Privacy News Articles
Below are key excerpts of revealing news articles on privacy and mass surveillance issues from reliable news media sources. If any link fails to function, a paywall blocks full access, or the article is no longer available, try these digital tools.
The United States government has been secretly amassing a "large amount" of "sensitive and intimate information" on its own citizens, a group of senior advisers informed Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence. The government effort to accumulate data revealing the minute details of Americans' lives [is] described soberly and at length by the director's own panel of experts in a newly declassified report. The report states that the government believes it can "persistently" track the phones of "millions of Americans" without a warrant, so long as it pays for the information. It is often trivial "to deanonymize and identify individuals" from data that was packaged ... for commercial use. Such data may be useful, it says, to "identify every person who attended a protest or rally based on their smartphone location or ad-tracking records." Such civil liberties concerns are prime examples of how "large quantities of nominally 'public' information can result in sensitive aggregations." What's more, information collected for one purpose "may be reused for other purposes," which may "raise risks beyond those originally calculated," an effect called "mission creep." "In the wrong hands," [Office of the Director of National Intelligence] advisers warn, the same mountain of data the government is quietly accumulating could be turned against Americans to "facilitate blackmail, stalking, harassment, and public shaming." These are all offenses that have been committed by intelligence agencies and White House administrations in the past.
A young African American man, Randal Quran Reid, was pulled over by the state police in Georgia. He was arrested under warrants issued by Louisiana police for two cases of theft in New Orleans. The arrest warrants had been based solely on a facial recognition match, though that was never mentioned in any police document; the warrants claimed "a credible source" had identified Reid as the culprit. The facial recognition match was incorrect and Reid was released. Reid ... is not the only victim of a false facial recognition match. So far all those arrested in the US after a false match have been black. From surveillance to disinformation, we live in a world shaped by AI. The reason that Reid was wrongly incarcerated had less to do with artificial intelligence than with ... the humans that created the software and trained it. Too often when we talk of the "problem" of AI, we remove the human from the picture. We worry AI will "eliminate jobs" and make millions redundant, rather than recognise that the real decisions are made by governments and corporations and the humans that run them. We have come to view the machine as the agent and humans as victims of machine agency. Rather than seeing regulation as a means by which we can collectively shape our relationship to AI, it becomes something that is imposed from the top as a means of protecting humans from machines. It is not AI but our blindness to the way human societies are already deploying machine intelligence for political ends that should most worry us.
U.S. citizens are being subjected to a relentless onslaught from intrusive technologies that have become embedded in the everyday fabric of our lives, creating unprecedented levels of social and political upheaval. These widely used technologies ... include social media and what Harvard professor Shoshanna Zuboff calls "surveillance capitalism"—the buying and selling of our personal info and even our DNA in the corporate marketplace. But powerful new ones are poised to create another wave of radical change. Under the mantle of the "Fourth Industrial Revolution," these include artificial intelligence or AI, the metaverse, the Internet of Things, the Internet of Bodies (in which our physical and health data is added into the mix to be processed by AI), and my personal favorite, police robots. This is a two-pronged effort involving both powerful corporations and government initiatives. These tech-based systems are operating "below the radar" and rarely discussed in the mainstream media. The world's biggest tech companies are now richer and more powerful than most countries. According to an article in PC Week in 2021 discussing Apple's dominance: "By taking the current valuation of Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and others, then comparing them to the GDP of countries on a map, we can see just how crazy things have become… Valued at $2.2 trillion, the Cupertino company is richer than 96% of the world. In fact, only seven countries currently outrank the maker of the iPhone financially."
The secret contract was finalized on Nov. 8, 2021, a deal between a company that has acted as a front for the United States government and the American affiliate of a notorious Israeli hacking firm. Under the arrangement, the Israeli firm, NSO Group, gave the U.S. government access to one of its most powerful weapons — a geolocation tool that can covertly track mobile phones around the world without the phone user’s knowledge or consent. Only five days earlier, the Biden administration had announced it was taking action against NSO, whose hacking tools for years had been abused by governments around the world to spy on political dissidents, human rights activists and journalists. The White House placed NSO on a Commerce Department blacklist, declaring the company a national security threat. The secret contract ... violates the Biden administration’s public policy, and still appears to be active. The contract, reviewed by The Times, stated that the “United States government” would be the ultimate user of the tool, although it is unclear which government agency authorized the deal and might be using the spyware. Elements of America’s expansive national security apparatus in recent years have bought the weapons, deployed them against drug traffickers, and have quietly pushed to consolidate control of them into the hands of the United States and its closest allies. The F.B.I. purchased access in 2019 to NSO’s most powerful hacking tool, known as Pegasus, which invades mobile phones and mines their contents.
Note: Read how journalists and activists have been targeted with NSO Group spyware. For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing news articles on government corruption and the disappearance of privacy from reliable major media sources.
Facial recognition has become a security feature of choice for phones, laptops, passports, and payment apps. Yet it is also, increasingly, a tool of state oppression and corporate surveillance. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the FBI have deployed the technology as a digital dragnet, searching for suspects among millions of faces in state driver’s license databases, sometimes without first seeking a court order. In early 1963, [Woody Bledsoe] proposed to conduct “a study to determine the feasibility of a simplified facial recognition machine.” A recently declassified history of the CIA’s Office of Research and Development mentions just such a project in 1965; that same year, Woody sent a letter on facial recognition to John W. Kuipers, the division’s chief of analysis. In 1967 ... Woody took on one last assignment that involved recognizing patterns in the human face. The purpose of the experiment was to help law enforcement agencies quickly sift through databases of mug shots and portraits, looking for matches. As before, funding for the project appears to have come from the US government. A 1967 document declassified by the CIA in 2005 mentions an “external contract” for a facial-recognition system that would reduce search time by a hundredfold. Woody’s work set an ethical tone for research on facial recognition that has been enduring and problematic. The potential abuses of facial-recognition technology were apparent almost from its birth.
Human rights activists, journalists and lawyers across the world have been targeted by authoritarian governments using hacking software sold by the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group, according to an investigation into a massive data leak. The investigation by the Guardian and 16 other media organisations suggests widespread and continuing abuse of NSO’s hacking spyware, Pegasus. Pegasus is a malware that infects iPhones and Android devices to enable operators of the tool to extract messages, photos and emails, record calls and secretly activate microphones. The leak contains a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers that, it is believed, have been identified as those of people of interest by clients of NSO since 2016. The numbers of more than 180 journalists are listed in the data, including reporters, editors and executives at the Financial Times, CNN, the New York Times, France 24, the Economist, Associated Press and Reuters. The phone number of a freelance Mexican reporter, Cecilio Pineda Birto, was found in the list, apparently of interest to a Mexican client in the weeks leading up to his murder, when his killers were able to locate him at a carwash. He was among at least 25 Mexican journalists apparently selected as candidates for surveillance. The broad array of numbers in the list belonging to people who seemingly have no connection to criminality suggests some NSO clients are breaching their contracts with the company, spying on pro-democracy activists and journalists.
Note: Read more about how NSO Group spyware was used against journalists and activists by the Mexican government. For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing news articles on intelligence agency corruption and the disappearance of privacy from reliable major media sources.
The Covid-19 pandemic is now giving Russian authorities an opportunity to test new powers and technology, and the country's privacy and free-speech advocates worry the government is building sweeping new surveillance capabilities. Perhaps the most well-publicized tech tool in Russia's arsenal for fighting coronavirus is Moscow's massive facial-recognition system. Rolled out earlier this year, the surveillance system had originally prompted an unusual public backlash, with privacy advocates filing lawsuits over unlawful surveillance. Coronavirus, however, has given an unexpected public-relations boost to the system. Last week, Moscow police claimed to have caught and fined 200 people who violated quarantine and self-isolation using facial recognition and a 170,000-camera system. Some of the alleged violators who were fined had been outside for less than half a minute before they were picked up by a camera. And then there's the use of geolocation to track coronavirus carriers. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin earlier this week ordered Russia's Ministry of Communications to roll out a tracking system based on "the geolocation data from the mobile providers for a specific person" by the end of this week. According to a description in the government decree, information gathered under the tracking system will be used to send texts to those who have come into contact with a coronavirus carrier, and to notify regional authorities so they can put individuals into quarantine.
Like the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., the coronavirus pandemic is a crisis of such magnitude that it threatens to change the world in which we live, with ramifications for how leaders govern. Governments are locking down cities with the help of the army, mapping population flows via smartphones and jailing or sequestering quarantine breakers using banks of CCTV and facial recognition cameras backed by artificial intelligence. The restrictions are unprecedented in peacetime and made possible only by rapid advances in technology. And while citizens across the globe may be willing to sacrifice civil liberties temporarily, history shows that emergency powers can be hard to relinquish. A primary concern is that if the public gives governments new surveillance powers to contain Covid-19, then governments will keep these powers after the public health crisis ends, said Adam Schwartz ... at the non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation. Nearly two decades after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government still uses many of the surveillance technologies it developed in the immediate wake. In part, the Chinese Communist Partys containment measures at the virus epicenter in Wuhan set the tone, with what initially seemed shocking steps to isolate the infected being subsequently adopted in countries with no comparable history of Chinas state controls. For Gu Su ... at Nanjing University, Chinas political culture made its people more amenable to the draconian measures.
Mr. Ton-That an Australian techie and onetime model did something momentous: He invented a tool that could end your ability to walk down the street anonymously. His tiny company, Clearview AI, devised a groundbreaking facial recognition app. You take a picture of a person, upload it and get to see public photos of that person, along with links to where those photos appeared. The system whose backbone is a database of more than three billion images that Clearview claims to have scraped from Facebook, YouTube, Venmo and millions of other websites goes far beyond anything ever constructed by the United States government or Silicon Valley giants. Without public scrutiny, more than 600 law enforcement agencies have started using Clearview in the past year. The computer code underlying its app ... includes programming language to pair it with augmented-reality glasses; users would potentially be able to identify every person they saw. The tool could identify activists at a protest or an attractive stranger on the subway, revealing not just their names but where they lived, what they did and whom they knew. And its not just law enforcement: Clearview has also licensed the app to at least a handful of companies for security purposes. Because the police upload photos of people theyre trying to identify, Clearview possesses a growing database of individuals who have attracted attention from law enforcement. The company also has the ability to manipulate the results that the police see.
Note: For lots more on this disturbing new technology, read one writer's personal experience with it. For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing news articles on the disappearance of privacy from reliable major media sources.
A new generation of technology such as the Beware software being used in Fresno has given local law enforcement officers unprecedented power to peer into the lives of citizens. But the powerful systems also have become flash points for civil libertarians and activists, who say they represent a troubling intrusion on privacy, have been deployed with little public oversight and have potential for abuse or error. This is something thats been building since September 11, said Jennifer Lynch ... at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. First funding went to the military to develop this technology, and now it has come back to domestic law enforcement. Its the perfect storm of cheaper and easier-to-use technologies and money from state and federal governments to purchase it. Perhaps the most controversial and revealing technology is the threat-scoring software Beware. Fresno is one of the first departments in the nation to test the program. As officers respond to calls, Beware automatically runs the address. The searches return the names of residents and scans them against a range of publicly available data to generate a color-coded threat level for each person or address: green, yellow or red. Exactly how Beware calculates threat scores is something that its maker, Intrado, considers a trade secret, so it is unclear how much weight is given to a misdemeanor, felony or threatening comment on Facebook. The fact that only Intrado not the police or the public knows how Beware tallies its scores is disconcerting.
Note: Learn more in this informative article. For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing news articles on police corruption and the disappearance of privacy from reliable major media sources.
During New York Gov. Andrew Cuomos daily coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, the somber grimace that has filled our screens for weeks was briefly replaced by something resembling a smile. The inspiration ... was a video visit from former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who joined the governors briefing to announce that he will be heading up a blue-ribbon commission to reimagine New York states post-Covid reality, with an emphasis on permanently integrating technology into every aspect of civic life. Just one day earlier, Cuomo had announced a similar partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a smarter education system. It has taken some time to gel, but something resembling a coherent Pandemic Shock Doctrine is beginning to emerge. Call it the Screen New Deal. Far more high-tech than anything we have seen during previous disasters, the future that is being rushed into being as the bodies still pile up treats our past weeks of physical isolation not as a painful necessity to save lives, but as a living laboratory for a permanent and highly profitable no-touch future. This is a future in which, for the privileged, almost everything is home delivered, either virtually via streaming and cloud technology, or physically via driverless vehicle or drone, then screen shared on a mediated platform. Its a future in which our every move, our every word, our every relationship is trackable, traceable, and data-mineable by unprecedented collaborations between government and tech giants.
On Sept. 7, 2017, the world heard an alarming announcement from credit ratings giant Equifax: In a brazen cyberattack, somebody had stolen sensitive personal information from more than 140 million people, nearly half the population of the U.S. The information included Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, information from credit disputes and other personal details. Then, something unusual happened. The data disappeared. Completely. CNBC talked to eight experts. All of them agreed that a breach happened, and personal information from 143 million people was stolen. But none of them knows where the data is now. Security experts haven't seen the data used in any of the ways they'd expect in a theft like this not for impersonating victims, not for accessing other websites, nothing. Most experts familiar with the case now believe that the thieves were working for a foreign government and are using the information not for financial gain, but to try to identify and recruit spies. One former senior intelligence official ... summarized the prevailing expert opinion on how the foreign intelligence agency is using the data. First, he said, the foreign government is probably combining this information with other stolen data, then analyzing it using artificial intelligence or machine learning to figure out who's likely to be or to become a spy for the U.S. government. Second, credit reporting data provides compromising information that can be used to turn valuable people into agents of a foreign government.
Even before he became director of the FBI, [J. Edgar] Hoover was conducting secret intelligence operations against U.S. citizens he suspected were anarchists, radical leftists or communists. After a series of anarchist bombings went off across the United States in 1919, Hoover sent five agents to infiltrate the newly formed Communist Party. "From that day forward, he planned a nationwide dragnet of mass arrests to round up subversives, round up communists, round up Russian aliens," [author Tim] Weiner says. On Jan. 1, 1920, Hoover sent out the arrest orders, and at least 6,000 people were arrested and detained throughout the country. "When the dust cleared, maybe 1 in 10 was found guilty of a deportable offense," says Weiner. Hoover, Attorney General Mitchell Palmer and Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt all came under attack for their role in the raids. Hoover started amassing secret intelligence on "enemies of the United States" — a list that included terrorists, communists, spies — or anyone Hoover or the FBI had deemed subversive. Later on, anti-war protesters and civil rights leaders were added to Hoover's list. "Hoover saw the civil rights movement from the 1950s onward and the anti-war movement from the 1960s onward, as presenting the greatest threats to the stability of the American government since the Civil War," [Weiner] says. "These people were enemies of the state, and in particular Martin Luther King [Jr.] was an enemy of the state."
Note: Read more about the FBI's COINTELPRO program. For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing news articles on intelligence agency corruption and the erosion of civil liberties from reliable major media sources.
China’s ambition to collect a staggering amount of personal data from everyday citizens is more expansive than previously known. Phone-tracking devices are now everywhere. The police are creating some of the largest DNA databases in the world. And the authorities are building upon facial recognition technology to collect voice prints from the general public. The Times’ Visual Investigations team and reporters in Asia spent over a year analyzing more than a hundred thousand government bidding documents. The Chinese government’s goal is clear: designing a system to maximize what the state can find out about a person’s identity, activities and social connections. In a number of the bidding documents, the police said that they wanted to place cameras where people go to fulfill their common needs — like eating, traveling, shopping and entertainment. The police also wanted to install facial recognition cameras inside private spaces, like residential buildings, karaoke lounges and hotels. Authorities are using phone trackers to link people’s digital lives to their physical movements. Devices known as WiFi sniffers and IMSI catchers can glean information from phones in their vicinity. DNA, iris scan samples and voice prints are being collected indiscriminately from people with no connection to crime. The government wants to connect all of these data points to build comprehensive profiles for citizens — which are accessible throughout the government.
Note: For more on this disturbing topic, see the New York Times article “How China is Policing the Future.” For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing news articles on government corruption and the disappearance of privacy from reliable major media sources.
Even if you have never set foot in China, Hikvision’s cameras have likely seen you. By 2017, Hikvision had captured 12 percent of the North American market. Its cameras watched over apartment buildings in New York City, public recreation centers in Philadelphia, and hotels in Los Angeles. Police departments used them to monitor streets in Memphis, Tennessee, and in Lawrence, Massachusetts. London and more than half of Britain’s 20 next-largest cities have deployed them. A recent search for the company’s cameras, using Shodan, a tool that locates internet-connected devices, yielded nearly 5 million results, including more than 750,000 devices in the United States. Among the policies that Hikvision’s products have supported is China’s wide-ranging crackdown against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other minority groups in the western province of Xinjiang. Far from being appalled by Hikvision’s role in China’s atrocities, however, plenty of foreign leaders are intrigued. They see an opportunity to acquire tools that could reduce crime and spur growth. Of course, the authoritarian-leaning among them also see a chance to monitor their domestic challengers and cement their control. The use of military language ... heightens the sense that these tools can easily become weapons. Cameras can be set to “patrol.” “Intrusion detection” sounds like a method for defending a bank or a military base. Hikvision’s cameras do not check identities. They “capture” faces.
Note: For more, see this Bloomberg article titled “Blacklisted Chinese Tech Found Inside Top Secret UK Lab.” For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing news articles on government corruption and the disappearance of privacy from reliable major media sources.
A video showing a mobile device snapping infrared images of an iPhone user is circulating around the internet. In the Tik Tok shared by user Brie Thomason, a digital camera using an infrared lens is seen filming an iPhone user observing their home screen. As the iPhone user stares blatantly at the device, Thomason’s digital camera captures the iPhone snapping multiple infrared images every 5-10 seconds. While this discovery may cause some users to panic, Apple claims this is actually just an aspect of the iPhone that allows users to control their face ID and Animoji (the animated emoji function). According to Apple, this feature was first debuted as the iPhone X’s most groundbreaking function; since it is not even discernible at first glance, even though it literally stares you in the face. The company calls this feature: the new TrueDepth IR camera. This camera, housed in the black notch at the top of the display, includes a number of high-tech components such as a “flood illuminator,” infrared (IR) camera, and an infrared emitter. Officials say as an iPhone is used, the latter emits 30,000 infrared dots in a known pattern when a face is detected, enabling the iPhone X to generate a 3D map of a user’s face. According to the team, this TrueDepth IR camera can also do this fast enough to support the creation of 3D motion data as well. So, yes, your iPhone is essentially taking “invisible” photos of you, but not for the reasons you would think.
Netflixs brilliant new 90-minute docu-drama, The Social Dilemma ... might be the most important watch of recent years. The film, which debuted at Sundance Film Festival in January, takes a premise thats unlikely to set the world alight ... ie that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram et al arent exactly creating a utopia. Its masterstroke is in recruiting the very Silicon Valley insiders that built these platforms to explain their terrifying pitfalls which theyve realised belatedly. You dont get a much clearer statement of social medias dangers than an ex-Facebook executives claim that: In the shortest time horizon Im most worried about civil war. The commonly held belief that social media companies sell users data is quickly cast aside the data is actually used to create a sophisticated psychological profile of you. What theyre selling is their ability to manipulate you, or as one interviewee puts it: Its the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behaviour and perception. Its the only thing for them to make money from: changing what you do, how you think, who you are. Despite it being public knowledge that Vote Leave and Trumps 2016 election campaign harvested voters Facebook data on a gigantic scale, The Social Dilemma still manages to find fresh and vital tales of how these platforms destabilise modern politics. Russias Facebook hack to influence the 2016 US election? The Russians didnt hack Facebook. They used the tools that Facebook made for legitimate advertisers, laments one of the companys ex-investors.
A secret British spy unit created to mount cyber attacks on Britains enemies has waged war on the hacktivists of Anonymous and LulzSec, according to documents taken from the National Security Agency by Edward Snowden and obtained by NBC News. The blunt instrument the spy unit used to target hackers, however, also interrupted the web communications of political dissidents who did not engage in any illegal hacking. It may also have shut down websites with no connection to Anonymous. A division of Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British counterpart of the NSA, shut down communications among Anonymous hacktivists by launching a denial of service (DDOS) attack the same technique hackers use to take down bank, retail and government websites making the British government the first Western government known to have conducted such an attack. The documents ... show that the unit known as the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group, or JTRIG, boasted of using the DDOS attack which it dubbed Rolling Thunder - and other techniques to scare away 80 percent of the users of Anonymous internet chat rooms. Among the methods listed in the document were jamming phones, computers and email accounts and masquerading as an enemy in a "false flag" operation. A British hacktivist known as T-Flow, who was prosecuted for hacking, [said] no evidence of how his identity was discovered ever appeared in court documents.
Note: For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing news articles on intelligence agency corruption from reliable major media sources.
American Amara Majeed was accused of terrorism by the Sri Lankan police in 2019. Robert Williams was arrested outside his house in Detroit and detained in jail for 18 hours for allegedly stealing watches in 2020. Randal Reid spent six days in jail in 2022 for supposedly using stolen credit cards in a state he’d never even visited. In all three cases, the authorities had the wrong people. In all three, it was face recognition technology that told them they were right. Law enforcement officers in many U.S. states are not required to reveal that they used face recognition technology to identify suspects. Surveillance is predicated on the idea that people need to be tracked and their movements limited and controlled in a trade-off between privacy and security. The assumption that less privacy leads to more security is built in. That may be the case for some, but not for the people disproportionately targeted by face recognition technology. As of 2019, face recognition technology misidentified Black and Asian people at up to 100 times the rate of white people. In 2018 ... 28 members of the U.S. Congress ... were falsely matched with mug shots on file using Amazon’s Rekognition tool. Much early research into face recognition software was funded by the CIA for the purposes of border surveillance. More recently, private companies have adopted data harvesting techniques, including face recognition, as part of a long practice of leveraging personal data for profit.
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