Daily Digest (6/26)

Democrats Introduce Bill to Ban Government from Using Facial Recognition; Israeli Cabinet Unanimously Approves Phone-Tracking App; FBI Expands Ability to Collect Cellphone Location Data, Monitor Social Media, Contracts Show; Google Users Can Now Auto-Delete Information. Click “Continue reading” below.

Democrats Introduce Bill to Ban Government from Using Facial Recognition

Democrats in both chambers of Congress introduced legislation Thursday to bar the federal government from using biometric technology, including facial-recognition technology.

The bill also would effectively strip federal support for state and local law enforcement that use biometric technology.

In the Senate, the bill was introduced by Democrats Ed Markey, Mass, and Jeff Merkley, Ore. It was brought to the House by Reps. Pramila Jayapal, Wash., and  Ayanna Pressley, Mass.

The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act comes amid growing calls from civil-rights advocates, who say facial-recognition technology disproportionately misidentifies nonwhite individuals.

It’s the first bicameral legislation to focus on the technology since protests began last month in the wake of George Floyd’s death by Minneapolis police.

“Facial-recognition technology doesn’t just pose a grave threat to our privacy, it physically endangers Black Americans and other minority populations in our country,” Markey said in a news release. “As we work to dismantle the systematic racism that permeates every part of our society, we can’t ignore the harms that these technologies present.

“In this moment, the only responsible thing to do is to prohibit government and law enforcement from using these surveillance mechanisms,” he said.

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Israeli Cabinet Unanimously Approves Phone-Tracking App

Israel’s cabinet has unanimously approved legislation that authorizes the General Security Services (Shin Bet) to track Israelis in the battle against the resurgent COVID pandemic.

The vote came during an emergency session on the subject, as the daily rate of new infections in Israel has pushed towards 500 in recent days, Globes.com reports.

The bill, which must now pass the Knesset to become law, was approved despite opposition from Shin Bet’s chief, Nadav Argaman, who argued this week that it was not appropriate for his organization to track people using a civilian app.

The measure authorizes Shin Bet to assist the Israeli Ministry of Health in informing citizens who were tracked as being near somebody who subsequently tested positive for coronavirus.

Under the bill, the cabinet also would have the right to declare a state of emergency because of COVID, but the Knesset could cancel the declaration with a simple majority.

Each state of emergency would be for 30 days but could be extended an unlimited number of times, according to the report.

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FBI Expands Ability to Collect Cellphone Location Data, Monitor Social Media, Contracts Show

The Federal Bureau of Investigation last month signed an expedited agreement to extend its relationship with Dataminr, a company that monitors social media, according to a report by The Intercept.

Several days later, the agency modified an agreement it signed in February with Venntel Inc., a Virginia technology firm that maps and sells the movements of millions of Americans.

The company purchases bulk location data and sells it largely to government agencies.

A review of the FBI’s contracts showed that the agency was working to harness the latest private-sector tools for mass surveillance, alarming privacy and civil-rights advocates.

It was unclear how the Venntel contract was modified, the Intercept reports. Chris Gildea, the company’s president, did not respond to a request for comment. An FBI spokesperson declined to comment.

Dataminr, which already held contracts with the FBI worth over $1 million, monitors social media for breaking news and events.

“Dataminr provides the FBI with First Alert, a product that delivers breaking-news alerts on emergency events, such as natural disasters, fires, explosions and shootings,” a representative said in a statement.

The statement said that the service “was designed and built to technologically restrict all forms of surveillance and be compliant with the user-protection and data-use policies of social-media platforms.”

But FBI critics said the services could encroach upon First Amendment-protected speech.

“We are deeply concerned that the FBI is further expanding their surveillance capacity,” Mary Zerkel, coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee’s Communities Against Islamophobia program, told the Intercept.

“The FBI has for decades used surveillance and racial profiling to target Muslims, immigrants, people of color, activists in general, and Black activists in particular,” she said.

“AFSC itself has a substantial FBI file.

“Mass data-collection tools will only serve to further criminalize protests and free speech and expand the criminalization of Muslims and people of color,” Zerkel said.

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Google Users Can Now Auto-Delete Information

Google said Wednesday that new privacy changes would allow users to auto-delete their data after 18 months, go “incognito” more easily and pause data-collection while using mobile apps.

The search giant said in a blog post that more “proactive account security recommendations” would be added to its Security Checkup tool, TechCrunch.com reports.

“Starting today, the first time you turn on location history — which is off by default — your auto-delete option will be set to 18 months by default,” Google said in the post. “‘Web & App Activity’ auto-delete will also default to 18 months for new accounts.

“This means your activity data will be automatically and continuously deleted after 18 months, rather than kept until you choose to delete it,” the blog continued. “You can always turn these settings off or change your auto-delete option.”

The privacy changes come several months after European regulators began probing Google’s processing of location data on the continent.

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— By DPN Staff