Communities and lawmakers across the country are waking up to the fact that using face recognition for government surveillance is a troubling trend, particularly when used with cameras that police officers wear. On Thursday, Axon—a major police body-worn camera maker—added its voice to calls to press the pause button on this type of face surveillance, saying it will no longer be “commercializing face matching products on our body cameras at this time.”
Axon’s decision follows strong opposition to government use of face surveillance. San Francisco in May banned city use of face surveillance. This month, Oakland, California and Somerville, Massachusetts have both taken crucial steps toward adopting similar bans, with both measures now headed for full city council votes.
For decades, journalists, activists and lawyers who work on human rights issues around the world have been harassed, and even detained, by repressive and authoritarian regimes seeking to halt any assistance they provide to human rights defenders. Digital communication technology and privacy-protective tools like end-to-end encryption have made this work safer, in part by making it harder for governments to target those doing the work. But that has led to technologists building those tools being increasingly targeted for the same harassment and arrest, most commonly under overbroad cybercrime laws that cast suspicion on even the most innocent online activities.
Thirty years ago today, the Chinese Communist Party used military force to suppress a peaceful pro-democracy demonstration by thousands of university students. Hundreds (some estimates go as high as thousands) of innocent protesters were killed. Every year, people around the world come together to mourn and commemorate the fallen; within China, however, things are oddly silent.
The Tiananmen Square protest is one of the most tightly censored topics in China. The Chinese government’s network and social media censorship is more than just pervasive; it’s sloppy, overbroad, inaccurate, and always errs on the side of more takedowns. Every year, the Chinese government ramps up VPN shutdowns, activist arrests, digital surveillance, and social media censorship in anticipation of the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests. This year is no different; and to mark the thirtieth anniversary, the controls have never been tighter.
Do you know where you were five years ago? Did you have an
Android phone at the time? It turns out Google might know—and it might
be telling law enforcement.
In a new article, the New York Times details a little-known technique increasingly used by law enforcement to figure out everyone who might have been within certain geographic areas during specific time periods in the past. The technique relies on detailed location data collected by Google from most Android devices as well as iPhones and iPads that have Google Maps and other apps installed. This data resides in a Google-maintained database called “Sensorvault,” and because Google stores this data indefinitely, Sensorvault “includes detailed location records involving at least hundreds of millions of devices worldwide and dating back nearly a decade.”