Google Pressure Cookers, Backpacks? The Feds Would Like A Word

The simple act of searching Google for pressure cookers or backpacks may have once seemed innocent (and explainable as back to school shopping looms), but one family who did both in a small time frame found six scary federal agents at their door.

How and what we Google has been a creeping source of fear for many Americans after the details of the NSA’s spying programs were leaked weeks back, but sometimes it can feel a bit abstract and not so much something that will measurably affect us as individual Americans, right?

Maybe wrong. The Atlantic carries a scary tale of a couple who googled pressure cookers and backpacks innocently, separately — and found that the joint terrorism forces came a knocking when the searches pinged some security alert program or other.

Actually, the fact that the visit happened is probably the least worrisome or even most reassuring bit of this unsettling story — consider the alternative. Had it not happened, we’d be more blissfully unaware that such benign searches (boring even) would set off any alarms at all.

But that’s exactly how it went down. Writer Michele Catalano explains that yesterday, the unexpected visit from the feds interrupted an otherwise boring midsummer day — she begins:

“It was a confluence of magnificent proportions that led six agents from the joint terrorism task force to knock on my door Wednesday morning. Little did we know our seemingly innocent, if curious to a fault, Googling of certain things was creating a perfect storm of terrorism profiling. Because somewhere out there, someone was watching. Someone whose job it is to piece together the things people do on the internet raised the red flag when they saw our search history.”

Catalano describes what happened next:

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“What happened was this: At about 9:00 am, my husband, who happened to be home yesterday, was sitting in the living room with our two dogs when he heard a couple of cars pull up outside. He looked out the window and saw three black SUVs in front of our house; two at the curb in front and one pulled up behind my husband’s Jeep in the driveway, as if to block him from leaving… Six gentleman in casual clothes emerged from the vehicles and spread out as they walked toward the house, two toward the backyard on one side, two on the other side, two toward the front door.”

She concludes:

“All I know is if I’m going to buy a pressure cooker in the near future, I’m not doing it online… I’m scared. And not of the right things.”

Catalano’s Google pressure cookers and backpacks tale is worth a read from start to finish, if only to understand the actual scope of such programs and how you yourself could soon be the one waking up to jackbooted webcrawlers one sleepy morning.