Daily Archives: August 7, 2008

Beijing Taxis Rigged for Remote Control Eavesdropping

A small microphone inside a Beijing taxi, circled at left, and a GPS system allow authorities to know taxis’ locations and eavesdrop.

Asked if police could listen in on conversations in taxis, a Beijing police official declined to comment, saying that such matters were “confidential” and that they were “not supposed to release such details to the public.”

Wall Stree Journal | Aug 6, 2008

Tiny Microphones Can Be Activated By Remote Control


BEIJING — Tens of thousands of taxi drivers in Beijing have a tool that could become part of China’s all-out security campaign for the Olympic Games. Their vehicles have microphones — installed ostensibly for driver safety — that can be used to listen to passengers remotely.

The tiny listening devices, which are connected to a global positioning system able to track a cab’s location by satellite, have been installed in almost all of the city’s 70,000 taxis over the past three years, taxi drivers and industry officials say.

As with digital cameras used in cities such as London, Sydney or New York, the stated purpose of the microphones is to protect the driver. But whereas the devices in other countries can only record images, those devices in Beijing taxis can be remotely activated without the driver’s knowledge to eavesdrop on passengers, according to drivers and Yaxon Networks Co., a Chinese company that makes some of the systems used in Beijing. The machines can even remotely shut off engines.

Whether these microphones are used to spy on riders is unclear. Asked if police could listen in on conversations in taxis, a Beijing police official declined to comment, saying that such matters were “confidential” and that they were “not supposed to release such details to the public.”

China has launched a massive operation to protect the Games. Monday’s deadly attack in Xinjiang on a police station underscored Beijing’s worries that terrorists will attack the Olympics. The government says it has deployed about 110,000 police, troops and volunteers in Beijing to ensure security.

But Chinese authorities are also determined to thwart protesters or human-rights activists who might try to embarrass the government. Taxi drivers have been told to watch for suspicious behavior and odd packages. Security experts say there is little likelihood that all conversations in taxis are monitored. But the presence of microphones in a place most would consider private is a reminder that there are many ways for Chinese authorities to monitor people.

The U.S. State Department has warned visitors to the Olympics that no place is safe from eavesdropping. “All visitors should be aware that they have no reasonable expectation of privacy in public or private locations,” the department said on March 20.

The State Department notice explains that all hotel rooms and offices “are considered to be subject to on-site or remote technical monitoring at all times. Hotel rooms, residences and offices may be accessed at any time without the occupant’s consent or knowledge.”

Security experts say that all phones in China can be tapped, including cellphones, which send out signals that can be used to track location. That capability can be crippled only by removing the battery. Ahead of the Games, Beijing has also been blanketed by surveillance video cameras, while neighborhood committees (residents’ representatives to the government) have also been called in for the effort.

Similar GPS systems with microphones have been rolled out in other parts of China, where taxi drivers have been recruited in the broader security effort.

In the northeastern city of Shenyang, site for some Olympic soccer matches, police have recruited 38,000 taxi drivers as “intelligence agents,” according to China’s Xinhua news agency. Their cooperation is important because drivers travel widely and meet many people, said Liu Juntao, an official with Shenyang’s transportation department, according to Xinhua. Police there are offering citizens a reward of 500,000 yuan, or roughly $73,000, for valid tips about any potential terror plots or planned sabotage by dissidents.

Several Beijing taxi companies declined to comment on the security aspect but said that the GPS helps track taxis and that the microphones will be used for translating services. About a dozen taxi drivers said the microphones were installed about three years ago, when newer cabs were built without protective metal cages around the drivers. Cabbies can turn on the system and alert their dispatch centers by touching a discreet button near the steering wheel.

Activists say they are concerned about the ability to listen to conversations with the devices, which appear unique to China. “This seems to suggest an effort by the police or other security forces to eavesdrop on conversations of passengers, rather than for the immediate safety and security of the taxi driver,” said Phelim Kine of Human Rights Watch.

One Beijing taxi driver said he would be uncomfortable if the device in his vehicle could snap pictures of the riders. “I wouldn’t want to take a photo of my passengers without their knowledge,” said the driver, wearing the new shirt and tie the drivers are required to don during the Olympics. “Wouldn’t that violate their human rights?”

Yaxon Networks, based in Xiamen in Fujian province, says on its Web site that its devices allow the police or a service center to “judge if the driver is in danger” through remote surveillance or wiretapping. If it is necessary, the service center can immobilize a taxi remotely by “cutting off the oil or electric supply,” the company adds.

As part of its security mobilization, China’s military has deployed 34,000 soldiers in Beijing and other cities hosting Olympic events, Senior Col. Tian Yixiang, a senior official at the Olympic security command center told reporters Friday. The military says it has deployed antiaircraft missiles near Games venues and has dedicated 74 jets, 47 helicopters and 33 ships to Olympic security duties.

“Generally speaking, Chinese strengths really lie in pre-empting threats rather than in crisis management or emergency response in the event that there really are any incidents,” said Bonnie S. Glaser, an expert on Chinese security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a private Washington think tank. She mentioned China’s use of the microphones in taxis at a news conference in Washington in advance of President George W. Bush’s arrival in Beijing on Thursday.

Italy sends in troops to fight “crime wave”

Italy sends in troops, but why?

Berlusconi has mobilised the military while simultaneously reducing funding for the police in the budget.

Reuters | Aug 6, 2008

by: Stephen Brown

“Should I wait until she’s finished?” asks a soldier from an Italian Alpine regiment, in their distinctive feathered Tyrolean-style hat, to her police colleagues as they patrol an area of Turin notorious for addicts known as “Toxic Park” and see a woman shooting up.

Incidents like this one reported in Corriere della Sera newspaper seem to support Italian police unions’ doubts about Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s initiative, which began this week, to put 3,000 soldiers on the streets of 10 cities for the next six months to help the police fight a supposed crime wave. Some police officers believe military personnel, even those hardened by peace missions abroad, do not have the training needed to fight crime.

But as the first few hundred soldiers took to the streets this week — wearing barrack-dress uniform with sidearms only for street patrols, but camouflage combat gear and rifles for guard duty on “sensitive” targets like embassies and railway stations — many city mayors hailed the exercise as a success. The military man in charge of the operation, Giuseppe Valotto, said the public reaction had been “incredibly positive” and helped improve citizens’ perception of their own safety. Soldiers even notched up a few “collars” in their first few days on joint patrol with the police, hauling in 12 African immigrants in Naples accused of faking fashion brands, chasing a thief through the streets of Bari and nabbing a man in Milan who had snatched the takings of a bar from the till.

Being style-conscious Italians, of course, the troops carried off their street duties with the requisite swagger and Rome’s right-wing mayor, Gianni Alemanno, who has worried about them scaring off the tourists, appeared taken with the Grenadiers of Sardinia helping out with guard duties in Rome, saying: “They looked like they were out of a film, really perfect, they have a great image.”

But the political opposition, and the media, has asked if it is really necessary to draft in a token number of soldiers in a country that already has 230,000 police and carabinieri, and where the crime rate is not alarmingly high compared to the rest of Europe anyway. A new study by research centre Censis released this week shows, for example, that Italy has the lowest murder rate of the biggest European countries and one which is falling already. One union leader suggested the military should be drafted into Italian building sites instead to combat a growing cause of death among Italians — fatal accidents at work, where Italy ranks top in Europe, according to Censis.

The opposition also points out that Berlusconi has mobilised the military while simultaneously reducing funding for the police in the budget.

The foreign press appears sceptical too, with the Financial Times saying in a comment piece this week that Italy’s new conservative government might to well to focus instead on combatting corruption, where the country has the worst record in the European Union apart from Greece, according to Transparency International’s global corruption Index. Forbes magazine called the operation a “diversion tactic” by Berlusconi to shift the focus away from the country’s sagging economy, which it said has the lowest growth in the euro zone and is heading for recession.

But, as often seems to happen in Italy, Berlusconi comes in for fiercer criticism from the foreign press than from the domestic audience. While putting soldiers on the streets to combat a crime wave of dubious proportions might spark protest in some countries, so far it has been limited to a few banners and handbills in the capital saying “Free Rome”.

Waterboarding an “attraction” at New York amusement park

The ‘Waterboarding Thrill Ride’ installation by artist Steve Powers is seen at the Coney Island arcade in New York August 6, 2008. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Reuters | Aug 7, 2008

By Ritsuko Ando

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A man with a black hood pours water on the face of a prisoner in an orange jumpsuit strapped to a table: no, it’s not Guantanamo Bay naval base, but New York’s Coney Island amusement park.

The scene using robotic dolls is an installation built by artist Steve Powers to criticize waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique the United States has admitted using on terrorism suspects, but that rights group say is torture.

“Waterboard Thrill Ride” beckons a sign along with cartoon character “SpongeBob SquarePants” who appears tied down and exclaiming: “It don’t Gitmo better!”

The public can peek through window bars and feed a dollar into the slot to bring the robotic dolls into action, one more attraction in the beachfront amusement park in the New York neighborhood of Brooklyn.

“Anyone can see this is painful from 50 feet away,” said Powers, who had previously been painting signs and storefronts in the area. “I wanted people to understand the psychological ramifications of this.”

A man opens up the booth for artist Steve Powers ‘Waterboarding Thrill Ride’ installation at the Coney Island arcade in New York August 6, 2008. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Marion Tracey, 57, from New Jersey, said she found the installation disturbing. It made her think of her father who had nightmares after returning from World War II. “In all wars, horrible things happen,” she said. “I’d rather not see it.”

Alex Soto, 23, said he thought it was a good thing for people to learn about waterboarding, but he added: “It is pretty twisted.”

(Editing by Michelle Nichols and Anthony Boadle)

Mexican troops cross U.S. border, hold Border Patrol agent at gunpoint

Reuters | Aug 6, 2008

PHOENIX (Reuters) – Mexican soldiers briefly held a U.S. Border Patrol agent at gunpoint in a remote stretch of the Arizona desert after they mistakenly strayed north across the border, authorities said on Wednesday.

Tucson sector Border Patrol spokesman Mike Scioli said four Mexican soldiers wearing desert camouflage and carrying weapons confronted the agent early on Sunday morning as he patrolled a border road in the Tohono O’Odham nation southwest of Tucson.

Scioli said the agent repeatedly identified himself in English and Spanish. After four minutes the soldiers lowered their weapons and crossed back in to Mexico on foot.

The stretch of desert is frequently crossed by human and drug smugglers from Mexico, and the border line in the area is not always clearly marked, Scioli said.

A spokesman for the U.S. State Department said the incursion had been brought to the attention of the Mexican government, and appeared to be accidental.

“Our understanding is that this encounter stemmed from a momentary misunderstanding as to the exact location of the U.S.-Mexican border,” Gonzalo Gallegos said.

“We recognize that occasional incidents such as this can and do occur. But we take the misunderstanding seriously, as does the Government of Mexico.”

Incursions by Mexican military personnel into the United States over the nearly 2,000-mile (3,200-km) southwest border are not uncommon. Scioli said 42 incidents had been reported since October 1 last year.

(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; editing by Alan Elsner)

Beijing police haul American Christian protesters off

Olympics-Beijing police stop protest by U.S. Christians

Reuters | Aug 6, 2008

By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING, Aug 7 (Reuters) – Chinese plainclothes security officials dragged away three American Christian activists on Thursday after they attempted to protest for religious freedom for a second day near the Olympic host city’s Tiananmen Square.

The three were swooped on as they started a news conference and brief prayer vigil outside the Mao Zedong Memorial Hall, just a day before the Beijing Olympics open.

“We have come here today to speak out against the human rights abuses of the Chinese government,” Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, told a small group of foreign reporters.

“We have come here today to be a voice to those who are in prison because of their religious beliefs,” he added, as security officials held up umbrellas and their hands to prevent the incident being filmed.

As the three knelt to pray, burly officials dragged them away, trying to block reporters from seeing what was happening and trying to grab microphones.

The small group had briefly protested against China’s population control policies and forced abortions on the square on Wednesday until stopped by police. They were then, unusually for security-wary China, allowed to leave.

Four foreign protesters were also held after unfurling Tibet independence banners in Beijing on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Greyhound scraps “bus-rage” ads after Canada beheading

“There’s a reason you’ve never heard of ‘bus rage.'”

AP | Aug 6, 2008


TORONTO (AP) — Greyhound has scrapped an ad campaign that extolled the relaxing upside of bus travel after one of its passengers was accused of beheading and cannibalizing another traveler.

The ad’s tag line was “There’s a reason you’ve never heard of ‘bus rage.'”

Greyhound spokeswoman Abby Wambaugh said Wednesday a billboard and some tunnel posters near a bus terminal in Toronto are still up and would be removed later in the day.

“Greyhound knows how important it is to get these removed and we are doing everything possible,” Wambaugh said. “This is something that we immediately asked to be done last week, realizing that these could be offensive.”

Vince Weiguang Li, who immigrated to Canada from China in 2004, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of 22-year-old carnival worker Tim McLean. He has yet to enter a plea.

Thirty-seven passengers were aboard the Greyhound from Edmonton, Alberta, to Winnipeg, Manitoba, as it traveled at night along a desolate stretch of the TransCanada Highway about 12 miles from Portage La Prairie, Manitoba. Witnesses said Li attacked McLean unprovoked, stabbing him dozens of times.

As horrified passengers fled the bus, Li severed McLean’s head, displaying it to some of the passengers outside the bus, witnesses said.

A police officer at the scene reported seeing the attacker hacking off pieces of the victim’s body and eating them, according to a police report.

Wambaugh said the ads only appeared in Canada and that some in Ontario and western Canada have already been removed. About 20,000 inserts of the Greyhound ads were scheduled to be put into an Alberta Summer Games handbook but they stopped the presses.

Bionic eye heralds cyborg revolution

Telegraph | Aug 6, 2008
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

An electronic eye that works like the real thing foreshadows the development of a new generation of bionic eyes and other “cyborg” technology seen in the film “Terminator” and other Hollywood sci-fi movies.

The electronic eye uses a curved detection surface like a human eye, made of “stretchable electronics.”

The first of its kind, the bionic eye produces exceptional images with lower distortion and with a broader field of view than possible with conventional flat camera microchips.

However, the underlying approach to producing flexible electronic surfaces of silicon chip sensors could find uses in moulding chips to the human body and ‘smart’ prosthetics, leading to new opportunities for doctors to boost the body with electronics.

Conventional imaging technologies have been developed for use in rigid semiconductor materials, glass plates and plastic sheets, all of which are flat in nature.

The new technique creates an array of silicon detectors and electronics in a stretchable, interconnected mesh that allows flat layouts to be transformed into curved shapes.

A team led by Profs John Rogers at the University of Illionois, Urbana Champaign, and Yonggang Huang of Northwestern University in Evanston, describe in Nature how they used well established electrical materials and processing but in unusual designs that allow large amounts of compressibility and stretchability, thanks to the flexible mesh of wire-connected sensors, each of which is a pixel in the resulting camera.

Researchers are testing the same design principles in a range of other applications, including as a thin, wrap around monitor to detect electrical signals crackling across the undulating surface of the human brain.

Conventional digital cameras use flat chips based on rigid, brittle semiconductor wafers that fracture at strains of less than 1 per cent.

While such a conventional flat array of sensors cannot flex without damaging its light-sensitive pixels, the new technology puts the strain on the wires, each flexing as much as 40 per cent.

Since the wires absorb the strain, the pixels are barely stressed, even when affixed to the hemispherical retina-shaped housing of the new experimental camera.

“Mechanics helps to reduce the stresses and strain in components, and guide and optimise the system design,” said Prof Yonggang Huang.

The current sensor array, shaped around a rubber cup, includes only 256 pixels, but because the technology is based on established materials and manufacturing processes, the researchers ultimately expect more sophisticated sensors in higher density arrays.

“We believe that some of the most compelling areas of future application involve the intimate, conformal integration of electronics with the human body, in ways that are inconceivable using established technologies,” said Prof Rogers

“This approach allows us to put electronics in places where we couldn’t before,” Prof Rogers added. “We can now, for the first time, move device design beyond the flatland constraints of conventional systems.”

Over the last 20 years, many research groups have pursued electronic eye systems of this general type, but none has achieved a working camera.

Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Energy.

EU and US to set up Euro-Atlantic police force

E.U. ministers are calling for a European-wide police force

Personal data could be sent to Europe and U.S. under plans for ‘Euro-atlantic’ police force

Daily Mail |  Aug 7, 2008

By  Tamara Cohen

Vast amounts of personal data on British citizens will be sent abroad, under advancing plans for a European-wide police force.

EU ministers have also called for top-secret intelligence to be pooled between the 27 member states  – and shared with US authorities.

National police forces would be integrated, and a European-wide police force or ‘gendarmerie’ set up to fight crime across national borders.

They say the controversial proposals for an ‘Euro-atlantic area of cooperation’ would help control terrorism, organised crime and illegal immigration.

But critics fear exchanging volumes of intelligence material would be detrimental to Britain’s security.

The 53-page report was drafted by ministers from six member states – Germany, France, Sweden, Portugal, Slovenia and the Czech Republic.

A blueprint for security policy over the next five years, it took 18 months to prepare and has already been sent to all EU heads of government.

It argues that European police forces and intelligence services should be far more closely integrated, and ‘coordinated’ from Brussels.

The plans do not rule out foreign police officers being allowed to patrol British streets.

Such a pact, which would be finalised by 2014 at the latest, would see personal shared with a raft of EU agencies such as Europol and Eurojust.

All members states would share intelligence with European anti-terror centres and develop joint video-surveillance and unmanned drone aircraft.

The report also calls for a bigger role for Sitcen, the Joint Situation Centre, a shadowy intelligence body based in Brussels.

It says anti-terrorism can only work if ‘maximum information flow between [EU] member states is guaranteed. Relevant security-related information should be available to all security authorities in the member states.’

Baroness Scotland, the UK attorney general, had observer status within the cabal, known as the Future Group, to assess the implications for Britain.

The report states the EU cannot beat terrorism without a full partnership with Washington, where privacy laws are far more lenient.

The ministers concede sharing espionage would be a ‘considerable challenge’ from a privacy point of view.

A wholesale echange of data would need the European Commission and the US authorities to iron out changes to their privacy laws by next year.

Last month the American Civil Liberties Union wrote to MEPs pressing Brussels to reject US pressure to share information.

It stated the US is ‘a country that, in privacy terms, is all but lawless. US privacy laws are weak and offer little protection to citizens and virtually none to non-citizens.’

Proposal for a federal police force were detailed in European Commission budget documents in May, but this is the first time ministers have called for intelligence to be shared with the USA.

The US is also demanding EU countries sign up for rigid security measures on transatlantic flights and supply personal information about passengers.

Korean robocops crack down on anti-Bush demonstrators

South Korean police make an arrest in Seoul after demonstrations over moves to reinstate imports of US beef

Daily Mail | Aug 6, 2008

Riot police clad in body armour broke up anti-US demonstrations in Seoul sparked by the arrival of George Bush in South Korea.

The country has been rocked by months of mass demonstrations demanding that the government ditch a deal to reinstate imports of US beef.

The American president was hoping to revive what was once the third-largest foreign market for the US product, but anger in Seoul over the “beef accord” triggered mass protests amid wider dissatisfaction with the country’s conservative government.

Mr Bush’s trip to Asia was taking him to Bangkok today and then to Beijing for the Olympic Games.

Addressing a news conference with South Korean president Lee Myung-bak, the US president told North Korea that it could share in South Korea’s prosperity, but must stick to an agreement to end its nuclear weapons programme.

Unmanned drone planes set to spy on Britons

The Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) pictured flying on a US Navy aerial reconnaissance flight

Daily Mail | Aug 6, 2008

By  Niall Firth

Unmanned spy planes could soon be used to carry out covert surveillance on UK citizens, under controversial new Government plans.

The MoD is working with defence firm BAE Systems to make so-called UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) safe enough to be used to help police operations in the UK.

The sophisticated unmanned aircraft are able to get clear images of the ground even when flying at up to 50, 000 feet.

However, even though they are widely used by British troops in warzones such as Iraq and Afghanistan, until now they have not been cleared for use in civilian airspace.

The plan to use UAVs in Britain has worried civil liberties groups who say that they could be used to spy on innocent civilians.

Gareth Crossman, director of policy at the civil rights watchdog Liberty, told The Independent: ‘The question is not so much about the technology but what one does with it.

‘We have quite definite laws about where CCTV can be used but of course with UAVs you have much greater ability to gather material in private spaces and this would lead to concern.’

He added: ‘If they are used to simply hover to gain random information then that would obviously be a matter of worry and a civil liberty issue.’

If approved, UAVs could be for disaster relief, crowd control and anti-terror surveillance maritime searches as well as supporting Coastguard, police, fire and intelligence services, the committee heard.

The MPs’ report says the MoD is ‘closely involved with the development of procedures and regulations which allow UAVs to operate in national and Nato airspace.

‘But the committee indicates that the ministry should do more.’

It adds: ‘In the response to our report we expect the MoD to set out why it supports the Astraea programme only in an ‘observer role’ and its future plans with regard to this programme.’

The BAE project is known as Astraea, with the MoD only acting as observers, although other Government agencies have contributed funding.

Nick Miller, Vice Chairman of Astraea said the the project was examining the ‘technologies and procedures’ that could allow unmanned air systems to operate safely and routinely in the UK airspace.

‘ Astraea’s focus is on civil applications for UAVs,’ he said. ‘The safe and routine operation of autonomous airborne systems promises to offer considerable public benefits, particularly in the areas of safety and security.

‘These could include roles typically classed as ‘dull, dirty or dangerous’ and therefore often unsuitable for manned aircraft, such as search and rescue, support for emergency ‘blue light’ services, and environmental monitoring.

‘It is looking to see how whether UAVs can be made safe and reliable enough to operate  in UK airspace.’

Another project called Astra – also involving BAE –  is even developing technologies to take control out of the hands of air traffic controllers and effectively give the spy planes the ability to make their own decisions.