February 16, 2012
By Nicholas West
“State and Federal governments are so afraid of the people that they will do anything to keep track on what we’re doing. How bout instead you leave us alone? Just a thought.” –KTRN
ICE announced in February, 2011 that it would begin using biometric identification as a key component of an information-sharing nexus with 58 California counties meant to identify aliens who are booked for crimes by local police. However, a Freedom of Information Act request by several justice organizations revealed a program involving extensive Homeland Security coordination to expand the Secure Communities biometrics program to include even law-abiding American citizens.
The progression of Secure Communities has been warp speed, as 27 states have implemented its procedures. Minnesota is the latest to add itself in full compliance with the mandatory federal biometric ID program.
However, a pattern of deception by the federal government from the onset, as well as ignoring the growing criticism, is making it clear that rather than being a specific initiative to deport known criminals, Secure Communities is looking more and more like a sweeping move toward a Big Brother total surveillance grid.
Secure Communities is part of the Next Generation Identification program that has been rolled out to supplant the current fingerprint database known as IAFIS. Full biometrics are added to fingerprint information, including: palm scans, voice imprints, iris scans, facial recognition, and other body signatures that form an identity dossier of every individual. Once established, the dossier can be analyzed and communicated in real time between local law enforcement and federal agencies to theoretically deport “illegal and dangerous immigrants.”
Concerns have been raised by privacy rights advocates and Constitutionalists alike. The biometric dossier is compiled on anyone caught within its web; it then becomes the property of law enforcement agencies even if your biometrics (and DNA) are picked up as latent imprints at a crime scene. This makes everyday movements part of a tracking grid that can be cross-referenced beyond the court of law, potentially leading to false suspicions, interrogations, and arrests.
ICE is already under investigation for misrepresenting its intentions; and the wider role of the FBI, and its push to make mandatory what could have been voluntary, only furthers the suspicion that forcing states to obey federal mandate has intentions that far surpass documenting and deporting illegal and dangerous individuals.
According to Bridget Kessler of the Cardozo Law School Immigration Justice Clinic, one of the organizations that applied through FOIA to review documents outlining the FBI’s role in the implementation of Secure Communities:
February 8, 2012
By Paul Joseph Watson
As part of its effort to encourage business owners to spy on their customers, the FBI has labeled the bulk purchase of food as a potential indication of terrorist activity, despite the fact that FEMA itself last year purchased $1 billion dollars worth of storable food.
A flyer aimed at Military Surplus stores produced under the auspices of the FBI’s Communities Against Terrorism project, encourages owners to report people who “make bulk purchases of items to include….meals ready to eat”.
According to the flyer, the FBI advises store owners to demand ID’s from all new customers, as well as asking them questions about their purchase and being aware of “suspicious statements”.
The flyer also characterizes paying with cash or “demanding identity privacy” as an indication of terrorism.
The characterization by the feds of those who choose to protect themselves against rising food prices or a potential interruption in the food supply by purchasing storable food as potential terrorists is not only chilling – it is also completely hypocritical.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) itself ordered $1 billion dollars worth of dehydrated food in just one instance last year, purchasing a total of 420 million meals.
Are we to follow the FBI’s advice and treat this as a suspicious activity? Should FEMA be reported to other law enforcement agencies as a potential terrorist threat?
Indeed, the Department of Homeland Security is also busy stockpiling storable food and seed varieties in underground bunkers as part of preparations for domestic emergencies. Under its Resolve to be Ready program, the DHS even encouraged Americans to store food as part of a “basic emergency supply kit”.
Should we all be reporting Janet Napolitano to the See Something, Say Something hotline as a potential Al-Qaeda radical?
November 3, 2011
By Chris Lehmann
Note to tourists visting New York: Don’t be caught out without your ID, or you could be caught in the city’s penal system for days, if the recent experience of 21-year-old college student Samantha Zucker is anything to go by.
Actually, Zucker barely qualifies as an out-of-towner, since she hails from the Westchester town of Ardsley. And the underlying charge that led to her tour in jail was a minor trespassing citation, dismissed by a presiding judge in no time.
But no matter: A vigilant NYPD officer deemed her a sufficient threat to public safety to have her handcuffed and jailed in two different cells across the length of Manhattan.
The whole ordeal began with a trip to Riverside Park, as Zucker recounts to New York Times columnist James Dwyer. Zucker is enrolled in a design program at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie-Mellon University; together with 80 of her colleagues, she spent a long day on Oct. 21 scouting out prospective employment scenarios in New York’s sprawling fashion industry. After pounding the pavement, she dropped off her bags at her West Harlem hotel. From there, she and fellow student Alex Fischer decided to stroll over to Riverside Park, to gaze out on the Hudson.
There was just one problem: The two park visitors arrived at around 3 a.m. on Oct. 22, and the park is officially closed to visitors as of 1 a.m. A police car pulled up, and the officers in it informed the two students of their trespass. Zucker and Fischer explained that they hadn’t known of the park’s curfew, and turned around to leave. By then, however, another NYPD car appeared, and the officer driving it announced he was citing them for trespassing, and demanded their IDs. Fischer produced his driver’s license and was let go–but Zucker had left her identification back at the hotel, two blocks away. She apologized, and told the officer that she could have Fischer or another friend fetch it.
But no dice. “He said it was too late for that, I should have thought of it earlier,” she told Dwyer. At that point, as Dwyer writes, the wheels of justice locked grimly into gear; Zucker was handcuffed and led into a surreal maze of detention:
For the next 36 hours, she was moved from a cell in the 26th Precinct station house on West 126th Street to central booking in Lower Manhattan and then — because one of the officers was ending his shift before Ms. Zucker could be photographed for her court appearance, and you didn’t think he was going to take the subway uptown while his partner stayed with her at booking, did you? — she was brought back to Harlem.
October 18th, 2010
The Wall Street Journal
By: Emily Steel and Geoffrey A. Fowler
Many of the most popular applications, or “apps,” on the social-networking site Facebook Inc. have been transmitting identifying information—in effect, providing access to people’s names and, in some cases, their friends’ names—to dozens of advertising and Internet tracking companies, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found.
The issue affects tens of millions of Facebook app users, including people who set their profiles to Facebook’s strictest privacy settings. The practice breaks Facebook’s rules, and renews questions about its ability to keep identifiable information about its users’ activities secure.
The problem has ties to the growing field of companies that build detailed databases on people in order to track them online—a practice the Journal has been examining in its What They Know series. It’s unclear how long the breach was in place. On Sunday, a Facebook spokesman said it is taking steps to “dramatically limit” the exposure of users’ personal information.
“A Facebook user ID may be inadvertently shared by a user’s Internet browser or by an application,” the spokesman said. Knowledge of an ID “does not permit access to anyone’s private information on Facebook,” he said, adding that the company would introduce new technology to contain the problem identified by the Journal.
“Our technical systems have always been complemented by strong policy enforcement, and we will continue to rely on both to keep people in control of their information,” the Facebook official said.
“Apps” are pieces of software that let Facebook’s 500 million users play games or share common interests with one another. The Journal found that all of the 10 most popular apps on Facebook were transmitting users’ IDs to outside companies.
The apps, ranked by research company Inside Network Inc. (based on monthly users), include Zynga Game Network Inc.’s FarmVille, with 59 million users, and Texas HoldEm Poker and FrontierVille. Three of the top 10 apps, including FarmVille, also have been transmitting personal information about a user’s friends to outside companies.
Most apps aren’t made by Facebook, but by independent software developers. Several apps became unavailable to Facebook users after the Journal informed Facebook that the apps were transmitting personal information; the specific reason for their unavailability remains unclear.
The information being transmitted is one of Facebook’s basic building blocks: the unique “Facebook ID” number assigned to every user on the site. Since a Facebook user ID is a public part of any Facebook profile, anyone can use an ID number to look up a person’s name, using a standard Web browser, even if that person has set all of his or her Facebook information to be private. For other users, the Facebook ID reveals information they have set to share with “everyone,” including age, residence, occupation and photos.
The apps reviewed by the Journal were sending Facebook ID numbers to at least 25 advertising and data firms, several of which build profiles of Internet users by tracking their online activities.
Defenders of online tracking argue that this kind of surveillance is benign because it is conducted anonymously. In this case, however, the Journal found that one data-gathering firm, RapLeaf Inc., had linked Facebook user ID information obtained from apps to its own database of Internet users, which it sells. RapLeaf also transmitted the Facebook IDs it obtained to a dozen other firms, the Journal found.
RapLeaf said that transmission was unintentional. “We didn’t do it on purpose,” said Joel Jewitt, vice president of business development for RapLeaf.
Facebook said it previously has “taken steps … to significantly limit Rapleaf’s ability to use any Facebook-related data.”
Facebook prohibits app makers from transferring data about users to outside advertising and data companies, even if a user agrees. The Journal’s findings shed light on the challenge of policing those rules for the 550,000 apps on its site.
July 23, 2010
The Wall Street Journal
By: Miguel Bustillo
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. plans to roll out sophisticated electronic ID tags to track individual pairs of jeans and underwear, the first step in a system that advocates say better controls inventory but some critics say raises privacy concerns.
Starting next month, the retailer will place removable “smart tags” on individual garments that can be read by a hand-held scanner. Wal-Mart workers will be able to quickly learn, for instance, which size of Wrangler jeans is missing, with the aim of ensuring shelves are optimally stocked and inventory tightly watched. If successful, the radio-frequency ID tags will be rolled out on other products at Wal-Mart’s more than 3,750 U.S. stores.
“This ability to wave the wand and have a sense of all the products that are on the floor or in the back room in seconds is something that we feel can really transform our business,” said Raul Vazquez, the executive in charge of Wal-Mart stores in the western U.S.
Before now, retailers including Wal-Mart have primarily used RFID tags, which store unique numerical identification codes that can be scanned from a distance, to track pallets of merchandise traveling through their supply chains.
Wal-Mart’s broad adoption would be the largest in the world, and proponents predict it would lead other retailers to start using the electronic product codes, which remain costly. Wal-Mart has climbed to the top of the retailing world by continuously squeezing costs out of its operations and then passing on the savings to shoppers at the checkout counter. Its methods are widely adopted by its suppliers and in turn become standard practice at other retail chains.
But the company’s latest attempt to use its influence—executives call it the start of a “next-generation Wal-Mart”—has privacy advocates raising questions.
While the tags can be removed from clothing and packages, they can’t be turned off, and they are trackable. Some privacy advocates hypothesize that unscrupulous marketers or criminals will be able to drive by consumers’ homes and scan their garbage to discover what they have recently bought.
They also worry that retailers will be able to scan customers who carry new types of personal ID cards as they walk through a store, without their knowledge. Several states, including Washington and New York, have begun issuing enhanced driver’s licenses that contain radio- frequency tags with unique ID numbers, to make border crossings easier for frequent travelers. Some privacy advocates contend that retailers could theoretically scan people with such licenses as they make purchases, combine the info with their credit card data, and then know the person’s identity the next time they stepped into the store.
“There are two things you really don’t want to tag, clothing and identity documents, and ironically that’s where we are seeing adoption,” said Katherine Albrecht, founder of a group called Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering and author of a book called “Spychips” that argues against RFID technology. “The inventory guys may be in the dark about this, but there are a lot of corporate marketers who are interested in tracking people as they walk sales floors.”
Smart-tag experts dismiss Big Brother concerns as breathless conjecture, but activists have pressured companies. Ms. Albrecht and others launched a boycott of Benetton Group SpA last decade after an RFID maker announced it was planning to supply the company with 15 million RFID chips.
Benetton later clarified that it was just evaluating the technology and never embedded a single sensor in clothing.
Wal-Mart is demanding that suppliers add the tags to removable labels or packaging instead of embedding them in clothes, to minimize fears that they could be used to track people’s movements. It also is posting signs informing customers about the tags.
“Concerns about privacy are valid, but in this instance, the benefits far outweigh any concerns,” says Sanjay Sarma, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The tags don’t have any personal information. They are essentially barcodes with serial numbers attached. And you can easily remove them.”
In Europe some retailers put the smart labels on hang tags, which are then removed at checkout. That still provides the inventory-control benefit of RFID, but it takes away other important potential uses that retailers and suppliers like, such as being able to track the item all the way back to the point of manufacture in case of a recall, or making sure it isn’t counterfeit.
Wal-Mart won’t say how much it expects to benefit from the endeavor. But a similar pilot program at American Apparel Inc. in 2007 found that stores with the technology saw sales rise 14.3% compared to stores without the technology, according to Avery Dennison Corp., a maker of RFID equipment.
And while the tags wouldn’t replace bulkier shoplifting sensors, Wal-Mart expects they’ll cut down on employee theft because it will be easier to see if something’s gone missing from the back room.
Several other U.S. retailers, including J.C. Penney and Bloomingdale’s, have begun experimenting with smart ID tags on clothing to better ensure shelves remain stocked with sizes and colors customers want, and numerous European retailers, notably Germany’s Metro AG, have already embraced the technology.
Robert Carpenter, chief executive of GS1 U.S., a nonprofit group that helped develop universal product-code standards four decades ago and is now doing the same for electronic product codes, said the sensors have dropped to as little as seven to 10 cents from 50 cents just a few years ago. He predicts that Wal-Mart’s “tipping point” will drive prices lower.
“There are definitely costs. Some labels had to be modified,” said Mark Gatehouse, director of replenishment for Wrangler jeans maker VF Corp., adding that while Wal-Mart is subsidizing the costs of the actual sensors, suppliers have had to invest in new equipment. “But we view this as an investment in where things are going. Everyone is watching closely because no one wants to be at a competitive disadvantage, and this could really lift sales.”
Wal-Mart won’t disclose what it’s spending on the effort, but it confirms that it is subsidizing some of the costs for suppliers.
Proponents, meanwhile, have high hopes for expanded use in the future. Beyond more-efficient recalls and loss prevention, RFID tags could get rid of checkout lines.
“We are going to see contactless checkouts with mobile phones or kiosks, and we will see new ways to interact, such as being able to find out whether other sizes and colors are available while trying something on in a dressing room,” said Bill Hardgrave, head of the RFID Research Center at the University of Arkansas, which is funded in part by Wal-Mart. “That is where the magic is going to happen. But that’s all years away.”