Tag Archives: surveillance

MI5’s poor surveillance data handling

It’s not often a data protection or records management news story gets this much press attention.

MI5 accused of unlawful handling of surveillance data
MI5 has been accused of “extraordinary and persistent illegality” for holding on to data obtained from members of the public. The human rights organisation Liberty has taken the security service to court over the way that it gathers and stores information under the Investigatory Powers Act.

MI5 ‘unlawfully’ handled bulk surveillance data, lawsuit reveals
“The documents show extraordinary and persistent illegality in MI5’s operations, apparently for many years,” said civil liberties organisation Liberty, which is bringing the case. “The existence of what MI5 itself calls ‘ungoverned spaces’ in which it holds and uses large volumes of private data is a serious failure of governance and oversight, especially when mass collection of data of innocent citizens is concerned.”

MI5’s use of personal data was ‘unlawful’, says watchdog
The security service MI5 has handled large amounts of personal data in an “undoubtedly unlawful” way, a watchdog has said. The Investigatory Powers Commissioner said information gathered under warrants was kept too long and not stored safely. Civil rights group Liberty said the breaches involved the “mass collection of data of innocent citizens”. The high court heard MI5 knew about the issues in 2016 but kept them secret.

Liberty’s challenge to UK state surveillance powers reveals shocking failures
The challenge, by rights group Liberty, led last month to an initial finding that MI5 had systematically breached safeguards in the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) — breaches the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, euphemistically couched as “compliance risks” in a carefully worded written statement that was quietly released to parliament.

This was first reported last month …

MI5 slapped on the wrist for ‘serious’ surveillance data breach
Home Secretary Sajid Javid has confessed to Parliament that MI5 bungled the security of “certain technology environments used to store and analyse data,” including that of ordinary Britons spied on by the agency. In a lengthy Parliamentary statement made last week, Javid obliquely admitted that spies had allowed more people to help themselves to its treasure troves of data on British citizens than was legally allowed.

Sajid Javid admits MI5 committed serious safeguard breaches
In a written statement to parliament last week that was not widely noticed, Javid said he was notifying MPs of “compliance risks MI5 identified and reported within certain technology environments used to store and analyse data, including material obtained under the Investigatory Powers Act”.

… but now the story has been picked up by everyone, including the Middle East Eye

UK’s MI5 spy agency handled surveillance data unlawfully, court hears
An internal agency review warned more than three years ago that storage systems may have become “ungoverned spaces”, which would mean that they were operating in breach of both UK and European law. Despite this, MI5 continued to build new electronic storage systems which did not allow the agency to review its contents and decide what material should be deleted, as the law requires. The problems were withheld from the official watchdog, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, until earlier this year, the High Court was told.

… and even Russia Today and Sputnik News are getting in on it.

‘Extraordinary & persistent illegality’: UK’s MI5 accused of mishandling bulk surveillance data
MI5 has no control of its storage of vast volumes of people’s calls, messages, web browsing history, as well as other personal data that the agency has managed to obtain on the basis of surveillance warrants, which were often issued under false pretext, the High Court heard on Tuesday in a legal challenge brought by the human rights organization Liberty.

Outcry as High Court finds MI5 engaged in ‘unlawful’ storage, handling of bulk surveillance
Ten internal documents from senior MI5 officials, including an 11 March letter from director Sir Andrew Parker, revealed significant non-compliance issues in how citizens’ data had been kept and used, including a subsequent cover-up of internal failures and that “data might be being held in ungoverned spaces in contravention of our policies”.

Let’s hope some good comes from all this.

Setting precedents for privacy: the UK legal challenges bringing surveillance into the open
These debates highlight the importance of collective efforts to assert respect for privacy and other rights as a core part of public life. We are on the cusp of a positive shift in power towards open public debate and accountability about data and the way it is used against us.

Going anyway nice?

You say potato, I say hotel room: a private Airbnb fashioned from a retired 6-ton promotional spud
What better way to be a couch potato than spending a relaxing weekend at a potato-shaped hotel? The new venue, which is available via Airbnb, is located in Boise, Idaho—a state that even touts its potatoes on vehicle license plates. The larger-than-life potato began its journey seven years ago on the back of a semi truck, as it traveled widely to promote the state’s famous starchy vegetable with the Idaho Potato Commission. Its most recent iteration as overnight accommodations was the project of Kristie Wolfe, who added a retrofitted silo complete with a bathtub and fireplace.

Airbnb host thrown in the clink after guest finds hidden camera inside Wi-Fi router
“I found a motion sensor monitor at the flat’s entrance and two in the two bedrooms, which is odd since the flat had not been renovated for smart-home automation,” she told the Beijing Youth Daily. She stuck stickers on the sensors and turned them toward the wall before embarking on a deeper search, checking the TV and smoke detectors for hidden cameras. It was when she spotted the internet router in the bedroom, facing the bed, that she began to get really suspicious however.

Street Tree Pods: A creative proposal to add more housing to London
Like urban treehouses, each of these “street tree pods” rises from a parking space to nestle within the branches of a tree, providing compact, low-cost living space for people in need of housing. University of Westminster graduate Matthew Chamberlain envisions these organically shaped portable dwellings as a potential way to address the housing crisis in cities like London, where there simply aren’t enough places for the population to live.

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China’s fear of losing control

This isn’t quite the brave new world we were hoping these new technologies would enable.

Davos: George Soros calls Xi Jinping a “dangerous opponent” of open societies
Soros said he wanted to “call attention to the mortal danger facing open societies from the instruments of control that machine learning and artificial intelligence can put in the hands of repressive regimes.” Echoing recent concerns raised about China’s use of facial-recognition technology, Soros asked: “How can open societies be protected if these new technologies give authoritarian regimes a built-in advantage? That’s the question that preoccupies me. And it should also preoccupy all those who prefer to live in an open society.”

Tracing his critique of authoritarian governments to his own childhood under Nazi occupation in Hungary, Soros, who is now 88, urged the Trump administration to take a harder stance on China. “My present view is that instead of waging a trade war with practically the whole world, the US should focus on China,” he said

The complicated truth about China’s social credit system
What’s troubling is when those private systems link up to the government rankings — which is already happening with some pilots, she says. “You’ll have sort of memorandum of understanding like arrangements between the city and, say, Alibaba and Tencent about data exchanges and including that in assessments of citizens,” Ohlberg adds. That’s a lot of data being collected with little protection, and no algorithmic transparency about how it’s analysed to spit out a score or ranking[.]

[…]

The criteria that go into a social credit ranking depends on where you are, notes Ohlberg. “It’s according to which place you’re in, because they have their own catalogs,” she says. It can range from not paying fines when you’re deemed fully able to, misbehaving on a train, standing up a taxi, or driving through a red light. One city, Rongcheng, gives all residents 1,000 points to start. Authorities make deductions for bad behaviour like traffic violations, and add points for good behaviour such as donating to charity.

Running a red light is one thing, but what if you’re a journalist investigating corruption and misconduct?

Chinese blacklist an early glimpse of sweeping new social-credit control
What it meant for Mr. Liu is that when he tried to buy a plane ticket, the booking system refused his purchase, saying he was “not qualified.” Other restrictions soon became apparent: He has been barred from buying property, taking out a loan or travelling on the country’s top-tier trains.

“There was no file, no police warrant, no official advance notification. They just cut me off from the things I was once entitled to,” he said. “What’s really scary is there’s nothing you can do about it. You can report to no one. You are stuck in the middle of nowhere.”

In China, facial recognition tech is watching you
Megvii, meanwhile, supports the state’s nationwide surveillance program, which China, with troubling inferences, calls Skynet. Launched in 2005, Skynet aims to create a nationwide panopticon by blanketing the country with CCTV. Thanks to Face++, it now incorporates millions of A.I.-enhanced cameras that have been used to apprehend some 2,000 suspects since 2016, according to a Workers’ Daily report.

[…]

Jeffrey Ding, an Oxford University researcher focused on Chinese A.I., believes there is more pushback in the West against deploying facial recognition technology for security purposes. “There’s more willingness in China to adopt it,” he says, “or at least to trial it.”

But there’s also less freedom to oppose the onslaught. “The intention of these systems is to weave a tighter net of social control that makes it harder for people to plan action or push the government to reform,” explains Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The line from Soros about the danger from “the instruments of control that machine learning and artificial intelligence can put in the hands of repressive regimes” chimes with what I’m reading in James Bridle’s new book, New Dark Age.

May we live in interesting times.

There are cameras everywhere

There is such a high level of surveillance in our society. There are cameras everywhere, but they’re our cameras.

The ubiquity of smartphones, as captured by photographers
With so many devices in so many hands now, the visual landscape has changed greatly, making it a rare event to find oneself in a group of people anywhere in the world and not see at least one of them using a phone. Collected here: a look at that smartphone landscape, and some of the stories of the phones’ owners.

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What an odd world we live in.

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The real world isn’t really real unless there’s a screen between us and it.

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But then you come across a photo like this.

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Such a strong image. The difference between surveillance and sousveillance.

Sousveillance
Sousveillance is the recording of an activity by a participant in the activity, typically by way of small wearable or portable personal technologies. The term “sousveillance”, coined by Steve Mann, stems from the contrasting French words sur, meaning “above”, and sous, meaning “below”, i.e. “surveillance” denotes the “eye-in-the-sky” watching from above, whereas “sousveillance” denotes bringing the camera or other means of observation down to human level, either physically (mounting cameras on people rather than on buildings), or hierarchically (ordinary people doing the watching, rather than higher authorities or architectures doing the watching).

Eye to eye

From Chris Eckert, a maker of “little art machines”, has made what could be described as a surveillance sculpture.

A disconcerting installation featuring 20 blinking kinetic eyeballs that track a person around a room
San Francisco artist Chris Eckert, who wanted to make a point of increasing surveillance and decreasing privacy of the population, has created “Blink”, an absolutely incredible series of mechanically operating blinking single eyeballs in a row, each equipped with face tracking software to deliberately evoke a disconcerting sense of privacy violation.

Yes, that combination of a very realistic eyeball looking directly at you from a very unreal, robotic face is unsettling, but I think what really works well is what happens after, as Chris explains in this video.

“You would have these interactions with them, and hopefully enjoy yourself playing with these eyeballs, only to go around the corner to discover that you’ve been recorded and observed the entire time by multiple eyeballs. And that anyone in that room was watching those video feeds and observing you doing that. And it kind of shifted your view of what was happening there. It changed it from being fun to being kind of invasive.”

Look Out! Chris Eckert’s Machines Are Watching You | KQED Arts

There are many more remarkable art machines on his website, and here is a piece on his Privacy Not Included exhibition, that Blink formed part of.

Chris Eckert: Privacy Not Included exhibition at San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art
Privacy Not Included presents a sensorial experience that considers how we are viewed, followed, and tracked. As technology progresses and, in conjunction, as we continue to share personal data and information, what will be the consequences of our own privacy, our right to personal space, and ultimately, our freedom? In George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 about omnipresent surveillance and public manipulation, the author writes, “The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.” The works in the exhibition challenge us to contemplate this dilemma. They reflect the conundrum we face in our contemporary society: appreciating the joy of convenience and technology’s ability to provide us security and safety, versus negotiating between the disconcerting, constant surveillance and intrusion in our lives.

And to really bring that point home, here’s an article from Aeon on the same theme, convenience versus surveillance.

Orwell knew: we willingly buy the screens that are used against us
One can easily imagine choosing to buy a telescreen – indeed, many of us already have. And one can also imagine needing one, or finding them so convenient that they feel compulsory. The big step is when convenience becomes compulsory: when we can’t file our taxes, complete the census or contest a claim without a telescreen.

Why Groklaw shut down

Groklaw, Pamela Jones’s website reporting on legal issues around the Free and Open Source Software community, closed down and she herself wants to “get off of the Internet to the degree it’s possible.” Loss of privacy, forced exposure, the dehumanising nature of total surveillance: issues I’ve been vaguely aware of recently, but never really thought about seriously. Her post explaining why she’s shut down her blog is the first thing I’ve read that I’ve understood, I think, with all this.

“Anyway, one resource was excerpts from a book by Janna Malamud Smith, ‘Private Matters: In Defense of the Personal Life’, and I encourage you to read it. I encourage the President and the NSA to read it too. I know. They aren’t listening to me. Not that way, anyhow. But it’s important, because the point of the book is that privacy is vital to being human, which is why one of the worst punishments there is is total surveillance.”

http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20130818120421175

Watching the watchers

How Britain exported next-generation surveillance
Britain is one of the most surveilled countries in the world. Studies put the number of operational CCTV cameras at between two and four million, for a population of 60 million people. The country’s national DNA database holds records on six million people. Telecoms companies are mandated to store logs of all mobile-phone calls and text messages for 12 months, and to make the data available to government at all levels. […]

In 2009, a House of Lords report described the explosion of surveillance technologies as one of the most significant changes to Britain since the Second World War. It noted:

“Mass surveillance has the potential to erode privacy. As privacy is an essential pre-requisite to the exercise of individual freedom, its erosion weakens the constitutional foundations on which democracy and good governance have traditionally been based in this country.”

This has been described as an acceptable price to pay for greater security, but studies of surveillance technology fail to support that argument. […]

Consent, the bedrock on which the agreement to be policed is based, is meaningless without comprehension, and comprehension is impossible without visibility. It is only when people are brought face-to-face with the reality of surveillance — as the Catts were, and as the people of Washwood Heath and Sparkbrook were — that they see how their privacy, and their right to be presumed innocent, have been affected.

I knew that we have more than our fair share of cameras, but I hadn’t really thought about just how widespread before. A vital read.