Month: March 2021

Essay: Mind Control Is Profitable

However, Protecting Your Privacy Is Not

By Peter S. Magnusson

Last of two parts.

Digital Privacy News marked its first anniversary Tuesday. In this final essay, Publisher Peter S. Magnusson explains how products purporting to protect data privacy are financed by those seeking to invade it.

Public awareness of the consequences of losing privacy has been rising dramatically in the past few years.

Unfortunately, growth is occurring within the very fabric of information collection and control.

You may have noticed the increased marketing around a variety of products promising “identity protection” or to “protect your online activity.”

For the most part, they are as honest and effective as the diet programs lauded every January on the covers of magazines on racks in your local checkout aisle.

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Essay: The Modern Prometheus

The Information Revolution Has Turned Us Into Digital Economic Objects

By Peter S. Magnusson

First of two parts.

Digital Privacy News marks its first anniversary Tuesday. In the first of two essays, Publisher Peter S. Magnusson explains the technological and societal changes that created us and our mission.

In recent years, “privacy” has gone from an obscure concern to an everyday worry among the public.

The forces that undermine our privacy have become deeply ingrained in our political and economic systems.

During the Industrial Revolution, citizens became physical economic objects. Extensive reforms to basic labor laws, for instance, became necessary — though not before the world had gone through convulsions of revolutions, global wars and genocide.

The Information Revolution has turned us into digital economic objects. The changes arguably are even greater than those of the Industrial Revolution — and the outlook for the next century is bleak.

Tuesday marks the first anniversary of Digital Privacy News, which seeks to create an independent source of news about digital privacy.

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Q&A: Author Edwin Black

IBM’s Third Reich Ties Presage Today’s Big Tech Ambitions

By Samantha Stone

Edwin Black wrote two decades ago about a stalwart American business and its underreported role in Nazi atrocities.

His book, “IBM and the Holocaust,” was a success by any measure. It had a respectable stint as a New York Times best-seller. It was lavishly praised by other journalists. It won awards and was published in multiple languages.

Black maintains IBM has never challenged the substance of his book. For its 20th anniversary, Black has been making the podcast-interview rounds defending his work and underscoring how IBM’s activities presage today’s Big Data.

“What most people can derive from my book at this particular point in time is that history repeats itself,” he said in a February podcast on the U.K.’s Revelation TV.

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Q&A: Writer Kai Strittmatter

‘There Was a Time When We Wanted to Change China. That Illusion Is Long Gone’

By Charles McDermid

Last of three parts.

China is an increasingly aggressive global actor when democracy is at its weakest point in decades, writes German journalist Kai Strittmatter.

The result is a “global competition of systems” not seen since the end of the Cold War. 

Strittmatter, 55, author of “We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State” (2019), says China is openly advertising the superiority of its system over Western democracies, all while trying to reshape global organizations and infiltrating the West’s think tanks, companies, media and schools. 

In the last of a three-part interview, Strittmatter told Digital Privacy News that the time had come to stop being naïve about the nature and intentions of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

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Snowden, Experts Say Customers Pushing for More Data Protections

Edward Snowden speaks Tuesday at the Priv8 Virtual Summit on Digital Privacy. Credit: Orchid Labs Inc.

By Jackson Chen

Governments and companies must rethink how they use personal data amid surging consumer demand for better privacy protections, former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden and other global digital-privacy experts said this week.

“Privacy is what protects that right of inquiry that leads to progress,” Snowden, 37, who has been living in political asylum in Russia since August 2013, told Tuesday’s opening session of the “Priv8 Virtual Summit on Digital Privacy,” sponsored by Orchid Labs Inc.

“Privacy was never about something to hide,” he continued. “Privacy is about something to protect.

“Privacy is the right to self. It allows you to be different and distinct from the majority.”

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IRS Creates New ‘Secure’ Portal; Experts Caution: User Beware

By Joanne Cleaver

When the IRS calls, taxpayers must answer.

But even with new tools the Internal Revenue Service has introduced to try to secure digital communication, taxpayers still must guard their data and access information, so they don’t make themselves targets for privacy intrusions, experts told Digital Privacy News. 

Largely in response to COVID-19 chaos intersecting with the possibility of fraud, the agency has created what it describes as a “secure” portal where taxpayers can view the information that it has on file for them. 

If you use the site, however, don’t let your guard down, said Ronald Semaria, a former IRS agent and fraud consultant and investigator in Brooklyn, N.Y. 

“There is no one foolproof site,” he told Digital Privacy News. “By the time someone makes up a program to protect you, somebody else is doing something to unprotect you.”

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Q&A: Journalist Kai Strittmatter

‘You Don’t Need a Policeman. You Have Become the Policeman’

By Charles McDermid

Second of three parts.

Kai Strittmatter speaks Mandarin, studied in Xian and Taipei during the ’80s — and, for more than 20 years, was Beijing correspondent for the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

His 2019 book — “We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State” — probably won’t make him welcome in the Middle Kingdom anytime soon. 

He writes that Western assumptions that technology would force China to accept openness and democracy were dead wrong. Instead, these new tools are bringing the return of a totalitarianism that’s never been more “total.” 

In the second of three interviews, Strittmater, 55, told Digital Privacy News that today’s China was way beyond anything George Orwell ever could have imagined.

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UK Denying Migrants Access to Personal Data, Report Finds

By Robert Bateman

The U.K. is denying thousands of migrants access to their personal information using a controversial exemption to the country’s data-protection law, in a move that advocates say violates human rights.

The U.K.’s Home Office, which handles visas and immigration issues, relied on the controversial “immigration exemption” in as many as 72% of requests for personal information it received last year, according to a report released this month by the Open Rights Group (ORG).

Under U.K. law, individuals can make a “subject access request” to see what personal information an organization has about them. 

The immigration exemption, which forms part of the U.K.’s Data Protection Act of 2018, allows an organization to reject an access request if granting so will be “likely to prejudice … the effective maintenance of immigration control.”

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Q&A: Author Kai Strittmatter

‘China Was Always a Surveillance State’

By Charles McDermid

First of three parts.

Investigative reporter Kai Strittmatter has a clear-sighted view of modern China and a grim analysis of the global ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Be warned: It’s alarming stuff. 

A techno-dystopian dictatorship is laid bare in his 2019 book, “We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State,” which was drawn from Strittmatter’s 30 years of studying China, including more than 20 years as a correspondent in Beijing for the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung.   

Strittmatter, 55, documents how AI surveillance startups were heavily financed by the state in exchange for loyalty to the CCP — all part of Beijing’s rush to become the world’s economic leader at any cost. 

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Local UK Governments Using Chinese CCTV Linked to Uighurs

By Robert Bateman

Local government bodies across the U.K. are using surveillance equipment supplied by Chinese companies that are involved in suppressing the Uighur people in Xianjing province, research has revealed.

Researchers sent 52 freedom of information (FOI) requests to councils — local government authorities — across the U.K., with 65% of respondents disclosing that they owned surveillance technology supplied by Hikvision. Seven councils disclosed that they owned technology made by Dahua.

Both companies have been accused of helping to suppress the Uighurs and other minority groups in the Xianjing region in southeastern China. 

“The U.K. needs to reconsider whether it is justifiable to use public funds to invest in surveillance equipment manufactured by companies linked to human-rights abuses,” said Samuel Woodhams, digital rights lead at the security research website Top10VPN, who conducted the research.

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Global ‘Vaccine Passports’ Raise Concerns Over Privacy and Inequity

By Aishwarya Jagani

As governments and airlines worldwide prepare to issue “vaccine passports” — digital details of a person’s COVID-19 immunization status — privacy advocates are concerned over the security and privacy risks the documents pose. 

“Any information shared digitally is at risk of being leaked,” Alexis Hancock, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), told Digital Privacy News. 

“And without good digital-privacy law internationally, this information can become easily associated with the rest of a person’s data without their knowledge and informed consent.”

Critics expressed fears that these digital passes could put sensitive medical and health data in the hands of authorities and law enforcement, endangering the privacy of millions of citizens.

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Taiwan’s COVID ‘Electronic Fence’ Under Attack for Privacy Fears

By Steven Crook   

Privacy advocates in Taiwan are outraged over the government’s expansion of its “electronic fence” program to fight COVID-19, saying that it is open-ended and of questionable legality.

“It’s a combination of measures unknown to the public and media,” T.H. Schee, a blogger, consultant and government policy adviser, told Digital Privacy News. 

“There’s no transparency about the deployment of measures formerly used only by law-enforcement agencies when undertaking criminal investigations,” he said. 

The Taiwan government’s initial “electronic fence,” inaugurated last March, tracked those ordered to compulsory home isolation because of COVID by triangulating the person’s cellphone with base-station signals.  

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Facebook’s AI Breakthrough Carries Privacy Risks, Experts Warn

By Robert Bateman

Facebook recently claimed it had achieved a “paradigm shift” in AI development after training its algorithm on a billion Instagram photos.

But experts in privacy and AI ethics told Digital Privacy News that they were concerned about Facebook’s lack of transparency and proper risk assessment.

Facebook’s SEER (self-supervised) AI can correctly identify images 84.2% of the time after processing one billion “random, public, and non-EU images from Instagram,” according to a March 5 research paper released by company.

While most AI development relies on using labeled images to help algorithms distinguish among objects, self-supervised AIs are trained on unlabeled images.

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Q&A: Nigerian Privacy Advocate Ridwan Oloyede

‘Privacy Is a Human Right and Should Be Considered as One’

By Maureen Nkatha

Ridwan Oloyede is cofounder of Tech-Hive Advisory, a consulting firm in Nigeria. He advocates for enforcement of data-privacy laws in Africa.

The European Union’s data-protection law, which took effect in May 2018, is forcing many nations to review their privacy laws — but Oloyede said this was proving difficult for most African countries.

Nigeria, for instance, adopted its first data-protection law in early 2019, but enforcing it has been challenging, he said, because of lack of government funding and little clarity on what constitutes a data breach.

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Police in India Under Fire for Using AI to Stop Crimes Against Women

By Aishwarya Jagani

Privacy advocates are alarmed that authorities in a city in India plan to use artificial intelligence to monitor women’s facial expressions in an effort to stop roadside harassment, arguing the program would raise serious privacy and surveillance issues.

“Use of facial recognition is extremely problematic — especially here, since it is open-ended,” Anushka Jain, of the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), said of the program in Lucknow, about 310 miles southeast of New Delhi.

“The use is continuous and not limited to any one area, time or specific incident,” she told Digital Privacy News. “This means that 24-7 surveillance of women who come under the gaze of these cameras will be done.”

In January, Lucknow Police Commissioner D.K. Thakur said that authorities had identified as many as 200 harassment hotspots often visited by women and where most complaints are reported.

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Utah Creates Personal Privacy Oversight Committee

By Mary Pieper

The Utah House of Representatives passed a bill last week to regulate the use of surveillance and data-collection technology by government entities or their contractors. 

If signed by Republican Gov. Spencer Fox, the legislation would establish two personal privacy officer positions, one appointed by Fox and the other by State Auditor John Dougall, also a Republican, as well as a privacy oversight commission. 

The bill, sponsored by House Majority Leader Frank Gibson, R-Mapleton, may be the first of its kind in the nation.

The House passed the legislation March 4 on a unanimous procedural vote after the Utah Senate approved it earlier in the day.

According to the bill, known as H.B. 243, any Utah governmental agency, whether on the state or local level, that uses technology for personal data-collection or contracts with a company to do so is subject to privacy testing, Gibson told Digital Privacy News. 

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Money in Mindfulness

New Apps Gauge Worker Moods, Though at Great Privacy Risks

By Joanne Cleaver

Take a deep breath. Center your thoughts. Be in the moment. 

If that felt good, your employer might like to know about it — especially through apps that tracked how you feel, as well as when and whether your inner peace converted to better work. 

Mindfulness apps like Calm, Headspace, Moodbeam and others rode the COVID-19 coattails to record financial and user results last year, according to company data and news reports. Employee-benefit versions of their services played a big part in their revenue and user growth.

But peace and privacy don’t always coexist easily, privacy consultants and lawyers told Digital Privacy News.

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Google’s ‘Privacy Sandbox’ Probed by UK Antitrust Regulator

By Robert Bateman

Google is planning substantial changes to its Chrome browser that it claims will benefit user privacy.

But the U.K.’s antitrust regulator is investigating the plans over concerns that they will harm competition and further consolidate Google’s market dominance.

Google’s ongoing “Privacy Sandbox” project could lead to a radical overhaul of online advertising.

The company plans to block third-party cookies, which allow marketers to target ads based on people’s individual browsing habits, behavior and inferred characteristics. 

Google plans to gradually replace third-party cookies with application programming interfaces (APIs). The company said the plans would improve user privacy by storing personal information on-device and blocking fingerprinting.

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Q&A: Tech Podcaster Kate Kaye

Privacy Has ‘Risen to This Crescendo Moment’

By Vaughn Cockayne

Kate Kaye is a journalist in Portland, Ore., who has covered technology, data and privacy for more than two decades.

She recently started a podcast for Smart Cities Dive called “City Surveillance,” which has her traveling across the country interviewing surveillance experts and regular citizens about “smart cities.”

Kaye told Digital Privacy News that her journeys had opened her eyes to the dangers of the surveillance apparatus in the U.S. and that she hoped her podcasts would do the same for others.

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Q&A: Harvard’s Latanya Sweeney

Technology Has Become the New Policymaker’

By Gaspard Le Dem

Last of three parts.

Latanya Sweeney believes the myth that people need to choose between privacy and the benefits of new technology must be dispelled.

In the last of three interviews, Sweeney, who holds a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told Digital Privacy News that the public still cared about privacy, but that tech companies were deciding the rules we lived by.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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