Emotion Detection to Be Added to 150,000 Moscow CCTV Cameras

Police, Surveillance

Emotion detection technology developed by NTechLab will reportedly be added to 150,000 surveillance cameras run by Moscow’s city government (though NTechLab remains very hush-hush about its clients). The purpose is to detect “suspicious behavior” and track particular individuals. The company has won various research awards (ex. University of Ohio’s EmotionNet challenge) for detecting faces and emotions, and is known for its FindFace app, which acts as a photo search engine to find the Russian social network VKontakte profiles of people spotted on mass transit. CEO of the company, Alexander Kabakov states,

The recognition gives a new level of security in the street because in a couple of seconds you can identify terrorists or criminals or killers

Chilling. Especially because the emotion component has a reported accuracy rate of 94% [on what kind of training data set, a researcher might ask]. Kabakov sees no additional privacy concerns arising from the addition of emotion detection because the cameras already exist. Flawed arguments of a spy merchant.

Source: The Telegraph

Oakland Measure to Require Disclosure of Surveillance

Legislation, Surveillance

On May 9, the Public Safety Committee of the Oakland City Council approved the “Surveillance and Community Safety Ordinance,” which requires that city departments pursuing new surveillance technology must disclose to the public and obtain approval from the City Council. Concerns over thermal imaging, license plate scanners, Stingray technology, and the building of the Domain Awareness Center (DAC), a citywide surveillance camera hub, are all motivating forces in this privacy effort, put together by the city’s Privacy Advisory Commission. The ordinance is based on a similar law passed in Santa Clara County in 2016.

The preamble to the ordinance is:

Throughout history, surveillance efforts have been used to intimidate and oppress certain communities and groups more than others, including those that are defined by a common race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, income level, sexual orientation, or political perspective…

Privacy advocates packed the council room, speaking with strength about the need for freedom from surveillance. Here’s Brian Hofer, chair of the Privacy Advisory Commission:

Unfettered surveillance doesn’t just waste public money and abuse our civil liberties. It endangers lives. Trump has access to tools that would make the Stasi and KGB envious. We must institutionalize limits to surveillance, prohibit secret uses, require maximum oversight and transparency, and impose penalties for misconduct.

The proposal moves next to the full Council.

Sources: EFF, East Bay Express

New CA Bill to Allow Drivers to Cover License Plates When Parked

Legislation, Protection, Surveillance

Sponsored by EFF and Sen. Joel Anderson (R-Alpine), a new bill has been introduced in California to prevent photographing of parked car license plates by automated license plate readers (ALPRs). Currently, Californians can cover the entirety of their cars when parked, so this bill would really just clarify that drivers can cover just the license plate portion if they so choose. Police are still legally permitted to lift up the cover to inspect license plates.

Covering up your license plate in a way allows you to maintain location privacy, as ALPRs atop police or private company cars sweep down your streets and scoop up license plate readings. Where your car is parked ties your identity to a series of locations, which could include medical facilities, protests, places of worship, and where you spend your nights. A plate cover is a simple way to protect yourself from this real form of surveillance. The bill will go into consideration on May 9th in the California Senate Transportation and Housing Committee.

Source: EFF

Taser Police Body Cameras Will Be Used to Detect “Suspicious Activity”

Police, Surveillance

Taser, recently re-branded as technology company Axon, has announced that it will provide free body cameras to police in the USA and 1 year of free data storage and training. Approximately 1/3 of police departments already use body cameras. Taser’s interest is in capturing and storing police camera data to offer predictive analytics of criminal activity: automating the classification of what looks “suspicious” through deep learning.

While automated machine learning is often portrayed as objective, there are inherent biases with algorithms used to classify behavior, The data set used to train the classifier is often subject to human bias. For instance, facial recognition algorithms trained on faces of white people have trouble identifying African Americans. The database of “suspicious activity” may be comprised of unevenly collected records of black and Hispanic people. Video collected by police body camera is controlled by where police decide to go and when cameras are activated. Finally, this represents further encroachment on private profit-driven industry on decisions that affect human rights and human lives.

How to Protect Your Privacy at a Protest

Police, Protection, Smartphones, Surveillance

Or, What I Should Have Done to Protect My Phone from Surveillance at Today’s March for Science (and What I Will Do at Future Protests)

Fantastic video by the Intercept highlighting the very real possibility of being tracked on our cellphones today at the worldwide marches for science.

Tips for Protesters

  • Lock your phone with a passcode. This entry key is more difficult to extract from you against your will than your fingerprint if you are apprehended by police.
  • Make sure your phone is encrypted. Turn encryption on in your security settings.
  • Use Signal by Open Whisper to communicate with your friends. This end-to-end encryption will prevent prying eyes from reading your messages.
  • Remember that it is your right to film police.
  • Turn off your phone if you are arrested.
  • Know that it is your legal right to refuse to have the digital contents of your phone searched.



Providence City Council Unanimously Approves Sweeping Police Reform

Immigration, Legislation, Police, Surveillance

Yesterday, the Providence City Council approved 12-0 the Community Safety Act for sweeping police reform in a huge win for civil rights and liberties.

The act states:
—targeted electronic surveillance must be backed by reasonable suspicion of criminal activity
—police cannot rely on race, ethnicity, language, housing status, or political affiliation as grounds for suspicion that an individual is engaged in criminal activity
—officers may not inquire about a person’s immigration status or comply with requests from other agencies, such as the DHS, to support operations conducted solely to enforce federal immigration law
—individuals can inquire whether they are included in the police’s gang database and appeal their inclusion on the list
—police must inform subjects before search that they have a right to decline the requested search when there is no judicial warrant or probable cause
—residents maintain the right to observe and record police activities

This act is the result of 3 years of community advocacy, and EFF calls it one of “the most visionary set of policing reforms proposed around the country.”

Sources: EFF, WPRI

Fly Don’t Spy

Online privacy, Surveillance

Fly Don’t Spy is a campaign/petition to urge DHS Secretary John Kelly to drop plans to require foreign travelers to surrender their social media passwords. After Kelly testified to this effect earlier this year, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) submitted a FOIA request for all DHS plans to vet entrants to the USA through their online accounts.

Arguments against this vetting process:

-creates digital security risks

-chills free speech and behavior

-reveals vast personal histories and network connections

-unveils connections to other sites you log in to via social media

-disproportionately impacts low-risk travelers, as criminals will simply use different accounts/devices

Sign here.

Shadow Broker Documents Show NSA Can Access Global Money Transfer System

Computers, Surveillance

A release of documents by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers demonstrates that the NSA has breached the SWIFT money transfer system by way of service providers in Latin America and the Middle East. This company bills itself as a worldwide provider of secure financial messaging. Vulnerabilities in outdated Windows servers and Cisco firewalls apparently contributed to the breaches directed by the NSA. In one instance, the NSA gained access to 9 servers at a Dubai-based contractor for SWIFT and was able to query the transactions.

Source: Reuters

Spy Merchants: Unlawful Sale of Surveillance to Authoritarian Regimes


An investigation by Al Jazeera reveals that surveillance technology companies are illegally selling to countries that are currently under international sanctions. A reporter who posed for four months as a buyer of surveillance systems from countries including Iran and South Sudan reveals footage of company representatives willing to contract for illegal multi-million dollar deals. Instances of state-sponsored surveillance to detect and imprison political dissidents increased in notoriety during the Arab Spring, which is likened to a gold rush for surveillance. The technology used to locate and catch protestors primarily came from the USA, Italy, Germany, and the UK. Privacy rights groups are particularly concerned with ISMI-catchers and IP-intercept systems. ISMI-catchers are portable trackers for multiple mobile phones that can send fake messages from your contacts, and IP-intercept systems collect internet traffic and website visits. Back in 2009, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad contracted Italian surveillance firm AREA to provide spyware to capture political dissidents in a €13 million deal. One recent win in this capitalism-human rights standoff: Italian export authorities have just revoked authorization for the sale of an internet surveillance product to Egypt, following a January letter from Privacy International to stop this transaction.

Watch Spy Merchants  here.

Is Your Internet Traffic Intercepted by the NSA?

Online privacy, Surveillance

I just contributed my anonymized internet traceroutes to a program called IXmaps out of the University of Toronto. After installing their software on my computer, I needed to select the hostnames to target (i.e. which websites I wanted to visit) to see the points of interception.

I decided to start with their option for “civil liberties and privacy advocacy organizations in US and Canada,” since I’m particularly interested in who is intercepting traffic to these human rights groups. Among the sites: aclu, ccrjustice, cdt, democraticmedia, eff, epic, privacyrights, and bccla.

At first this resulted in all timeouts, so I followed the instructions on their sites and adjusted my Windows firewall settings to temporarily allow inbound connections.

After these privacy group traceroutes were contributed, my next stop was the top 25 sites in the US (Google, Facebook, Amazon, Youtube, Yahoo, ebay…). In general it seemed that the privacy site trajectories had more overall stopovers than the popular site traces. I was hoping for a bit more clarity or analysis from the map component, such as whether the traceroutes were intercepted by the NSA server locations that feature prominently on the maps. As far as I could tell, none of my traffic was intercepted.

Traceroute for privacyrights.orgixmaps

This map could be improved by listing the # of stopovers, highlighting any prominent intersections with servers of interest in their databases, and providing easier zoom capability.