PRISM, XKeyscore trawling blamed for family's internet searches leading to a visit from the feds

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Originally published on August 1, 2013

A six-strong police unit investigated a Long Island, New York family after it appeared they had searched the terms "pressure cooker bomb" and "backpack". Initially the family suspected their brush with the law was the result of internet trawling by government agencies. The revelations of America's National Security Agency's PRISM and XKeystone programs have triggered widespread suspicion of how protected ordinary citizens' privacy is.

Michele Catalon wrote about the confrontation her family experienced during the visit. She wrote: "[T]hey were peppering my husband with questions. Where is he from? Where are his parents from? They asked about me, where was I, where do I work, where do my parents live. Do you have any bombs, they asked. Do you own a pressure cooker? My husband said no, but we have a rice cooker. Can you make a bomb with that? My husband said no, my wife uses it to make quinoa. What the hell is quinoa, they asked. ...Have you ever looked up how to make a pressure cooker bomb? My husband, ever the oppositional kind, asked them if they themselves weren't curious as to how a pressure cooker bomb works, if they ever looked it up. Two of them admitted they did. They mentioned that they do this about 100 times a week. And that 99 of those visits turn out to be nothing. I don't know what happens on the other 1% of visits and I'm not sure I want to know what my neighbors are up to." While the family initially thought that the visit was a result of searches on their private computers, the Suffolk County Police Department later issued a statement clarifying the misunderstanding. The statement reads: "Suffolk County Criminal Intelligence Detectives received a tip from a Bay Shore based computer company regarding suspicious computer searches conducted by a recently released employee. The former employee's computer searches took place on this employee's workplace computer. On that computer, the employee searched the terms "pressure cooker bombs" and "backpacks."

After interviewing the company representatives, Suffolk County Police Detectives visited the subject's home to ask about the suspicious internet searches. The incident was investigated by Suffolk County Police Department's Criminal Intelligence Detectives and was determined to be non-criminal in nature. Any further inquiries regarding this matter should be directed to the Suffolk County Police Department."

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