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Writer claims online searches for pressure cookers and backpacks earned her a visit from the feds

Writer claims online searches for pressure cookers and backpacks earned her a visit from the feds

Professional writer Michele Catalano searched online Tuesday for information on pressure cookers while (at around the same time) her husband was Googling backpacks.

The next morning, she claims they got a visit from a joint terrorism task force.

“The composition of such task forces depend on the region of the country,” Philip Bump writes in The Atlantic, “but, as we outlined after the Boston bombings, include a variety of federal agencies. Among them: the FBI and Homeland Security.”

Catalano describes the scene:

[T]hey were peppering my husband with questions. Where is he from? Where are his parents from? They asked about me, where was I, where do I work, where do my parents live. Do you have any bombs, they asked. Do you own a pressure cooker? My husband said no, but we have a rice cooker. Can you make a bomb with that? My husband said no, my wife uses it to make quinoa. What the hell is quinoa, they asked. …

Have you ever looked up how to make a pressure cooker bomb? My husband, ever the oppositional kind, asked them if they themselves weren’t curious as to how a pressure cooker bomb works, if they ever looked it up. Two of them admitted they did.

Obviously, this raises a serious question: how did the feds know what Catalano and her husband were looking for online?

Remember, since the beginning of the NSA scandal, the U.S. government has fiercely denied claims that they collect data on American citizens.

The U.S. government is not “allowed to spy on Americans – although there are exceptions of which it takes advantage,” the Atlantic notes. “Its PRISM program, under which it collects internet content, does not include information from Americans unless those Americans are connected to terror suspects by no more than two other people.”

So how did the so-called joint terrorism task force know about Catalano?

“It’s possible that one of the two of them is tangentially linked to a foreign terror suspect, allowing the government to review their internet activity,” the report continues.

“After all, that ‘no more than two other people’ ends up covering millions of people. Or perhaps the NSA, as part of its routine collection of as much internet traffic as it can, automatically flags things like Google searches for ‘pressure cooker’ and ‘backpack’ and passes on anything it finds to the FBI,” it adds.

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