That might be a drug investigator's only recourse when he's entering a case blind, Fakhoury says. But he contends it's also a way to cheat defendants out of their right to due process. It's like searching someone's house, finding the evidence you need, and then securing a warrant to return to the house and collect the evidence.

Fakhoury finds that prospect unsettling. "I get that we all want to throw terrorists and bad guys and murderers and drug dealers in jail," he says. "But are we really gonna just let the police do whatever they want?"

And, as judges weigh in differently on the constitutionality of the Hemisphere program, it could wind up undermining the very cases it helped build. Defendants in the U.S. v. Ortiz case sent their own subpoena to Metro PCS, AT&T, and the Hemisphere Project, demanding to see all correspondence between the telecom companies and various law enforcement agencies related to the 500 Block gang. If those documents reveal some kind of handshake deal that allowed prosecutors to obtain records without due process, then down the line, pieces of evidence could get excised.

More troubling, still, is the notion that law enforcement could use Hemisphere to monitor nonviolent networks — such as protest movements or Occupy groups. Taken out of the Drug War context, the program could, in fact, grease any type of investigation that involves a confederation of people with an agenda — it doesn't have to be violent, or even criminal. As Eckenwiler points out, a tool doesn't always come with instructions on how to use it. "A hammer can be used to drive nails into someone's house," he says, "or to bash someone's head in. The hammer itself doesn't distinguish."

The 500 Block Gang was an outcropping of the Cypress Park Locos, a Norteño clan that formed around a cluster of South San Francisco housing projects during the 1980s. Internal spats led several members to secede and create 500 Block.

Joseph Ortiz, whose street name was "Little Vicious," was initiated into the gang at age 11, in 2001. He was the youngest member of 500 Block dynasty. Ortiz's father, Michael — aka "Blackie" — was one of the original C Street members, according to the federal indictment. His older brother, Michael Ortiz Jr. — aka "Vicious" — also joined in 2001, but was "jumped out" in 2008 due to drug addiction. (The elder Vicious remained closely associated with the gang even after his membership was revoked.) Ortiz's mother, Tanya Rodriguez, aka "La China," and aunt Betty Ortiz also ran with 500 Block, and helped Joseph Ortiz evade police after the 2010 murders.

In other words, the 500 Block Gang was a close-knit group of family and friends who'd all grown up around the same housing project, and who came together to form an enterprise. It had antecedents in the criminal underworld, but it also operated like a small corporation, with a fairly solid cash-flow scheme and an intractable chain of command. According to court documents, the bulk of 500 Block's business was racketeering, which requires a high level of plotting and coordination — and scores of phone calls. Local and federal investigators initially sought phone records to figure out who was calling whom, and how often; they secured a wiretap to prove that the calls were facilitating a conspiracy rather than a conversation between friends.

One of the reasons wiretaps tend to be so useful for busting gangs or crime networks is that the criminals involved spend quite a lot of time talking on the phone. Finding an effective way to listen in on those calls is the only way to get unambiguous proof of a conspiracy in real time. It's a form of fly-on-the-wall surveillance that eats up months or years but isn't as risky as interrogating a snitch or busting a door down.

"Most gangs rely on a very communication-intensive pipeline for their operation," Eckenwiler says. And, he adds, much of that is done over the phone.

Investigators figured out how to intercept telephone communications almost as soon as the telephone was invented, in the 19th century, and U.S. courts spent much of the 20th century carving out rules for this powerful form of surveillance. In 1979, the Supreme Court ruled that an electronic searching device called a pen register — which traces all the phone numbers called from a particular line — didn't require a warrant under the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unlawful search and seizure.

Thus, the call data collected by phone companies isn't constitutionally protected.

Though it seemed like a blip in constitutional history, that case — Smith v. Maryland — paved the way for an increasingly surveillance-oriented culture. And it only amplified after 9/11, which begat the Patriot Act, which gave the Justice Department leeway to dip into business records and sweep through e-mail in the name of protecting national security. Federal and state governments spent much of the next decade strengthening their power to spy or gather intelligence. And because the resulting spate of security laws coincided with the advent of social media, American citizens had already grown accustomed to being watched. Many of us had already begun assiduously broadcasting our lives to acquaintances — and advertisers — so the idea that cops could also be privy to it didn't seem that far afield.

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What is VERY key about this article is - like every other policing "innovation" tried out on the worst-of-the-worst™ in "extremely limited" situations, it will inevitably become the routine go-to tool in law enforcement's quiver.

You can't invest millions without trying to amortize its costs. You can't justify these vast sums for "only" less than a score of worst-of-the-worst™ bad guys. You can't get additional funds - or even keep an existing program running at current levels - without new worst-of-the-worst™ bad guys to target. Or even, meh-of-the-meh college protesters, former Occupiers or folks unsure whether gentrification should be allowed to be an unrestrained hurricane stripping San Francisco's soul bare with nary a complaint or picket.

Remember a decade past when we'd see armored police using military tactics and armored personnel carriers to perform the simplest tasks and think, "What a horrible country; lucky it's not here."? Now everyone -or someone's grandmother next door - potentially abusing a Medical Marijuana permit faces these full-throttle, military-grade tactics. Same with Asset Forfeiture laws. Coming soon, same with aerial drones. Etc. 

Today it's a bunch of crack-dealing, meth-slinging murderers. The very same Hemisphere technology will DEFINITELY be used for the next protest, the next net-based defense of the next Edward Snowden or the next peaceful demonstration suggesting perhaps - just perhaps - the needs and concerns of us 99% might also be considered when setting policies and enacting laws.

Nip it now, before it's you in its crosshairs.


This technology successfully helped send three SF murderers to prison for life... They are detailed in a previous story by the SFWeekly entitled "The Dark Prince".  The whole story can be found at Until Someone Gets Hurt dot com.  If it helps puts the bad guys away, then I say use it!!!

Federale topcommenter

LOL, liberals and immigrant drug gangs working together to spread drugs and crime.  

Prachi Singh
Prachi Singh

Arpan Bajaj I thought this was you for a sec hahah


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