Thermal imaging

Facial Recognition Companies Score Huge Gains On COVID-19

Technocrats pushing facial recognition software and systems are in the prime of their existence as governments stampede to monitor and control their populations. Dominant companies will emerge before the COVID-19 episode is completed. ⁃ TN Editor

The biometrics industry has never been known to miss an opportunity to make a profit. Especially when it comes at the expense of everyone’s privacy.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, facial recognition companies have been hard at work creating a new sales pitch that will allow them to maximize their profits.

Across the globe, facial recognition companies are hard at work trying to convince politicians, law enforcement and the public that thermal imaging cameras will help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Forbes.com is all too eager to jump on the thermal imaging bandwagon, claiming that Athena Security’s facial recognition/thermal imaging software can scan 1000 people per hour.

“With Covid-19, you see the problem at airports today,” Athena Security CEO Lisa Falzone explains. “Passengers are waiting in lines to manually take their temperatures, which slows traffic down. With our technology, we can analyze 1000 people per hour.”

In fact, Athena Security has gone so far as to combine fever detection, facial recognition and gun detection into an all-in-one screening system.

“Our Fever Detection COVID19 Screening System is now a part of our platform along with our gun detection system which connects directly to your current security camera system to deliver fast, accurate threat detection – including guns, knives, and aggressive action. Our system can also alert you to falls, accidents, and unwelcome visitors.”

As Forbes.com points out, what makes Athena’s software so unique is their ability to send out real-time alerts to authorities.

“What’s different about Athena’s system, explains Falzone, is its ability to send out immediate alerts to the appropriate parties, who can then make an informed decision on how to act.”

The scariest thing about the proliferation of facial recognition/thermal imaging cameras is it gives law enforcement near god-like powers to identify and quarantine anyone they choose.

Updated 3/25:

Real-time facial recognition being offered to universities and hospitals for free

The biometrics industry has put a new spin on marketing by offering universities and hospitals free real-time facial recognition.
 
A recent Jumio press release revealed that they are donating their facial recognition identity verification services to U.S. and U.K. hospitals and universities.

“Starting today, Jumio will provide free identity verification services through our AI-powered, fully automated solution, Jumio Go, to any qualifying organization directly involved in helping with COVID-19 relief including (but not limited to): Hospitals and Universities. This free offer is powered by Jumio Go, our real-time, fully automated identity verification solution.”

DroneUp suggests that law enforcement could use thermal imaging drones as an excuse to monitor people for COVID-19.

“Assurance is key in uncertain times. That is why DroneUp is functioning in conjunction with FAA regulatory precautions as we collaborate with state and local officials to ensure safety for all. We strongly encourage our fellow drone operators to also become keenly aware of the protocol and regulations as the pandemic evolves.”

That same scenario is being played out across the country, with more than 1,500 police departments using drones to monitor the public. In Michigan, the Hillsdale Sheriff’s Office recently purchased a DJI Matrice 210 drone equipped with thermal imaging.

Three police departments in particular have taken drone surveillance to a whole new level.

The Owensboro Police Department in Kentucky has created a 10-member thermal imaging drone surveillance team.

“The Owensboro Police Department recently created a 10-member Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Team who were trained and certified to fly the department’s $2,300 drone inside city limits.”

In Texas, the Public Safety Unmanned Response Team has partnered with the Airborne Incident Response Team to help expand police drone surveillance.

“The objective is to create a robust network of drone responders and geographic information systems experts capable of rendering direct assistance and location intelligence during complex emergencies, rapidly expanding incidents, and major disasters. Increased communication and cooperation are essential to the successful deployment of drones and other unmanned systems in support of public safety operations,” said Travis Calendine, chairperson of the Public Safety Unmanned Response Team North Texas.

The Chula Vista Police Department (CVPD), arguably the most famous drone surveillance police department in the country, is creating a 52 square mile drone surveillance zone.

“The CVPD can proactively cover about 17 of the 52 square miles of our city with drones launched from two sites. Our goal this year is to add launch sites to provide 100% aerial support coverage during daylight hours 7 days a week by the end of the year,” Vern Sallee, patrol operations captain said. 

The worldwide fear of the cornavirus is so widespread that MIT, Harvard and The Mayo Clinic have designed a new COVID-19 warning app called “Private Kit.”

As Fast Company explains, Private Kit will allegedly alert a user when someone infected with the COVID-19 virus is close.  Maybe they could use this app to alert them when a “Walking Dead” zombie is close by?

“Researchers just released an app in beta that alerts people when they come into contact with someone who’s been diagnosed with COVID-19, potentially reducing the virus’s spread if the app is downloaded by a large chunk of the population.”

Of course there is a catch to using Private Kit: users will lose their privacy.

“After you download the app and consent to sharing your location (which is necessary in order for the app to work), the app starts tracking you. Should you cross paths with someone who’s been diagnosed with the coronavirus who also has the app, you’ll receive a notification telling you when and for how long.”

Facial recognition companies like Veriff show how little they care about everyone’s privacy by offering universities and health care providers 1 million free identity verification’s.

“Potential beneficiaries of free verification’s range from universities who need to verify people taking exams to marketplaces that have volunteers who help people in need and to registries that could tackle fake accounts and set up reliable databases about people in quarantine. But also, digital health care service providers, organizations fighting fake news and beyond.”

If corporations, politicians and law enforcement can convince an apathetic public that facial recognition, thermal imaging and gun detection cameras can keep us safe, then our privacy will vanish before COVID-19 runs its course.

Read full story here…




COVID-19 ‘Immunity Certificates’ Being Planned Globally

Recovered patients and those who test positive for antibodies could receive an electronic ‘immunity certificate’ to prove they are not part of the contagion. This will dovetail into tracking those who receive vaccinations and those who don’t. ⁃ TN Editor

Update: Even more prophetically, billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman tweeted about his “optimism” and the need for

“…Hydroxychloriquine and antibiotics appear to help. There is increasing evidence that the asymptomatic infection rate could be as much as 50X higher than expected.

If this is true, the severity and death rate could be much lower than anticipated, and we could be closer to herd immunity than projected. Highly accurate antibody tests are scaling production and distribution which will definitively answer this question hopefully soon.

One could imagine a world in the next few months where everyone is tested and all but the immune-compromised go back to a socially distanced but more normal life. 

We wear bracelets or carry a phone certificate which indicate our status, and track infections where they emerge…”

Yay, let’s all cheer for antibody-based freedom.

*  *  *

The rollout of immunity certificates across the world will likely be government-issued to first responders and citizens who have developed resistance to COVID-19.

People who have contracted the virus and have recovered, normally develop antibodies to fight the virus, could be their golden ticket to escape regions that have strict social distancing measures and or lockdowns.

Just imagine, immunity certificates granted by governments to people who have recovered or have developed resistance to the virus could be considered special passports that will allow them to freely travel across states, countries, and or the world — while everyone else remains hunkered down in their homes or doomsday bunkers

Some of the first talks of this has originated in the UK. The government could roll out immunity passports to Britons who have already contracted and recovered from the virus so they can reenter the economy, reported The New York Times.

“(An immunity certificate) is an important thing that we will be doing and are looking at but it’s too early in the science of the immunity that comes from having had the disease,” health minister Matt Hancock said at a Downing Street press conference.

Read full story here…




Google Releases Location Data To Gov’t To Track Lock-Downs

Even though Google states that it is giving “anonymized data”, it is clear that it has the fully-identified raw data on everyones exact location at all times. This is based on location services contained in all smart phones, which is turned on by default. ⁃ TN Editor
 

Location data is being released by Google in 131 countries so officials can see if people are obeying self-isolating rules

Alphabet’s Google division has on Thursday published data for 131 countries that shows whether people are obeying self-isolating and quarantine rules.

The ‘Community Mobility Reports’ from the search engine giant showed whether visits to shops, parks and workplaces dropped in March, Reuters reported.

March is when many countries around the world brought in their lock-down rules, and readers can click here to see the Google reports on their particular country.

Community Mobility Reports

The Google data comes after surveillance firm NSO Group this week claimed it was in talks with governments around the world about using its tracking software, which is already being tested by some nation states.

Google’s analysis of location data meanwhile has come from billions of users’ phones (those phones with a Google account that has location sharing enabled).

Google said that its Community Mobility Reports “were developed to be helpful while adhering to our stringent privacy protocols and protecting people’s privacy. No personally identifiable information, such as an individual’s location, contacts or movement, will be made available at any point.”

The Google data is said to contain charts that compare traffic from 16 February to 29 March on tube, train and bus stations, as well as supermarkets and other broad categories of places.

Country breakdowns

Italy of course remains one of the hardest hit countries in the world.

According to data from the World Health Organisation (WHO), 13,915 people have died in that country, with Spain’s death toll currently sitting at 10,348 as of Thursday 3 April 2020.

The Google data shows that Italians were obeying the lock-down rules, with visits to retail and recreation locations, including restaurants and cinemas, falling 94 percent, while visits to places of work fell 63 percent.

To underline how severe the impact Coronavirus is having in Italy, even visits to supermarkets pharmacies in Italy dropped 85 percent and park visits were down by 90 percent.

Meanwhile in the United States, California, which was the first to implement a statewide lock-down, visits to retail and recreation locations were cut by half.

But the Google data also showed that visits to supermarkets surged in countries such as Singapore, and the United Kingdom.

However, it should noted that the UK only implemented its lock-down rules on the evening on 22 March.

According to the WHO data, there are now 1,018,920 cases of Coronavirus around the world, and a total of 53,292 have died from Covid-19.

According to Reuters, Facebook has also shared location data with non-governmental researchers that are producing similar reports for authorities in several countries. But the social media giant has not published any findings.

Read full story here…




EU Experts To Use Smartphone Tech To Halt Virus Spread

And then, there was total surveillance of everyone, everywhere. Ubiquitous tracking is a Pandora’s Box that cannot be shut once it is opened, and Technocrats around the world are springing into action to provide methods of control. ⁃ TN Editor

A group of European experts said on Wednesday they would soon launch technology for smartphones to help trace people who had come into contact with those infected with coronavirus, helping the health authorities act swiftly to halt its spread.

The initiative involves gathering data via smartphones to show who a person with the virus had come in close contact with, so that those people at risk could then be contacted.

The ability to track down those at risk of infection more accurately could help avoid having to ‘lock down’ entire societies, with the resulting hugely damaging economic impact.

The European initiative, called Pan-European Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT https://www.pepp-pt.org), follows the successful use of smartphones in some Asian countries to track the spread of the virus and enforce quarantine orders, although their methods would have violated strict EU data protection rules.

PEPP-PT, which brings together 130 researchers from eight countries, aims to issue a licensed technology platform by April 7, the basis for contact-tracing applications, with roll-out of the first apps a week or so after that.

“You are talking about a very short space of time,” said Hans-Christian Boos, founder of German technology firm Arago and a member of the German government’s digital advisory council.

Boos is a prime mover behind the effort gathering 130 researchers from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland.

Epidemiologists say contact tracing will become a vital weapon in containing future flare-ups in COVID-19, the flu-like disease caused by coronavirus, once national lockdowns slow the rapid spread of the virus.

The illness can be passed on by people showing no symptoms, putting a premium on warning those at risk of infection swiftly after an individual tests positive, while technology can be used to avoid the sweeping national measures to halt the spread.

“We all know that, as a society and an economy, we cannot go on like this for an extended period of time,” Marcel Salathe, professor of digital epidemiology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, told a news briefing.

“There is a more efficient way to break this exponential trend of growth.”

Read full story here…




biometric identity

ID2020 Plans Digital Registration To Accompany Vaccines

The ID2020 plan relies on existing fingerprint and other forms of biometric identification. There is NO existing technology or any plan to deliver microchip IDs into your body via regular vaccine injections. The idea is that a blockchain ID would be created for you at the time of your vaccination, recording your event in a master database that could not be corrupted. ⁃ TN Editor

The ID2020 Alliance has launched a new digital identity program at its annual summit in New York, in collaboration with the Government of Bangladesh, vaccine alliance Gavi, and new partners in government, academia, and humanitarian relief.

The program to leverage immunization as an opportunity to establish digital identity was unveiled by ID2020 in partnership with the Bangladesh Government’s Access to Information (a2i) Program, the Directorate General of Health Services, and Gavi, according to the announcement.

Digital identity is a computerized record of who a person is, stored in a registry. It is used, in this case, to keep track of who has received vaccination.

“We are implementing a forward-looking approach to digital identity that gives individuals control over their own personal information, while still building off existing systems and programs,” says Anir Chowdhury, policy advisor at a2i. “The Government of Bangladesh recognizes that the design of digital identity systems carries far-reaching implications for individuals’ access to services and livelihoods, and we are eager to pioneer this approach.”

Gavi CEO Seth Berkley says that 89 percent of children and adolescents who do not have identification live in countries where the organization is active. “We are enthusiastic about the potential impact of this program not just in Bangladesh, but as something we can replicate across Gavi-eligible countries, providing a viable route to closing the identity gap,” he says.

A partnership was also formed earlier this year between Gavi, NEC, and Simprints to use biometrics to improve vaccine coverage in developing nations.

“Digital ID is being defined and implemented today, and we recognize the importance of swift action to close the identity gap,” comments ID2020 Executive Director Dakota Gruener. “Now is the time for bold commitments to ensure that we respond both quickly and responsibly. We and our ID2020 Alliance partners, both present and future, are committed to rising to this challenge.”

Read full story here…




Moscow’s Quarantined Tracked By Facial Recognition Cameras

Santa Claus has stiff competition when it comes to nanny surveillance: “He sees you when you’re sleeping; He knows when you’re awake;  He knows if you’ve been bad or good; So be good for goodness sake.” ⁃ TN Editor

A vast and contentious network of facial recognition cameras keeping watch over Moscow is now playing a key role in the battle against the spread of the coronavirus in Russia.

The city rolled out the technology just before the epidemic reached Russia, ignoring protests and legal complaints over sophisticated state surveillance.

Since last month, thousands of Muscovites have been confined to their homes for 14 days of compulsory quarantine after returning from virus-hit countries, being in contact with those infected or diagnosed with mild symptoms.

Police have logged their details and warned them that sneaking out into the city of 16 million residents and daily visitors could lead to a five-year jail term or deportation for foreigners.

“We are constantly checking that this regulation is being observed, including through the use of automated facial recognition systems,” Mayor Sergei Sobyanin wrote in his blog in February.

The Russian capital already had a tight network of 170,000 security cameras, set up in streets and metro stations throughout the city over the past decade.

Around 100,000 have now been linked to artificial intelligence systems that can identify people being filmed. The remaining cameras are due to be connected soon.

Moscow police said last week that the cameras that are linked have allowed them to identify almost 200 people who broke quarantine rules.

As well as the cameras, Russia has said it is drawing on an array of technology to fight the virus, including telemedicine consultations, the real-time monitoring of supermarket shelves and identifying and removing false news stories from social media.

President Vladimir Putin last week toured a hi-tech centre set up to monitor the virus situation and Russia’s response.

The country, as of Monday, had reported 438 coronavirus infections, most of them in Moscow. One person who was infected has died but officials are not linking the death to the virus.

– 600 neighbours –

Moscow City Hall has boasted that the network of cameras is a particularly effective tool.

Sobyanin has said that the authorities have contacts and work addresses for 95 percent of those quarantined after returning from high-risk countries.

“We’ve identified where they are,” said the mayor, who heads a working group on combatting the virus set up by Putin.

Last month on his blog he praised the efficiency of the facial recognition system with a story of a Chinese woman who tested positive soon after arrival and was hospitalised.

Her flatmate was quarantined but security cameras filmed her walking outside and meeting a male friend.

The mayor added that the authorities swiftly gathered contacts of more than 600 of the woman’s neighbours and even her taxi driver from the airport.

Facial recognition technology was first tested during the 2018 World Cup in Russia before going fully online in January, just before the pandemic hit.

“The probability of a mistake by our facial recognition algorithm is 1 in 15 million,” said Alexander Minin, CEO of NtechLab, the company that won the city’s tender to supply the technology.

The firm’s devices, which have been exported to China and Latin America, can identify someone from their silhouette alone “80 percent of the time,” he told AFP at the start of the year.

Russia alongside China lead the field globally with the most sophisticated technology, which they export to some 100 countries, Valentin Weber, a researcher in cybersecurity at the University of Oxford, wrote in a 2019 paper.

Read full story here…




mobile phone tracking

Mobile Phone Industry Considers Worldwide Tracking Of Users

A global tracking system for all inhabitants on earth? This would be a major building block for Technocracy’s planned system of global social engineering, i.e., total control. ⁃ TN Editor

The mobile phone industry has explored the creation of a global data-sharing system that could track individuals around the world, as part of an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The Guardian has learned that a senior official at GSMA, an international standard-setting body for the mobile phone industry, held discussions with at least one company that is capable of tracking individuals globally through their mobile devices, and discussed the possible creation of a global data-sharing system.

Any move to create such a global tracking system would represent a major escalation in efforts to use mobile phone location data to help stem the pandemic, and would be likely to raise concerns among privacy and security experts.

Until now the use of mobile phone tracking in the fight against Covid-19 has been restricted to national governments, which are either monitoring data within their borders or in discussions with mobile operators and technology companies about doing so.

They include the US, India, Iran, Poland, Singapore, Israel and South Korea. The British government is engaged in talks with BT, the owner of the UK mobile operator EE, about using phone location and usage data to determine the efficacy of isolation orders.

The concept of an international mobile tracing scheme would go further, enabling authorities to monitor movements and potentially track the spread of the disease across borders. The GSMA represents the interests of 750 mobile phone operators and vendors across the world and helps set international standards for companies.

A person familiar with its exploratory talks said they were at an early stage and that decisions had not yet been made about whether to move ahead with the plan. The aim of such a global network would be to enact “contact tracing”, enabling authorities to use mobile location data to track who a person infected with Covid-19 may have come in contact with.

A spokesperson for GSMA strenuously denied it was currently involved in any project to create a global tracking system. “We are not involved in a project of this nature,” the GSMA spokesperson said. However the GSMA also said it would not comment on discussions that had taken place or ideas that were being explored.

“In this emergency situation, the GSMA and its members are doing everything they can to help the global fight against Covid-19,” Mats Granryd, the director of the GSMA, said in a statement emailed to the Guardian. “We are engaging with operators, policymakers and international organisations around the world to explore viable mobile big data and AI solutions to fight this pandemic while adhering to principles of privacy and ethics.”

Read full story here…




Pandemrix

Privacy Advocates Sound Alarms Over Coronavirus Surveillance

When public-private partnerships are created around sensitive public data, the public will always lose because the private company is not limited by the expected ethics of government to protect and defend. The only way to stop this practice is to stop public-private partnerships. ⁃ TN Editor

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads across Asia, nations leveraged significant surveillance networks to trace the virus’s spread and forced governments around the world to weigh the trade-offs of public health and privacy for millions of people. Now, recent reports say the U.S. government is in talks with controversial surveillance and data gathering companies to enlist them in addressing the coronavirus crisis, signaling an escalation in the use of surveillance tools. 

Last week the Wall Street Journal reported the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) enlisted Palantir, a data scraping and modeling behemoth that works with law enforcement and other government security agencies, to model outbreak data. Palantir and Clearview AI, the facial recognition startup that acquired billions of facial images through public web scraping, have been in contact with state governments about tracking people who came in contact with infected individuals. 

The reports caused alarm among privacy advocates who, while noting the need to address the public health crisis, worry about the companies that are being pulled in to help. 

“During times of crisis, civil liberties are most at risk because the normal balance of safety versus privacy becomes tilted toward safety,” says Michele Gilman, a privacy lawyer and fellow at Data & Society, a think tank that studies the social impact of data-centric tech.

“A major concern is that new surveillance technologies deployed during the coronavirus crises will become the ‘new normal’ and permanently embedded in everyday life after the crisis passes. This can result in ongoing mass surveillance of the population without adequate transparency, accountability or fairness,” she said.   

There is a precedent for this, and from not long ago. The 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 led to an expansion of surveillance cameras and networks across the U.S. and the Patriot Act, a federal law that removed legislative guardrails to government surveillance and decreased transparency, accelerating the National Security Agency’s intrusive and massive surveillance capabilities later revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Despite the public backlash against the NSA’s practices, lawmakers have yet to de-authorize it. 

“Many of the directives implemented as part of the Patriot Act led to the abuses that were exposed by Snowden,” says Steven Waterhouse, the CEO and co-founder of Orchid Labs, a privacy focused VPN company. “What abuses will we learn about later, after this crisis has passed? What legislation will be rammed through the government during this time of crisis?”

Things that may now be considered mundane, such as an abundance of surveillance cameras, being subjected to full body screens at the airport and the idea that we are constantly being observed, weren’t always the case. Often, public crises provide opportunities for surveillance architecture to move forward and become normalized fixtures of society. and create commercial opportunities for tech companies to provide new and ever more intrusive ways of tracking individuals. 

That’s the case with Clearview AI, a facial recognition startup that claims to have scraped billions of public images off the web and created software that can identify a face within seconds. It markets itself to law enforcement within the U.S. but also targeted authoritarian regimes around the world with records of human rights abuses as part of a rapid expansion plan, according to documents obtained by Buzzfeed News. The company has also overstated the effectiveness of its technology, claiming police departments solved cases after using it when that was not the case. The company now faces legal challenges from other companies, and state governments. 

“Clearview has a  pretty consistent pattern of not being forthcoming about information but also intentionally misleading their clients in my view,” says Clare Garvie, senior associate at the Georgetown University Law Center’s Center on Privacy and Technology. “Whatever means the government implements or various state and local governments implement to combat the spread of this virus must be the least intrusive means possible. What Clearview AI is proposing is not the least intrusive means possible.”

Extensive research shows facial recognition is not equally accurate on everyone. 

“Facial recognition is notoriously inaccurate for women and people of color,” says Gilman. “Given this, why would we adopt such technologies to battle coronavirus? Moreover, we need much more information on how these technologies are effective in battling a global pandemic.”

China has facial recognition systems that detect elevated temperature, while South Korea has tracked people using cell phone data and locations of financial transactions. 

Palantir, meanwhile, has extensive contracts with law enforcement and has little to no transparency about its practices unless you’re a customer. In a rare user manual for law enforcement obtained by Vice in 2019, the program Palantir Gotham is said to be in use at law enforcement centers that target data sources including day care centers, email providers and traffic accidents for data that builds profiles of suspects, and their friends, family and business associates. 

The company was co-founded by Peter Thiel, the liberatarian billionaire who was also an early investor in Facebook. Privacy advocates have reason to fear his motives. In a 2009 essay for the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C., Thiel wrote that “most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”

Public-Private

If privacy experts seem skeptical of companies like Clearview AI and Palantir, this is perhaps one reason why. 

“Creating public-private partnerships to share sensitive data in times of crisis, such as a terrorism attack or a pandemic, brings short-term benefits but has an alarming impact on data privacy long after the emergency passes,” says Raullen Chai, CEO of IoTeX, a Silicon Valley company that develops privacy-protecting smart devices using blockchain. 

“Ambiguous policies around what happens to the data collected after its intended use, as well as subjective triggers of ‘emergency-only’ practices, rip away control and transparency for people.” 

Experts recognize the fundamental need to address immediate consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, but there is skepticism Clearview AI or Palantir would offer the required transparency and least intrusive approach. 

Garvie worries about crisis profiteering. “It’s the use of fear to market surveillance tools,” says Garvie.  “I just caution anyone considering contracting for these tools to make sure the decision is not being driven by the supplier, by the company, using the crisis to push through unnecessary surveillance mechanisms.”

Read full story here…




coronavirus

Governments Using Coronavirus To Break Down Privacy

After 9/11 and the Patriot Act, privacy at airports became a thing of the past as the TSA insured that all travelers were searched, prodded, x-rayed and intimidated. The war on viruses will exacerbate that trend by an order of magnitude. ⁃ TN Editor
 

Thousands of people in the United States have tested positive for COVID-19, and the death toll around the world has surpassed 6,000. Italy is under lockdown and in New York City the government is demanding businesses including bars, restaurants and movie theaters be closed in an effort to stem the spread of the virus.

After draconian measures were implemented in China to halt the rapid infection rate of the virus, including movement restrictions, large scale surveillance and forced isolation, it seems such measures are working, with new cases in China declining. Those same measures are unlikely to be adopted in the U.S., but the government and employers across the nation will have to navigate complex questions regarding privacy and public health in the coming months.

“It is telling that at this point, public health experts are not calling for any of these measures; they have been clear that the tactics that will be most useful are social distancing and good hygiene like careful hand-washing and disinfecting,” says Rachel Levinson-Waldman, Senior Counsel of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, at NYU School of Law.

China has implemented surveillance tools at odds with core American values like freedom to speak, to travel and to assemble. Coronavirus – while undeniably a public health emergency – should not become an excuse to institute tools that would undermine those values.”

The implications of China’s actions are far-reaching when it comes to further compromising their citizen’s privacy, and could well be left in place even after the coronavirus is under control, as CoinDesk wrote about last week.

Kathryn Waldron, a cybersecurity fellow at the R Street Institute, a think tank that promotes free markets and limited government, is skeptical we’ll see the rollout of surveillance technology in the U.S. on the same scale as China. First, the U.S. doesn’t have the scale of facial recognition infrastructure already in place to conduct mass surveillance that China does. Second, Americans are less likely to allow wide-scale government surveillance on the scale of China.

This is not a time for employers to opportunistically collect additional information about their employees or to introduce employee surveillance measures.

“Government surveillance isn’t a new phenomenon to Chinese citizens,” says Waldron. “China’s Social Credit Score system already used facial recognition technology and nearly omnipresent surveillance to manage people’s daily lives and individuals with insufficient scores have already been denied the ability to travel on occasion, long before COVID-19 was a threat. Rolling out additional surveillance measures now isn’t radically new behavior.”

The cost of public health

There is a tension between the needs of the public in staying safe and the erosion of privacy that might necessitate, and it’s unclear what path the government might chart forward in this regard.

Levinson-Waldman says the calls right now are for people to self-isolate, and she hasn’t heard suggestions that technologies like those being used in China are going to be introduced here.

But she raises the lockdown of Boston in the search for the perpetrators of the Boston marathon bombing as something that might offer insights into the current situation. She says that may have been an understandable decision in the immediate aftermath of a major emergency, but it was also arguably a significant violation of civil liberties. There were other steps, such as not closing all public transit in the city or locking the city down, that could have been taken.

“It’s not hard to imagine that there could be some kind of governmental overreaction to this crisis, whether we’re talking about privacy or other civil liberties,” Levinson-Waldman says.

Read full story here…

 




Location Tracking

Feds Look To Phone Location Data To Track Coronavirus

Silicon Valley Technocrats are negotiating with the government to give up location tracking data in smart phones to track coronavirus infections. Once this door is opened, the government will never voluntarily close it. ⁃ TN Editor

The U.S. government is in active talks with Facebook, Google and a wide array of tech companies and health experts about how they can use data gleaned from Americans’ phones to combat the novel coronavirus, including tracking whether people are keeping one another at safe distances to stem the outbreak.

Public-health experts are interested in the possibility that private-sector companies could compile the data in anonymous, aggregated form, which they could then use to map the spread of the infection, according to three people familiar with the effort, who requested anonymity because the project is in its early stages.

Analyzing trends in smartphone owners’ whereabouts could prove to be a powerful tool for health authorities looking to track coronavirus, which has infected more than 180,000 people globally. But it’s also an approach that could leave some Americans uncomfortable, depending on how it’s implemented, given the sensitivity when it comes to details about their daily whereabouts.

In recent interviews, Facebook executives said the U.S. government is particularly interested in understanding patterns of people’s movements, which can be derived through data the company collects from users who allow it. The tech giant in the past has provided this information to researchers in the form of statistics, which in the case of coronavirus, could help officials predict the next hotspot or decide where to allocate overstretched health resources.

“We’re encouraged by American technology companies looking to leverage aggregate, anonymized data to glean key insights for covid-19 modeling efforts,” said an official with the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, who spoke only on condition of anonymity.

The official said those insights might “help public health officials, researchers, and scientists improve their understanding of the spread of COVID19 and transmission of the disease.” Multiple sources stressed that — if they proceed – they are not building a government database.

A task force created by tech executives, entrepreneurs and investors presented a range of ideas around disease mapping and telehealth to the White House during a private meeting Sunday. The discussions included representatives from tech giants; investors led by the New York-based firm Hangar and well-known Silicon Valley venture capitalist Ron Conway; public-health leaders from Harvard University; and smaller telehealth startups like Ro, two sources said.

“We are still in the process of collecting ideas, recommendations, and proposed actions from task-force members, which we intend to present to the White House in the coming days,” said Josh Mendelsohn, the managing partner at Hangar, who helped organize the effort.

Many of those involved either did not respond or declined comment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not respond to a request for comment.

The early, unprecedented collaboration between Washington and Silicon Valley reflects the urgent, nationwide scramble to stop a deadly malady that has shuttered businesses, skewered the stock market, sent students home from school and now threatens to overwhelm the U.S. medical system with patients in need of critical care.

Over the past week, White House officials led by Michael Kratsios, the country’s chief technology officer, have convened a series of meetings to leverage the tech expertise of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, IBM and other technology leaders. The government has encouraged social-media sites to take a more aggressive approach to thwart coronavirus misinformation, The Post has reported, responding to concerns that foreign misinformation might be stoking panic about the outbreak. And the Trump administration has explored partnering with the tech industry to improve telework and telehealth offerings for millions of Americans.

Read full story here…