Saturday, October 8, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Protester Privacy

It isn't hard to see why the Occupy Wall Street movement got started. Outrage over massive fraud committed by huge companies, combined with a government that protects them from prosecution, then takes money from innocent taxpayers and gives it to those same fraudster institutions is hard to contain.

The goals of the Occupy Wall Street movement are not clear at this early stage, and they may never be clearly defined. Certainly there will be some demands that are a step in the wrong direction, but there may be some demands that would be a positive change. So far, the movement is peaceful. No matter what they are protesting, peaceful protest is not always safe. The Occupy Wall Street protesters, Tea Party protesters, and any other peaceful protesters around the world, can use a few simple tactics to protect themselves and be more successful.

Peaceful Occupy Wall Street Protests Upsets Powerful People

Like all who oppose the ruling class, Occupy Wall Street protesters face serious danger to their finances, freedom, and even physical safety. Unjust imprisonment, unfounded criminal charges, potentially unwarranted fines and financial control are all possible tactics of a justice system loyal to financial crooks.

Occupy Wall Street Needs Strategy

While some protesters welcome the opportunity for political martyrdom, offering themselves up to be arrested, others would rather take a more strategic approach to promoting massive change. For those looking for an effective strategy, a very powerful tactic includes protecting the identity of protesters. Anonymity can be an effective tool to protect many protesters from unjust pressure.

Why Privacy Is Important To Protect Peaceful Occupy Wall Street Demonstrators

There are several elements that show why privacy is key to protect peaceful demonstrators.

Police Funded By Target Of Protest

First, JP Morgan, one of the main subjects of protester outrage, has donated millions of dollars to the NYPD. This donation will help provide better surveillance software for the NYPD to use, presumably on Occupy Wall Street demonstrators. It is no small stretch to think that police, as benefactors of such largesse, might be more inclined to protect their wealthy patron rather than the public. Thus, the Occupy Wall Street protesters may be subject to unjust actions by police.

Electronic Surveillance Is More Cost Effective Crowd Control

Second, the brute force being used to police the protesters is costing millions of dollars. With the expectation that the protests will grow in size, the financial cost to police will become enormous, even if funded by Wall Street bankers. Electronic surveillance is much more effective and efficient to protect the Wall Street bankers from the Occupy Wall Street protesters. The donation of JP Morgan and simple economics will push the police to use alternative tactics, such as electronic surveillance and control of cell phones, bank accounts, credit cards, and more, to control Occupy Wall Street.

Police Already Brutalizing Protesters

Third, the police have already begun using unjust tactics to injure or arrest innocent people. After corralling a small peaceful assembly of people on a public sidewalk, officers used pepper spray on them without any justification. In another incident, police guided protesters from a pedestrian area (where protesters could legally be) to lanes of vehicle traffic (where protesters supposedly could not legally be) and arrested them en masse.

Types Of Electronic Surveillance

What kind of electronic surveillance might law enforcement conduct?

Cell Phone Surveillance

Law enforcement can get many cell phone records without a warrant. They can either ask the phone company for the records, claiming it is part of a criminal investigation, or they can hijack cell phone service and collect the information themselves. This could reveal the identities of many of the people who have cell phones at the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. Those individuals could then be singled out for other types of selective enforcement of laws.

Facial Recognition

Police might use visual surveillance and facial recognition to identify individuals in the crowd. Police could then prompt protesters to J-walk, litter, smoke a cigarette within 20 feet of a doorway, or commit some other action that is captured by surveillance cameras and citations issued by mail. Citations are annoying enough, but failure to pay them could lead to more serious jail time, bigger fines, and other financial problems.

This kind of crowd surveillance has been used before. In Colorado in 2006, protesters gathered in the hundreds to voice their support for relaxed marijuana rules. Cameras scanned the crowd, later police offered $50 to identify individuals in the photos, and issued citations for trespassing, among other things. 5 years later, facial recognition technology may make it much easier for police to identify numerous Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.

Financial Blockade

Protesters that are identified by visual or electronic surveillance could be made known to the various financial institutions that people depend on. Protesters could see their Visa, Master Card, bank accounts or Paypal accounts frozen, payments refused, or services denied. Those organizations accepting donations for the Occupy Wall Street movement could also see a similar financial blockade.

These kinds of financial blockades have been used before. Visa and Mastercard stopped processing donations to Wikileaks and Paypal froze their account, causing serious financial trouble for the activist website. Paypal is notorious for freezing accounts for arbitrary reasons.

To Prevent The Crippling Effects Of Surveillance, Protect Privacy

To prevent potentially crippling pressure, protesters in any movement can follow a few simple tactics.

Stop Cell Phone Surveillance

To stop cell phone surveillance, buy a pre paid cell phone with cash and use that to communicate while at the protests. Otherwise, remove the battery of your cell phone or leave it at home. There will be no way for law enforcement to surreptitiously collect the data from your phone if you do.

Prevent Facial Recognition Software

To stop visual surveillance, wear a hoodie, hat and sunglasses to the protest. In places where masks and face paint are not illegal, they can also be used to prevent facial recognition. This may not apply in New York where there are laws making wearing a mask or face paint illegal.

Use Cash, Gold, Silver and Bitcoin

To prevent financial blockades, people can use cash, gold and silver to trade in person. Be careful using gold and silver as a medium of exchange. The capital gains tax on gold and silver is very high (28%) so using it may actually cause you to owe taxes that will go to bailing out the very banks that are being protested. For anonymous online transfers, Bitcoin may be a viable option. It not only protects the identity of users, but Wikileaks uses it to accept donations in spite of the financial blockade of the formal banking system.


Protecting privacy protects peaceful protesters of any cause. Smart strategy is needed to prevent financial blockades, unjust police action and other tools that could be used to cripple protest movements. Using these privacy tactics and others in the book How To Vanish can help peaceful people avoid unjust actions from law enforcement around the country and around the world.

Reprinted with permission from How to Vanish.

October 7, 2011

Bill Rounds, J.D. is a California attorney. He holds a degree in Accounting from the University of Utah and a law degree from California Western School of Law. He practices civil litigation, domestic and foreign business entity formation and transactions, criminal defense and privacy law. He is a strong advocate of personal and financial freedom and civil liberties.

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