surveillance

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Massachusetts governor won’t sign police reform bill with facial recognition ban

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has returned a police reform bill back to the state legislature, asking lawmakers to strike out several provisions — including one for a statewide ban on police and public authorities using facial recognition technology, the first of its kind in the United States.

The bill, which also banned police from using rubber bullets and tear gas, was passed on December 1 by both the state’s House and Senate after senior lawmakers overcame months of deadlock to reach a consensus. Lawmakers brought the bill to the state legislature in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer, later charged with his murder.

Baker said in a letter to lawmakers that he objected to the ban, saying the use of facial recognition helped to convict several criminals, including a child sex offender and a double murderer.

In an interview with The Boston Globe, Baker said that he’s “not going to sign something that is going to ban facial recognition.”

Under the bill, police and public agencies across the state would be prohibited from using facial recognition, with a single exception to run facial recognition searches against the state’s driver license database with a warrant. The state would be required to publish annual transparency figures on the number of searches made by officers going forward.

The Massachusetts House voted to pass by 92-67, and the Senate voted 28-12 — neither of which were veto-proof majorities.

The Boston Globe said that Baker did not outright say he would veto the bill. After the legislature hands a revised (or the same) version of the bill back to the governor, it’s up to Baker to sign it, veto it or — under Massachusetts law, he could allow it to become law without his signature by waiting 10 days.

“Unchecked police use of surveillance technology also harms everyone’s rights to anonymity, privacy, and free speech. We urge the legislature to reject Governor Baker’s amendment and to ensure passage of commonsense regulations of government use of face surveillance,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

A spokesperson for Baker’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Russian surveillance tech startup NtechLab nets $13M from sovereign wealth funds

NtechLab, a startup that helps analyze footage captured by Moscow’s 100,000 surveillance cameras, just closed an investment of more than 1RUB billion ($13 million) to further global expansion.

The five-year-old company sells software that recognizes faces, silhouettes and actions on videos. It’s able to do so on a vast scale in real time, allowing clients to react promptly to situations It’s a key “differentiator” of the company, co-founder Artem Kukharenko told TechCrunch.

“There could be systems which can process, for example, 100 cameras. When there are a lot of cameras in a city, [these systems] connect 100 cameras from one part of the city, then disconnect them and connect another hundred cameras in another part of the city, so it’s not so interesting,” he suggested.

The latest round, financed by Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, and an undisclosed sovereign wealth fund from the Middle East, certainly carries more strategic than financial importance. The company broke even last year with revenue reaching $8 million, three times the number from the previous year, ane expects to finish 2020 at a similar growth pace.

Nonetheless, the new round will enable the startup to develop new capabilities such as automatic detection of aggressive behavior and vehicle recognition as it seeks new customers in its key markets of the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Latin America. City contracts have a major revenue driver for the firm, but it has plans to woo non-government clients, such as those in the entertainment industry, finance, trade and hospitality.

The company currently boasts clients in 30 cities across 15 countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) bloc, Middle East, Latin America, Southeast Asia and Europe.

These customers may procure from a variety of hardware vendors featuring different graphic processing units (GPUs) to carry out computer vision tasks. As such, NtechLab needs to ensure it’s constantly in tune with different GPU suppliers. Ten years ago, Nvidia was the go-to solution, recalled Kukharenko, but rivals such as Intel and Huawei have cropped up in recent times.

The Moscow-based startup began life as a consumer software that allowed users to find someone’s online profile by uploading a photo of the person. It later pivoted to video and has since attracted government clients keen to deploy facial recognition in law enforcement. For instance, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russian government uses NtechLab’s system to monitor large gatherings and implement access control.

Around the world, authorities have rushed to implement similar forms of public health monitoring and tracking for virus control. While these projects are usually well-meaning, they inspire a much-needed debate around privacy, discrimination, and other consequences brought by the scramble for large-scale data solutions. NtechLab’s view is that when used properly, video surveillance generally does more good than harm.

“If you can monitor people quite [effectively], you don’t need to close all people in the city… The problem is people who don’t respect the laws. When you can monitor these people and [impose] a penalty on them, you can control the situation better,” argued Alexander Kabakov, the other co-founder of the company.

As it expands globally, NtechLab inevitably comes across customers who misuse or abuse its algorithms. While it claimed to keep all customer data private and have no control over how its software is used, the company strives to “create a process that can be in compliance with local laws,” said Kukharenko.

“We vet our partners so we can trust them, and we know that they will not use our technology for bad purposes.”

CBP says it’s ‘unrealistic’ for Americans to avoid its license plate surveillance

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has admitted that there is no practical way for Americans to avoid having their movements tracked by its license plate readers, according to its latest privacy assessment.

CBP published its new assessment — three years after its first — to notify the public that it plans to tap into a commercial database, which aggregates license plate data from both private and public sources, as part of its border enforcement efforts.

The U.S. has a massive network of license plate readers, typically found on the roadside, to collect and record the license plates of vehicles passing by. License plate readers can capture thousands of license plates each minute. License plates are recorded and stored in massive databases, giving police and law enforcement agencies the ability to track millions of vehicles across the country.

The agency updated its privacy assessment in part because Americans “may not be aware” that the agency can collect their license plate data.

“CBP cannot provide timely notice of license plate reads obtained from various sources outside of its control,” the privacy assessment said. “Many areas of both public and private property have signage that alerts individuals that the area is under surveillance; however, this signage does not consistently include a description of how and with whom such data may be shared.”

But buried in the document, the agency admitted: “The only way to opt out of such surveillance is to avoid the impacted area, which may pose significant hardships and be generally unrealistic.”

CBP struck a similar tone in 2017 during a trial that scanned the faces of American travelers as they departed the U.S., a move that drew ire from civil liberties advocates at the time. CBP told Americans that travelers who wanted to opt-out of the face scanning had to “refrain from traveling.”

The document added that the privacy risk to Americans is “enhanced” because the agency “may access [license plate data] captured anywhere in the United States,” including outside of the 100-mile border zone within which the CBP typically operates.

CBP said that it will reduce the risk by only accessing license plate data when there is “circumstantial or supporting evidence” to further an investigation, and will only let CBP agents access data within a five-year period from the date of the search.

A spokesperson for CBP did not respond to a request for comment on the latest assessment.

CBP doesn’t have the best track record with license plate data. Last year, CBP confirmed that a subcontractor, Perceptics, improperly copied license plate data on “fewer than 100,000” people over a period of a month-and-a-half at a U.S. port of entry on the southern border. The agency later suspended its contract with Perceptics.

Messaging app ToTok is reportedly a secret UAE surveillance tool

Messaging app ToTok is reportedly a secret UAE surveillance tool

Just in time for Christmas, here’s a friendly reminder that technology isn’t always your friend.

Popular messaging app ToTok has been removed from the iOS App Store and Google Play Store, and if you have it on your phone you should probably remove it from there too. U.S. officials and a New York Times investigation published on Sunday found the app to be a spying tool for the United Arab Emirates, making it much less benign than it initially appears.

ToTok was released on July 27, and quickly grew in popularity in the U.A.E. Other messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Skype are blocked in the country, so users were thrilled to have a free, functional alternative. The app quickly spread to other Middle Eastern countries and then the rest of the world, even trending in the U.S App Store.  Read more…

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NSA triples metadata collection numbers, sucking up over 500 million call records in 2017

The National Security Agency revealed a huge increase in the amount of call metadata collected, from about 151 million call records in 2016 to more than 530 million last year — despite having fewer targets. But officials say nothing is different about the year but the numbers.

A transparency report issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence shows numerous other fluctuations in the volume of surveillance conducted. Foreign surveillance-related, warrantless Section 702 content queries involving U.S. persons jumped from 5,288 to 7,512, for instance, and more citizens were “unmasked,” indicating a general increase in quantity.

On the other hand, the number of more invasive pen register/trace and tap orders dropped by nearly half, to 33, with even fewer targets — far less than the peak in 2014, when 135 orders targeted 516 people.

The biggest increase by far is the number of “call detail records” collected from service providers. Although the number of targets actually decreased from the previous year, from 42 to 40, the number of call records jumped from 151 million to 534 million, and search terms from 22,360 to 31,196.

Call detail records are things like which numbers were called and when, the duration of the call and so on — metadata, no content. But metadata can be just as revealing as content, since it can, for example, place a person near the scene of a crime, or establish that two people were connected even if the conversation they had was benign.

What do these increases mean? It’s hard to say. A spokesperson for the ODNI told Reuters that the government “has not altered the manner in which it uses its authority to obtain call detail records,” and that they “expect this number to fluctuate from year to year.” So according to them, it’s just a matter of quantity.

Because one target can yield hundreds or thousands of incidental sub-targets — people connected to the target whose call records will be requested and stored — it’s possible that 2017’s targets just had fatter, longer contact lists and deeper networks than 2016’s. Needless to say this explanation is unsatisfying.

Although the NSA’s surveillance apparatus was dealt a check with the 2013 Snowden leaks and subsequent half-hearted crackdowns by lawmakers, it clearly is getting back into its stride.

How to covertly toss an apartment, Stasi style

In 1984, the Stasi — East Germany’s notorious secret police — searched the flat of an auditor to determine if he’d leaked files that put the country in a bad light to Stern, a West German magazine, published in Hamburg. They recorded the clandestine search for posterity, and used it as the basis for a training video explaining to other secret police operatives how to search a dissident’s home without alerting them that they were under suspicion. (via Grugq)

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Senate Republicans introduce resolution ensuring ISPs don't need your permission to sell your private data and SSN

Donald Trump’s new FCC boss, Ajit Pai, has nuked an Obama-era rule that banned ISPs from selling off your browsing data, location, financial and health information, children’s information, Social Security Number and contents of your messages, without your permission. The now-defunct rule also required ISPs to notify you when they got hacked and your sensitive personal information got out into the wild.
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New settlement allows civilian review of NYPD surveillance

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Residents of New York City are on their way to having new oversight of their police department’s counterterrorism operations, which often includes surveillance. 

A new settlement filed Monday would permit a civilian representative to report police to a judge whenever the representative feels officers violate guidelines that restrict how far police can go in monitoring religious and political groups. The lawsuit stems from NYPD surveillance of Muslims, some of whom sued the city over that surveillance in 2013.

The representative will also be privy to how the NYPD runs its surveillance investigations, and will be allowed to stick around until the NYC mayor gets court approval to remove the person. The deal still needs to get final approval from U.S. District Judge Charles Haight.  Read more…

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Uber uses data-mining to identify and block riders who may be cops, investigators or regulators

Greyball is Uber’s codename for a program that tries to predict which new signups are secretly cops, regulators or investigators who could make trouble for the company, deployed in “Boston, Paris and Las Vegas, and in countries like Australia, China and South Korea” where the company was fighting with the authorities.
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This robot spy dog is like 'Westworld' for animals

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If it looks like a dog, walks like a dog, and barks like a dog, it’s a robot built to spy on real dogs by making those dogs trust it so much they don’t realize their entire lives are being recorded. 

Surveillance, Westworld-style! 

In order to get a better understanding of how wild dogs do wild dog things, the folks at PBS’ Spy in the Wild put a life-like creature out in the, uh, wild, and waited for other wild dogs to come sniffing. 

The robot, equipped with 24 moving parts, cocks its head and stretches and yips just like you’d expect a wild dog to, and its flesh-and-blood counterparts don’t seem to be able to tell the difference. Aside from the lifeless eyes, “spy pup” is kinda cute.  Read more…

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This robot spy dog is like 'Westworld' for animals

TwitterFacebook

If it looks like a dog, walks like a dog, and barks like a dog, it’s a robot built to spy on real dogs by making those dogs trust it so much they don’t realize their entire lives are being recorded. 

Surveillance, Westworld-style! 

In order to get a better understanding of how wild dogs do wild dog things, the folks at PBS’ Spy in the Wild put a life-like creature out in the, uh, wild, and waited for other wild dogs to come sniffing. 

The robot, equipped with 24 moving parts, cocks its head and stretches and yips just like you’d expect a wild dog to, and its flesh-and-blood counterparts don’t seem to be able to tell the difference. Aside from the lifeless eyes, “spy pup” is kinda cute.  Read more…

More about Westworld, Robot, Surveillance, Spy In The Wild, and Spy

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This robot spy dog is like 'Westworld' for animals

TwitterFacebook

If it looks like a dog, walks like a dog, and barks like a dog, it’s a robot built to spy on real dogs by making those dogs trust it so much they don’t realize their entire lives are being recorded. 

Surveillance, Westworld-style! 

In order to get a better understanding of how wild dogs do wild dog things, the folks at PBS’ Spy in the Wild put a life-like creature out in the, uh, wild, and waited for other wild dogs to come sniffing. 

The robot, equipped with 24 moving parts, cocks its head and stretches and yips just like you’d expect a wild dog to, and its flesh-and-blood counterparts don’t seem to be able to tell the difference. Aside from the lifeless eyes, “spy pup” is kinda cute.  Read more…

More about Westworld, Robot, Surveillance, Spy In The Wild, and Spy

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Have your devices and social media been invasively searched at the US border? EFF wants to know about it

After the chaos of the Muslim ban, EFF activists are worried that the TSA’s existing policy of invasive data-collection at the border may be getting even worse. They’re looking for stories from everyone, but especially citizens and green card holders.
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After shutting down to protect user privacy, Lavabit rises from the dead

In 2013, Lavabit — famous for being the privacy-oriented email service chosen by Edward Snowden to make contact with journalists while he was contracting for the NSA — shut down under mysterious, abrupt circumstances, leaving 410,000 users wondering what had just happened to their email addresses.

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Remembering the SOPA blackout, five years later

Five years ago, we won an unprecedented victory: spurred on by blackouts of more than 50,000 sites, more than 8 million Americans called Congress to object to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a brutal internet censorship bill that would have been a stake through the heart of the open net. SOPA, which had been tipped to sail through Congress without any fuss, died an unprecedented death. It set a precedent.
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