Why you should be worried about facial-recognition technology

It could be time for you to start worrying about what Facebook might be doing with the identity information collected on you and “tagged” photos.

The Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information in Germany has announced legal action against the company and charged that Facebook’s use of facial-recognition technology is illegal.

In addition, the Federation of German Consumer Organizations is ordering Facebook to stop giving third-party applications users’ data without their consent.

If the social network doesn’t do this by Sept. 4, the FGCO will sue. Earlier this month, Norway also announced that it is looking into the legality of the social network’s use of face-matching technology.

Unlike the United States, Germany has regulations that allow Internet users control over their data.

Regarding photo tags, a Facebook spokesperson told CNET: “We believe that the photo tag suggest feature on Facebook is fully compliant with EU data protection laws. During our continuous dialogue with our supervisory authority in Europe, the Office of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner we agreed to develop a best practice solution to notify people on Facebook about photo tag suggest.”
Facebook: facial recognition profiles without user consent

A number of companies – like Facebook, Apple and Google – have facial recognition or detection as an automatic part of various services and apps.

With Apple and Google, users must opt-in, and they can opt-out. While its users can remove tags, Facebook’s facial recognition feature is active by default.

But what happens with that information? It’s not just that Facebook is using facial recognition (biometric data) to increase the worth of its data for sale, trade, or for whatever currency it’s lining litterboxes with in Menlo Park.

In its December 2011 comments the Electronic Privacy Information Center told the Federal Trade Commission:

(…) the Commission should specifically prohibit the use of Facebook’s biometric image database by any law enforcement agency in the world, absent a showing of adequate legal process, consistent with international human rights norms.

Facebook reportedly possessed an estimated 60 billion photos by late 2010, and approximately 2.5 billion photos are uploaded to Facebook each month.

The democratization of surveillance

EPIC’s comments came after the FTC held a day-long forum called “Face Facts: A Forum on Facial Recognition Technology,” focusing on the commercial applications of facial recognition technology and its potential privacy implications.

The “Face Facts” participants came from disparate sides of the discussion. They included FTC attorneys, the Face.com CEO, Facebook’s senior privacy advisor and director, and reps from Google, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, the Center for Democracy and Technology and the ACLU.

Demos were done for participants by Intel AIM Suite (Audience Impression Metrics: a CMS-friendly and API-ready, public-use face detection software product) and Andrew Cummins, self-described strategy expert in tech/defense markets and the chief technology officer of controversial app-maker SceneTap.

There was also a representative from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Interestingly, in 2010 NIST tested various facial recognition systems and found that the best algorithm correctly recognized 92 percent of unknown individuals from a database of 1.6 million criminal records.

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz opened “Face Facts” saying this summit was timely because, “Facebook has launched new facial recognition technology” and that “These sorts of technologies have already taken hold in law enforcement and the military; in that area, they are as controversial as they are interesting.”

I’m not sure if his use of a clip from the Tom Cruise film Minority Report in his opening remarks was meant to be ironic or not. Perhaps Mr. Leibowitz misses working for the MPAA (where he was chief lobbyist until being tapped for the FTC by George W. Bush in 2004).

Leibowitz did say, “We must confront openly the real possibility that these technologies, if not now, then soon, may be able to put a name with the face, so to speak, and have an impact on our careers, credit, health, and families.”

The Face Facts meeting raised an alarm for privacy organizations; Privacy Rights Clearinghouse director Beth Givens stated outright that there is insufficient public awareness about all aspects of facial recognition tech, and zero auditing mechanisms in place for any entity using the technologies.

Six months after the FTC meeting, Facebook acquired one of the biz-dev side participants, Face.com.

It’s clear that after meetings and summits, even with good intentions for privacy protections, regulators like the FTC are merely only still on the outside looking in.

Ties between video profiling in private and government sectors more murky than ever

Back in July at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing Senator Al Franken said, “Facebook may have created the world’s largest privately held database of face prints without the explicit knowledge of its users.”

Franken continued to link the holes in citizen protections and stressed implications with the then-new Federal Bureau of Investigation facial-recognition pilot program.

Franken stated that any law-enforcement gains from the program could come at a high cost to civil liberties. “The FBI pilot could be abused to not only identify protesters at political events and rallies, but to target them for selective jailing and prosecution, stifling their First Amendment rights,” he said.

Think about the implications of facial recognition profiles on social media sites along with current trends in cybersecurity legislation hysteria.

Remember CISPA? The surveillance bill would have given Homeland Security a backdoor pass to access your email, private information and social network data without a warrant or notice if it fit into a plan to stop “cybersecurity” threats. CISPA would have made it so that Facebook would be completely unrestricted (say, by your rights) to cooperate with Homeland Security to the fullest extent.

Just in the past few weeks, information has surfaced from a Wikileaks leak of private intelligence documents that the purpose of a surveillance product called TrapWire is to combine various intelligent surveillance technologies with tracking and location data, individual profile histories from various sources (datamining and social media), and image data analysis (such as facial recognition; TrapWire’s video component) to monitor people under the guise of threat detection.

TrapWire is a commercial product sold to and implemented by private entities, the US Government “and its allies overseas.”

Too little FTC, too late?

Facial recognition technologies are no longer held back from commercial sectors by high costs and poor accuracy and are quickly becoming directed at recording faces in public places and business establishments, rather than only online.

The FTC had impressed the point that the avenue of interest for “Face Facts” would solely address commercial uses and does not address the use of facial recognition technologies for security purposes or by law enforcement or government actors.

Right now there is nothing that requires any private entity to provide the individual with notice that facial recognition information is being collected, or the duration of the period in which the information will stored, or used.

There is nothing preventing private entities (businesses, app developers, data brokers or advertisers) from selling, trading, or otherwise profiting from an individual’s biometric information – or from disclosing or disseminating the information without obtaining the individual’s consent or pursuant to a valid warrant or subpoena.

It will be interesting to see how Facebook handles its newest privacy problem in Germany.

View Source

Americans Shot in Mexico Were C.I.A. Operatives Aiding in Drug War

The two Americans who were wounded when gunmen fired on an American Embassy vehicle last week were Central Intelligence Agency employees sent as part of a multiagency effort to bolster Mexican efforts to fight drug traffickers, officials said on Tuesday.

The two operatives, who were hurt on Friday, were participating in a training program that involved the Mexican Navy. They were traveling with a Mexican Navy captain in an embassy sport utility vehicle that had diplomatic license plates, heading toward a military shooting range 35 miles south of the capital when gunmen, some or all of them from the Federal Police, attacked the vehicle, Mexican officials have said.

The Mexican Navy said Tuesday in a statement that an American was driving the vehicle and that during the attack the captain, who was handling logistics and translating for the men, remained in the back seat calling for help on his cellphone.

The men were wounded, the Navy said, when the rain of bullets managed to tear through the car’s protective armor. It was unclear if the Americans, who officials said were unarmed, were specifically targeted, if the shooting was a case of mistaken identity or if there was some other reason that the vehicle was ambushed. Mexican prosecutors have detained 12 federal police officers and have said no theory can be ruled out.

The C.I.A. declined to comment. But American officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information, said no evidence had emerged so far that the Americans were targeted because of their affiliation.

American investigators are working with Mexican authorities to determine what happened and whether the police officers involved were corrupt.

The notion that a squad of federal police officers would attack an embassy car could be another blow to the developing trust and cooperation between American counternarcotics personnel and their Mexican partners.

Through programs like the $1.6-billion Merida Initiative, the United States has spent millions of dollars on training and equipping the federal police.

Eric Olson, an expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute in Washington, said the shooting could only sow some doubts about the police, and at best pointed to a lack of communication among Mexico’s military and the police.

“This seems to suggest there isn’t better communication between the various elements of the Mexican government,” he said. “One fundamental issue is the lack of trust.”

In his first public comments on the shooting, President Felipe Calderón, speaking Tuesday at a security forum attended by the American ambassador, Anthony Wayne, promised a thorough investigation.

“Be it from negligence, lack of training, lack of trust, complicity, these acts cannot be permitted and they are being investigated absolutely rigorously,” Mr. Calderón said.

The presence of C.I.A. employees, and indeed all American operatives, on Mexican soil has long been a prickly subject here.

In his nearly six years in office, Mr. Calderón has allowed a much larger role for American counternarcotics operations, including the use of unarmed American drones deep in Mexican territory. C.I.A. operatives and retired American military personnel have also worked with American law enforcement agencies and the Mexican military on training and intelligence-gathering.But Mexico has ruled out allowing the Americans to carry out arrests or deploy troops on its soil, and even their limited role has provoked a political outcry over whether the nation’s sovereignty has been put in jeopardy.

Lawmakers, instigated by the left, have hauled Mexican government officials before Congress for sometimes testy hearings and after the newspaper La Jornada first reported the C.I.A. involvement on Tuesday, some politicians said they would ask for a thorough explanation of the American role here.

“It’s is time to speak clearly and for us to know what institutions are intervening in what specific way in our country in regard to security,’ said Iris Vianey Mendoza, a senator from the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution.

The office of Enrique Peña-Nieto, who won Mexico’s presidential election in July and has promised to maintain close ties with American law enforcement agencies, declined to comment.

The shooting was reminiscent of an attack on American immigration and customs agents last year in which one was fatally shot and another wounded when their embassy sport utility vehicle was ambushed on a highway north of Mexico City. A Mexican man was extradited and is awaiting trial on murder charges in Washington.

This latest episode has caused Mexicans to reflect on the quality of the federal police force, which had achieved growing respect but which has been tarnished by recent corruption scandals.

“The thing that really worries me,” said Gabriel Guerra, a political analyst who has worked with the three major parties here, “is that we are seeing the unraveling of what was supposed to be the main achievement in the fight against organized crime, which was the creation of a trustworthy national police.”

View Source

Motorola Trade Secrets Thief Gets 4 Years

A Chinese-born American convicted of stealing trade secrets from Motorola was sentenced Wednesday to 4 years in prison in a case that prosecutors hoped would send a message to those who might be tempted to siphon vital information from U.S. companies.

Hanjuan Jin, who worked as a software engineer for Motorola Inc. for nine years, was stopped during a random security search at O’Hare International Airport on Feb. 28, 2007, before she could board a flight to China. Prosecutors say she was carrying $31,000 and hundreds of confidential Motorola documents, many stored on a laptop, four external hard drives, thumb drives and other devices.

U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo found Jin guilty in February of stealing trade secrets but acquitted her of more serious charges of economic espionage, explaining that the evidence fell short of proving she stole the information on behalf of a foreign government or entity.

Prosecutors alleged that among the secrets she carried were descriptions of a walkie-talkie type feature on Motorola cellphones that prosecutors argued would have benefited the Chinese military.

Jin’s lawyers say the naturalized U.S. citizen was not an agent of China and took the files merely to refresh her knowledge after a long absence from work. They asked the judge for probation and said in a court filing last week that “Jin has overwhelming remorse and regret” for her actions and “continues to suffer from the collateral consequences of her admittedly poor choice.”

After her conviction, prosecutors said they hoped the ruling would send a message that such crimes come with heavy penalties. They said they also hoped the trial would demonstrate to U.S. companies that they can report such crimes and not risk their trade secrets being revealed in court.

Prosecutors say the former University of Notre Dame graduate student began downloading files at her Chicago-area Motorola office after returning from an extended medical leave just a few days earlier.

During the trial, prosecutor Christopher Stetler told the court that Jin “led a double life” as a seemingly loyal company worker who was actually plotting to steal her employer’s secrets.

Even before returning to Motorola to download files over the several days in February 2007 prosecutors say Jin had already begun working for China-based Sun Kaisens, a telecommunications firm that government attorneys say develops products for China’s military.

But the defense insisted Jin harbored no ill intent and merely grabbed the files to refresh her technical knowledge after her long absence from work. They also said prosecutors overvalued the technology in question, saying the walkie-talkie feature is no longer cutting edge and would have been of little military value.

In his February ruling, Judge Castillo wrote that the government hadn’t met several requirements to prove economic espionage, including clearly demonstrating that Jin knew the materials she stole could benefit China or its military.

Jin was allowed to remain free pending Wednesday’s sentencing, though she had to wear electronic monitoring and was confined to her Aurora home.

View Source

How future criminals could hack your brain and steal your PIN

“Brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs — sounds like a fictional cyberpunk creation, the stuff of virtual reality,” says DJ Pangburn at Death and Taxes. “Not so.” BCI controllers are very real, and use your brainwaves to control onscreen action in things such as video games. Companies like Emotiv sell them off the shelf, and the technology is starting to gain traction. But now, scientists are warning that these mind-reading headsets could one day be used to glean your personal information, potentially giving hackers access to your PIN, or the location of your home. Yep, says Gregory Ferenstein at TechCrunch, it’s “super creepy.” Here’s what you should know:

How do these brain-computer interfaces work?
BCI controllers sit on your head and read your brain’s electrical activity with an electroencephalograph, or EEG. While the devices can’t read your exact thoughts, hands-free controllers like the $300 product sold by Emotiv distinguish between two brain states: Relaxed and concentrating. Essentially, it’s like playing a video game with only one button (which some players find underwhelming). BCIs also have medical applications, and are frequently used to gather neuro-feedback on things like sleep disorders, epilepsy, driver alertness, and more, says Death and Taxes’ Pangburn.

How can they be used steal personal information?
A joint paper authored by researchers from the University of Oxford, University of Geneva, and UC Berkeley demonstrated how Emotiv’s headset can be used to extract information like a PIN. Researchers used the BCI controller to zero in on a specific brain-wave signal called P300, which spikes anytime the wearer sees something he recognizes, like a picture of his mother, or his Social Security number. In this experiment, the study’s administrators showed participants pictures of things like President Obama, their home locations, their birth month, and possible PINs while simultaneously monitoring P300′s activity.

What did the researchers find?
By monitoring brainwaves while participants were shown such pictures and numbers, researchers could correctly guess the first digit of a participant’s PIN 20 percent of the time, “the regional location of their home 30 percent, birth month 60 percent, and the bank branch of their ATM 30 percent,” says TechCrunch’s Ferenstein. Obviously, that’s not the greatest success rate, “but it’s much quicker and closer than trying to simply guess a 16-digit credit card number or home address,” says Ben Weitzenkorn at Security News Daily. With a little more refinement, researchers think brain-hackers could score more accurate results.

But in practice, how would hackers steal my PIN?
Imagine a hacker gains access to your gaming network while you’re hooked up to a brain-computer interface. He briefly flashes PIN combinations onto the screen, and remotely monitors your P300 signal. Implausible, yes. But such a scheme would at least increase the hacker’s odds of correctly guessing your PIN. Indeed, “as brain-wave reading technologies become more pervasive, it appears we will inadvertently leave ourselves vulnerable to a new security threat,” says Ferenstein: “Mind hacking.”

View Source

140 Passengers Stranded Aboard Trains to J.F.K.

About 140 rail passengers heading to or from Kennedy International Airport were stranded for hours on Saturday evening and had to walk beside the tracks to the nearest station, after a computer malfunction caused the AirTrain system to shut down. The trains run on an elevated platform high over the Van Wyck Expressway in Queens.

The service problems began at 5:33 p.m., and service was finally restored at 10:18 p.m., according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the service. In all, three two-car trains were stranded.

“It was a terrible experience,” said a passenger named Danielle, 30, who had flown in from Pittsburgh and was stranded for more than two hours as she tried to get home to Lynbrook, N.Y. “They didn’t give us any information about what was happening. Then the air conditioning shut down.” She declined to use her last name because she is a city employee and not authorized to talk to the news media, she said.

Passengers on two trains had to walk nearly a mile. Officers from the authority’s emergency response unit led the way with flashlights, and others stood at posts along the way to ask if anyone needed help.

Steven Robert Smith, who was visiting from London, said the train’s public address system told passengers only that they would be moving shortly, and later, that agents were on the way. But none arrived, he said.

Tensions mounted, and soon, the temperature in the train did the same.

Mr. Smith said he pushed an emergency intercom button to get information, “but even after repeatedly pressing, nobody would speak to us. It was now getting warm, and near an hour and a half of waiting.”

Steve Coleman, a Port Authority spokesman, said that personnel from Bombardier Inc., which built and operates the AirTrain service under a contract with the Port Authority, handles such calls, not Port Authority employees. The complaints about a slow response and inadequate communication echo similar criticisms directed at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority after the blizzard of December 2010, when riders on an A train were stuck for hours because the authority “forgot about” them, as the president of New York City Transit, Thomas F. Prendergast, admitted in a City Council hearing last year.

Mr. Coleman said “as soon as we became aware that there were stranded passengers, we dispatched Port Authority Police to evacuate them from the trains.”

The computer malfunction was eventually traced to a loose wire in the main computer, Mr. Coleman said. The AirTrain carries 50,000 riders each day, he said.

Mr. Coleman said that Bombardier did not tell the authority that trains were stranded until an hour and 45 minutes after the problem started, “which goes against the protocol.”

The authority then sent its police officers to evacuate the trains and dispatched 19 buses to replace the train service, Mr. Coleman said.

Joseph Osterman, director of operations and maintenance for Bombardier, said he spoke with the Port Authority a half-hour after the shutdown, but did not know what time he told the authority that trains were stranded. He also said the company was still looking into what messages were communicated to passengers.

Read more

37% of Adults Approve of Snooping Through Texts

Have you ever scrolled through your partner’s text messages or emails? Maybe listened into their voicemails? You’re not alone. More that a third of Americans who took part in a survey conducted by an online dating site said suspicious behavior warrants electronic snooping.

More women than men said it was ok to spy; in fact 37% said spying on a significant other is acceptable if ‘bad behavior’ is suspected. Only 29% of males agreed with that statement.

Interestingly, age comes into play here. Thirty-six percent of adults aged 18 to 34 approve of electronic snooping, while only 26% of adults over the age of 55 do.

The survey of over 2,000 adults conducted for OurTime.com revealed a little more about people’s dating habits. It turns out people over the age of 55 think it’s okay to date more than one person at a time. Not so the younger generation. Only 41% of adults ages 18 to 34 felt dating more than one person at a time was all right.

The survey also reveals people are slightly more selective and cautious when choosing a partner these days. Only half of women between 18 and 34 are willing to date someone with health issues, and that figure decreases with the age of the respondent.

Read more

Good immigrant, bad immigrant

According to a recent study on U.S. perceptions, immigrants from Latin America are the worst.

The Internet is abuzz with the findings from a recent University of Cincinnati study which takes a look at stereotypes about immigrants from four global regions. The study reveals, according to its researchers, that American stereotypes about Latin American immigrants are unrelentingly negative, and beliefs about them are strongly tied to the perceived deleterious impact immigrants have on the U.S. quality of life.

The study asked respondents in Ohio — a region with a relatively small percentage of foreign-born population — to evaluate Asian, European, Middle Eastern and Latin American immigrants according to this criteria: Rich or poor; intelligent or unintelligent; self-sufficient or dependent on government assistance; trying to fit in or keeping separate from Americans; violent or nonviolent.

Latin American immigrants rated at the bottom in all. We’re tied with Middle Eastern immigrants in terms of being viewed as the most violent and not wanting to fit in; and we’re perceived as being the poorest, the most likely to be on the dole and the stupidest.

European immigrants — no surprise here — were judged to fit in better, and Asians were viewed more positively than any other group.

Respondents in the study were also asked to respond to the likelihood that immigrants had an impact on the following: higher levels of unemployment; lower quality schools; difficulty keeping the country united; higher levels of crime; terrorist attacks in the U.S.

According to the researchers, respondents of the study did not link their beliefs about the traits of Asian, Middle Eastern or European immigrants to their views on the impact of immigration. Stereotypes of Latin American immigrants, however, are “large and robust, especially regarding attitudes about the impact of immigration on unemployment, school quality and crime,” according to researchers.

Some who have written about the study have pointed to the connection with entertainment industry portrayals and there is validity to this claim. Nearly every time a Latino is shown on a mainstream TV show or movie it seems it is in the role of maid, landscaper, undocumented worker, drug dealer, gang member or appallingly stupid trophy wife. This is how a large swath of homogeneous middle America feels they know us.

Others have laid the blame squarely on the news media, alleging — not without merit — that the vast majority of stories that make headlines involve unauthorized immigration, or cartel violence, or some other image that reinforces the stereotypes the study points out.

What the University of Cincinnati study points out is stark and simple: many Americans don’t know us, and don’t think they want to know us.

To them, Latino is synonymous with undocumented. State governments wage wars of attrition against us, and the federal government deports us in record numbers. The Republican Party shores up its platform planks against us (as Kris Kobach reportedly has done in advance of the Republican National Convention this coming week), and “illegal” has become an epithet applied indiscriminately.

Even when we’re uncontestably documented, our public figures and role models are criticized for not being up to standard. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, for example, has been characterized as less intellectually rigorous than her colleagues during her confirmation hearings. And even Sen. Marco Rubio — long spoken about as a possible vice-presidential pick by Mitt Romney — was drawn as a more-flash-than-substance candidate by academics tracking the race.

There is no quick fix to the stereotypes people have about us — only hard work to refute them. We cannot cede our voice in this — we have to tell the stories about Latinos that those study respondents need to hear.

And we have to vociferously call out the criticisms that rest not on actual actions or accomplishments but on assertions of second-class brains and first-class inadequacy.

We have to. Because as the study makes abundantly clear, no one is going to give us the benefit of the doubt otherwise.

Read more

Gunman Dies After Killing at Empire State Building

The sidewalks in Midtown Manhattan were swarming with the morning crush of office workers, and crowds of tourists were already pushing their way into one of the world’s most famous buildings. Around the corner, in the shadow of the Empire State Building, stood a 58-year-old man wearing a suit and carrying a black canvas bag. Inside the bag, the police said, was a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun.

The man, Jeffrey T. Johnson, lurked behind a van parked outside the drab office building that houses the apparel importer that had laid him off almost two years ago. When Mr. Johnson spotted Steven Ercolino, a sales executive at the company who was on his way to work, he made his move.

Mr. Johnson, an office rival of Mr. Ercolino’s who the police said held Mr. Ercolino responsible for the loss of his job, pulled out the gun, fired at Mr. Ercolino five times, put the gun away and calmly walked off, trying to blend into the crowd as Mr. Ercolino lay bleeding on the sidewalk.

Mr. Johnson turned the corner onto Fifth Avenue. A few feet ahead were the shiny front doors of the Empire State Building — and two police officers who had been alerted to the shooting by a construction worker.

From about eight feet away, the officers confronted Mr. Johnson and when he pulled out his gun, they opened fire, shooting a total of 16 rounds. Mr. Johnson was killed and nine bystanders were wounded, perhaps all by police bullets.

The gunfire echoed outside one of New York’s must-see tourist destinations, where visitors were already riding the elevators to the observation decks nearly a quarter-mile up. Suddenly, on the streets below, there was pandemonium: Frightened passers-by were dashing into nearby stores and diving behind racks of merchandise. Construction workers were running for cover. Passengers on buses rumbling down Fifth Avenue were yelling, “Get down, get down.”

“It was like nothing I’d ever heard in my life,” said Joseph Cohen, 27, who was buying coffee in a fast-food restaurant across Fifth Avenue from the Empire State Building. He said he assumed “it was balloons popping or something” until he saw the commotion on Fifth Avenue — and Mr. Johnson’s body lying on the sidewalk.

Of those hit or grazed by bullets, eight were New Yorkers, their ages ranging from 21 to 56. The ninth was a 35-year-old woman from Chapel Hill, N.C. They were taken to NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell hospital and Bellevue Hospital Center, where officials said their wounds were not life-threatening. Six of the nine had been treated and released by Friday night, the police said.

The Police Department’s chief spokesman, Paul J. Browne, said one witness had told investigators that Mr. Johnson had fired at the two officers, “but we don’t have ballistics to support that.” Mr. Browne said “it’s possible” that the officers had shot him before he could return fire.

One officer fired seven times, the other nine times, Mr. Browne said.

Mr. Johnson, 58, and Mr. Ercolino, 41, had a long history of antagonism. They had scuffled in an elevator in April 2011, after Mr. Johnson lost his job at the company. They took their grievance to the Midtown South police station, arriving within 15 minutes of each other, Mr. Browne said. He said that Mr. Johnson claimed Mr. Ercolino had threatened him and that Mr. Ercolino claimed Mr. Johnson had threatened him.

Mr. Ercolino was shot at 9:03 a.m. and Mr. Johnson “minutes later,” Mr. Browne said.

Witnesses said that as Mr. Johnson stepped out from behind a van parked in front of the building where Hazan Imports has its office, at 10 West 33rd Street, he gave no indication of what was about to unfold.

One witness, Darrin Deleuil, said he saw Mr. Ercolino fall to the ground and rushed over to help him up, not realizing he had been shot. “A guy with a briefcase just came and just stood right over him and just kept shooting him — boom, boom, boom,” Mr. Deleuil said.

“He looked right at me,” he said, but never turned the gun on him. “He wanted every bullet for that guy.”

Read more

ICE agents sue own agency over deferred deportations

A group of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents sued their own agency Thursday, arguing that the Obama administration is not letting them fully identify and deport illegal immigrants.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano says her department does not have the manpower or money to deport the 11 million illegal immigrants in the USA, so she issued a memorandum last year ordering immigration officials to focus their efforts on dangerous illegal immigrants. In June, Obama announced a program that will allow up to 1.7 million illegal immigrants brought to the USA as children to have deportations deferred for at least two years.

The 10 ICE agents suing Napolitano and ICE Director John Morton say those directives violate the Constitution and federal immigration law. “We are federal law enforcement officers who are being ordered to break the law,” said Chris Crane, an ICE agent and president of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, a union for ICE employees. “This directive puts ICE agents and officers in a horrible position.”

ICE spokesman Ross Feinstein did not comment on the lawsuit but said more than half of the nearly 400,000 illegal immigrants deported in 2011 had been convicted of crimes, the largest number in the agency’s history. He said that shows the decision to focus on the most dangerous illegal immigrants is a policy that works, and June’s decision to defer deportation for young illegal immigrants enhances that strategy.

A spokesman for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that Obama may have overstepped his authority by ordering the deportation deferments and that Romney would forge a long-term solution with Congress to replace Obama’s “stop-gap measure.”

“The courts will have to sort this out, but this kind of uncertainty is unacceptable as these young people brought here as children are seeking clarity on their long-term status,” spokesman Ryan Williams said.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in a Dallas federal court, requests that a judge strike down the two directives and protect the agents from any retribution for their lawsuit.

The lawsuit is funded by NumbersUSA, a group that proposes lower levels of legal and illegal immigration, and the attorney is Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of State, who has helped Arizona and Alabama craft strict anti-illegal-immigration laws. His work on this lawsuit is not part of his official state duties.

The lawsuit was supported by some Republican lawmakers who have criticized Obama’s immigration policy as “backdoor amnesty.”

“These agent’s mission is to keep our borders secure, but the head of their agency is directing them otherwise, telling them to undermine their missions and contradict immigration law,” said Sen. David Vitter, R-La.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said the program actually helps ICE officials by allowing them to focus on the most dangerous illegal immigrants. “Deferred action is a major boost to law enforcement who do not have to waste time on honor students and can do the harder work of actually tracking down and deporting criminals,” he said.

Read more

Would-be good Samaritans inadvertently allow robbery suspect to escape

Two people driving down West Front Street together on Monday morning apparently thought they were doing the right thing when they leaped out of their vehicle and rushed to the defense of what appeared to be a man assaulting a woman, authorities said.

There was just one problem: The woman actually had just robbed the man with whom she was tussling, and the would-be good Samaritans inadvertently allowed her to get away, according to city Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig.

The female suspect remained at large as of late Monday.

“The two (passing motorists) were not involved (in the robbery),” Hellwig said. “They were released and have not been charged.”

About 12:30 a.m. Monday, police responding to a report of a robbery in progress on the 500 block of West Front Street found the victim, a 26-year-old male who lives nearby, authorities explained. The victim reported that he was attacked by an unknown female as he was walking down the street, then robbed of about $400 in cash and a gold chain valued at about $500, according to Hellwig.

The victim said he tried to prevent his assailant from leaving the area, engaging her in a physical struggle, when the passing motorists apparently intervened, restraining him but not assaulting him, Hellwig said. The female suspect, spotting an opening, turned and ran, first trying unsuccessfully to hail a taxi before running down Plainfield Avenue, according to the investigation.

The victim attempted to pursue but soon lost sight of her, Hellwig added. After police arrived, the man provided a description of the motorists’ vehicle — a small, white Honda — and a vehicle matching that description was pulled over shortly thereafter.

The would-be good Samaritans, a 21-year-old city male and a 26-year-old city female, then relayed their story to investigators. Elements of the story were confirmed when video surveillance footage from a nearby gas station was located and reviewed, Hellwig said, adding that the entire situation was complicated by the fact that the victim was intoxicated and spoke limited English.

The footage included clear images of the female suspect and the robbery, Hellwig added, noting that investigators are making progress toward identifying and locating the suspect. The robbery victim was shaken but did not require hospitalization, authorities said.

Read more