• 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.

  • Using Innovation, Technology for Drone Ideation Projectd

    Last fall, students in UAB professor Ramaraju Rudraraju’s software engineering class were tasked with a project to take part in ideation for practical uses of drones in farming environments. Through the project, they created a program to map out a farm and various flight patterns and controls for a drone. 

  • 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.

  • “Pandemic Drones”: Useful for Enforcing Social Distancing, or for Creating a Police State?

    As COVID-19 restrictions tighten around the world, governments are harnessing the potential of drones. From delivering medical supplies, to helping keep people indoors – drones can do a lot in a pandemic. But these measures may be difficult to rollback once the pandemic passes. And safeguards will be needed to prevent unwanted surveillance in the future.

  • Identify, Track, Capture: Addressing UAS Threats

    Sandia National Laboratories robotics experts are working on a way to intercept enemy unmanned aircraft systems midflight. They successfully tested their concept indoors with a swarm of four unmanned aircraft systems that flew in unison, each carrying one corner of a net. Acting as a team, they intercepted the flying target, trapped it in air like an insect caught in a web and safely lowered it to the ground.

  • 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.

  • Laser Defense System against Next Gen Autonomous Attack Drones

    attack drones are becoming increasingly common threats, and future attack drones will be completely autonomous, navigating via onboard sensors and cameras and eschewing any sort of exploitable communication link. In order to neutralize them before they reach their target, a “hard kill” option is needed to physically target and shoot down the drone. A Ben Gurion University (BGU) laser expert has developed a laser-based defense system, dubbed Light Blade (Lahav-Or in Hebrew), that will be able to down the next generation of attack drones.

  • 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.