Tag Archive: Privacy


Within the next year or two, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will instantly know everything about your body, clothes, and luggage with a new laser-based molecular scanner fired from 164 feet (50 meters) away. From traces of drugs or gun powder on your clothes to what you had for breakfast to the adrenaline level in your body—agents will be able to get any information they want without even touching you.

And without you knowing it.

The technology is so incredibly effective that, in November 2011, its inventors were subcontracted by In-Q-Tel to work with the US Department of Homeland Security. In-Q-Tel is a company founded “in February 1999 by a group of private citizens at the request of the Director of the CIA and with the support of the U.S. Congress.” According to In-Q-Tel, they are the bridge between the Agency and new technology companies.

Their plan is to install this molecular-level scanning in airports and border crossings all across the United States. The official, stated goal of this arrangement is to be able to quickly identify explosives, dangerous chemicals, or bioweapons at a distance.

The machine is ten million times faster—and one million times more sensitive—than any currently available system. That means that it can be used systematically on everyone passing through airport security, not just suspect or randomly sampled people.

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A new surveillance camera by Hitachi Kokusai Electric can look at footage that contains an image of someone, either still or video, and then search other video or still images on file for other instances of that same face. In so doing, it can search, process and display up to thirty six million faces in just one second. Each hit is displayed immediately in its native format, i.e. still or video, in thumbnail form, which its makers say, allows the camera to display the actions of a person prior to, or even after, being seen by the surveillance camera. All they need do is click on the thumbnail to watch the video play.

As one example, if a person walks into a convenience store and robs the cashier, if his or face is captured by a video camera, police could use that imagery to search for that same face in prior video recorded by the store to see if that person has been to the store before, and if so, if they left any clues as to who they might be, by say, using a credit card to pay for purchase. Similarly, the same face could be searched in a much larger database of still or video that the police have stockpiled from surveillance cameras from other places, allowing them to see, almost instantly, if that person has been caught on tape at any other point in time doing anything that might help lead to an arrest, such as trying to pawn stolen merchandise. Perhaps more interestingly, the system can be used to scan for that face in a large crowd. It will look at each individual face in every scene in a video for a match.

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The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has quietly released details of plans to continuously monitor the global output of Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, offering a rare glimpse into an activity that the FBI and other government agencies are reluctant to discuss publicly. The plans show that the bureau believes it can use information pulled from social media sites to better respond to crises, and maybe even to foresee them.

The information comes from a document released on 19 January looking for companies who might want to build a monitoring system for the FBI. It spells out what the bureau wants from such a system and invites potential contractors to reply by 10 February.

The bureau’s wish list calls for the system to be able to automatically search “publicly available” material from Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites for keywords relating to terrorism, surveillance operations, online crime and other FBI missions. Agents would be alerted if the searches produce evidence of “breaking events, incidents, and emerging threats”.

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Sopa and e-Parasite

Sopa and e-Parasite aim to tackle online piracy by preventing Google and Yahoo from directing users to sites distributing stolen material. Photograph: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Congressional leaders are preparing to shelve controversial legislation aimed at tackling online piracy after president Barack Obama said he would not support it.

California congressman Darrell Issa, an opponent of Sopa, the Stop Online Piracy Act, said he had been told by House majority leader Eric Cantor that there would be no vote unless there is consensus on the bill.

“The voice of the internet community has been heard. Much more education for members of Congress about the workings of the internet is essential if anti-piracy legislation is to be workable and achieve broad appeal,” said Issa.

The news is a major blow for Sopa’s backers in Hollywood, who had enjoyed broad support in Congress. But the Motion Pictures Association of America, one of the bill’s biggest sponsors, said it would continue to press for new laws. “The failure to pass meaningful legislation will result in overseas websites continuing to be a safe haven for criminals stealing and profiting from America,” the MPAA said in a blogpost.

The tech community has fought hard to stop Sopa and a rival bill, Protect IP, also known as the Enforcing and Protecting American Rights Against Sites Intent on Theft and Exploitation Act, or the e-Parasite act. Websites including Reddit and Wikipedia are planning to “go dark” on Wednesday in protest against the legislation. Issa said he remained concerned about Protect IP, which will go before the Senate on 24 January.

But both bills now look severely damaged after the White House came out firmly against their biggest proposals at the weekend.

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By harnessing the vast wealth of publicly available cloud-based data, researchers are taking facial recognition technology to unprecedented levels

“I never forget a face,” goes the Marx Brothers one-liner, “but in your case, I’ll be glad to make an exception.”
Unlike Groucho Marx, unfortunately, the cloud never forgets. That’s the logic behind a new application developed by Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College that’s designed to take a photograph of a total stranger and, using the facial recognition software PittPatt, track down their real identity in a matter of minutes. Facial recognition isn’t that new — the rudimentary technology has been around since the late 1960s — but this system is faster, more efficient, and more thorough than any other system ever used. Why? Because it’s powered by the cloud.

More than 60 years ago, in his “Foundation” series, the science fiction novelist Isaac Asimov invented a new science — psychohistory — that combined mathematics and psychology to predict the future.

Now social scientists are trying to mine the vast resources of the Internet — Web searches and Twitter messages, Facebook and blog posts, the digital location trails generated by billions of cellphones — to do the same thing.

The most optimistic researchers believe that these storehouses of “big data” will for the first time reveal sociological laws of human behavior — enabling them to predict political crises, revolutions and other forms of social and economic instability, just as physicists and chemists can predict natural phenomena.

“This is a significant step forward,” said Thomas Malone, the director of the Center for Collective Intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “We have vastly more detailed and richer kinds of data available as well as predictive algorithms to use, and that makes possible a kind of prediction that would have never been possible before.”

The government is showing interest in the idea. This summer a little-known intelligence agency began seeking ideas from academic social scientists and corporations for ways to automatically scan the Internet in 21 Latin American countries for “big data,” according to a research proposal being circulated by the agency. The three-year experiment, to begin in April, is being financed by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, or Iarpa (pronounced eye-AR-puh), part of the office of the director of national intelligence.

The automated data collection system is to focus on patterns of communication, consumption and movement of populations. It will use publicly accessible data, including Web search queries, blog entries, Internet traffic flow, financial market indicators, traffic webcams and changes in Wikipedia entries.

It is intended to be an entirely automated system, a “data eye in the sky” without human intervention, according to the program proposal. The research would not be limited to political and economic events, but would also explore the ability to predict pandemics and other types of widespread contagion, something that has been pursued independently by civilian researchers and by companies like Google. More here.

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