February 20, 2012
By Steve Watson
The British government has dusted off previously shelved plans to create huge databases, enabling spy agencies to monitor every phone call, email and text message as well as websites visited by everyone in the country.
The Telegraph reports that under the plans, the government will force every communications network to store the data for one year. The plans also extend to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and gaming sites.
The plans, drawn up by MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, the government’s secret eavesdropping agency, may be officially announced as soon as May, according to details seen by the Telegraph. Those agencies would have real time access to the records kept by companies such as Vodafone and British Telecom.
The records would allow the spy agencies to monitor the “who, when and where” of every phone call, text message and email sent, while also allowing for internet browsing histories to be matched to IP addresses.
Unassumingly titled the Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP), the new scheme is set to be implemented under anti-terrorism laws, with the spy agencies saying it will allow them to more closely monitor suspects ahead of the London 2012 Olympics in July.
Critics and civil liberties advocates are calling for mass opposition to the plans, noting that the scheme is open to abuse not only by spy agencies and communications companies themselves, but also by hackers and online criminals.
Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, a civil liberties campaign organisation, said: “This would be a systematic effort to spy on all of our digital communications.
“No state in history has been able to gather the level of information proposed – it’s a way of collecting everything about who we talk to just in case something turns up.” Killock added.
Gus Hosein, of Privacy International, said: “This will be ripe for hacking. Every hacker, every malicious threat, every foreign government is going to want access to this.
“And if communications providers have a government mandate to start collecting this information they will be incredibly tempted to start monitoring this data themselves so they can compete with Google and Facebook.”
“The internet companies will be told to store who you are friends with and interact with. While this may appear innocuous it requires the active interception of every single communication you make, and this has never been done in a democratic society.” Hosein urged.
February 17, 2012
By Rob Waugh and Tamara Cohen
Twitter has admitted harvesting contact lists from its customers’ mobile phone address books without telling them.
The website said it copied lists of email addresses and phone numbers from those who used its smartphone application, amid claims it kept them on its database for 18 months.
Its management yesterday agreed to change guidance to users about what it does with their personal information, after a storm of protest from privacy campaigners in the U.S.
The breach occurs when users of the micro-blogging site click the ‘Find Friends’ option to see if any of their contacts are also on it.
Many of them did not know this meant the site then uploaded their entire address book and stored it afterwards.
Twitter spokesman Carolyn Penner said it would now offer users the option to ‘upload your address book’ or ‘import your contacts’ to make it clearer.
She said: ‘We want to be clear and transparent in our communications with users. Along those lines, in our next app updates, which are coming soon, we are updating the language associated with Find Friends – to be more explicit.’
The practice by a giant such as Twitter raises more concerns about the privacy implications posed by social networking sites which are used by an estimated 37 million Britons.
There is no suggestion the San Francisco-based firm was using the data – which it said was securely encrypted – for anything other than finding contacts for its customers.
But critics say the lack of ‘informed consent’ raises questions about other less reputable sites which could harvest details to sell on, or potentially leave customers open to identity fraud.
February 8, 2012
By G.W. Schulz
When several armed robberies occurred recently in Lancaster, Calif., police had little of use on the two suspects. Then, a reliable image of one suspect turned up from a surveillance camera.
In years past, that still might not have been enough for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to close the case.
But with the help of new facial recognition software, investigators plugged the image into a database of booking photos and quickly came up with a possible match. That led to a pair of arrests on Jan. 27.
Facial recognition technology is growing rapidly, both in the consumer world and among police, but privacy advocates are troubled by the potential for intrusion and misuse.
Police in Tampa, Fla., created an uproar several years ago when they installed facial recognition devices in an entertainment district, hoping to identify wanted criminals. The system eventually was unplugged, because it didn’t catch any perpetrators. A similar effort at the 2001 Super Bowl also netted few results.
Things have changed since then. Agencies like the cutting-edge Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in Florida are using millions of jail mug shots to double-check identities if they believe someone is lying about who they are. Deputies can simply snap a photo of the person and begin a search using their in-car laptop.
That’s how the agency unmasked one man with an active warrant. In another 2009 incident, the North Miami Police Department asked Pinellas County deputies for help tracking down a bank robbery suspect, and they did so with a surveillance video image that led to an arrest.
“All of this was accomplished by lunch time,” the sheriff’s office boasted then in a press release. Pinellas County also became the first in the nation that year to include the use of driver’s license photos in its searching capabilities, rather than just individuals who have been arrested.
In the meantime, outcry over the technology is heating up. The Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington last week called for a moratorium on the use of facial recognition in consumer products. Namely, they’ve targeted a Facebook feature that enables users to tag the photos of friends using special software.
January 18, 2012
New York Post
By Mary Kay Linge
Big Brother is joining the battle of the bulge.
A group of Long Island students will soon be wearing controversial electronic monitors that allow school officials to track their physical activity around the clock.
The athletics chair for the Bay Shore schools ordered 10 Polar Active monitors, at $90 a pop, for use starting this spring. The wristwatchlike devices count heartbeats, detect motion and even track students’ sleeping habits in a bid to combat obesity.
The information is displayed on a color-coded screen and gets transmitted to a password-protected Web site that students and educators can access.
The devices are already in use in school districts in St. Louis and South Orange, NJ — and have raised privacy concerns among some parents and observers.
But Ted Nagengast, the Bay Shore athletics chair, said, “It’s a great reinforcement in fighting the obesity epidemic. It tells kids, in real time, ‘Am I active? Am I not active?’ We want to give kids the opportunity to become active.”
The monitors are distributed by Polar Electro, of Lake Success, LI, the US division of a Finland firm.
In the South Orange-Maplewood School District, where earlier versions of the devices have been used for two years, upper-grade students’ marks in phys ed are based in part on heart-rate monitors and activity sensors.
Teachers use hand-held computers to collect data from each student’s wrist monitor during class, then upload the information to the school computer system for storage and long-term tracking.
But privacy advocates and parents worry that schools are using electronic monitors in phys ed without families’ knowledge or consent.