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Intersection: Sidewalks & Public Space

Chapter by Melissa Ngo

"The Myth of Security Under Camera Surveillance"


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    Opinion at Boston Globe: Surveillance and privacy

    Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

    In an opinion column for the Boston Globe, Alan M. Dershowitz (a professor emeritus at Harvard Law School) discusses surveillance, privacy, and the case of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who  revealed several surveillance programs by the agency. Dershowitz writes:

    THE RECENT disclosure by Edward Snowden of the US government’s wide net of surveillance has stimulated an emotional debate about security, privacy, and secrecy. We have learned from Snowden that the National Security Agency engages in virtually unchecked monitoring of all sorts of communications that were thought to be private but that we now know are maintained in secret government databases.

    Three fundamental issues are raised by these disclosures: Was it proper for the government to conduct such massive surveillance and to maintain such extensive files? Was it proper for the government to keep its surveillance program secret from the public? If not, did this governmental impropriety justify the unlawful disclosure of so much classified information by Snowden? Read more »

    Home Depot Confirms Massive Breach of Customers’ Financial Data

    Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

    KrebsOnSecurity reported last week that retailer Home Depot suffered a massive security breach that affected the privacy of millions of customers’ financial information. On Monday, the site reported: “The apparent credit and debit card breach uncovered last week at Home Depot was aided in part by a new variant of the malicious software program that stole card account data from cash registers at Target last December, according to sources close to the investigation.” Now, the New York Times is reporting that Home Depot has confirmed the security breach affecting U.S. and Canadian customers:

    Home Depot confirmed on Monday that hackers had broken into its in-store payments systems, in what could be the largest known breach of a retail company’s computer network.

    The retailer said the exact number of customers affected was still not clear. But a person briefed on the investigation said the total number of credit card numbers stolen at Home Depot could top 60 million. By comparison, the breach last year at Target, the largest known attack to date, affected 40 million cardholders.

    The breach may have affected any customer at Home Depot stores in the United States and Canada from April to early last week, said Paula Drake, a company spokeswoman. [...] Read more »

    International Business Times: Sorry, Your Face is Maxed Out: Face Recognition Payment App Unveiled in China

    Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

    The International Business Times reports that Chinese academics say they have developed a new system of facial-recognition software that is able to collect data on individuals’ faces from 91 angles. The biometric data system is to be used as a payment system, which could raise privacy questions:  

    Academics at the Chongqing Institute of Green and Intelligent Technology in southwest China say they have developed a new system of face-recognition software which could radically change the way we shop.

    Shoppers would be snapped with a special camera which collects information about the face from 91 angles. Thisinformation is then analysed using two million sets of data. The whole process takes just a few seconds. In 1,000 tests the system was reported to be accurate on 998 occasions. [...]

    The software can even factor in changes to faces caused by the ravages of time – and shopping. The system could be launched in the second half of 2015.

    The Chinese system isn’t the first to use face-recognition as a shopping tool: Finnish company Uniqul unveiled a similar device in 2013.

    Washington Post: For sale: Systems that can secretly track where cellphone users go around the globe

    Sunday, August 24th, 2014

    The Washington Post reports on technology that allows the global surveillance and secret tracking of cellphone users:

    Makers of surveillance systems are offering governments across the world the ability to track the movements of almost anybody who carries a cellphone, whether they are blocks away or on another continent.

    The technology works by exploiting an essential fact of all cellular networks: They must keep detailed, up-to-the-minute records on the locations of their customers to deliver calls and other services to them. Surveillance systems are secretly collecting these records to map people’s travels over days, weeks or longer, according to company marketing documents and experts in surveillance technology.

    The world’s most powerful intelligence services, such as the National Security Agency and Britain’s GCHQ, long have used cellphone data to track targets around the globe. But experts say these new systems allow less technically advanced governments to track people in any nation — including the United States — with relative ease and precision. [...] Read more »

    Sydney Morning Herald: Could peer-to-peer technology solve the privacy conundrum?

    Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

    The Sydney Morning Herald reports on a privacy proposal concerning peer-to-peer technology by computer scientists from Saarland University and the Center for IT Security, Privacy and Accountability (CISPA), in Germany, and the Italian IMT Institute for Advanced Studies:

    A unique approach to crunching website visitor data promises the best of both worlds between accuracy and privacy.

    Data leaned from people’s behaviour online is an important tool in everything from marketing to social planning, but consumers lose control over their privacy the more data is collected about them. [...]

    [The computer scientists'] technology, known as Privada, uses peer-to-peer file sharing as the inspiration to send parts of website visitor data to different servers for processing and storage.

    When Privada collects a behavioural metric on visitors (women aged 35-45, for example) it sends it to a third-party server. Other metrics are sent to other servers, so no central database has the complete picture.

    Each server then adds up to 10 per cent of data “noise” to their records, enough to keep any single user from being identified and leaving the reassembled data 90 per cent accurate. [...] Read more »

    Privacy International: Identity theft persists in Pakistan’s biometric era

    Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

    Privacy International recently looked into identity theft in Pakistan, a country that has registered many of its inhabitants’ biometric information and issued computerized national identification cards:

    Even in the world of biometric identity and strong systems, people are able to obtain fraudulent identity cards by changing their particular details, or, in some cases, only the photo ID. The former Chairman of [National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), the independent government agency responsible for the management of the entire national database system], Tariq Malik also said that given increasing levels of forgery and misuse in other personal documents, now is the hour to get expired identity cards renewed. He said that the menace of bogus identity cards could be wiped out by updating personal biometric details in the national database. [...]

    NADRA reports that it has deployed a state-of-the-art facial matching system with the capabilities to stop fraud and forgery in identity documents, yet people are still able to obtain forged identity cards. This was very puzzling to understand given the supposed surety, accuracy and privacy of NADRA database that such a scam was still happening even after the introduction of new chip-based identity cards.

    Read the full article for more information on identity theft in Pakistan.