8th March 2017
8th March 2017
28th Jan 2017
The state of New York has privately asked surveillance companies to pitch a vast camera system that would scan and identify people who drive in and out of New York City, according to a December memo obtained by Vocativ.
The call for private companies to submit plans is part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s major infrastructure package, which he introduced in October. Though much of the related proposals would be indisputably welcome to most New Yorkers — renovating airports and improving public transportation — a little-noticed detail included installing cameras to “test emerging facial recognition software and equipment.”
“This is a highly advanced system they’re asking for,” said Clare Garvie, an associate at Georgetown University’s Center for Privacy and Technology, and who specializes in police use of face recognition technologies. “This is going to be terabytes — if not petabytes — of data, and multiple cameras running 24 hours a day. In order to be face recognition compliant they probably have to be pretty high definition.”
Cuomo’s office didn’t respond to multiple requests for clarification in the ensuing weeks after his announcement. But a memo from the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s Bridges and Tunnels division, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, shows that on December 12, the MTA put out a call to an unknown group of private vendors of surveillance equipment. The proposed system would both scan drivers as they approached or crossed most of the city’s bridges and tunnels at high speeds, and would also capture and pair those photos with the license plates of their cars.
“The biggest risk that comes with a system like this is its ability to track people, by location, by their face,” Garvie said. “So what needs to be put in place is a prohibition on the use of these cameras and the technology as a location tracking tool.”
The proposed system would be massive, the memo reads:
The Authority is interested in implementing a Facial Detection System, in a free-flow highway environment, where vehicle movement is unimpeded at highway speeds as well as bumper-to-bumper traffic, and license plate images are taken and matched to occupants of the vehicles (via license plate number) with Facial Detection and Recognition methods from a gantry-based or road-side monitoring location.
All seven of the MTA’s bridges and both its tunnels are named in the proposal.
New York City is home to more than 2,000 bridges and tunnels, which are owned by various agencies, including the New York City and state’s Departments of Transportation and Amtrak. It’s unclear as of this writing if those “crossing points” are similarly considering surveillance technology, though Vocativ has filed FOIA requests to each of them. Cuomo’s office didn’t respond to multiple inquiries. It’s similarly unclear how many, or even if any, private surveillance companies responded to the MTA’s proposal. A followup memo on Dec. 23 extended the deadline for submissions until Jan. 3, indicating the MTA wasn’t satisfied with the initial round of proposals.
New York City wouldn’t be the first in the U.S. to have a network of facial recognition cameras for law enforcement. In 2013, for instance, the Los Angeles Police Department admitted it had deployed 16 cameras equipped with face recognition software, designed to search for particular suspects. But the most prominent known system is in Moscow, which attempted to pair hundreds of thousands of CCTV cameras with advanced facial recognition software by NTech Labs — the company behind the infamous FaceFind software, which can let Russians stalk people whose picture they snap by using the program to find their social media accounts.
Moscow’s system has been beset with problems, though, especially because CCTV cameras are designed to move with subjects, reducing image quality, and because they’re normally mounted above people’s heads.
“The findings from phase one of the pilot are that it’s remarkably inaccurate,” Garvie said. “This is the most advanced system we’re aware of, but it’s having a very hard time in real-world conditions of people walking.”
That indicates that an effective system like the one the MTA has called for might still be years away.
“The New York crossings project is talking about people driving at highway speeds, so I think we can expect very, very low accuracy rates,” Garvie said.
9th Jan 2017
The president of the UK’s Police Superintendents’ Association, Gavin Thomas, argued that preventing those who’ve committed internet crimes from being able to be online would be a far better and more cost effective than sending them to jail.
Cyber crime is soaring in the UK according to 2016 figures from the Cyber Crime Assessment unit of the UK National Crime Agency, which states it had surpassed all other forms of criminal activity. The report found that “cyber enabled fraud” made up 36 percent of all crime reported, and “computer misuse” accounted for 17 percent.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Chief Superintendent Thomas said that sending cyber criminals to prison is expensive and not an appropriate or effective way of tackling the growing problem.
Instead, he has suggested fitting offenders with electronic wifi jammers that would prevent them from accessing the internet. Wifi jammers work by disrupting the frequency on which a signal is transmitted. Thomas suggested that the device could fit around the person’s wrist or ankle, similar to an electronic tag.
“We have got to stop using 19th century punishments to deal with 21st century crimes,” he said. “It costs around £38,000 a year to keep someone in prison but if you look at the statistics around short term sentencing the recidivism rate is extraordinarily high.”
“This could be introduced as part of community sentencing, so that the 16-year-old does not have access to the internet or wifi for a period and then in conjunction they have to do some sort of traditional work in the community,” he suggested.
Thomas said the criminal justice system also needs to find ways of tackling the growing problem of crime committed on social media. “There is a growing phenomenon here and we need to start to think in the future about how we deal with this.”
17th Dec 2016
A self-driving Uber car was caught on camera apparently running a red light in San Francisco Wednesday.
Uber launched the fleet of self-driving Volvo SUV’s Wednesday morning, just hours before the incident.
Dashboard video from a Luxor Cab captured the Volvo apparently running the light after the taxi had stopped for the light. Just in front of the SFMOMA building.
There was also a second incident reported by Twitter user Annie Gaus Wednesday morning. She initially posted at 9:48 a.m. that she saw “a ‘self-driving’ Uber” that entered the intersection on Van Ness Avenue on a red light and nearly hit the Lyft car she was riding in.
According to Uber, the cars aren’t yet ready to hit the streets without someone monitoring them, meaning someone from the company was likely behind the wheel. A statement issued by Uber Wednesday afternoon attributed the red-light being run in the video to an error by the person monitoring the car.
“This incident was due to human error,” the statement read. “This is why we believe so much in making the roads safer by building self-driving Ubers. This vehicle was not part of the pilot and was not carrying customers. The driver involved has been suspended while we continue to investigate.”
State regulators said Wednesday afternoon that Uber must stop the self-driving car service until it receives a permit from the state.
27th Nov 2016
Edward Snowden’s bid to guarantee that he would not be extradited to the US if he visited Norway has been rejected by the Norwegian supreme court.
The former National Security Agency contractor filed the lawsuit in April, attempting to secure safe passage to Norway to pick up a free speech award.
It had already been rejected by Oslo District court and an appeals court.
Mr Snowden is a former NSA analyst who leaked secret US surveillance details three years ago.
As a result, he is facing charges in the US which could put him in prison for up to 30 years.
Mr Snowden’s lawyers have previously said if he were extradited to the US, it would be “a foregone conclusion” that he would be convicted and jailed.
Mr Snowden has been living in Russia, out of reach of the US authorities, since the leaks in 2013.
He had hoped to travel to Oslo to receive the Ossietzky Prize, for “outstanding efforts for freedom of expression”.
The award was due to be presented earlier this month.
But the Norwegian Supreme Court said it could not rule on the legality of any move to extradite Mr Snowden as the US had so far made no such request.
19th Nov 2016
A bill giving the UK intelligence agencies and police the most sweeping surveillance powers in the western world has passed into law with barely a whimper, meeting only token resistance over the past 12 months from inside parliament and barely any from outside.
The Investigatory Powers Act, passed on Thursday, legalises a whole range of tools for snooping and hacking by the security services unmatched by any other country in western Europe or even the US.
The security agencies and police began the year braced for at least some opposition, rehearsing arguments for the debate. In the end, faced with public apathy and an opposition in disarray, the government did not have to make a single substantial concession to the privacy lobby.
US whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted: “The UK has just legalised the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. It goes further than many autocracies.”
Snowden in 2013 revealed the scale of mass surveillance – or bulk data collection as the security agencies prefer to describe it – by the US National Security Agency and the UK’s GCHQ, which work in tandem.
But, against a backdrop of fears of Islamist attacks, the privacy lobby has failed to make much headway. Even in Germany, with East Germany’s history of mass surveillance by the Stasi and where Snowden’s revelations produced the most outcry, the Bundestag recently passed legislation giving the intelligence agencies more surveillance powers.
The US passed a modest bill last year curtailing bulk phone data collection but the victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election is potentially a major reverse for privacy advocates. On the campaign trail, Trump made comments that implied he would like to use the powers of the surveillance agencies against political opponents.
The Liberal Democrat peer Lord Strasburger, one of the leading voices against the investigatory powers bill, said: “We do have to worry about a UK Donald Trump. If we do end up with one, and that is not impossible, we have created the tools for repression. If Labour had backed us up, we could have made the bill better. We have ended up with a bad bill because they were all over the place.
“The real Donald Trump has access to all the data that the British spooks are gathering and we should be worried about that.”
The Investigatory Powers Act legalises powers that the security agencies and police had been using for years without making this clear to either the public or parliament. In October, the investigatory powers tribunal, the only court that hears complaints against MI6, MI5 and GCHQ, ruled that they had been unlawfully collecting massive volumes of confidential personal data without proper oversight for 17 years.
One of the negative aspects of the legislation is that it fails to provide adequate protection for journalists’ sources, which could discourage whistleblowing.
One of the few positives in the legislation is that it sets out clearly for the first time the surveillance powers available to the intelligence services and the police. It legalises hacking by the security agencies into computers and mobile phones and allows them access to masses of stored personal data, even if the person under scrutiny is not suspected of any wrongdoing.
Privacy groups are challenging the surveillance powers in the European court of human rights and elsewhere.
Jim Killock, the executive director of Open Rights Group, said: “The UK now has a surveillance law that is more suited to a dictatorship than a democracy. The state has unprecedented powers to monitor and analyse UK citizens’ communications regardless of whether we are suspected of any criminal activity.”
Renate Samson, the chief executive of Big Brother Watch, said: “The passing of the investigatory powers bill has fundamentally changed the face of surveillance in this country. None of us online are now guaranteed the right to communicate privately and, most importantly, securely.”
Trump’s victory started speculation that, given his warm words for Vladimir Putin, he might do a deal with the Russian president to have Snowden sent back to the US where he faces a long jail sentence. Snowden has lived in Russia since leaking tens of thousands of documents to journalists in 2013.
But Bill Binney, a former member of the NSA who became a whistleblower, expressed scepticism: “I am not sure if the relationship a President Trump would have with President Putin would be bad for Snowden.
“In Russia, he would still be an asset that maybe Putin would use in bargaining with Trump. Otherwise, Snowden does have a large support network around the world plus in the US and Trump may not want to disturb that. Also, I think any move to get Snowden out of Russia and into US courts would also open up support for at least three other lawsuits against the US government’s unconstitutional surveillance.”
17th Nov 2016
Blood plasma from young people has been found to rejuvenate old mice, improving their memory, cognition, and physical activity. The method has the potential to be developed into a treatment for people, says Sakura Minami of Alkahest, the company behind the work.
Previous research has found that stitching old and young mice together has an interesting effect. While sharing a blood system works out well for the older mouse, the younger one isn’t so lucky. The young animals started to show signs of brain ageing, while the brains of the older mice started to look younger. “We see a rejuvenation effect,” says Minami.
The key to youth appears to be in the blood plasma – the liquid part of blood. Several studies have found that injecting plasma from young mice into old mice can help rejuvenate the brain and other organs, including the liver, heart, and muscle.
Could blood plasma from young people have the same benefits? To find out, Minami and her colleagues took blood samples from 18-year-olds, and injected them into 12-month-old mice. At this age, the equivalent of around age 50 for people, the mice start to show signs of ageing – they move more slowly, and perform badly on memory tests.
The mice were given twice-weekly injections of the human plasma. After three weeks of injections, they were submitted to a range of tests. The treated mice’s performance was compared to young, 3-month-old mice, as well as old mice who had not received injections.
They found that human plasma does have the power to rejuvenate. Treated mice ran around an open space like young mice. Their memories also seemed to improve, and they were much better at remembering their way around a maze than untreated mice.
“Young human plasma improves cognition,” says Minami, who presented her findings at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego, California, on Monday. “Their memory was preserved.”
“It’s more or less what we would expect,” says Victoria Bolotina, at Boston University in Massachusetts. “The blood of young people must have something in it that’s important for keeping them young,” she says.
The team then examined the brains of the treated and untreated mice. They looked for clues on the birth of new neurons in the hippocampus – a process called neurogenesis, which is thought to be important for memory and learning. Sure enough, the treated mice appeared to have created more new cells in their brain. “Young human plasma treatment can increase neurogenesis,” says Minami.
Minami says she has identified some factors in young blood that might be responsible for these benefits, but that she won’t reveal what they are yet. Some of them seem to be crossing into the brain, while others may be acting remotely, elsewhere in the body, she says.
She hopes to one day translate the findings into an anti-ageing treatment for people – one that might help those who start to experience the effects of an ageing brain. “There’s anecdotal evidence that people experience benefits after blood transfusions,” she says.
The company she works for, Alkahest, has already started a trial of young blood in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
14th Nov 2016
Adobe, the tech company at the forefront of photo manipulation (and creators of Photoshop), recently debuted VoCo (voice conversion), a ‘Photoshop’ for audio and speech that’s both impressive and alarming.
The software was unveiled at the company’s recently completed Adobe Max 2016 conference, which you can see above.
7th Nov 2016
Wikileaks released a second batch of emails from the Democratic National Committee early Monday morning, even as it came under an online attack.
The site claims to have suffered a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack designed to — and briefly successful at — knocking the site offline. That attack came around the same time that Wikileaks released the new emails.
Wikileaks immediately drew a connection between the release of the new information and the attack.
“Our email publication servers are under a targeted DoS attack since releasing #DNCLeak2,” tweeted the official Wikileaks account, following a link to a donations page to help it “increase capacity.”Denial of service attacks flood sites with so much internet traffic they can no longer operate properly.
The new DNC emails released by Wikileaks total 8,263.
In one, DNC press representative Lauren Dillon lists more than 40 different potential Republican vice presidential picks that the party had considered preparing for. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump‘s pick, Mike Pence, did not make the list.
The DNC’s Republican vice president considerations were divided into four tiers with a fifth tier of those no longer being considered as candidates. The brunt of the names are on the “nixed” list, which includes Ben Carson, Jon Kasich, Jan Brewer, Jesse Ventura and others.
The first round of DNC emails lead to the resignation of several party officials, including former head Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Some of those emails appeared to show the party colluding to help nominate Hillary Clinton win the Democratic primary over Bernie Sanders.
4th Nov 2016
The mass destruction of paper titles and their replacement with electronic certificates has been questioned by property lawyers who fear it will compromise security and effectively outsource the 150-year-old Torrens title system to private operators.
The Law Institute of Victoria has been an outspoken critic of the electronic system, arguing it increases costs for consumers, undermines those holding titles for security against other assets, and adds complexity and legal uncertainty to a what was once a simple, safe system.
The changes were ushered in by the Registrar of Titles who declared in a notice in the Victoria Government Gazette that paper based titles will be void and of no effect from October 22, 2016.
Property owners whose paper land titles are held by major banks were not told their title documents have been destroyed.
The conversion of paper certificates of title to electronic versions was part of a national push to electronic conveyancing on the PEXA system, a spokesman for Land Victoria said.
PEXA is owned by state governments, the ANZ, CBA, NAB, Westpac, Macquarie Bank and private equity.
“If landowners wish to get a paper title when their mortgage is paid out, they can do so,” the spokesman said.
Bruce King from Kirby & Co. Solicitors said he conducted his first property transaction on the system last week and it was more expensive.
The transaction went smoothly but other lawyers encountered difficulties with banks failing to nominate a controlling entity which meant some settlements didn’t get through, he said.
PEXA chief executive Marcus Price said paper titles were cumbersome to use. “People keep losing them, including banks,” he said.
Most property fraud occurs with unencumbered paper titles being taken and used by other family members, he said.
“This is a long overdue catch-up by property to the two other big assets, shares and cash, which are exchanged electronically,” Mr Price said.
“It is ultimately a much safer system,” he said.
PEXA was set up in 2010 with federal government support after a meeting of the Council of Australian Governments urged modernisation of the antiquated system of paper-based transfers used by land titles offices and conveyancers.
The Titles Office in NSW is in the process of being privatised and South Australia is considering similar plans.