• The Coronavirus Contact Tracing App Won't Log Your Location, but It Will Reveal Who You Hang Out With

    The Australian federal government has announced plans to introduce a contact tracing mobile app to help curb COVID-19’s spread in Australia. Roba Abbas and Katina Michael write in The Conversation that rather than collecting location data directly from mobile operators, the proposed TraceTogether app will use Bluetooth technology to sense whether users who have voluntarily opted-in have come within nine metres of one another. Contact tracing apps generally store 14-21 days of interaction data between participating devices to help monitor the spread of a disease. The TraceTogether app has been available in Singapore since March 20, and its reception there may help shed light on how the new tech will fare in Australia.

  • The Challenge of Proximity Apps For COVID-19 Contact Tracing

    Around the world, a diverse and growing chorus is calling for the use of smartphone proximity technology to fight COVID-19. In particular, public health experts and others argue that smartphones could provide a solution to an urgent need for rapid, widespread contact tracing—that is, tracking who infected people come in contact with as they move through the world. Proponents of this approach point out that many people already own smartphones, which are frequently used to track users’ movements and interactions in the physical world. But it is not a given that smartphone tracking will solve this problem, and the risks it poses to individual privacy and civil liberties are considerable.

  • Bluetooth Signals from Your Smartphone Could Automate COVID-19 Contact Tracing While Preserving Privacy

    Imagine you’ve been diagnosed as Covid-19 positive. Health officials begin contact tracing to contain infections, asking you to identify people with whom you’ve been in close contact. The obvious people come to mind — your family, your coworkers. But what about the woman ahead of you in line last week at the pharmacy, or the man bagging your groceries? Or any of the other strangers you may have come close to in the past 14 days? Researchers are developing a system that augments “manual” contact tracing by public health officials, while preserving the privacy of all individuals. The system enables smartphones to transmit “chirps” to nearby devices could notify people if they have been near an infected person.

  • How to Protect Privacy When Aggregating Location Data to Fight COVID-19

    As governments, the private sector, NGOs, and others mobilize to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen calls to use location information—typically drawn from GPS and cell tower data—to inform public health efforts. Compared to using individualized location data for contact tracing—as many governments around the world are already doing—deriving public health insights from aggregated location data poses far fewer privacy and other civil liberties risks such as restrictions on freedom of expression and association. However, even “aggregated” location data comes with potential pitfalls.

  • “Pandemic Drone” to Detect Coronavirus

    A “pandemic drone” to remotely monitor and detect people with infectious respiratory conditions is being developed. The drone will be fitted with a specialized sensor and computer vision system that can monitor temperature, heart and respiratory rates, as well as detect people sneezing and coughing in crowds, offices, airports, cruise ships, aged care homes and other places where groups of people may work or congregate.

  • Mind Reading: New Software Agents Will Infer What Users Are Thinking

    Personal assistants today can figure out what you are saying, but what if they could infer what you were thinking based on your actions? A team of academic and industrial researchers is working to build artificially intelligent agents with this social skill.

  • The Ominous Metaphors of China’s Uighur Concentration Camps

    The recent leak of Chinese Communist Party documents to the New York Times offers a chilling glimpse into the twenty-first century’s largest system of concentration camps. A million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are now detained in a Chinese operation that combines the forced labor and re-education of Mao-era laogai with the post-9/11 rhetoric of the “war on terror.” Retina scans, DNA databanks and facial recognition technology are now ubiquitous across China’s Xinjiang province. More than anything, however, Chinese statements about Uighur concentration are saturated with the language of disease. Likening Islam to a contagion, an official Communist Party document suggests Uighers have “been infected by unhealthy thoughts.” The biological metaphors revealed by the Chinese government’s recent document leak find their most sinister analogies with Nazi Germany. The language of disease justified some of the twentieth century’s worst crimes. If left unchecked by the international community, China is poised to continue that tradition in the twenty-first century. And where China leads, others are likely to follow.

  • Israeli Court to Hear Case against Spy-Software Company NSO Behind Closed Doors

    On Thursday, a judge at Tel Aviv’s District Court begin hearing arguments as to why Israel’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) should revoke the export license of NSO Group. The firm’s Pegasus software has been used to target journalists and activists in several countries – including in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates.

  • GOP Senators: Chinese Drones Pose National Security Threat

    A group of GOP senators called on the administration to restrict the use of Chinese drones by U.S. government agencies. “American taxpayer dollars should not fund state-controlled or state-owned firms that seek to undermine American national security and economic competitiveness,” they write.

  • Germany Restructures Police, Intelligence to Fight Far-Right Violent Extremists

    German government statistics show that in 2018 there were more than 24,000 active right-wing extremists in Germany, with about 12,500 of them considered capable of carrying out violent acts. The total number of these extremists is expected to increase in 2019 by as much as a third, to 32,200, according to government documents obtained by the newspaperTagesspiegel. On Tuesday, The German government unveiled broad new measures to restructure domestic intelligence and law enforcement agencies in 2020 in order to make the German intelligence and law enforcement services more capable to fight the rising threat of right-wing extremism.

  • The FBI Needs to Be Reformed

    Bob Bauer and Jack Glodsmith write that “the FBI has taken a large hit in its credibility over the last four years, due in large part to Trump’s unprecedented, reckless, and routinely baseless attacks on it. But the Bureau has also hurt itself by its conduct of the investigation of Trump campaign officials and of Hillary Clinton’s emails when she was a presidential candidate.” There are many destructive pressures today on the legitimacy of the American electoral process, and “Our democracy cannot afford the added delegitimating burden of botched investigations related to elections that inevitably give rise to suspicions or charges of political manipulation,” they write.

  • Unlawful Metadata Access Is Easy When We’re Flogging a Dead Law

    After watching this year’s media raids and the prosecution of lawyers and whistleblowers, it’s not hard to see why Australians wonder about excessive police power and dwindling journalistic freedom. But these problems are compounded by another, less known issue: police, and other bodies not even involved in law enforcement, have broad powers to access metadata. Each year, police alone access metadata in excess of 300,000 times.

  • Social Media Vetting of Visa Applicants Violates the First Amendment

    Beginning in May, the State Department has required almost every applicant for a U.S. visa—more than fourteen million people each year—to register every social media handle they’ve used over the past five years on any of twenty platforms. “There is no evidence that the social media registration requirement serves the government’s professed goals” of “strengthen” the processes for “vetting applicants and confirming their identity,” Carrie DeCell and Harsha Panduranga write, adding: “The registration requirement chills the free speech of millions of prospective visitors to the United States, to their detriment and to ours,” they write.

  • Crack Down on Genomic Surveillance

    Across the world, DNA databases that could be used for state-level surveillance are steadily growing. Yves Moreau writes that “Now the stakes are higher for two reasons. First, as technology gets cheaper, many countries might want to build massive DNA databases. Second, DNA-profiling technology can be used in conjunction with other tools for biometric identification — and alongside the analysis of many other types of personal data, including an individual’s posting behavior on social networks.”

  • Facial-Recognition Technology: Closer to Utopia Than Dystopia

    Is facial recognition technology ushering in the age of Big Brother, allowing the government to monitor what we do everywhere we do it? “This is the image that the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF), and a host of other alarmists are attempting to conjure in the minds of the media, elected officials, and the American public,” Robert Atkinson writes. But with the right regulations, “Americans can be safer and have more convenience with little or no reduction of our precious civil liberties.”