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Here’s a quick run-down of some important, recent stories at the intersection of technology and privacy:
Public/private surveillance partnership gone wild. Police in Florida used a cell phone tracking device—most likely a ‘stingray’ IMSI catcher—to spy on a suspect, but didn’t get a warrant before doing so. Why didn’t they get a warrant? The police say they couldn’t disclose to a judge that they intended to use the invasive tracking tool because doing so would violate the terms of an agreement they had made with…wait for it…the private corporation that manufactures the surveillance equipment. The ACLU is on the case.
Why wait for DHS to spy on you when you can spy on yourself? While they acknowledge that the systems will not stop crime, some residents in higher-end Oakland neighborhoods are creating digital fortresses by installing networked surveillance cameras throughout their residential areas. As the ACLU’s Michael Risher pointed out, residents who think that they can control access to these images “are not being realistic.” Like with every other piece of data held by private entities, law enforcement at all levels can access it—piece by piece, or potentially even in bulk or by tapping in live.
Civil rights and big data: Houston, we have a (bunch of) problem(s). A number of media, civil rights, and civil liberties organizations including the ACLU have signed on to five civil rights principles in the era of big data. “As new technologies allow companies and government to gain greater insight into our lives, it is vitally important that these technologies be designed and used in ways that respect the values of equal opportunity and equal justice,” the coalition wrote. The principles the group is advancing are: Stop high-tech data profiling; ensure fairness in automated decisions; preserve constitutional principles; enhance individual control of personal information; and protect people from inaccurate data.
Gaming the surveillance state. Video game creator Nicky Case has published a demo of his new game, “Nothing to Hide.” Case explained the project to gamer website Polygon: "Every action and thought the game's characters have is immediately posted to 'The Wall,' an omnipresent social media feed that is on every screen on every wall. A bit like social media today. And the game's mechanic involves picking up and moving around devices with cameras always watching them. A bit like our mobile devices today.” You can play a demo version of the open-source project here; a video teaser for the project is embedded at the top of this page.
Millions more invested in failed border "security" project. The Department of Homeland Security has awarded a $145 million contract to the Israeli military contractor Elbit for the construction of integrated surveillance towers along the US-Mexico border in Arizona. The government is calling the project the “Integrated Fixed Tower Project”. It’s not the first time DHS has invested huge sums of money in militarizing the US-Mexico border by attempting to trick it out with electronic trip-wires. A previous project didn’t fare so well: the so-called ‘Secure Border Initiative’ was cancelled after DHS and Boeing bungled the project, but not before over $1 billion in taxpayer dollars were wasted over a six year period.
Think you have nothing to hide? Think again. A filmmaker is seeking donations for a project that will use an activist's personal story of surviving state repression to illustrate exactly why we need to fight abusive government surveillance. Charles Koppelman explains the project, ‘Zero Day’, which is coproduced and will be aired by the BBC: "The film begins with the story of a single malware attack by the Assad regime in Syria using Skype as a platform. This targeted phishing attack used a Remote Access Tool (Xtreme RAT) to infect an activist’s computer. He was then tracked surreptitiously by security forces. He suffered very real physical consequences — detention, jail, and torture. His jailers showed him a file with hundreds of pages of email, web posts and surveillance reports on his movements. It is well-documented that he was the first Syrian activist to be attacked in the ongoing cyberwar conducted by the Assad regime. The Assad regime uses this same digital surveillance tool to compromise countless other activists and citizen journalists."
You have the right to view and challenge evidence against you…unless you don't. The Department of Justice has now informed a third person that investigators secretly used FISA-derived warrantless surveillance to prosecute him. Agron Hasbajrami is serving a fifteen year sentence after being convicted of providing material support for terrorism. Prosecutors alleged that Hasbajrami planned to travel to the FATA region of Pakistan to work with US designated terrorist organizations. He pled guilty, meaning that it might be very difficult for him to appeal the ruling or the warrantless surveillance, even though the spying was concealed from him at the time of his plea.
No privacy for ordinary people, but privacy for the spies. Israeli security forces and elite spies have forbidden their employees from adding their biometric data to Israel’s new “smart” biometric identity tracking system. The security services have long opposed the project, fearing data leaks and hacks. The plan, which trades out analog IDs for chipped identity cards connected to a database containing the fingerprints and face-prints of every Israeli citizen, was approved by the Knesset in 2009, but is only rolling out now. It is mandatory for all citizens of the state of Israel—except, it seems, the spies.