Surveillance

  • TorturePublic support for torture declines as people learn the explicit details of torture techniques

    Does the American public condone torture when the goal is to prevent terrorist attacks? News headlines reporting the results of a Pew Research Center poll released on 9 December indicate more than half of Americans do. That finding, however, is not necessarily valid, says Tufts University’s Richard Eichenberg, who argues that the poll is flawed because it is based on a faulty premise. A more accurate picture of the nation’s attitude can be found in responses to polls conducted by Pew, Gallup, and other news organizations and analyzed in a 2010 report. These surveys explained in graphic detail what interrogation techniques were being judged. So while response to more general questions on the use of torture may continue to produce mixed reactions, Eichenberg says public support for torture will decline as more people become aware of the explicit details of torture techniques contained in the Senate report.

  • DronesFAA would allow four private companies to operate drones in U.S. airspace

    The Federal Aviation Administration(FAA) announced the other day that it would allow four private companies to operate drones in U.S. airspace. The drones will be used to survey land, inspect remote oil rigs, perform agricultural and environmental research, monitor construction projects, and collect geographical data. The FAA has banned most drone flights as they pose a risk to the safety of manned aircrafts, and in some cases to privacy. The drone industry says that if drones are integrated into U.S. civilian airspace, the domestic economic impact would surpass $82.1 billion between 2015 and 2025, while creating more than 100,000 high-paying jobs.

  • DronesUniversity of Maryland opens new drone test facility

    The University of Maryland has recently opened a new drone test site on the Eastern Shore which will allow researchers and students to help in the safe development of drones for use in U.S. airspace. The university will partner with companies to develop projects in a safe space. Already there are plans to use drones to monitor fish populations in the nearby Chesapeake Bay, examine power lines in the southern part of the state, and perform jobs which are considered “dirty, dull [or] dangerous,” in the words of the head of the facility.

  • CybersecurityDOJ’s new cyber unit to provide legal guidance on electronic surveillance

    The Justice Department is creating a cybersecurity unit within its Computer Crime & Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) to provide legal guidance on electronic surveillance investigations.The unit will also work with Congress on cybersecurity legislation and focus on cybercrime prevention.

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  • SurveillanceSmaller lidars could be mounted on UAVs for underwater scans

    Bathymetric lidars — devices which employ powerful lasers to scan beneath the water’s surface — are used today primarily to map coastal waters. At nearly 600 pounds, the systems are large and heavy, and they require costly, piloted aircraft to carry them. Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) researchers have designed a new approach that could lead to bathymetric lidars that are much smaller and more efficient than the current full-size systems. The new technology would let modest-sized unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) carry bathymetric lidars, lowering costs substantially. These advanced capabilities could support a range of military uses such as anti-mine and anti-submarine intelligence and nautical charting, as well as civilian mapping tasks. In addition, the new lidar could probe forested areas to detect objects under thick canopies.

  • EpidemicsSatellites help assess risk of epidemics

    Changes in the environment, global trade, and travel are all factors in the ever-increasing numbers and movement of pests. Identifying and predicting the distribution of existing local species as well as the spread of new exotic ones are essential in assessing the risk of potential epidemics. Researchers have developed Vecmap — an all-encompassing software and services package including a smartphone app for field studies with a time and location information system, all linked to an online database. The database pools satellite information with results from field research, and satnav adds location information. The new approach greatly reduces the complexity of tracking species compared to traditional methods.

  • CybersecurityA malware more sophisticated than Stuxnet discovered

    Security experts at Symantechave discovered the world’s most sophisticated computer malware, Regin. Thought to have been created by a Western intelligence agency, and in many respects more advanced than Stuxnet — which was developed by the U.S. and Israeli government in 2010 to hack the Iranian nuclear program — Regin has targeted Russian, Saudi Arabian, Mexican, Irish, and Iranian Internet service providers and telecoms companies. “Nothing else comes close to this … nothing else we look at compares,” said one security expert.

  • SurveillanceGOP senators block NSA surveillance reform bill

    The USA Freedom Act, a bill introduced last year aiming to curtail some of the NSA’s data collection programs, especially those focusing on U.S. phone data, failed last night to reach the 60-vote threshold required to cut off debate and move to a vote. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the Republican leader, and other leading GOP senators worked hard to defeat the bill. Nearly a year-and-a-half after the Edward Snowden’s revelations, the act was considered the most politically viable effort in four decades to place curbs on NSA activities. Civil libertarians and technology companies supported the bill, as did the White House and the intelligence community – although the latter two did so more out of fear that a failure of the bill would jeopardize the extension of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which expires next June.

  • Border securityDrones watch over U.S. borders

    Since 2000, the number of Border Patrol agents on the 1,954-mile U.S.-Mexico border has more than doubled, to surpass 18,000, and fencing has increased nine times — to 700 miles. Some members of Congress and border state lawmakers are calling for more border agents and more fencing, but the Obama administration is looking to drones to help reduce the number of illegal immigrants and drugs entering the United States, while simultaneously shifting resources and agents to parts of the border where illegal activity is highest.

  • Law enforcement technologyFBI: Lawmakers should mandate surveillance “backdoors” in apps, operating systems

    FBI director James Comey said that the agency was pushing lawmakers to mandate surveillance functions in apps, operating systems, and networks, arguing that privacy and encryption prevent or disrupt some of the agency’s investigations. According to Comey, new privacy features implemented by Google and Apple in the wake of the Snowden revelations, automatically encrypt user communication and data, making it difficult for law enforcement to gather evidence and connect links among suspected criminals and terrorists.

  • SurveillanceJudges question claims that NSA metadata collection poses threat to ordinary citizens

    A panel of three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia challenged arguments made earlier this week by Larry Klayman, a conservative lawyer arguing on his own behalf, and Cindy Cohn, an attorney representing the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), that the National Security Agency’s (NSA) mass-surveillance program is a breach of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches.The case, Klayman v. Obama, is one of three currently at the appeals-court level regarding the NSA surveillance program.In the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Judges Stephen Williams and David Sentelle voiced skepticism about claims that collecting metadata posed a threat to ordinary citizens.

  • SurveillanceICE offices subscribed to national license-plate database in violation of DHS policy

    In February, DHS officials dropped a controversial bidwhich would have allowed the department to access a national license-plate database, citing possible violation of Americans’ civil liberties. Soon after, DHS officials established a policy which required similar plans to be reviewed by department privacy officers. Roughly two months after that policy was put in place, officials with DHS’s Newark and Houston field offices of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement(ICE) agency purchased subscriptions for a commercially run national license-plate database without approval from DHS’ privacy office.

  • DronesLegal framework needed to govern soon-to-arrive autonomous killer drones: Experts

    With about 8,000 unmanned aircrafts and roughly 12,000 unmanned ground vehicles, the U.S. military boasts the world’s largest drone arsenal, followed by Israel, with China, Europe, India, and Russia in the second tier. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) will pose a challenge to current international laws of warfare since someday, and sooner rather than later, they will be able to act autonomously – and kill autonomously. The international community has yet to adopt special laws to govern the use of drones in combat.

  • EMS droneEMS drone dramatically increases survival chances of heart attack patients, accident victims

    A Dutch graduate student has designed an unmanned, autonomously navigating mini airplane that can quickly deliver a defibrillator to where it is needed. When the emergency services receive a cardiac arrest call, this drone can quickly deliver a defibrillator to the emergency scene. Via a livestream video and audio connection, the drone can also provide direct feedback to the emergency services and the persons on site can be instructed how to treat the patient. The drone finds the patient’s location through the caller’s mobile phone signal and makes its way to the location using GPS. The drone can carry up to four kilograms of medical equipment.

  • SurveillancePeekaboo, I see you: Government authority intended for terrorism is used for other purposes

    By Mark M. Jaycox

    The Patriot Act continues to wreak its havoc on civil liberties. Section 213 was included in the Patriot Act over the protests of privacy advocates and granted law enforcement the power to conduct a search while delaying notice to the suspect of the search. Known as a “sneak and peek” warrant, law enforcement was adamant Section 213 was needed to protect against terrorism. But the latest government report detailing the numbers of “sneak and peek” warrants reveals that out of a total of over 11,000 sneak and peek requests, only fifty-one were used for terrorism. Yet again, terrorism concerns appear to be trampling our civil liberties.