links for 2010-02-05

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links for 2008-01-17

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Spychips by Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre

Recent reading: Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Purchase and Watch Your Every Move
by Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre

From the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) “tags” are small wireless devices that emit unique identifiers when interrogated by RFID readers or sensors. Today, both government and the private sector are using and promoting the use of RFID tags for many applications, from consumer items to government ID cards. EFF believes, however, that society is moving too quickly to adopt RFID technology. Used improperly, RFID can jeopardize privacy, reduce or eliminate anonymity, and threaten civil liberties.

Want a book that will give you some serious paranoia? This is definitely it. Albrecht and McIntyre are privacy advocates who research and report on Radio Frequency Identification microchips that corporations and governments have patents and plans to embed in nearly everything – consumer goods, credit and loyalty cards, identification, money, even under your skin:

“As you walk down the street, a tiny microchip implanted in your tennis shoe tracks your every move; chips woven into your clothing transmit the value of your outfit to nearby retailers; and a thief scans the chips hidden inside your money to decide if you’re worth robbing. This isn’t science fiction; in a few short years, it could be a fact of life.”

When the book was written in 2005, there were only handful of companies using RFID technology, but through patents and leaked corporate documents, the authors were able to find some of big businesses very disturbing plans, including embedding permanent RFID chips in clothing and even human beings.
In the two years since, some of the books predictions have come to pass – Passports now contain an RFID chip, as well as many toll booth ez pass cards, and some schools are tracking students. IBM has advanced to patent applications for “Identification and tracking of persons using RFID-tagged items.”

And even more disturbing – the chips have been show to cause tumors in animals who have been chipped for identification purposes.

The books draws some very nightmarish scenarios – it’s hard to tell whether they’re paranoid or just extraordinarily cautious, but it’s a subject that seems to be flying under the radar of much of mainstream media and the average person.

Continue ReadingSpychips by Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre

links for 2007-10-27

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Two Girls Kissing in School Videotaped, leads to school transfer

From a local Washington state news report:

GIG HARBOR, Wash. — Restrictions on the use of school security videotape have been tightened after images of two high school students kissing were shown to the parents of one of the girls, officials say.

Keith Nelson, dean of students at Gig Harbor High School, said he saw the students kissing and holding hands in the school’s busy commons, checked a surveillance camera and showed the parents the tape because they had asked him a few weeks earlier to alert them to any conduct by their daughter that was out of the ordinary.

They then transferred their daughter to a school outside the Peninsula School District, which lies northwest of Tacoma.

Both girls said their privacy was invaded and denied doing anything wrong. Neither was identified by name in an article published Thursday by The News Tribune of Tacoma.

The kiss amounted to a quick “peck,” said the girl who remains at the school, a 17-year-old senior described as the daughter of a News Tribune employee.

“We weren’t doing anything inappropriate, nothing anyone else wouldn’t do,” she said.

Nelson said students could not have any expectation of privacy in a crowded place and maintained that he would have taken the same action had the students kissing been a boy and a girl.

An internal investigation into a complaint from a student — it was unclear whether the complaint came from one of the girls — established that Nelson had not violated district policy, Assistant School Superintendent Shannon Wiggs said.

Even so, Principal Greg Schellenberg said, school surveillance videotape may now be used only for security monitoring and discipline for actions such as trespassing, vandalism and fighting.

Kissing and other public displays of affection were at the time and remain violations of school rules, but violators will first be given warnings and will be disciplined only for a second offense, Schellenberg said. In addition, school employees are barred from sharing surveillance video in response to an open-ended parental request.

“It’s not our normal practice,” Schellenberg said. “It’s not going to happen again.”

In the case of the kiss, he added, “the same information could have been portrayed to the family without the video.”

Nelson said he respected the change in policy but added that he believes his first obligation is to parents.

“They’re paying good money for us to make their kids good citizens,” he said. “Whatever that means to the parents, I’ll do it.”

Aside from the girls saying there wasn’t anything to it – what if there was? Who the hell are the school officials to report this to parents? This is a punishable offense? I’m thinking back to the girl I made out with in the bathroom in drama club in high school… holy crap.

That’s the problem with surveillance culture – there’s so much that can be misinterpreted from a video.

Continue ReadingTwo Girls Kissing in School Videotaped, leads to school transfer

A Federal Prescription Drug Database?

In some of the Virginia Tech news coverage, this caught a few people’s eye:

Some news accounts have suggested that Cho had a history of antidepressant use, but senior federal officials tell ABC News that they can find no record of such medication in the government’s files. This does not completely rule out prescription drug use, including samples from a physician, drugs obtained through illegal Internet sources, or a gap in the federal database, but the sources say theirs is a reasonably complete search.

There’s a federal database of prescription drug use? Really? Because that’s pretty much illegal. Umm…. Or, apparently it’s not, as of 2005. Fucking lovely.

UPDATE: Over at Shakesville, wolfrum points out all the other ways the Government is spying on us:


Continue ReadingA Federal Prescription Drug Database?

What flavor of crack do you think these guys are smoking?

From an article on BBC News:

Air passengers ‘could be tagged’
Electronically tagging passengers at airports could help the fight against terrorism, scientists have said. The prototype technology is to be tested at an airport in Hungary, and could, if successful, become a reality “in two years”. The work is being carried out at a new research centre, based at University College London, set up to find technological solutions to crime. Other projects include scanners for explosives and dirty bomb radiation.
Dr Paul Brennan, an electrical engineer, is leading the tagging project, known as Optag. He said: “The basic idea is that airports could be fitted with a network of combined panoramic cameras and RFID (radio frequency ID) tag readers, which would monitor the movements of people around the various terminal buildings.” The plan, he said, would be for each passenger to be issued with a tag at check-in.
He said: “In our system, the location can be detected to an accuracy of 1m, and video and tag data could be merged to give a powerful surveillance capability.”
The project still needs to overcome some hurdles, such as finding a way of ensuring the tags cannot be switched between passengers or removed without notification. The issue of infringement of civil liberties will also be key.

No! You think so? Gee, what’s wrong with treating all of your passengers like criminals, and/or cattle? The fact that this can appear in a major news outlet without irony or links to George Orwell books is both scary and wrong.

Continue ReadingWhat flavor of crack do you think these guys are smoking?

Bad Identity Data Follows You Around

Boing Boing details an example of the kind of personal data mining problems I discussed in my review of No Place to Hide: Behind the Scenes of Our Emerging Surveillance Society. One of their readers explains his problem:

What, precisely, did it turn up? Ah, the woman could not tell me that, because she herself did not know. She merely entered my name, birthdate, and SS# into her computer terminal, and a service provided by First Advantage SafeRent Inc. told her “no.” So, the apartment complex kept my $75 application fee, showed me the door, and left me to deal with the nice people at SafeRent on my own. This entailed downloading a PDF form from their web site, printing it, signing it, and mailing it to them with a copy of my driver’s license, to prove my own identity. Presumably this is purely for financial reasons, since SafeRent must prefer to sell its information, and will only give it away if I can convince them that I am the “person of interest.”

Since I didn’t feel like waiting for a response that may take several weeks, I decided to satisfy my curiosity with one of the many online services that now offer background checks. I paid a total of $78 for a nationwide search on myself. And, what do you know, there I am, listed as being guilty of a misdemeanor.
Only one problem: I was indeed charged, many years ago, but the charge was dismissed with prejudice, and I have a copy of the court document to prove it.

I will still have to go after more than 100 online background-checking services, one by one, because, inevitably, they are creating their own databases derived from second-hand or third-hand sources. (A local database is so much cheaper for them to search, obviously.) One of the services I looked at states that it will not correct any error until compelled to do so by a court order. And of course new services are popping up all the time.

Continue ReadingBad Identity Data Follows You Around

No Place to Hide

No Place to Hide: Behind the Scenes of Our Emerging Surveillance Society
By Robert O’Harrow, Jr.
NON-FICTION – Washington Post reporter Robert O’Harrow, Jr. delves into the world of data-collection and surveillance, and puts together a frightening and disheartening portrait of who is gathering personal information about you and why. I started to compile a big list of all the players and how they’re connected, but it was too long and too confusing to be clear without creating a big information flow diagram.

The basics are these: companies you do business with (cell phone companies, grocery stores, banks, internet providers, credit card companies) are gathering vast amounts of information about you, and storing it in databases. The data they’re gathering is far beyond what you’d expect them to keep — where you go, what you purchase, how fast you drive, the digital imprint of your voice, facial recognition, the names of your friends and family, the price of your home, when you deposit your checks and pay your bills, fingerprints, DNA and other bio-data.

These companies are not only using this data to market to you, they’re selling it to other companies that are data brokers, and they’re making the information available to the government at almost every level (state, local, federal). The data brokers in turn sell the information to other companies, or they let the government have access to it — often to look for terrorists, but increasingly to pursue other criminal investigation, and to try to anticipate if you “might” commit a crime — and that speculation might be quite wild in nature.

Decades ago, people used to worry about the FBI having a “file” on them. Now, every single American — from your two-month old child to your eighty-year-old grandmother — has a government file.

Using the vast storehouses of data, the companies and the government have built data-mining software and artificial intelligence software that sifts through the data looking for anomalies and flagging items of interest. There are no laws about how these programs are written, what they look for, or how they tag or label you when they’ve analyzed your data, so you’re basically guilty until proven innocent in the eyes of this software. This was what scared me most — I used to never worry about data collection, because I figured no one would ever have time to sift through the data. It would take a team of five people to keep track of what I do all day. But this software eliminates that need — you have a team of robots following you around. Unfortunately, due to the insufficiencies in their programming, they’re somewhat retarded robots.

The data gathered about you could be riddled with errors — typographic errors, mistaken identities, other people’s inaccurate subjective judgments (I might be labeled a “liberal extremist” for example) and because you have no access to it, or idea what information is being collected, you have no recourse about correcting problems that might later affect you. O’Harrow lists example after example of people who have pursued and tried to correct mistakes about their identities that led to credit problems, flags on no-fly lists, insurance losses, criminal investigations, etc., only to have the bad data pop back up after being corrected again and again, because the information is passed back and forth from so many data collection agencies.

In addition, these data collection centers are extremely porous and insecure — anyone and everyone could have access to them. O’Harrow also recounts list after list of abuse of personal data, by the employees of companies that collect it, by the data brokers selling it, by government officials at all levels. People are accessing the data for personal use — to stalk attractive women, to hunt down ex-partners for revenge, to using in political campaigns, to sell the information on the black market, to commit burglaries and assaults and securities frauds. They’re also using data in ways far beyond what was intended when it was gathered.

The laws regarding data gathering, storage, data-mining and security are decades behind current technology, so there’s no accountability or recourse. There’s very little regulation of who has access to your personal data, what they use it for, and how you can control it. I kept hoping throughout the book for some light at the end of the tunnel — for O’Harrow to provide some examples of organizations who are pursuing laws to regulate all these databases of information, but there was precious little.

After reading “Our Town” and watching An Inconvenient Truth, this book was a bit too much for me to take, frankly. I think that the only real solace I have is that in the next five years Greenland and Antarctica are going to have a catastrophic meltdown, the sea level will rise 20 feet, and 160 million people around the world will die — then the government will have bigger problems to deal with than wondering about where I bought my toothpaste, and if that means I’m a terrorist.

UPDATE: Ironically, as soon as I posted this review, it was datamined. Nice.

Continue ReadingNo Place to Hide