• Social Media: Growing Conduit for Electoral Manipulation, Mass Surveillance

    Governments around the world are increasingly using social media to manipulate elections and monitor their citizens, tilting the technology toward digital authoritarianism. As a result of these trends, global internet freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year, according to Freedom on the Net 2019, the latest edition of the annual country-by-country assessment of internet freedom, released today by Freedom House.

  • Why Adding Client-Side Scanning Breaks End-To-End Encryption

    Recent attacks on encryption have diverged. On the one hand, we’ve seen Attorney General William Barr call for “lawful access” to encrypted communications, using arguments that have barely changed since the 1990’s. Erica Portnoy writes that we’ve also seen suggestions from a different set of actors for more purportedly “reasonable” interventions, particularly the use of client-side scanning to stop the transmission of contraband files, most often child exploitation imagery (CEI).

  • Why Did Microsoft Fund an Israeli Firm that Surveils West Bank Palestinians?

    Microsoft has invested in AnyVision, an Israeli startup which has developed a facial recognition technology used by Israel’s military and intelligence services to surveil Palestinians throughout the West Bank, in spite of the tech giant’s public pledge to avoid using the technology if it encroaches on democratic freedoms. The surveillance technology lets customers identify individuals and objects in any live camera feed, such as a security camera or a smartphone, and then track targets as they move between different feeds. The Israeli surveillance project is similar to China’s surveillance of its Uighur minority population. China is using artificial intelligence and facial recognition technology for a pervasive, intrusive monitoring of the Uighurs, a Muslim group living in western China.

  • Autonomous Protection System to Defend Satellites against Attacks

    Satellites do a lot of things — they help people navigate from one place to another, they deliver television programming, they search for new stars and exo-planets and they enable the U.S. nuclear deterrence strategy. But until recently, one thing they haven’t done — or needed to do — is defend themselves. Sandia launches campaign to develop autonomous satellite protection systems.

  • German Domestic Intelligence Chief on the New Wave of Hate

    In an interview with Der Spiegel, Thomas Haldenwang, the director of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, discusses the new threat of extremism in the wake of the Halle attack and his agency’s need for greater authority in the monitoring of such threats. “What’s new is the international dimension,” Haldenwang said. “Right-wing extremism as we know it was long a particularly German phenomenon. But now, we see Anders Breivik in Oslo, Brenton Tarrant in Christchurch, Patrick Crusius in El Paso, the perpetrator in Halle. It’s like links in a chain, almost an international competition. Another insight is that it appears that no deep ideology is needed to radicalize and develop plans for attacks. All that’s needed is this emotion, hate, incitement, the web-based instigation and this convergence of people who, on the basis of simplistic messages often rooted in fake news, arrive at this world view and think they have to strike immediately.”

  • China’s Global Reach: Surveillance and Censorship Beyond the Great Firewall

    Those outside the People’s Republic of China (PRC) are accustomed to thinking of the Internet censorship practices of the Chinese state as primarily domestic, enacted through the so-called “Great Firewall”—a system of surveillance and blocking technology that prevents Chinese citizens from viewing websites outside the country. But the ongoing Hong Kong protests, and mainland China’s pervasive attempts to disrupt and discredit the movement globally, have highlighted that China is not above trying to extend its reach beyond the Great Firewall, and beyond its own borders. In attempting to silence protests that lie outside the Firewall, in full view of the rest of the world, China is showing its hand, and revealing the tools it can use to silence dissent or criticism worldwide.

  • The Intelligence Fallout from Trump’s Withdrawal in Syria

    The chaotic nature of the U.S. withdrawal from Syria—following an impulsive, snap decision by President Donald Trump during a phone call with the Turkish president earlier this month—is unnerving those who have been involved in all levels of the fight against ISIS. This is because “forever war” in Iraq and Syria was built around the work done by local U.S. allies. The fight against ISIS was America’s, but it was also being fought by Syrians, Kurds, and Iraqis—a U.S. strategy known as “by, with and through.” These partnerships have proved invaluable to the war against ISIS – but at the same time, they have also opened a small hole in the secrecy which typically shrouds the U.S. special operations community—by giving the local partners who work with those forces a rare and up-close view of who they are and how they do their jobs. Experts worry that any potential deal between the Kurds and Assad will include “not just speaking with Syrian intelligence officers but Russians and Iranians,” one expert said. “It’s going to turn out that all of a sudden the ways that elite American counterterrorism forces operate are known to the opposition.” Another expert said: “None of these issues were thought through or prepared, no consequences considered. It’s a disaster.”

  • Converting Big Data into Real-Time, Actionable Intelligence

    Social media, cameras, sensors and more generate huge amounts of data that can overwhelm analysts sifting through it all for meaningful, actionable information to provide decision-makers such as political leaders and field commanders responding to security threats. Researchers are working to lessen that burden by developing the science to gather insights from data in nearly real time.

  • AI Could Be a Force for Positive Social Change – but We’re Currently Heading for a Darker Future

    Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already re-configuring the world in conspicuous ways. Data drives our global digital ecosystem, and AI technologies reveal patterns in data. Smartphones, smart homes, and smart cities influence how we live and interact, and AI systems are increasingly involved in recruitment decisions, medical diagnoses, and judicial verdicts. Whether this scenario is utopian or dystopian depends on your perspective.

  • The FISA Oversight Hearing Confirmed That Things Need to Change

    Section 215, the controversial law at the heart of the NSA’s massive telephone records surveillance program, is set to expire in December. Last week the House Committee on the Judiciary held an oversight hearing to investigate how the NSA, FBI, and the rest of the intelligence community are using and interpreting 215 and other expiring national security authorities. If last week’s hearing made anything clear, it’s this: there is no good reason for Congress to renew the CDR authority,” McKinney writes, adding: “Despite repeated requests from the members of the panel to describe some way of measuring how effective these surveillance laws are, none of the witnesses could provide a framework. Congress must be able to determine whether any of the programs have real value and if the agencies are respecting the foundational rights to privacy and civil liberties that protect Americans from government overreach.”

  • Science Fiction Has Become Dystopian Fact

    So which dystopia are we living in? Most educated people have read George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. So influential have these books been that we are inclined to view all disconcerting new phenomena as either “Orwellian” or “Huxleyan”. If you suspect we shall lose our freedom to a brutally repressive state, grinding its boot into our faces, you think of George. If you think we shall lose it to a hedonistic consumer culture, complete with test-tube designer babies, you quote Aldous. “My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power,” Huxley wrote in a letter to Orwell in 1949. Niall Ferguson agrees: “As I reflect on the world in 2019, I am struck by the wisdom of [Huxley’s] words. In Xi Jinping’s China, we see Totalitarianism 2.0. The boot on the face remains a possibility, of course, but it is needed less and less as the system of social credit expands, aggregating and analyzing all the digital data that Chinese citizens generate.”

  • Border Communities Inundated with Surveillance Technologies

    The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) the other day published The Atlas of Surveillance: Southwestern Border Communities. The Atlas consists of profiles of six counties along the U.S.-Mexico border, outlining the types of surveillance technologies deployed by local law enforcement—including drones, body-worn cameras, automated license plate readers, and face recognition. The report also includes a set of 225 data points marking surveillance by local, state, and federal agencies in the border region.

  • AI and the Coming of the Surveillance State

    Artificial Intelligence (AI) used to be the stuff of science fiction, but is now making its presence felt in both the private and the public domains. In an important new study — The Global Expansion of AI Surveillance – Steve Feldstein of the Carnegie Endowment writes: “Unsurprisingly, AI’s impact extends well beyond individual consumer choices. It is starting to transform basic patterns of governance, not only by providing governments with unprecedented capabilities to monitor their citizens and shape their choices but also by giving them new capacity to disrupt elections, elevate false information, and delegitimize democratic discourse across borders.”

  • I Researched Uighur Society in China for 8 Years and Watched How Technology Opened New Opportunities – Then Became a Trap

    The Uighurs, a Muslim minority ethnic group of around 12 million in northwest China, are required by the police to carry their smartphones and IDs listing their ethnicity. As they pass through one of the thousands of newly built digital media and face surveillance checkpoints located at jurisdictional boundaries, entrances to religious spaces and transportation hubs, the image on their ID is matched to their face. If they try to pass without these items, a digital device scanner alerts the police. The Chinese state authorities described the intrusive surveillance as a necessary tool against the “extremification” of the Uighur population. Through this surveillance process, around 1.5 million Uighurs and other Muslims were determined “untrustworthy” and have forcibly been sent to detention and reeducation in a massive internment camp system. Since more than 10 percent of the adult population has been removed to these camps, hundreds of thousands of children have been separated from their parents. Many children throughout the region are now held in boarding schools or orphanages which are run by non-Muslim state workers.

  • Huawei's Dominance of Africa's Mobile Networks Mean More Spying on African Citizens

    Chinese tech firm Huawei has been increasing its footprint across Africa, providing countries with new technology and telecommunications equipment, including most notably 4G and 5G mobile networks. Some of this expansion has involved Huawei technicians helping governments in Africa to spy on their political opponents.