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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Zelle, Venmo Services Convenient But Raise Many Privacy Issues

By Linda Childers

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, cash payments and checks were becoming a distant memory.

This past year, many small businesses and individuals have continued to embrace such cashless payment solutions as Venmo and Zelle, allowing consumers to make payments by transferring funds electronically.

While Venmo, a financial platform owned by Paypal, lets consumers send and accept payments directly to friends and small businesses, Zelle gives the option to send money directly from one bank account to another. 

“These types of payment systems don’t offer the same protection as your credit cards,” Scott Augenbaum, a retired FBI agent in Nashville, Tenn., told Digital Privacy News.

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Q&A: Harvard’s Latanya Sweeney

‘Privacy Protections Are Not Working’

By Gaspard Le Dem 

Second of three parts. 

When Latanya Sweeney co-published her now-famous research paper on “k-anonymity” in 1998, the concept of data privacy was still in its infancy.

In the second of three interviews, Sweeney, an MIT Ph.D., told Digital Privacy News that federal HIPAA laws had fallen short despite overwhelming evidence that they were not working.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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Facebook Sued in UK Class Action Over ‘Data Harvesting’ App

By Robert Bateman

Facebook faces a class-action lawsuit in the U.K. over allegations that it allowed a third-party app to “harvest personal information” from its users without consent.

The app, “This Is Your Digital Life,” collected the personal information of as many as 87 million Facebook users worldwide between November 2013 and May 2015, according to Facebook’s estimates.

The breach affected not only users of the app, but also their Facebook friends, whose data was shared with the controversial political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

A 2018 investigation by The New York Times and the Guardian revealed that Cambridge Analytica used data to provide ad-targeting services for Republican Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

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Q&A: Latanya Sweeney, Harvard University

‘Privacy Has Often Been Polarized’

By Gaspard Le Dem 

First of three parts. 

In the world of digital privacy, few have made as profound an impact as Latanya Sweeney.

A Harvard University professor and the director of the university’s Data Privacy Lab, Sweeney was a doctoral student when she co-published a groundbreaking paper on “k-anonymity” in 1998.

The study sent shock waves through the computer science and medical communities, leading to an overhaul of federal HIPAA standards. 

But Sweeney didn’t stop there. After becoming the first African American woman to earn a doctorate in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2001, she founded the Data Privacy Lab at Carnegie Mellon, leading dozens of experiments that reshaped privacy policy.

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Employers Can Wipe Data From Personal Devices Used for Work

By Rachel Looker

If you use your personal device for work-related business and think your information is safe, the outcome of a 2014 federal lawsuit in Texas may make you reconsider.

Saman Rajaee was hired to provide sales and marketing for Design Tech Homes, a custom builder in Houston, according to court documents.

The job required constant email access — and the company provided him with no smartphone. Rajaee used his personal device to connect to the company’s server. 

When Rajaee gave his two weeks’ notice, he was immediately terminated. Days later, his iPhone 4 was wiped remotely and reset to factory settings.

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Deutsche Bank Report Ignites Debate on Blacks and Privacy

By Nora Macaluso

When Deutsche Bank, the global financial-services company, issued a recent report recommending that Big Tech invest $15 billion over five years to help bridge the racial technology gap, it included the finding that just one in 20 African Americans cited privacy as their primary concern relating to technology. 

Privacy, the September report suggested, might be a “luxury” in light of more pressing inequities keeping Blacks and Hispanics out of the workforce.

Researchers told Digital Privacy News that data was lacking on privacy and people of color.

“I’ve been doing a big literature review,” said Elissa Redmiles, research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems in Germany.

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‘It Is Everywhere’

Mainland Chinese Fear Growing Use of Face Recognition 

By Patrick McShane

Facial-recognition technology is now one of the fastest-growing and most widely dispersed technologies in the world.  

But nowhere has high-resolution facial recognition become more prevalent than inside the People’s Republic of China.

The world’s second-largest economy has built a vast high-tech surveillance state unlike anywhere in the world.

According to experts in the global technology-surveillance industry, China has approximately 170 million close-circuit cameras around the nation, including at 200 airports.

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Facebook Reverses Australian News-Sharing Ban

By Robert Bateman

In a change of policy, Facebook will allow Australian users to view and share news content the platform, reversing a decision made last week in response to the country’s proposed News Media Bargaining Code.

The code, expected to pass into Australian law later this month, would require Facebook and Google to pay news media outlets whenever users shared links or snippets of content on the platforms.

In a news release Monday, Campbell Brown, Facebook’s vice president of global news partnerships, said the company had reached a deal with the Australian government that would allow it to “retain the ability to decide if news appears on Facebook,” and would no longer “automatically be subject to a forced negotiation.”

News-sharing capabilities would be resumed “in the coming days,” Brown said.

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Q&A: Author April Falcon Doss

‘You Shouldn’t Have to Be a Privacy Expert’ to Understand Data Rights

By Rachel Looker   

Author April Falcon Doss has spent decades in the data-privacy and cybersecurity sphere.   

Currently a partner at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr in Washington, Doss chairs the law firm’s cybersecurity and privacy practice and co-chairs its congressional investigations practice.  

She also spent more than a decade at the U.S. National Security Agency, as associate general counsel for intelligence law. Doss also served as the senior minority counsel for the Russia investigation for the Senate Intelligence Committee.  

A graduate of Yale University and the University of California at Berkeley, Doss is the author of “Cyber Privacy: Who Has Your Data and Why You Should Care,” released in November.  

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