• A.C.L.U. Warns Against Fever-Screening Tools for Coronavirus

    Airports, office buildings, warehouses and restaurant chains are rushing to install new safety measures like fever-scanning cameras and infrared temperature-sensing guns. But the American Civil Liberties Union warned on Tuesday against using the tools to screen people for possible coronavirus symptoms, saying the devices were often inaccurate, ineffective and intrusive. Natasha Singer writes in the New York Times that in a new report, “Temperature Screening and Civil Liberties During an Epidemic,” the A.C.L.U. said that such technologies could give people a false sense of security, potentially leading them to be less vigilant about health measures like wearing masks or social distancing. The group also cautioned that the push for widespread temperature scans during the pandemic could usher in permanent new forms of surveillance and social control.

     

  • Germany: Revised Domestic Surveillance Bill Submitted to Bundestag

    A draft law to reform Germany’s BfV domestic intelligence agency is to be re-submitted to parliament after long debate. It will allow German domestic intelligence and law enforcement to conduct electronic surveillance of telephone calls and SMS text services, including encrypted “chats” via services such as WhatsApp and Telegram, but will  not allow the use of cyber “Trojan” trawling tools.

  • Governments Shouldn’t Use “Centralized” Proximity Tracking Technology

    Companies and governments across the world are building and deploying a dizzying number of systems and apps to fight COVID-19. Many groups have converged on using Bluetooth-assisted proximity tracking for the purpose of exposure notification. Even so, there are many ways to approach the problem, and dozens of proposals have emerged. One way to categorize them is based on how much trust each proposal places in a central authority.

  • COVID Is Ushering in a Surveillance State That May Never Be Dismantled

    Is the “new normal” to be a surveillance society, with tracing apps and facial recognition health passports? Philip Johnston writes in The Telegraph that the British government insists not; but if we are hit by a second wave of COVID-19, the temptation to extend the monitoring will be hard to resist.

  • Enhancing Privacy Protections for Android Applications

    From navigation to remote banking, mobile device users rely on a variety of applications to streamline daily tasks, communicate, and dramatically increase productivity. While exceedingly useful, the ecosystem of third-party applications utilizes a number of sensors – microphones, GPS, pedometers, cameras – and user interactions to collect data used to enable functionality. Troves of sensitive personal data about users are accessible to these applications and as defense and commercial mobile device users become increasingly reliant on the technology, there are growing concerns around the challenge this creates for preserving user privacy.

  • New Privacy Threat Combines Device Identification with Biometric Information

    A new study by computer scientists has revealed a new privacy threat from devices such as smartphones, smart doorbells and voice assistants that allows cyber attackers to access and combine device identification and biometric information.

  • Coronavirus: Digital Contact Tracing Doesn’t Have to Sacrifice Privacy

    To make it safer to reduce the lockdown measures, proposals are being considered to use data from people’s smartphones to track their movements and contacts with potentially infected patients. Other systems involve monitoring the data trails of all citizens to generate useful information that helps to prevent the spread of the disease. All these approaches involve allowing the government, and in some cases private companies, to build a database of where we go, the people we associate with and when. Such intrusive tracking is more typically associated with totalitarian regimes and easily can be misused. Despite the good intentions, then, these measures raise serious concerns that collecting and sharing such data might pose a threat to citizens’ right to privacy.

  • France, Europe Mull Controversial Coronavirus Tracing Apps

    France’s parliament votes next week on plans to use a controversial tracing app to help fight the coronavirus, as the country eyes easing its lockdown next month. Lisa Bryant writes in VOA News that French Digital Affairs Minister Cedric O says the downloadable app would notify smartphone users when they cross people with COVID-19, helping authorities track and reduce the spread of the pandemic. In a video on the ruling party’s Facebook page, O said the so-called “Stop COVID” app will fully respect people’s liberties, and will be completely voluntary and anonymous. It also will be temporary — lasting only as long as the pandemic, he added. The government wants to launch the app on May 11, the date it has set to begin easing a two-month lockdown in the country. It initially announced a parliamentary debate on the technology, but that’s been changed to a vote, after major pushback from lawmakers.

  • Gulf States Use Coronavirus Threat to Tighten Authoritarian Controls and Surveillance

    Governments across the Middle East have moved to upgrade their surveillance capabilities under the banner of combatting COVID-19, the disease linked to the new coronavirus. Matthew Hedges writes in The Conversation that overtly repressive policies have been commonplace across the Middle East for years, notably in Egypt, Iraq and Syria, where violent measures have been taken to control populations. As a result of technological advances, an increase in political engagement and changes of leadership, the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – have also upgraded their form of authoritarianism in recent years. This has seen policies of partial economic liberalization and market-based reforms used to obscure an increase in repression and surveillance, for example by containing the work of civil society groups. Following the pattern in which authoritarian states tend to exploit common threats, some of the GCC states are now manipulating the current pandemic to enhance their social power and control.

  • 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.

  • Safe Paths: A Privacy-First Approach to Contact Tracing

    Fast containment is key to halting the progression of pandemics, and rapid determination of a diagnosed patient’s locations and contact history is a vital step for communities and cities. This process is labor-intensive, susceptible to human memory errors, and fraught with privacy concerns. Smartphones can aid in this process, though any type of mass surveillance network and analytics can lead to — or be misused by — a surveillance state.

  • 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.

  • Not All Privacy Apps Are Created Equal

    New privacy laws like Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) have spawned a new industry of companies and platforms advertising that they can anonymize your data and be compliant with the law. But MIT researcher Aloni Cohen says that he has his doubts about these claims, and his team’s latest work shows that there’s reason to be skeptical.