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Intersection: Sidewalks & Public Space

Chapter by Melissa Ngo

"The Myth of Security Under Camera Surveillance"


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    Archive for the ‘Anonymity’ Category

    Washington Post: Maker of StealthGenie, an app used for spying, indicted in Virginia

    Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

    The Washington Post reports that the chief executive of the company that makes a mobile app for spying on individuals has been indicted by federal officials:

    Federal officials have indicted the Pakistani maker of a popular smartphone app designed for spying on a user’s children or romantic partner, the first case of its kind in the burgeoning market for private-sector surveillance software built for iPhones and Android devices.

    The program, called StealthGenie, allows users to monitor nearly all forms of a target’s communications — calls, texts, social media postings — while also tracking the smartphone’s location and secretly activating its microphone to make recordings.

    While similar to technology used by police to track suspects, its use by private individuals allegedly violates federal law. Activists against domestic violence have long expressed concern that surveillance software can lead to attacks on women suspected of infidelity.

    Article 29 Working Party Releases Opinion on Internet of Things

    Friday, September 26th, 2014

    The EU’s Article 29 Working Party on the Protection of Individuals with regard to the Processing of Personal Data has released “Opinion 8/2014 on the on Recent Developments on the Internet of Things” (Working Party pdf; archive pdf). We’ve discussed before  the “Internet of Things,” which is a computerized network of physical objects. In IoT, sensors and data storage devices embedded in objects interact with Web services. (For more on privacy and the IoT, see a Center for Democracy and Technology report that I consulted on and contributed to, “Building the Digital Out-Of-Home Privacy Infrastructure.”) The Working Party writes in its summary:

    The Internet of Things (IoT) is on the threshold of integration into the lives of European citizens. The viability of many projects in the IoT still remains to be confirmed but “smart things” are being made available which monitor and communicate with our homes, cars, work environment and physical activities. Already today, connected devices successfully meet the needs of EU citizens on the large-scale markets of quantified self and domotics. The IoT thus hold significant prospects of growth for a great number of innovating and creative EU companies, whether big or small, which operate on these markets.

    The WP29 is keen that such expectations are met, in the interests of both citizens and industry in the EU. Yet, these expected benefits must also respect the many privacy and security challenges which can be associated with the IoT. Many questions arise around the vulnerability of these devices, often deployed outside a traditional IT structure and lacking sufficient security built into them. Data losses, infection by malware, but also unauthorized access to personal data, intrusive use of wearable devices, or unlawful surveillance are as many risks that stakeholders in the IoT must address to attract prospective end-users of their products or services. Read more »

    Opinion at Guardian (UK): Privacy technology everyone can use would make us all more secure

    Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

    In an opinion column at the Guardian, Cory Doctorow discusses the need for privacy-protective technology that is easy for the general public to use:

    Internet privacy tools have an unfortunate but well-deserved reputation for being technically difficult and bothersome. There’s a persistent story that says that there is an intrinsic, irreducible complexity to the problem of keeping your communications from being snooped on and keeping your data from leaking that makes it the exclusive domain of spies and the professionally paranoid.

    I don’t believe it. I think that the real reason that privacy is so user-unfriendly is that the case for privacy is intensely technical. [...]

    You don’t need to be a technical expert to understand privacy risks anymore. [...]

    The time has come to create privacy tools for normal people – people with a normal level of technical competence. That is, all of us, no matter what our level of technical expertise, need privacy. Some privacy measures do require extraordinary technical competence; if you’re Edward Snowden, with the entire NSA bearing down on your communications, you will need to be a real expert to keep your information secure. But the kind of privacy that makes you immune to mass surveillance and attacks-of-opportunity from voyeurs, identity thieves and other bad guys is attainable by anyone. Read more »

    Associated Press: As police scan millions of license plates, civil libertarians question how info is being used

    Monday, September 22nd, 2014

    We’ve discussed the privacy and civil liberty issues connected with the use of license-plate-scanner recognition technology to gather and record drivers’ movements. Often, we don’t know what the restrictions are on the collection and use of the data. (See a previous post for more information on the camera surveillance technology.) Now, the Associated Press reports on privacy and civil liberty questions as the camera surveillance systems are proliferating nationwide:

    LOS ANGELES — A rapidly expanding digital network that uses cameras mounted to traffic signals and police cruisers captures the movements of millions of vehicles across the U.S., regardless of whether the drivers are being investigated by law enforcement.

    The license plate scanning systems have multiplied across the U.S. over the last decade, funded largely by Homeland Security grants, and judges recently have upheld authorities’ rights to keep details from hundreds of millions of scans a secret from the public. Read more »

    Washington Post: Tech firm tries to pull back curtain on surveillance efforts in Washington

    Friday, September 19th, 2014

    The Washington Post reports that experts are searching and unveiling surveillance equipment that spies on the public in Washington, D.C.:

    The man was Aaron Turner, chief executive of Integricell, a mobile security company. The specially outfitted smartphones, he said, are designed to act like high-tech divining rods that warn users of suspicious mobile activity, potentially indicating surveillance equipment used by police, intelligence agencies and others to track people and snoop on their calls.

    Known as IMSI catchers, for the unique identifying phone code called an IMSI, the surveillance devices trick mobile phones into thinking they have logged onto legitimate cell networks, such as Verizon or AT&T, when in fact the signals have been hijacked.

    For years, researchers have warned of the growing prevalence of the equipment, and Turner said the spygear is rife throughout the Washington area. Read more »

    Vox: 23andMe reverses its decision to move to more lax privacy settings

    Thursday, September 18th, 2014

    Vox reports on a decision concerning the privacy of medical data by by genetics testing company 23andMe:

    The personal genetics testing company 23andMe is reversing plans to make a major change to its privacy settings, after a Vox story raised concerns about the move.

    On September 9, we published a feature about some of the pitfalls of personal DNA testing, with a focus on 23andMe, a leading company in the field. We talked to some people who used 23andMe and ended up unexpectedly finding close family members they didn’t know they had. In one case, a professor’s parents divorced after the site revealed that his father had a child before he was married. We reported that 23andMe was planning to alter its user settings in a way that could make these unexpected reunions happen more frequently. [...]

    But, because of concerns raised by the Vox story, the company reversed its decision to make those changes. It is also going to hire a Chief Privacy Officer.

    Read the Vox story for the full statement from the 23andMe chief executive.