Intersection: Sidewalks & Public Space

Chapter by Melissa Ngo

"The Myth of Security Under Camera Surveillance"

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    Archive for the ‘First Amendment’ Category

    National Journal: Privacy Groups Sound the Alarm Over FBI’s Facial-Recognition Technology

    Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

    The National Journal reports that privacy organizations are asking the Department of Justice to consider the privacy implications for the FBI’s controversial facial-recognition technology database, which will soon be fully operational:

    More than 30 privacy and civil-liberties groups are asking the Justice Department to complete a long-promised audit of the FBI’s facial-recognition database.

    The groups argue the database, which the FBI says it uses to identify targets, could pose privacy risks to every American citizen because it has not been properly vetted, possesses dubious accuracy benchmarks, and may sweep up images of ordinary people not suspected of wrongdoing.

    In a joint letter sent Tuesday to Attorney General Eric Holder, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and others warn that an FBI facial-recognition program “has undergone a radical transformation” since its last privacy review six years ago. That lack of recent oversight “raises serious privacy and civil-liberty concerns,” the groups contend. [...]

    The Next Generation Identification program—a biometric database that includes iris scans and palm prints along with facial recognition—is scheduled to become fully operational later this year and has not undergone a rigorous privacy litmus test—known as a Privacy Impact Assessment—since 2008, despite pledges from government officials. Read more »

    Center for Investigative Reporting: Privacy, accuracy concerns as license-plate readers expand

    Thursday, June 19th, 2014

    The Center for Investigative Reporting looks into privacy questions concerning the use of license-plate readers:

    [Today,] the use of license-plate readers has emerged as one of the biggest concerns among privacy advocates. Car-tracking technology is becoming ubiquitous in cities around the United States, and the types of data collected and analyzed with the help of license-plate readers is expanding into other realms of personal information.

    Documents obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting show that a leading maker of license-plate readers wants to merge the vehicle identification technology with other sources of identifying information. Vigilant Solutions is pushing a system that eventually could help fuse public records, license plates and facial recognition databases for police in the field.

    The Livermore company released facial recognition software last year for use in stationary and mobile devices. The technology uses algorithms to determine whether a person’s face matches that of someone in a law enforcement database. Like license-plate readers, privacy advocates say, the technology can make incorrect identifications that ensnare innocent people. Read more »

    New York Times: Quantifying Privacy: A Week of Location Data May Be an ‘Unreasonable Search’

    Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

    The New York Times reports on a new research paper (“When Enough is Enough: Location Tracking, Mosaic Theory, and Machine Learning” (pdf) by Steven M. Bellovin, Renée M. Hutchins, Tony Jebara and Sebastian Zimmeck) that looks at location data and individual privacy:

    When does the simple digital tracking of your location and movements — the GPS bleeps from most of our smartphones — start to be truly revealing? When do the data points and inferences that can be drawn from it strongly suggest, say, trips to a psychiatrist, a mosque, an abortion clinic, a strip club or an AIDS treatment center?

    The answer, according to a new research paper, is about a week, when the data portrait of a person becomes sufficiently detailed to qualify as an “unreasonable search” and a potential violation of an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights.

    The research paper, a collaboration of computer scientists and lawyers, wades into the debate over the legal and policing implications of modern data collection and analysis technology. It explores what in legal circles is called the “mosaic theory” of the Fourth Amendment, which essentially states that when linked and analyzed by software, a much richer picture emerges from combined information than from discrete data points. [...] Read more »

    CNN: Data surveillance centers: Crime fighters or ‘spy machines?’

    Thursday, May 29th, 2014

    CNN reports on data surveillance centers and the controversial privacy, liberty and security questions that they raise:

    Some residents of Oakland, California, fear their community is creating a monster. The city calls it the Domain Awareness Center, but opponents call it a “spy machine” and a potential “tool of injustice.”

    Known as “the DAC,” it’s a proposed central surveillance facility where authorities can monitor the Port of Oakland and the city’s airport to protect against potential terrorism.

    But the broader issue of centralized data surveillance poses serious privacy questions for millions of people in cities around the globe. [...]

    The danger, say opponents, is putting all these data resources into one place.

    “If you need to go to four different locations to track someone’s movements across town, you’re not going to do it unless you have a good reason,” said Linda Lye of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. “But when you can do it with the press of a button because it’s all at your fingertips, you’ll end up doing it based on your idle curiosity.” That, Lye said, creates a situation ripe for abuse. [...] Read more »

    PBS Frontline: The United States of Secrets

    Thursday, May 15th, 2014

    PBS’s “Frontline” aired the first of a two-part series on the National Security Agency’s controversial surveillance programs, which were revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. “Frontline” says it “goes behind the headlines to reveal the dramatic inside story of how the U.S. government came to monitor and collect the communications of millions of people around the world—including ordinary Americans—and the lengths they went to trying to hide the massive surveillance program from the public” in the series. “In part one, a two-hour film premiering Tuesday, May 13 at a special time (9 p.m.), Kirk goes inside Washington and the National Security Agency, piecing together the secret history of the unprecedented surveillance program that began in the wake of September 11 and continues today – even after the revelations of its existence by Edward Snowden.” Here’s the link to the video for Part One. Part Two airs on Tuesday, May 20.

    Next Avenue: A Privacy Expert’s 3 Tips to Protect Yourself Online

    Friday, May 2nd, 2014

    Next Avenue has an interview with Julia Angwin, who has written about privacy for the Wall Street Journal and has a new book on privacy and technology, “Dragnet Nation.” Angwin discusses tips on how people can better protect their privacy online:

    In researching her book, Pulitzer Prize-finalist Angwin (who reported on privacy and tech issues for The Wall Street Journal and now does for ProPublica) set out to see what kind of digital footprint she’d left on the Internet. She tried obtaining her data from online and offline data brokers. Only a few let her see what they’d collected and much of that was cursory. Still, what they did share, Angwin writes, was “deeply unsettling.”

    It included: every address where she’d lived dating back to college; every phone number; the names of almost all her relatives; a list of nearly 3,000 people with whom she’d exchanged emails plus records of about 26,000 Web searches she made over the past seven years; glimpses of her shopping habits; and internal communications with her employer about her reporting plans.