Facial Recognition Software Moves From Overseas Wars to Local Police

via www.salon.com

via www.salon.com

Facial recognition software, which American military and intelligence agencies used for years in Iraq and Afghanistan to identify potential terrorists, is being eagerly adopted by dozens of police departments around the country to pursue drug dealers, prostitutes and other conventional criminal suspects. But because it is being used with few guidelines and with little oversight or public disclosure, it is raising questions of privacy and concerns about potential misuse.

Law enforcement officers say the technology is much faster than fingerprinting at identifying suspects, although it is unclear how much it is helping the police make arrests.

When Aaron Harvey was stopped by the police here in 2013 while driving near his grandmother’s house, an officer not only searched his car, he said, but also took his photograph and ran it through the software to try to confirm his identity and determine whether he had a criminal record.

Eric Hanson, a retired firefighter, had a similar experience last summer. Stopped by the police after a dispute with a man he said was a prowler, he was ordered to sit on a curb, he said, while officers took his photo with an iPad and ran it through the same facial recognition software. The officers also used a cotton swab to collect a DNA sample from the inside of his cheek.

The San Diego Police Department does not have a written policy regulating facial recognition software and does not train officers on its lawful use, according to a spokesman. Credit Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times, via Getty Images

Neither man was arrested. Neither had consented to being photographed. Both said officers had told them that they were using facial recognition technology.

“I was thinking, ‘Why are you taking pictures of me, doing this to me?’ ” said Mr. Hanson, 58, who has no criminal record. “I felt like my identity was being stolen. I’m a straight-up, no lie, cheat or steal guy, and I get treated like a criminal.”

Lt. Scott Wahl, a spokesman for the 1,900-member San Diego Police Department, said the department does not require police officers to file a report when they use the facial recognition technology but do not make an arrest. The department has no record of the stops involving Mr. Hanson and Mr. Harvey, and Lieutenant Wahl said that he did not know about the incidents but that they could have happened.

“It is a test product for the region that we’ve allowed officers to use,” he said of facial recognition software and the hand-held devices the police use to take pictures. “We don’t even know how many are out there” in the region.

He said that until June 19, his department did not have a written policy regulating facial recognition software and only recently began training officers on its lawful use. Before then, he said, there were interim regional guidelines and training available.

County documents show that over 33 days in January and February, 26 San Diego law enforcement agencies used the software to try to identify people on more than 20,600 occasions — although officers found a match to criminal records only about 25 percent of the time.

Lieutenant Wahl said the department was not aware of any complaints about the software or about the policy of collecting DNA samples that Mr. Hanson and others have described.

The department uses the technology judiciously, Lieutenant Wahl said. “We don’t just drive around taking people’s picture and start swabbing them,” he said.

Others say misuse is common.

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Brain-Scan Lie Detectors Just Don’t Work

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Perpetrators can suppress “crime memories,” study finds

It sounds just like something out of a sci-fi police procedural show—and not necessarily a good one.

In a darkened room, a scientist in a white lab coat attaches a web of suction cups, wires, and electrodes to a crime suspect’s head. The suspect doesn’t blink as he tells the detectives interrogating him, “I didn’t do it.”

The grizzled head detective bangs his fist on the table. “We know you did!” he yells.

The scientist checks his machine. “Either he’s telling the truth … or he’s actively suppressing his memories of the crime,” says the scientist.

“Dammit,” says the detective, shaking his head, “this one’s good.”

But it isn’t fiction. Some law enforcement agencies really are using brain-scan lie detectors, and it really is possible to beat them, new research shows.

The polygraph, the more familiar lie detection method, works by “simultaneously recording changes in several physiological variables such as blood pressure, pulse rate, respiration, electrodermal activity,” according to a very intriguing group called the International League of Polygraph Examiners. Despite what the League (and television) might have you believe, polygraph results are generally believed to be unreliable, and are only admitted as evidence in U.S. courts in very specific circumstances.

The brain-scan “guilt detection test” is a newer technology that supposedly measures electrical activity in the brain, which would be triggered by specific memories during an interrogation. “When presented with reminders of their crime, it was previously assumed that their brain would automatically and uncontrollably recognize these details,” explains a new study published last week by psychologists at the University of Cambridge. “Using scans of the brain’s electrical activity, this recognition would be observable, recording a ‘guilty’ response.”

Law enforcement agencies in Japan and India have started to use this tool to solve crimes, and even to try suspects in court. These types of tests have not caught on with law enforcement in the U.S., though they are commercially available here. That’s probably a good thing; the researchers of this study found that “some people can intentionally and voluntarily suppress unwanted memories.”

The experiment was pretty straightforward, and the participants were no criminal masterminds. Ordinary people were asked to stage mock crimes, and then were asked to “suppress” their “crime memories,” all while having their brains scanned for electric activity. Most people could do it, the researchers found: “a significant proportion of people managed to reduce their brain’s recognition response and appear innocent.”

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As Spy Drones Come to the U.S., We Must Protect Our Privacy

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The U.S. government must shield its citizens from the multiplying eyes of surveillance drones

Before the decade is out, there may be thousands more eyes in the sky. Unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, are already a staple of modern warfare. Now they are set to take on a much larger role in the U.S.

Congress has directed the Federal Aviation Administration to set rules by 2015 for how drones may be used in domestic airspace. These rules could open up the skies to unmanned vehicles of all types—from large surveillance drones used by the military to insect-size prototypes being developed in university laboratories. The technology promises to be immensely useful. Public safety agencies can use drones to survey wildfires, conduct search-and-rescue operations, or pursue heavily armed suspects. Farmers will use them to survey their fields; energy companies will fly drones over critical machinery.

Still, drones also pose an immense threat to privacy. The proliferation of small, inexpensive aerial vehicles with video downlinks will dramatically alter the cost-benefit ratio of surveillance. No longer will law-enforcement agencies need to consider the expense and risk of operating a helicopter when gathering evidence. Consequently, law-enforcement agencies will have ample opportunity and motivation to deploy drones on open-ended sorties. It is not hard to imagine blanket campaigns that survey entire cities for backyard marijuana plants or even building code violations. Privacy advocates rightly worry that drones, equipped with high-resolution video cameras, infrared detectors and even facial-recognition software, will let snoops into realms that have long been considered private.

The privacy threat does not just come from law enforcement, either. Paparazzi and private detectives will find drones just as easy to use as the cops. Your neighbor is not allowed go into your yard without your permission—will he be able to keep a drone hovering just above it?

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via Scientific American – The Editors
 

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For PC Virus Victims, Pay or Else

Kidnappers used to make ransom notes with letters cut out of magazines. Now, notes simply pop up on your computer screen, except the hostage is your PC.

In the past year, hundreds of thousands of people across the world have switched on their computers to find distressing messages alerting them that they no longer have access to their PCs or any of the files on them.

The messages claim to be from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, some 20 other law enforcement agencies across the globe or, most recently,Anonymous, a shadowy group of hackers. The computer users are told that the only way to get their machines back is to pay a steep fine.

And, curiously, it’s working. The scheme is making more than $5 million a year, according to computer security experts who are tracking them.

The scourge dates to 2009 in Eastern Europe. Three years later, with business booming, the perpetrators have moved west. Security experts say that there are now more than 16 gangs of sophisticated criminals extorting millions from victims across Europe.

The threat, known as ransomware, recently hit the United States. Some gangs have abandoned previously lucrative schemes, like fake antivirus scams and banking trojans, to focus on ransomware full time.

Essentially online extortion, ransomware involves infecting a user’s computer with a virus that locks it. The attackers demand money before the computer will be unlocked, but once the money is paid, they rarely unlock it.

In the vast majority of cases, victims do not regain access to their computer unless they hire a computer technician to remove the virus manually. And even then, they risk losing all files and data because the best way to remove the virus is to wipe the computer clean.

It may be hard to fathom why anyone would agree to fork over hundreds of dollars to a demanding stranger, but security researchers estimate that 2.9 percent of compromised computer owners take the bait and pay. That, they say, is an extremely conservative estimate. In some countries, the payout rate has been as high as 15 percent.

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The End of Privacy?

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Most countries face the same urgent issues . . .

Cellphones, e-mail, and online social networking have come to rule daily life, but Congress has done nothing to update federal privacy laws to better protect digital communication. That inattention carries a heavy price.

Striking new data from wireless carriers collected by Representative Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, and first reported last week by Eric Lichtblau of The Times, showed surging use of cellphone surveillance over the past five years by law enforcement agencies at every level and for crimes both mundane and serious.

Wireless carriers reported responding to a whopping 1.3 million demands from law enforcement agencies for subscriber information, including location data, calling records and text messages. The number of people whose information was turned over is almost certainly much higher because a single request for a cell tower “dump” could sweep in the names of thousands of people connected to a given tower at a certain time.

As cell surveillance has ballooned, federal and local officials have come to rely less on wiretapping to eavesdrop on conversations, probably because cell tracking is less time consuming and less legally difficult to manage. In most cases, law enforcement officers do not need to hear the actual conversation; what they want to know can be discerned from a suspect’s location or travel patterns. And location data can be as revealing of a cellphone owner’s associations, activities and personal tastes as listening in on a conversation, for which a warrant is mandatory.

As a result, warrants for wiretaps, which are subject to stringent legal standards used for decades, declined by 14 percent last year, to just 2,732 nationwide. The legal standards applied to cell tracking and other forms of digital monitoring are more lax and inconsistently applied, with many law enforcement agencies claiming a right to such data without having to show a compelling need or getting detailed vetting by a court.

Clearly, federal laws need to be revamped and brought into line with newer forms of surveillance. A good place to begin is the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the main federal statute governing access to electronic information. The act has not had a significant overhaul since its passage in 1986.

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via New York Times
 

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