Friday, September 30, 2011

A string of burglaries outside Chicago have a high-tech twist. The suspects are accused of using Google Maps to pick their targets, and it only took a few clicks.

According to Indian Head Park Police, the group’s leader — Samuel Watson — and his accomplice, Claude White, confessed to typing the search phrase “expensive homes along highways” into Google Maps.

"He took it a step further,” says Curt Novak with Indiana Head Park Police. ”He went to Google Earth, and he was able to zero in with the satellites the homes and streets he wanted to burglarize..."

FaceIN uses two cameras to map a worker's face, converting the width of their cheekbones, depth of their eye sockets, nose shape, and other unique facial features into an ID code. Every day after that, workers punch in by standing in front of a machine that recognizes them after a two-second face scan. Unlike the old-fashioned electronic password, FaceIN promises to tightly monitor when workers come and go, permanently banishing "buddy punching" from the workplace -- the time-honored practice of covering for a co-worker who may be running a few minutes late...

EPIC, joined by other privacy, consumer, and civil liberties groups, which include the American Civil Liberties Union, Consumer Action, American Library Association, and the Center for Digital Democracy asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Facebook. Facebook had been secretly tracking users after they logged off of Facebook’s webpage, and had recently announced changes in business practices that “[gave] the company far greater ability to disclose the personal information of its users to its business partners...” EPIC’s complaint regarding Facebook’s facial recognition is still pending before the FTC...
Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Pentagon has tried all sort of tricks to keep tabs on its foes as they move around: tiny transmitters, lingering scents, even “human thermal fingerprints.” The military calls the effort “Tagging, Tracking, and Locating,” or “TTL.” And, as the strategy in places like Afghanistan has shifted from rebuilding societies to taking out individual insurgents, TTL has become increasingly central to the American effort. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been devoted to it.

The current technologies have their limits, however. Transmitters can be discovered, and discarded. Scents eventually waft away. Even the tagged can get lost in a crowd.

But there are some things that can’t be so easily discarded. Like the shape of your face. Or the feelings you keep inside. That’s why the Army just handed out a half-dozen contracts to firms to find faces from above, track targets, and even spot “adversarial intent.”

“If this works out, we’ll have the ability to track people persistently across wide areas,” says Tim Faltemier, the lead biometrics researcher at Progeny Systems Corporation, which recently won one of the Army contracts. “A guy can go under a bridge or inside a house. But when he comes out, we’ll know it was the same guy that went in.”

Progeny just started work on their drone-mounted, “Long Range, Non-cooperative, Biometric Tagging, Tracking and Location” system...

Didn't take long for us to get to "non-cooperative Biometric tagging". God Help us all.

Biometric security breakthroughs are coming that would let the military capture from a distance an iris and facial scan of an individual and immediately match it to a biometrics-based "Watch List" of suspected terrorists, combatants or criminals.

"Gathering biometrics covertly from a distance — there are dozens of technologies that hold promise," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Mark Swiatek, assistant professor and deputy head, department of philosophy, United States Air Force Academy. "They will be able to be deployed in the next few years."

But the idea of automated killing in war based on "tactical non-cooperative biometrics" in which the military lets "the boxes and systems do all the dirty work" without any real human intervention to make a decision, raises troubling questions, pointed out Swiatek, who spoke at the Biometric Consortium Conference on this topic.

While this high-tech approach in any conflict might well save innocent lives, there's the question of whether such facial and iris-recognition systems have high accuracy rates. And what's high enough to justify mistakes?

"Can we claim proper intention?" Swiatek asked the session audience, noting that even war has philosophical underpinnings that ask for reasoning in what is just in war.

"Human beings always say they didn't mean to do it," said Swiatek, but noted the robotic approach means the intent is programmed into the software. He said such questions need to be carefully answered on both philosophical and legal grounds and perhaps it's time to "slow down the march" of automated war systems.

But the pace of advance might make that hard to do.


A bankruptcy court in New York has approved the sale of customer information, including email addresses, phone numbers, mailing addresses, and birthdates, from Borders to Barnes & Noble, following an earlier determination that the transfer violated Border's privacy policy. The judge has now required that former Borders customers receive an email notification and that the companies place prominent notices on their web sites and take outs ads in USA Today. Customers will have 15 days to opt-out of the transfer...

Whenever you visit a web page that contains a Facebook button or widget, your browser is still sending details of your movements back to Facebook, Cubrilovic says.

"Even if you are logged out, Facebook still knows and can track every page you visit," Cubrilovic wrote in a blog post.

"The only solution is to delete every Facebook cookie in your browser, or to use a separate browser for Facebook interactions..."

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh have developed different forms of facial recognition technology to highlight the positives and negatives of a world without anonymity.

Alessandro Acquisti, an associate professor of information technology and public policy, created an experimental smart phone application that is capable of snapping a photograph of a stranger's face in order to produce that individual's social security number.

The technology matches photographs taken with smart phones with those on Facebook.

Across campus, students at the CyLab Biometrics Centre are developing facial recognition hardware and software to assist police and military in identifying criminals...

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is of the opinion that the government's move to provide citizens with 'Aadhaar' or unique identification numbers in its present form could lead to discrimination.

The NHRC's remarks came in response to views from it sought by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance headed by Yashwant Sinha on National Identification Authority of India Bill introduced last December.

The Bill seeks to establish National Identification Authority of India for issuing 'Aadhaar' numbers to Indian residents to facilitate access to benefits and services.

The Commission was of the view that in the proposed provisions in the bill, the "possibility of discrimination cannot be ruled out" as the bill provides that every resident shall be entitled to obtain an Aadhaar number, but does not say that it would be issued to all citizens.

Emphasising the need for adequate safeguards against discrimination, the Commission noted that the issuance of an Aadhaar number has not been made compulsory under the Bill and residents who do not obtain one may find themselves at a disadvantage vis-a-vis those who do.

"Since the Aadhaar number is to be used and applied 'for delivery of various benefits and services', a citizen who does not have one may be denied access to these, while a resident, who may not be a citizen, would have access if he had obtained an Aadhaar number," the NHRC said...

The incentive program is voluntary. The screening collects personal biometrics such as cholesterol and blood sugar levels, blood pressure, heart rate and Body Mass Index.

The program has touched off a small-scale debate, said Terrel Gallaway, chair of the Faculty Senate.

Some people strongly support the collection of biometrics, as they believe they should not foot medical bills for those with unhealthy lifestyles, Gallaway said.

However, others are concerned about privacy issues and are worried the test is the beginning of more controls to come, Gallaway said.

One of the critics is David Romano, associate professor of political science, who recently penned an editorial in which he argued such wellness efforts are eroding personal liberty as they try to preach certain lifestyles...

As facial recognition technology becomes more prominent, such as on Facebook, serious gaps in privacy and consent are causing privacy professionals to worry.

Use of facial biometrics could affect a wide-range of people. For example, Givens says, protesters could easily be identified at an assembly. Shoppers could be targeted based off of their shopping habits. And customers at banks could be given preferential treatment...

As the world reflects on the decade following September 11th, Freedom not Fear protesters are attempting to reverse the unfortunate post-911 legacy of online anti-privacy measures. In the wake of 9/11, international government responses had significant impact on Internet privacy. The “war on terror” rhetoric enabled one of the most effective international policy laundering campaigns to quickly enact unpopular and often covert policies with minimal fanfare. Within 45 days of 9/11, then-president George W. Bush already sent his much-wanted surveillance wish list to the European Union. In a letter to the European Commission President in Brussels, the United States sets out a blueprint for privacy erosions the EU could undertake that have sacrificed privacy for little gain in the struggle against terrorism.

The letter called on the EU to eliminate existing privacy protections so that online companies would be free to retain their customers’ online activities: “[r]evise draft privacy directives that call for mandatory destruction to permit the retention of critical data for a reasonable period.” What did this proposed revision mean? One of the key European privacy protections is the data minimization principle. This provision compels companies to limit their collection of personal information to a specific purpose [e.g., billing], and keep their data for only a specific period of time before destroying or irreversibly anonymizing it. This helps prevent online companies from developing sweeping databases on their customers’ activities, while the U.S. Government wished to encourage retention of everyone’s data, whether innocent or not, so investigators will have access to it...

To promote its new fall drama “Person of Interest,” CBS Corp. is turning its eye on viewers.

To highlight the show’s theme of citizen-surveillance, CBS is tapping into the trend of interactive billboards, installing one each in New York City and Los Angeles. The window display looks like a mirror, and when passersby stop and turn toward it, sensors zero in on their faces with the notification, “Person of Interest Identified,” followed by “Taking Photo.”

After a count of three, the photo is taken and the person’s face is incorporated into the display. The photo is accompanied by a phone number and identification number to text-message. If the person sends the text, they receive a link to their “classified file” and can post the photo on Facebook or Twitter...
Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Skin markings like scars, birthmarks and tattoos are considered soft biometrics, easily measurable physical characteristics that can change. Tattoos are becoming more common with estimates that approximately 36% of people between 18 and 29 have at least one tattoo. Most are specific to the individual, though many social groups adopt tattoos of similar design to designate membership. This is very common among gang members. Tattoos can give information on social characteristics such as time in prison, number of crimes committed and ethnic affiliations.

Biometric scientists from Michigan State University developed software to aid in photographic tattoo identification. Tattoo images taken by law enforcement can be matched to existing images in photo databases which is much more efficient than a text-based search. The tattoos are matched using complex mathematical algorithms that compare similar characteristics. This allows matching when pictures may be blurred, such as those taken by a surveillance camera. Images are compared based on color, texture and shape of the tattoo.

Existing photo databases can be linked to the software, providing information from law enforcement agencies all over the United States. As of 2009, the system contained 64,000 digital tattoo images obtained from the Michigan State Police...

Lesson: Don't get any tattoos. If you already have some, burn them off!

Surveillance security systems and smart DVRs have come a long way in the past decade with the invention of features such as motion detection, scheduled recording, and live video streaming over the web. The latest development, however, not only surpasses these features in usefulness, but downright puts their technological breakthroughs to shame.

This new concept is similar to an internet search engine, except instead of searching websites, the new feature allows users to search through huge amounts of video, finding results based on soft biometrics such as estimated height, skin and hair color, clothes, and any other feature that make a person stand out from others...

Great news for fans of 'fuzzy math'. "I'm sorry sir, but you match the biometric profile exactly: 6' tall, white, with a beard. You're coming with me."

In the 21st century, parenthood and paranoia often walk hand in hand.

For some, the blessed event is followed by high-tech surveillance — a monitoring system tracks the baby's breathing rhythms and relays infrared images from the nursery. The next investment might be a nanny cam, to keep watch on the child's hired caregivers. Toddlers and grade schoolers can be equipped with GPS devices enabling a parent to know their location should something go awry.

To cope with the uncertainties of the teen years, some parents acquire spyware to monitor their children's online and cell phone activity. Others resort to home drug-testing kits.

Added together, there's a diverse, multi-billion-dollar industry seeking to capitalize on parents' worst fears about their children — fears aggravated by occasional high-profile abductions and the dangers lurking in cyberspace. One mistake can put a child at risk or go viral online, quickly ruining a reputation.


Tracked from birth until adulthood? No thanks, mom!

Amid the cheerleading over recent events in the Middle East, it’s easy to forget the more repressive uses of technology. In addition to the rosy narrative celebrating how Facebook and Twitter have enabled freedom movements around the world, we need to confront a more sinister tale: how greedy companies, fostered by Western governments for domestic surveillance needs, have helped suppress them.

Libya is only the latest place where Western surveillance technology has turned up. Human rights activists arrested and later released in Bahrain report being presented with transcripts of their own text messages — a capacity their government acquired through equipment from Siemens, the German industrial giant, and maintained by Nokia Siemens Networks, based in Finland, and Trovicor, another German company.

Earlier this year, after storming the secret police headquarters, Egyptian activists discovered that the Mubarak government had been using a trial version of a tool — developed by Britain’s Gamma International — that allowed them to eavesdrop on Skype conversations, widely believed to be safe from wiretapping...