Reason Roundup

Federal Aircraft Accused of Tracking Protesters

Plus: Breonna’s Law bans no-knock raids in Kentucky, Amazon's third-party problem, new findings on metabolism, and more...


Protest surveillance. Law enforcement planes and helicopters were flown over protests in D.C., Las Vegas, and Minneapolis last week, sparking fears that the authorities were using federal tools to track and intimate protesters and capture their cellphone data.

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives have now sent a letter to leaders of the FBI, the National Guard Bureau, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) expressing dismay at whatever was going on.

"We demand that you cease any and all surveilling of Americans engaged in peaceful protests," the letter says. "The First Amendment protects the right of Americans to assemble and protest government actions. Further, the Fourth Amendment protects '[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons…against unreasonable searches and seizures,' a restriction that applies to the agencies you lead."

The letter cites press reports that:

• the FBI and National Guard flew RC-26B aircraft equipped with infrared and electro-optical cameras over Washington, D.C. and Las Vegas;

• the FBI may have flown Cessna 560 aircraft equipped with 'dirtboxes,' equipment that can collect cell phone location data, over Washington, D.C.;

• the CBP flew Predator drones that collected and disseminated live video feeds over Minneapolis, San Antonio,and Detroit; and

• the DEA was granted broad authority to "conduct covert surveillance" over protesters responding to the death of George Floyd.

The representatives add that there's past evidence that federal agencies "have used other technologies to surveil Americans, such as Stingrays, which mimic cell towers to collect location, call, text, and browsing data of nearby cellular devices; facial recognition technology; and automated license plate readers."

The letter was signed by 37 Democratic members of Congress—many of whom have their own not-so-great histories with privacy and First Amendment issues, but we'll leave that for another time.

"The FBI has not specifically confirmed or denied the use of aircraft to surveil protests," says CNN. When asked, the bureau told CNN it has been "focused on identifying, investigating, and disrupting individuals that are inciting violence and engaging in criminal activity." In addition:

The National Guard confirmed to [Sen. Chris] Murphy that an RC-26B surveillance aircraft, operated by the West Virginia Air National Guard, was involved in responding to protests in the DC area but that such flights have since been suspended, according to a Senate staffer with direct knowledge of the situation.

"The national guard confirmed that it was air national guard and that it was an aircraft out of Lester, West Virginia. But the Department of Defense has not given any more information," the staffer told CNN, adding that the directive to hcalt these flights was made after lawmakers raised questions. Early appearances of surveillance flights began as early as May 29 when flight data shows a US Customs and Border Protection MQ-9 Predator B making a hexagonal pattern at 22,000 feet above Minneapolis where Floyd was killed days earlier.

In a letter to Congress, the Department of Homeland Security said that the unpiloted drone "was preparing to provide live video to aid in situational awareness at the request of our federal law enforcement partners in Minneapolis," but when "no longer needed for operational awareness" returned to base in North Dakota. The letter did not say which agency initially requested the flights.

Customs and Border Protection has been using the remotely piloted Predator B since 2005, agency documents show, "to safely conduct missions in areas that are difficult to access or otherwise too high-risk for manned aircraft or CBP ground personnel."


"The European Union is planning formal antitrust charges against Amazon," reports The Wall Street Journal. The charges are said to come from the site's treatment of third-party sellers—an issue that U.S. lawmakers and attorneys general have been hyping up lately too.

The meat of these claims is that Amazon prioritizes its own goods over those from third parties in customer searchers, and that it sometimes attempts to undercut these sellers by offering lower prices or somehow using third-party seller data. It's like getting mad that grocery stores offer lower-priced, store-brand versions of name-brand goods and give their own food brands better placement on store shelves.

In short, it's a silly thing to fuss over. If you want to be mad at Amazon, here's a better reason: A lot of people aren't buying the company's moratorium on letting police use its facial recognition tech. "This is nothing more than a public relations stunt," said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, in a statement.

See also, from Reason's Ron Bailey: "Microsoft and Amazon Adopt Temporary Bans on Police Use of Their Facial Recognition Tech. That's Not Nearly Enough."


New nutrition secrets unlocked? An interesting new study of metabolism from King's College London looks at how different people's bodies clear fat and sugar from their blood following meals. The results, published in Nature Medicine, are part of a larger ongoing nutritional study. "Despite wide variation in metabolic responses between participants, results from identical meals eaten on different days showed that individual responses to the same foods were remarkably consistent for each person," notes a press release from the university.

Lead researcher Sarah Berry, a nutrition lecturer at King's College, said in a statement:

We found that the increase in fat and glucose in our blood after eating a meal initiates an inflammatory response which differs hugely between individuals. Dietary and lifestyle strategies to reduce prolonged elevations in blood fat and glucose may therefore be a useful target to reduce low grade inflammation, and help prevent people from developing low-grade inflammatory conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Some additional findings:

• The optimal time to eat for nutritional health also depends on the individual rather than fixed "perfect" mealtimes. The researchers found that some people clearly metabolised food better at breakfast while others saw no difference.

• Optimal meal composition in terms of fat, carbohydrates, proteins and fibre (macronutrients) is also highly individual, so prescriptive diets based on fixed macronutrient ratios are too simplistic and will not work for everyone. For example, a sensitive glucose responder may need to reduce carbohydrates whereas someone else may be able to eat these freely.


• With Breonna's Law, Louisville has banned no-knock raids like the one that killed Breonna Taylor.

• Michigan Libertarian Rep. Justin Amash's bill to end qualified immunity, already co-sponsored by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D–Mass.), now has a Republican co-sponsor, Rep. Tom McClintock of California. This makes it a rarity: a tripartisan piece of legislation.

• European policing is under scrutiny too.

• "As the protests continue across the United States, we risk finding ourselves lost in the same pattern of unproductive behaviors that have long plagued the country. An obsession with modes of racial protests rather than with the meaning of them belies an unwillingness to face the flaws they expose in the nation's ability to live up to its ideals and fulfill its obligations to the citizenry," writes Theodore R. Johnson in a very good piece for National Review.

• Protest update:

• "City officials have not interacted with 'armed antifa militants' at this site, but will continue to be on site to monitor the situation closely," Seattle city spokesperson Lori Patrick told CNN, referring to the new Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.

• An immigrant rights group says that 100 percent of the people detained at an Ohio jail have tested positive for COVID-19.

• Check out Reason TV's video on Only Fans:

• Actor Zachary Levi continues to stand up for third parties:

• How trendy hotels are coping with the pandemic.