Showing posts with label Big Brother. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Big Brother. Show all posts

January 17, 2021

Privacy Is Dead


I though this was a fascinating ad for the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP).

The little girl hanging onto to the UAV drone.  

Reminds me of the wonderful classic film, The Red Balloon, where after the balloon follows the little boy everywhere, in the end, off he flews with it into the wild blue yonder. 

As much as we all wish privacy wasn't dead, for the most part, it really is!

Between ubiquitous and persistent satellites, drones, and video cameras, audio and video surveillance, call intercepts and eavesdropping, computer monitoring tools, smartphone location tracking, facial recognition, body implants, and more, let's just say you are never truly alone. 

For those who continue to dream the impossible dream of privacy, it is a noble endeavor but quite fruitless without either going deep underground or significant legislative and policy changes that can actually be enforced. 

My grandmother used to say that G-d sees everything and she was right. 

These days, others are watching as well!  ;-)


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October 29, 2020

Someone's Always Watching

These days someone is always watching.

Whether someone is peering at you from upstairs or around the corner.

Or there is a surveillance camera.

Or someone is recording you on their smartphone. 

You are never really alone. 

And even IF, and that's a big if, that no one person is watching.

Remember that G-d above still sees everything!  ;-)

(Credit Photo: Andy Blumenthal) 


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August 22, 2020

No, It's Not Fort Knox

Did I just walk into Urgent Care or is this Fort Knox's repository for gold bullion?

I don't think I've ever seen this many surveillance cameras in one relatively small room that's not related to national security! 

And there were even more cameras around me--they were freakin everywhere. 

I get that people are afraid and want security, but seriously over a dozen cameras in the entry/waiting room to see a doctor!

Did someone go a little overboard here?

Maybe they had a bad experience, who knows.

Still, this is beyond dystopian and never a private moment shall one have!  ;-)

(Credit Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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January 24, 2019

Take Your Head Out of My Shopping Cart

So this was funny today at Harris Teeter. 

I'm checking out on the express line with a few things. 

First some tofu.

The lady at the cash register goes:
Hmm.  Healthy!

Then some Meal Mart Buffalo Style Chicken Wings.

Again, the lady at the cash register comments:
Have you tried that?  Is it good?  It looks good!

Politely, I replied:
Yes, they are really good.

At the same time I was feeing smart-alecy, like what the heck, should I open the package on the conveyer belt and let you taste one--right here, right now.   

Sure privacy is a big issue when it comes to technology, social media, and all sorts of surveillance these days

But even when one simply goes to the grocery store--there is the very basic privacy about what one is buying. 

Yes, I see people looking into my cart, with eyebrows raised eyeing my goodies.  I can hear them thinking:
What is he buying?  Is it marked Kosher? (Uh, actually it is!]  That doesn't seem like a balanced diet!

Another time, the checkout person asked me when I was buying a bunch of something:
Oh, are you having a party? What's the occasion?

While I appreciate the good-natured banter and people being friendly, it seems more than weird in a way to be discussing what I'm buying, why, and for whom.  

Not quite Big Brother, but maybe that's the leftover small town feel in our lonely urban and high-tech living.  ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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January 17, 2019

Trump Vs. Pelosi -- The Citizens Lose

Yesterday, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, majorly dissed President Trump by attempting to cancel his State of the Union address for Tuesday, January 29 citing lack of resources to secure the National Special Security Event (NSSE) due to the government shutdown. 

In turn, CNN applauded Pelosi for having:
- Just pulled a major power move on Donald Trump's State of the Union

Today, President Trump reciprocated by refusing to provide military aircraft for Pelosi's trip aboard citing the same shutdown. 

In this case, The Guardian condemns President Trump stating that he:
- Escalates shutdown row by cancelling Pelosi trip
I am not taking sides (seriously), but just can't help but notice the incredible bias in the "Fake News" that we are all being fed in the massive media "echo chamber." 

Again, Pelosi cancels Trump and its reported on as she did a great thing, while when Trump responds and cancels Pelosi, then that is reported on as he is escalating the situation. 

Something is very wrong in this country--regardless of which politicians and parties you love or hate and whether you agree with a border wall or not--shouldn't we get news that is honest and even-handed. 

The system is broken and we are the masses that are being controlled in our thinking and our voting.  

This is not democracy--it is social control and b*llsh*t brainwashing! ;-)
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December 13, 2018

A Social System that Inspires Pride and Shame


This story continues to fascinate me. 

China's social credit system started in 2015. 

China scores individuals based on public data (social media, financial, insurance, health, shopping, dating, and more), and they have people that act as "information collectors" (i.e. neighborhood watchers) who record what their neighbors are doing--good and bad. 

Each individual starts with a 1,000 points. 

If you do good things in Chinese society--helping people, cleaning up, being honest--you get points added. 

If you do bad things in China--fight with people, make a mess, be dishonest--you get points deducted. 

Fail below 1,000 points and you are in trouble--and can get blacklisted!

A good score is something to be proud of and a bad score is something that shames people to hopefully change for the better. 

But more than that, your social score has tangible social impacts--it can determine your ability to get into certain schools, obtain better jobs, homes, loans/mortgages, high-speed internet, and even high-speed train tickets/airplane flights. 

While maybe well intentioned, certainly, this has the very real potential to become a surveillance state and the embodiment of "Big Brother"!

On one hand, it seems like a great thing to drive people and society to be better. Isn't that what we do with recognizing and rewarding good behavior and with our laws and justice system in punishing bad behavior?

Yet, to me this type of all-encompassing social credit system risks too much from a freedom and privacy perspective. Should the government and all your neighbors be privy to your most intimate doings and dealings?  And should people be controlled to such an extent that literally everything you do is monitored and measured and counted for/against you?

It seems to me that the price of sacrificing your very personal liberty is too high to make in order to push people towards positive social goals.

Guiding people is one thing, and rewarding outstanding acts and punishing horrific ones is understandable, but getting into people's knickers is another. 

This type of social credit system really borders on social control and moves us towards a very disturbing, dystopian future. ;-)
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August 27, 2018

How Do You Lock A Tree


So this is one of the craziest things in Washington, D.C. 

There is a tree with a lock on it. 

Yes, with a Master Lock on it. 

Hidden in plain sight. 

It has letters and numbers or symbols on each button. 

Have you ever seen anything like that before?

Uh, what do you think that is:

- A lock to prevent the tree from being stolen?

- A Maxwell Smart (shoe) phone?

- A surveillance device in the tree bark or along the limbs?

- A secret compartment?

Hmm, is there something locked in the tree?

What could it be?  ;-)

(Source Photo: Dannielle Blumenthal)
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May 7, 2018

Weaponizing Your Privacy


So this was the funniest War of the Roses on the Kane Show that I ever heard. 

They use the Alexa personal assistant from Amazon (voiceover) to call the cheater. 

In this skit, we really see the potential power of these home computing devices. 

Alexa hears and knows everything that goes on in the house (including the cheating).

Alexa confronts the cheater and calls him a few descript names for his infidelity.

Alexa punishes the cheater by going online to purchase items with his credit card. 

Alexa betrays him by calling his girlfriend and telling her about the cheating. 

Cheating aside, maybe this is a great lesson how we should all be considering our privacy in our homes and on our persons before we install Alexa, Siri, Cortana, the Google Assistant or any other personal or home surveillance systems. 

With all the bad actors out there and people that want to steal everything from your money, identity, secrets, and maybe even your wife--these devices are a direct line into your personal life.

This is called weaponizing your privacy!

Tell me, do you really believe that no one is listening or watching you?  ;-)
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December 31, 2017

Social Media Totalitarianism

The Chinese government has the most brilliant as well as frightening use and control of social media. 

I am not just talking about blocking Internet sites and free information flow. 

They actually have mastered the use of social media for tracking and rewarding or punishing citizen behavior.

Their social credit system rates people's behavior online for everything they do!

Similar to likes and dislikes, you are either labeled a "model citizen" sought after for jobs and good housing or you can be an "enemy of the state" treated as a social outcast who can't even leave the country anymore. 

Everything about you is now based on what you are rated (whether true or not)!

Now in China the government has added a snitching tool/app where people are encouraged through a points system that offers rewards like store discounts, coupons for coffee, taxis, and music streaming, in order to get them to report covertly on their neighbors--are their fellow citizens fighting, is there mental illness, are people cheating on their taxes, etc. 

You're being surveilled not just by the grid system, where every 300 households are watched and checked-in on by a "grid manager," but you are subject to daily intrusion by anyone that wants to report on you. 

Communication to "Big Brother" is way overvalued, while privacy and respect of the people are no longer important values or concerns. 

Instead of a Security Operations Center to monitor and command response to life-threatening catastrophes and emergencies, now there is a "Social Governance Integrated Command Center" to display video and biometric surveillance from throughout the country as well as to show what are the "moods" and which "issues" are trending. 

Talking about having a finger on the pulse of what's going on...

I say this is all brilliant and malign, because social media which can be a tool for connecting people and for the free flow of information and progress is instead used for near ultimate control and enslavement of the masses--both their minds and their behaviors. 

People should not be treated as servants of the state and subjected to ever-encroaching social media surveillance and control that is not carefully balanced directly to absolutely necessary national security. 

Rather the state and its levers of people's supreme power should be subject to the wants and needs of its people who must freely decide on their collective futures and maintaining human rights. 

Totalitarianism by police state, imprisonment, torture and "re-education" is now unfortunately facilitated by social media monitoring,  and credits system where truly you are watched by Big Brother in the flesh and in the bytes. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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October 5, 2017

Reading Your Emails

So you know you typically get a message when you log on your computer at work that there is "no expectation of privacy."

Meaning...you're on the corporate network and so remember that you can be monitored. 

Well we all read that warning and sort of know it by heart.

But do you really think that someone is watching you.

Well be assured that they are!

Talking to one of my colleagues and friends recently and this is what happened.

He had to fire one of his senior guys. 

And I asked him why?

He said:
"Because he was dead wood."

I asked what he meant as this was a senior person in the organization that was being let go.

So he said:
"Well I read the last few days of his emails on his account and he was doing absolutely nothing!"

And I was like hmm, that's amazing that you actually go into his account and read his stuff.

Yeah, I know it's not really his employees--the guy is at work--but still it's his email account that he uses, seriously.

So it's not just some corporate spooks sitting in the bowls of the building in a darkened security operations center behind a lot of cool looking screens monitoring your accounts for suspicious activity.

It's your management too that can logon and see and read your stuff, whenever.

So this guy that was fired wasn't just dead wood, he was actually dead meat. 

"Smile you're on camera" in more ways then one.

So if you decide to write some juicy emails today or save some salacious files on "your" computer or on the network, the expectation surely is that they are being read--you can take that to your privacy bank. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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June 24, 2017

Way Out Of Social Bounds

So on the 10th anniversary of the iPhone...

I want to say that the iPhone is probably one of the greatest inventions of all times...congratulations to Apple and especially to Steve Jobs!

I also want to say how far people have gone crazy in using these smartphones without any filters as to privacy or propriety. 

HERE IS A TRUE STORY THAT JUST HAPPENED :

We are in this building waiting for an elevator to come. 

A man comes around the corner speaking into his smartphone held at chest height with the speaker on blast!

He sees us, but apparently doesn't even think to pause the conversation or turn off the speaker and put the device to his ear.

Instead, we hear from the phone from what is apparently his immediate family member.


"That's right, it's a yeast infection!"

We are looking at each other like is this really happening or are we on Candid Camera or something.

And he respond still on with the speaker as we get on the elevator:


"A yeast infection, yeah, yeah, you better not let it get any worse."

Then from the phone:


"With these yeast infections, you know how it can be. I'll try to take care of it today,"

Him again, now as he's getting off the elevator:


"Well anyway, hope I'll be seeing you over later today."

My wife and I look at each other, and I blurt out after the elevator door closes:


"Yeah, yeah, I guess we'll be seeing you later today--with that yeast infection and all--hope it's not contagious!"


And we both start cracking up at how insane people are. 

While we can't (completely) help what people are over-hearing -and seeing through surveillance mechanisms on our smartphones, this guy with his phone, he didn't even flinch at the conversation he was having in the open on the speaker. 

It's a different day and age, and some people have no sense of boundaries anymore. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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October 23, 2016

Your Score Is Your Life

Absolutely fascinating article in the Washington Post

China is working on a plan to use big data to score people on their social behavior. 

Every interaction you make in life either increments or decrements your social score. 

You social score determines how trustworthy you are. 

The social score would vacuum up data from the "courts, police, banking, tax, and employment records."

People in service professions like teacher, doctors, and business could be scored for their professionalism. 

Doing positive social actions like caring for the elderly earn you added points and doing negative social actions like DUI or running a red light subtracts points from your score. 

As the score includes more and more data feeds over time, you could eventually be scored for doing your homework, chores in the home, how you treat your wife and children, the community service you do, how hard you perform at work, how you treat people socially and on dates, whether you are fair in your business dealings and treat others well, whether you do your religious duties, and so on. 

People can get rated for just about everything they do.

And these rating get aggregated into your social score. 

The score is immediately available to everyone and so they know how good or bad you are on the scale of 1 to a 1,000.

If you think people are stressed out now, can you imagine having to worry about everything you do and how you will be rated for it and how it can affect your score and your future. 

If you have a bad score, say goodbye to opportunities for education, employment, loans, friends, and marriage prospects. 

Imagine people held hostage by others threatening to give you a bad score because they don't like you, are racist, or for blackmail. 

What about society abusing this power to get you to not only follow positive social norms, but to enforce on you certain political leanings, religious followings, or policy endorsements. 

Social scores could end up meaning the ultimate in social control. 

Personal scores can manipulate your behavior by being rewarding or punitive and rehabilitative to whatever end the scoring authorities dictate. 

Moreover, hackers or the people who control the big data machinery could destroy your life in a matter of milliseconds. 

So this is what it comes down to: You are your score!

Play along and do what you are told to do...you are the Borg and you will follow. 

Conform or you are dead by number!

Transparency is everywhere. 

Pluses and minuses every day. 

What is my score today? 

Today, I am desirable and successful, and tomorrow, I am disregarded and a loser. 

Please don't kill my score.

Please don't destroy me. 

Please, I will be socially good. 

Please, I will not resist. ;-)

(Source Graphic: Andy Blumenthal)

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February 13, 2015

tURNING yOUR dEVICE aGAINST yOU!

So interesting article in BBC about the Samsung's "Listening TV."

This TV has voice activated controls and they don't just take commands, but...


"If your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party."


So aside from hackers (and spies) being able to turn your phone and computer mics, cameras, and GPS location data on and off to surveil and eavesdrop on you, now the dumb television set can listen in as well. 


You can be heard, seen, and found...whether you know it or not. ;-)


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal with eyes and ears from here and here with attribution to Firas and Simon James)

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January 31, 2015

You Can't Hide Your Feelings


You can try to hide your feeling, but it won't work...

Your emotions are now an open book to anyone with facial-recognition software, such as from Emotient, Affectiva, and Eyeris.

This video from Emotient shows examples of Dr. Marion Bartlett demonstrating very well how the system is able to pick up on her expressions of joy, sadness, surprise, anger, fear, disgust, and contempt. 

From broad displays of emotion to subtle spontaneous, natural displays, to micro, fast and involuntary expressions, the system detects and clearly displays it. 

Described in the Wall Street Journal, the software, in real time, successfully uses "algorithms to analyze people's faces" and is based on the work of Dr. Paul Ekman, who pioneered the study of facial expressions creating a catalog in the 1970s with "more than 5,000 muscle movements" linked to how they reveal your emotions. 

A single frame of a person's face can be used to extract 90,000 data points from "abstract patterns of light to tiny muscle movements, which get sorted by emotional categories."

With databases of billions of expressions from millions of faces in scores of countries around the world, the software works across ethnically diverse groups. 

Emotion-detection has a myriad of applications from national security surveillance and interrogation to in-store product marketing and generally gauging advertising effectiveness, to helping professionals from teachers to motivational speakers, executives, and even politicians hold people's attention and improve their messaging.

Then imagine very personal uses such as the software being used to evaluate job applicants or to tell if a spouse is lying about an affair...where does it end?

Of course, there are serious privacy issues in reading people's faces unbeknownst to or unwanted by them as well as possibilities for false positives, so that people's feelings are wrongly pegged or interpreted. 

In the end, unless you wear a physical mask or can spiritually transcend yourself above it all, we can see you and soon we will know not just what you are feeling, but also what you are thinking as well...it's coming. ;-)
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February 3, 2013

A Seeing Eye


This video from NOVA is an amazing display of the surveillance capabilities we have at our disposal.

ARGUS-IS Stands for Automated Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System.

Like a "Persistent Stare," ARGUS provides continuous monitoring and tracking over a entire city, but also it has the ability to simply click on an area (or multilple areas--up to 65 at a time) to zoom in and see cars, people, and even in detail what individuals are wearing or see them even waving their arms!

Created by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), ARGUS uses 368 imaging chips and provides a streaming video of 1.8 gigapixels (that is 1.8 billion pixels) of resolution and attaches to the belly of a unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) drone. 

ARGUS captures 1 million terabytes of a data a day, which is 5,000 hours of high-definition footage that can be stored and returned to as needed for searching events or people. 

The Atlantic (1 February 2013) points out how using this over an American city could on one hand, be an amazing law enforcement tool for catching criminals, but on the other hand raise serious privacy concerns like when used by government to collect data on individuals or by corporations to market and sell to consumers. 

What is amazing to me is not just the bird's eye view that this technology provides from the skies above, but that like little ants, we are all part of the mosaic of life on Earth.  We all play a part in the theater of the loving, the funny, the witty, and sometimes the insane. 

My Oma used to say in German that G-d see everything, but now people are seeing virtually everything...our actions for good or for shame are visible, archived, and searchable. ;-)

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January 21, 2013

Hiding Yourself In Plain Sight

I remember hearing that sometimes the best way to hide is in plain sight--just where no one would think to look.

Now there is a new clothing line being introduced by Adam Harvey for Stealth Wear that hides you using your own clothes. 

According to Slate (11 January 2013), the clothing line is envisioned to have:

Anti-drone hoodies and scarfs:  These will be made with special metalized material that can shield you from things like drone thermal imaging technology, and I would imagine could also help against facial recognition along the lines of a prior project CVDazzle that uses face-painting and hair styling for concealment. 

XX-shirts: These cover your upper body and can shield you from x-rays. I wonder how this will impact TSA scanning at airports?

Pocket-blocks: A cell phone pouch made from "signal attenuating material" to prevent tracking and interception. 

Don't confuse this stealth wear clothing line with a Canadian company called StealthWear that makes a different type of protective clothing--padding for jackets, forearms, shoulders, torso, and so on for those working in "aggressive educational environments."

The new Stealth Wear, however, is a concept for a high-tech fashion line designed to provide counter surveillance and more personal privacy--in this sense, it's really the anti Big Brother. 

With more and more cameras, imaging machines, facial recognition, drones, and other surveillance tools out there--I suppose it is not surprising to see a cultural backlash in terms of everyday surveillance protection clothing coming to the fore. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

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August 25, 2012

Choke Points to Checkpoints


This is some promising biometric technology from AOptix

Enrolling in the system is the first step and means just seconds of standing in the capture field of the slender tower, and the device scans both iris and face of the person. 

The scanning captures images within seconds and the software converts the images into binary code. 

It then subsequently scans and matches the person's biometrics against the database for positive identification. 

The beauty of this system is that it is simple and fast and can be used for passenger screening, immigration, or any other access control for entry/egress for a building, location, or even to a computer computer system and it's information.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the Insight Duo Towers sells for $40,000 each.

Eighty of these are currently in use at all air, land, and sea borders in Qatar.  Further, Dubai International Airport has been piloting this at a terminal that handles 40 million people per year, and it has cut immigration waiting times from 49 minutes to 22 seconds. 

This technology has obvious important applications for military, law enforcement, and homeland security, as well as even more generalized security use in the private sector.

And while very impressive, here are some concerns about it that should be addressed:

1) Enrollment of Biometrics and Personal Identification--registering for the system may only take a few seconds for the actual scan, but then verifying who you are (i.e. who those biometrics really belong to) is another step in the process not shown.  How do we know that those iris and face prints belong to Joe Schmo the average citizen who should be allowed through the eGate and not to a known terrorist on the watch list?  The biometrics need to be associated with a name, address, social security, date of birth and other personal information.

2) Rights versus Recognitions--rights to access and recognition are two different things. Just because there is iris and facial recognition, doesn't mean that this is someone who should be given access rights to a place, system or organization.  So the devil is in the details of implementation in specifying who should have access and who should not. 

3) Faking Out The System--no system is perfect and when something is advertised as accurate, the question to me is how accurate and where are the system vulnerabilities. For example, can the system be hacked and false biometrics or personal identification information changed?  Can a terrorist cell, criminal syndicate, or nations state create really good fake iris and facial masks for impersonating an enrollee and fooling the system into thinking that a bad good is really a good guy. 

4) Privacy of Personally Identifiable Information (PII)--not specific to AOptix, but to this biometric solutions overall--how do we ensure privacy of the data, so it is not stolen or misused such as for identity theft.  I understand that AOptix has PKI encryption, but how strong is the encryption,who long does it take to break, and what are the policies and procedures within organizations to safeguard this privacy data.

5) Big Brother Society--biometrics recognition may provide for opportunities for safe and secure access and transit, but what are the larger implications for this to become a "big brother" society where people are identified and tracked wherever they go and whatever they do. Where are the safeguards for democracy and human rights.

Even with these said, I believe that this is the wave of the future for access control--as AOptix's says, for changing choke points to checkpoints--we need a simple, fast, secure, and cost-effective way to identify friends and foe and this is it, for the masses, in the near-term.

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August 18, 2012

The Privacy Slope

I read with interest Ronald Bailey's book review of Privacy by Garet Keizer in the Wall Street Journal ( 16 August 2012). 

In a nutshell, privacy is founded in the Constitution's 4th Amendment: "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated."

I would define privacy as the freedom--to think, to feel, and to act as ourselves (within ethical boundaries) without fear of intrusion, revelation, or reprisal. 

In other words, it should only be our business who we love, what we are interested or believe in, who we vote for, what we choose to do with our lives, and more. 

I think in grade school, the children generally sum it up well when they playfully chant: "Mind your own BI," where BI is used for business (or biziness). :-)

According to Keizer, the danger to privacy come into play from two main sources: 
- Commerce--who want to sell you something and
- Government--that needs to surveil for security and law enforcement purposes 

After 9/11, their was a perceived need for greater surveillance to enhance homeland security, and with advances in technology and communications (smartphones, Internet, social media, etc.), the ability to snoop became far easier.

In 2002, the DoD program for Total Information Awareness (TIA) was an attempt to know everything (i.e. total) about those who would do us harm, but fears about this capability being used against the innocent, quickly required a rethinking or perhaps, just a rebranding. 

Some say that the new NSA mega data center in Utah is the fulfillment of the TIA dream--according to the Washington Post, already in 2010 NSA intercepted and stored "1.7 billion emails, phone calls, and other types of communications." Further, law enforcement demanded records from cellphone carriers on 1.3 million subscribers "including text messages and caller locations" over just the last year's time. 

Keizer cautions that "the ultimate check on government as a whole is its inability to know everything about those it governs"--i.e. without the people holding the cards, there is the risk of spiraling into a Big Brother totalitarian society--goodbye democracy!

I think Keizer perhaps oversells the fear of government surveillance and underemphasizes intrusion from business--his thinking is that "If consumers are annoyed with a merchant's monitoring, they can buy elsewhere." 

But what Keizer misses is that industry as a whole has moved toward the use of technology--from club cards and promotions to use of Internet cookies, RFID, and more--to systematically track consumers and their buying behavior and that information is readily captured, packaged, used, and sold for marketing and sales--as well as to the government!

As a common practice now, where is a consumer to go that will shield them from hungry business looking to capture market share and earn nice profits?

At the same time, while government surveillance can certainly be misused and abused with terrible consequences for individuals society---there are potentially a lot of people looking over the shoulder of those carrying out public programs--and this "sunlight"--where and when it shines--can help to prevent bad things happening. 

The problem is that the system is not perfect, and there are always those program people who act of out of bounds and those watchers who are ineffective and/or dishonest.

Overall, it's a zero sum game, where those that hype up security and capitalism, can tramp down on privacy, and vice versa.
In totality, we can never just assume everything will be okay when it comes to privacy and how information is used, but we have to be active citizens helping ensure that right things are done, the right way. 

For regular, hardworking, decent citizens, there is a definite need to safeguard privacy--and technology can be helpful here with anonymizers, encryptors, and other shielding tools.

For the bad guys, I would imagine, no question, that the government will continue to develop the means to thwart their secrecy and planning to inflict harm on the American people. 

For business, it's okay to capture consumer information and sell, but pour it on to thick and people will think twice about your company's ethics and brand--and even a lawsuit may be in the making. 

Yes, privacy is a slippery slope, and not only can a person's self be revealed or used inappropriately, but the voyeur can get burned too if they overdo it. 

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

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March 31, 2012

Which Big Brother

About a decade ago, after the events of 9/11, there was a program called Total Information Awareness (TIA) run out the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The intent was develop and use technology to capture data (lots of it), decipher it, link it, mine it, and present and use it effectively to protect us from terrorists and other national security threats. 

Due to concerns about privacy--i.e. people's fear of "Big Brother"--the program was officially moth-balled, but the projects went forward under other names.  

This month Wired (April 2012) reports that the National Security Agency (NSA) has almost achieved the TIA dream--"a massive surveillance center" capable of analyzing yottabytes (10 to the 24th bytes) of data that is being completed in the Utah desert. 

According to the article, the new $2 billion Utah Data (Spy) Center is being built by 10,000 construction workers and is expected to be operational in a little over a year (September 2013), and will capture phone calls, emails, and web posts and process them by a "supercomputer of almost unimaginable speed to look for patterns and unscramble codes."

While DOD is most interested in "deepnet"--"data beyond the reach of the public" such as password protected data, governmental communications, and other "high value" information, the article goes on to describe "electronic monitoring rooms in major US telecom facilities" to collect information at the switch level, monitor phone calls, and conduct deep packet inspection of Internet traffic using systems (like Narus).

Despite accusations of massive domestic surveillance at this center, Fox News (28 March 2012) this week reported that those allegations have been dismissed by NSA. The NSA Director himself, General Keith Alexander provided such assurances at congressional hearings the prior week that the center was not for domestic surveillance purposes, but rather "to protect the nation's cyber security," a topic that he is deeply passionate about. 

Certainly new technologies (especially potentially invasive ones) can be scary from the perspective of civil liberties and privacy concerns.

However, with the terrorists agenda very clear, there is no alternative, but to use all legitimate innovation and technology to our advantage when it comes to national security--to understand our enemies, their networks, their methods, their plans, to stop them, and take them down before they do us harm.

While, it is true that the same technologies that can be used against our enemies, can also be turned against us, we must through protective laws and ample layers of oversight ensure that this doesn't happen. 

Adequate checks and balances in government are essential to ensure that "bad apples" don't take root and potentially abuse the system, even if that is the exception and not the rule. 

There is a difference between the big brother who is there to defend his siblings from the schoolyard bully or pulls his wounded brother in arms off the battlefield, and the one who takes advantage of them.

Not every big brother is the Big Brother from George Orwell's "1984" totalitarian state, but if someone is abusing the system, we need to hold them accountable. 

Protecting national security and civil liberties is a dual responsibility that we cannot wish away, but which we must deal with with common sense and vigilance.  

(Source Photo: here)

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August 5, 2011

Facial Recognition Goes Mainstream

Bar

Facial recognition applications are no longer just for the military and law enforcement to identify hostiles or criminals, but rather is going mainstream.

The Wall Street Journal (5 August 2011) reports from the bar scene to the television and from vampire gaming to celebrity match-ups, facial recognition software is now part of our everyday technology mix.

Facial recognition is "at a tipping point where some of these face-recognition technologies are not just gimicks, but are becoming useful." Moreover, the technology has become quite good with "frontal face images, the error rate of rejecting a legitimate claim--when the face image and name match-decreased to 0.29% in 2010 from a rate of 79% in 1993."

So here are some examples of how facial recognition is being used:

- SceneTap: Free app for iPhone and Droid "displays real time stats on the local bar scene...shows the number of people at the bar, the male-to-female ratio, and the average age of the patron"--all from facial recognition--this is not bad except for the bartender on a slow night.

- TVs with Viewdle: TV set-top boxes with facial recongition can "identify who is sitting in front of the TV then customize programming accordingly...displaying most recently watched or recorded shows"--can anyone say America's Got Talent!

- Third Eye: Facebook game that based on facial recognition identifies people as either vampires or slayers. Even without the app, I'd bet I'm one of the slayers :-)

- FaceR Celebrity: This iPhone app uses a picture and facial recognition software to determine which celebrities you most closely resemble. For me, it's Sylvester Stallone, all the way--I'm sure of it.

A lot of people are concerned about the privacy implications of facial recognition--collecting and storing images of faces and using it for surveillance and tracking and getting into your business...like knowing what bars or whereever else you are going to.

But apps like SceneTap say they don't collect personal information, nobody sees the video feed, and they don't match the images to photos on the web or Facebook to identify exactly who is entering the bar. This is sounding a little like TSA and the body imaging scanners they use--i.e. don't worry nobody sees your privates! :-)

But perhaps, whether or not they do or don't isn't the point, they could and that is a privacy concern.

Facial recognition technology, even though it is used in gaming, it is not kid's play, and it should be regulated to avoid a society where Internet "big brother" has virtually unlimited capability to track and match each and every facial you!

(Source Photo: here)

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