. Worst of all, most people just don’t seem to care. Does our right to privacy end where the Internet begins? I hope not, but the weight of the evidence tips the scales (heavily) towards yes.

This piece is not written to denigrate those who work towards securing our privacy rights online. I support that goal and that fight is important. At the same time, however, it is critical to understand the scale of the journey ahead. Only then can we begin to identify a way forward. Indeed, one of the panelists today—Richard Stallman (pictured below)—offered what might be the best advice regarding online security I heard all day: pay cash, get rid of your cellphone, and do less online.

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Where Human Rights Meet the Internet: RightsCon Day One


San Francisco, CA—technologists, lawyers, journalists, human rights activists, and others have gathered here in San Francisco to brainstorm solutions to the myriad human rights challenges that face the world in the digital age. I’m reporting live from RightsCon, a human rights conference hosted by Access, “an international human rights organization premised on the belief that political participation and the realization of human rights in the 21st century is increasingly dependent on access to the internet and other forms of technology.” While there’s no question that RightsCon represents a step in the right direction in terms of thinking about the intersection between human rights and Internet-based technologies, the journey has yet to come full circle. Here at the Fourth Estate Watch, I want to close the gap between a few things that others at the conference may have missed.

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– What I first noticed upon entering RightsCon was that event sponsors include various companies mentioned in the NSA’s PRISM slides: Microsoft, Google, and Facebook. These are also the companies that voluntarily dismissed their pending case before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) in exchange for the ability to publish (allegedly)  more robust corporate “transparency reports,” a move that even the Washington Post has described as “mostly a PR stunt.” Despite the NSA and FISC controversies, however, I later discovered that a panelist for “transparency reporting for beginners” was a Policy Communications Manager at Google.

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– During the event’s opening remarks, Nnenna Nwakanma reminded attendees that “more than half of the world’s population still does not have Internet access.” This is a critical point that I feel does not deserve enough attention. As I have previously reported, there is a gross disparity in Internet accessibility between people (and countries) of varying wealth, and the rule of thumb is that greater wealth equals greater Internet access. It is important for those thinking about human rights, then, to keep in mind that vast swaths of (largely indigent) humanity do not yet use the Internet. Internet-based approaches to human rights tend to downplay the reality that many victims of human rights violations simply do not have Internet access, rendering them out of sight, out of mind, and out of the conversation.

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– Lastly, I want to note that while everyone at RightsCon seems to be talking about the Internet, no one seems to be talking about the environmental costs of the Internet. The question has critical implications. The New York Times has reported that “[m]ost data centers, by design, consume vast amounts of energy in an incongruously wasteful manner … [o]nline companies typically run their facilities at maximum capacity around the clock, whatever the demand. As a result, data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid” (emphasis ours). All of the Internet-based solutions to human rights, then, will require more and more data servers on which to store all of  that Internet-generated data. But yet, as seen above, data centers can waste “90 percent or more” of the electricity they pull. Human rights activists who champion Internet-based approaches to human rights problems must find a way to square the ever-increasing energy consumption of the Internet and the ever-decreasing natural resources of our planet. Failure to do so could be catastrophic.

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Drone Strikes & Due Process: A Legal Analysis of Targeted Killing

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“Whatever disagreement there may be as to the scope of the phrase ‘due process of law,’ there can be no doubt that it embraces the fundamental conception of a fair trial, with opportunity to be heard.”
—Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., dissenting, Frank v. Magnum, 1915

When President Obama authorized a drone strike in Yemen that targeted and killed US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, the The New York Times (NYT) described the decision as “extremely rare, if not unprecedented[.]” Less than two-and-a-half years after the first targeted strike against a US citizen, however, and Obama appears poised to make that decision once again. Abdullah al-Shami, the nickname of an otherwise anonymous man alleged to be a top Al-Qaeda terrorist living in Pakistan, is the latest US citizen in the Administration’s cross-hairs. As Glenn Greenwald has written, these strikes against US citizens are being executed “[w]ithout any due process, transparency or oversight[.]” This week’s NYT article by Matt Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt about the potential killing of al-Shami—entitled “U.S. Militant, Hidden, Spurs Drone Debate”—disregard Greenwald’s concerns and focus on an entirely different debate. By avoiding questions about the constitutionality or transparency of drone strikes targeting US citizens, however, the NYT implicitly suggests those issues don’t matter. Here at the Fourth Estate Watch (FEW), we believe they do.

Mazzetti and Schmitt are correct when they state that the decision surrounding al-Shami’s fate “encapsulates some of the thorniest questions raised by the targeted killing program that Mr. Obama has embraced as president,” but their article somehow manages to miss all of them. Crucially, for example, the authors ask “under what circumstances the government may kill American citizens without a trial,” instead of asking whether the government can kill American citizens without a trial. The second question is essential because the Fifth Amendment states that “no person” shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” which generally requires that the accused be afforded the right to examine the evidence against him, the right to counsel, the right to examine witnesses, the right to have his case heard before an impartial tribunal, etc. Under the Obama Administration’s targeted killing program, by contrast, you can be “deprived of life” after a group of anonymous government officials decide to authorize a drone strike against you (which is what happened to al-Awlaki). How, then, can President Obama’s targeted killing of US citizens be said to square with the Fifth Amendment? In the case of al-Shami, the Obama Administration hasn’t even disclosed his real name, notwithstanding Obama’s previous promise of an “unprecedented level of openness in Government.” How can the government be “open” in any meaningful sense if it can authorize a drone strike against a US citizen abroad in near-total secrecy?

Instead of addressing the constitutionality of targeted killings of US citizens, though, the NYT prefers to ask “whether the CIA or the Pentagon ought to be the dominant agency running America’s secret wars[.]” That strikes us as a secondary concern, something far less critical than questions relating to overall credibility and accountability. One of the anonymous U.S. officials interviewed for the article, for example, asserts that “[w]e have clear and convincing evidence that [al-Shami is] involved in the production and distribution of I.E.D.’s” without offering anything concrete in support. Given that the NYT has previously apologized for part of its reporting in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, stating that US government claims about Saddam Hussein were “allowed to stand unchallenged,” one wonders why the paper published the official’s comment about al-Shami without asking for elaboration or corroboration. In 2004 the NYT lamented that “we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims” made by the US government, yet in 2014 the paper seems unable to apply that lesson to the targeted killing of US citizens.


The mistake may have far-reaching implications. If and until journalists begin to question the government aggressively regarding the constitutional concerns over the targeted killing of US citizens, this once-rare event will only proliferate. After all, the NYT itself tells us the debate on whether to kill al-Shami “comes less than a year after Mr. Obama announced new guidelines to tighten the rules for carrying out lethal drone operations” (emphasis ours). Let’s keep in mind that what we are talking about is the US government’s alleged authority to kill a US citizen without offering that person any opportunity to examine evidence, consult counsel, or present their case. That is an extreme proposition, and that it may soon happen twice in under three years should startle everyone. And not only do Obama’s new guidelines not appear to have tightened anything at all, we don’t even know what those guidelines are since they are kept hidden from public scrutiny.

With the targeted killing of US citizens wrapped in so much secrecy, it is perhaps unsurprising that the NYT concludes that “[i]t is unclear what Mr. Obama’s position is on whether Mr. Shami should be targeted.” But perhaps the President need not speak for us to know his position. Given that he has already authorized the targeted killing of one US citizen (al-Awlaki) and that he is currently weighing the decision whether to do so again, it is clear that the President believes the US government can satisfy the Due Process clause of the Fifth Amendment by unilaterally, and in secret, deciding whether a US citizen abroad should be placed on a list for targeted killing. That tells us everything we need to know.

Photojournalism & Socioeconomic Inequality in San Francisco

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Today marks the third installment of our ongoing photojournalism series covering San Francisco. We hope that you enjoy the images, which cover some of the tourist areas near Fisherman’s Wharf and the socio-economic inequality that is rampant in the Mission District (and SF overall).

In additional news, we will be reporting soon on the recent Supreme Court decision that diluted your 4th Amendment rights regarding who can consent to a warrantless consent to your home. It is the latest in a long line of decisions from the Court that progressively dilute defendants’ rights in criminal cases.

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