Daily Archives: October 11, 2009

Homeland Security testing Wii Fit Balance Boards to detect fidgeting in airport security lines

Fit to fly? Balance Board tapped to detect shifty characters at airports

videogames.yahoo.com | Oct 10, 2009

by Mike Smith

The next step in the War on Terrorism?

The next step in the War on Terrorism?

Nervous flyers, beware: a Department of Homeland Security-funded project is investigating whether Wii Fit Balance Boards might be good ways to detect signs of tension or unease in airport security lines.

As somewhere over 20 million Wii Fit owners know, the Balance Board can detect your precise balance point, making it a perfect keep-fit tool — but the Future Attribute Screening Technology project hopes detecting physiological signs — including rapid shifts in balance — will help identify passengers who may have hostile intentions.

“Researchers took a Wii balance board…and altered it to show how someone’s weight shifts. Studies are now under way to determine whether there is a level of fidgeting that would suggest the need for secondary screening,” CNN said.

The Balance Board is just one of a suite of sensors the Boston-based project is trialing; others include eye trackers and devices that record respiratory and heart rates. Researchers say their goal is to have a system ready for field tests in 2011.

Russian mercs hope to outdo Blackwater in Iraq

2012 Olympic site workers face biometric scans

biometrics

Machines with hand and iris recognition technology are to be deployed at entry points of east London Olympic Park site

AFP | Oct 10, 2009

LONDON — Workers on London’s Olympic Park will have to go through biometric scanning to access the 2012 Games site in a bid to protect it from terrorists, a newspaper reported Sunday.

From this week, machines that have hand and iris recognition technology will be deployed at entry points around the 2.5-square-kilometre east London site, The Observer said.

The weekly said the hand scanners could check up to 5,000 workers per hour at Europe’s largest regeneration project, while the iris scanners would be used as an alternative if required.

The decision to implement the measures was based on Britain’s “years of experience in both tackling terrorism and hosting major sporting and cultural events”, Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell said.

“Ensuring the construction phase of the Games is safe and secure is a key part of our preparations for London 2012.

“We are using cutting-edge technology to make sure that as activity on the site increases the workforce and infrastructure continue to be protected without affecting progress.”

Around 4,500 people work at the site but the figure is expected to double by the end of next year, The Observer said.

The scanners will also help clamp down on illegal labour.

Government figures found that 136 suspected illegal immigrants were arrested at the site between April and December last year, the latest period for which figures are available.

“We are phasing in robust plans to ensure the security and safety of both the Olympic Park workforce and the surrounding communities,” said a spokesman for the Olympic Delivery Agency.

“Enhanced access controls utilising the latest technology will enable properly authorised, equipped and trained workers to enter and leave the Olympic Park as quickly and safely as possible.”

Big Brother is watching you shop

BBC | Oct 2, 2009

By Michael Fitzpatrick

Increasingly facial recognition is picking out people in a crowd

Increasingly facial recognition is picking out people in a crowd

A surveillance state, with cameras on every street is commonplace but now Big Business is also turning to Big Brother.

Face recognition, behaviour analysing surveillance cameras, biometric profiling and the monitoring and storing of our shopping patterns has made snooping into our habits, movements and private lives ever easier.

Dismayed at its shrinking power to market to us via traditional media or even the internet, the private sector is now proposing to reach potential customers in ways that critics say should have us all concerned.

“There is an enormous pent-up demand for personalised location advertising, whether it is on your cellphone or PDA, on your radio in your car, or on the billboards you walk by on the streets and inside stores,” says Bruce Schneier, chief security technology officer of BT.

“This is yet another technological intrusion into privacy. And like all such intrusions, it will be taken as far as the owner of that intrusion finds it profitable.”

Emotional reactions

New surveillance technology could even evaporate the advertiser’s favourite grouse that “half of advertising is wasted, but we don’t know which half”.

Advertisers are turning to “intelligent” digital billboards that use cameras to watch you watching the ads.

In Germany, developers have placed video cameras into street advertisements attempting to discern people’s emotional reactions to the ads, according to the Washington-based privacy advocate outfit the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

It warns that this type of surveillance encroaches on civil liberties. Such face, voice and behaviour technology could be a means of tracking individuals on a mass level across their entire lives, it says.

Pushed by the demands of advertisers and security-minded governments, these technologies are becoming so increasingly smart and intrusive that they now resemble something out of science fiction, it warns.

Science fact

Some of the technology available now seems to have overtaken fiction.

When an interactive ad shouts out to Tom Cruise’s character in the 2002 film Minority Report: “John Anderton, you could use a Guinness!” It identified him as he walked through a mall by scanning the unique pattern of his iris.

This is now pretty standard. Face recognition technology is proving to be a handier, more sophisticated tool to pick us out on the street, a crowded room or at passport control.

Such systems are able to automatically detect and identify human faces using recognition algorithms.

The first step for a facial recognition system is to recognise a human face and extract it from the rest of the scene. Next, the system measures the distance between the features — a distinctive aspect of our faces that does not change with disguises or even surgery.

Matches can then be found in databases in under a second, although 100% accuracy is not yet guaranteed.

Currently the private sector is finding such systems useful for what it calls “targeted marketing,” or “dynamic advertising.”

Japan’s NEC, for instance, sells face-recognition technology to allow advertisers to tailor what ad is showing on a digitised screen depending on the viewer’s sex and age.

Tracking systems, such as these, can determine the viewer’s gender 85-90% of the time, approximate age and ethnicity, and change the ads accordingly.

NEC denies the system raises privacy concerns as it does not store any images, only the analysed results (age and sex) based on those images.

But as Schneier points out systems like these are likely liable to “function creep” where a technology is brought in for one purpose, to profile your sex while viewing an ad for example, and then begins to push the boundaries.

“Once the cameras are installed and operational, once they’re networked to central computers, then it’s a simple matter of upgrading the software,” he says.

“And if they can do more — if they can provide more “value” to the advertisers — then of course they will. To think otherwise is simply naive.”

And when advertisers start to follow us, our privacy, our right to be left alone will be severely compromised, he thinks.

More control

Democratic governments, charged with protecting us from such violations, are beginning to wake up to these practices.

The US is about to propose a bill to ensure that consumers know what information is being collected about them. The EU promises to rigorously police what it claims are already stringent controls on our personal data.

“Europeans must have the right to control how their personal information is used,” Viviane Reding, the EU’s commissioner for information society and media told BBC news. “We cannot give up this basic principle, and have all our exchanges monitored, surveyed and stored, in exchange for a promise of ‘more relevant’ advertising.”

Despite such assurances, given the pervasiveness of such technologies firstly on the internet and now spreading to the physical world, what we do about them in the next few years will be crucial. It might control our privacy for generations to come say human rights advocates.

“Companies are increasingly impatient to get to us and once these practices are commonplace it will hard to reverse them,” says Marc Rotenberg director of EPIC. “Particularly as, ironically, we lose privacy these companies are gaining secrecy.”

It would seem sensible to debate now how far business and the state should be allowed to tag us while we still have a privacy to protect.

Lord Mandelson and Nat Rothschild share Brazilian ambitions

When Lord Mandelson pays tribute to President Lula of Brazil at the Banqueting House in Whitehall on Bonfire Night, his Brazilian-born boyfriend, Reinaldo da Silva, will not be the only one hoping for friendships to sparkle. The Business Secretary’s holiday host Nat Rothschild has decided to expand massively his interests in Brazil.

Telegraph | Oct 10, 2009

By Richard Eden

Lord Rothschild’s heir has invested £75 million in BR Properties to take advantage of Brazil’s booming economy.

Nat, from whose villa in Corfu Peter Mandelson reportedly ran Britain while Gordon Brown was on holiday in August, is expected to take a seat on the board of BR Properties. His father is the chairman of the RIT Capital investment group, which is also taking a minority stake in the company.

Nat’s previous property interests centred on Montenegro, where he is investing with another of Mandelson’s chums, Oleg Deripaska, the controversial Russian oligarch.

Mandelson’s relationship with Nat became a major talking point when Mandrake disclosed last year that the former European trade commissioner had, while staying with Nat in Corfu, been entertained aboard the yacht of Deripaska, an aluminium tycoon, whose businesses benefited from tariffs the commission set.

Nat, who is the co-chairman of the hedge fund Atticus Capital, has been linked to the son of the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam Muammar al-Gaddafi. In 2009, Saif threw his 37th birthday party at the Splendid Hotel in Becici, Montenegro.

New “Game” Encourages Secret Police-Style Spying

internet eyes

Players of Internet Eyes will monitor “thousands” of CCTV cameras, watching for crimes and reporting them to the authorities in hopes of winning monthly cash prizes.

escapistmagazine.com | Oct 9, 2009

by Andy Chalk

A new online “game” called Internet Eyes is about to launch, offering players a chance to earn money by spying on people through closed-circuit television cameras and reporting them to the police – for real.

Players of Internet Eyes will monitor “thousands” of CCTV cameras, watching for crimes and reporting them to the authorities in hopes of winning monthly cash prizes of up to £1,000 (roughly $1600). The game’s website will also feature a gallery of the people busted by Internet Eyes users along with a breakdown of their crimes and which user caught them. Tony Morgan, one of the men behind the scheme, said he and his partners were inspired to launch Internet Eyes by the fact that while the U.K. has roughly 4.2 million CCTV cameras installed throughout the country – a per-capita rate that easily outpaces even that of China – only “one in a thousand” actually gets watched.

“This could turn out to be the best crime prevention weapon there’s ever been,” Morgan said. “I wanted to combine the serious business of stopping crime with the incentive of winning money.”

The game will be free to play, while anyone who wants a camera monitored by Internet Eyes will pay £20 per week for the service. Morgan said he hopes that businesses, “local authorities” and even police forces will eventually take advantage of the service. The game will use cameras in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon when it launches in November, with a country-wide rollout expected soon after.

“Crimes are bound to get missed but this way the cameras will be watched by lots of people 24-hours-a-day. It gives people something better to do than watching Big Brother when everyone is asleep,” he said, apparently without a trace of irony. “We’ve had a lot of interest from local businesses and hope to roll it out nationwide and then worldwide.”

Not everyone is as enthusiastic about the plan as Morgan, however. Charles Farrier of the group No-CCTV called it “an appalling idea” and said, “It is something which should be nipped in the bud immediately. It will not only encourage a dangerous spying mentality by turning crime into a game but also could lead to dangerous civil rights abuses.”

I think “appalling” is a pretty good word for it. In the latter half of the 20th century, East Germany suffered under the incredibly repressive thumb of the Ministry for State Security, better known as the Stasi, a secret police agency famous for the extent to which it monitored the lives of everyday German citizens. Citizen-spies employed by the Stasi reported on each other to such an extent that two decades after reunification, the nation is still struggling to come to terms with the extent of the collusion. And now somebody wants to turn that sort of self-inflicted surveillance into a game?

On the other hand, maybe “appalling” isn’t strong enough.

Kremlin accused of Soviet-style election rigging

Russian regional elections ‘rigged by Kremlin’, opposition claims

Russia’s embattled opposition movement has accused the Kremlin of holding Soviet-style “non-elections” as more than a fifth of the population prepares to vote in key regional polls on Sunday.

Telegraph | Oct 9, 2009

By Andrew Osborn in Moscow

Bureaucrats loyal to the ruling United Russia party have illegally removed opposition figures from the ballot, broken up opposition meetings, intimidated rival candidates and muted opponents’ campaign messages, the opposition claimed.

The situation in Moscow, where the city parliament controls a £25bn budget, was particularly bad, said Boris Nemtsov, co-chairman of the opposition Solidarity movement. In the run-up to the vote, Moscow’s electoral commission refused to register a clutch of opposition candidates, citing Kafkaesque technicalities such as invalid signatures, incorrectly completed applications and irregularities in identity documents.

Dismissing President Dmitry Medvedev’s promises of greater democracy as empty talk, several senior opposition figures called for voters to boycott the ballot altogether.

“These are not elections but a farce,” said Mr Nemtsov. “These elections are illegitimate.”

Mikhail Kasyanov, a former prime minister turned opposition figure, was equally dismissive. He urged a complete boycott “until the authorities restore our right to take part in free elections”.

Yet Kremlin election officials said all was well. Vladimir Churov, head of the central election commission and an old friend of Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, said he was convinced the elections were fair. “The campaign is unfolding in a really organised way,” he told news agency Interfax.

“There is genuine competition like there always has been.”

For the opposition, the ballot is a confirmation of its growing fears about President Medvedev. Mr Medvedev came to power last year claiming he had an agenda for change – despite having been hand-picked by Mr Putin – and was ready to relax a de-facto one-party political system where dissenting voices did not make it onto state TV. But so far, critics say he has promised much but delivered little as he has struggled to emerge from Mr Putin’s shadow.

In Moscow, the one-sided nature of the campaign is apparent. A giant poster of a smiling Mr Putin looms over the busy Novy Arbat street alongside a gargantuan poster for his ruling United Russia party. “We keep our word and we get things done,” reads the slogan.

Leonid Kirichenko, an independent electoral expert, said the elections were merely an imitation of a genuine vote. “The only way to avoid falling victim to falsification is to vote the way the authorities want you to,” he noted wrly. Like other experts, he said there was no doubt that Mr Putin’s United Russia party would sweep the board. Mr Medvedev’s promises of greater freedom are meaningless, he believes. “It is impossible to talk about the honesty of these elections,” he sighs. “That remains a dream.” Voters appear to agree.

One poll showed 53 per cent thought their participation in the vote would change nothing.

What happened to global warming?

Average temperatures have not increased for over a decade

BBC News | Oct 9, 2009

By Paul Hudson

polar-bear-waltzThis headline may come as a bit of a surprise, so too might that fact that the warmest year recorded globally was not in 2008 or 2007, but in 1998.

But it is true. For the last 11 years we have not observed any increase in global temperatures.

And our climate models did not forecast it, even though man-made carbon dioxide, the gas thought to be responsible for warming our planet, has continued to rise.

So what on Earth is going on?

Climate change sceptics, who passionately and consistently argue that man’s influence on our climate is overstated, say they saw it coming.

They argue that there are natural cycles, over which we have no control, that dictate how warm the planet is. But what is the evidence for this?

During the last few decades of the 20th Century, our planet did warm quickly.

Sceptics argue that the warming we observed was down to the energy from the Sun increasing. After all 98% of the Earth’s warmth comes from the Sun.

But research conducted two years ago, and published by the Royal Society, seemed to rule out solar influences.

The scientists’ main approach was simple: to look at solar output and cosmic ray intensity over the last 30-40 years, and compare those trends with the graph for global average surface temperature.

And the results were clear. “Warming in the last 20 to 40 years can’t have been caused by solar activity,” said Dr Piers Forster from Leeds University, a leading contributor to this year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

But one solar scientist Piers Corbyn from Weatheraction, a company specialising in long range weather forecasting, disagrees.

He claims that solar charged particles impact us far more than is currently accepted, so much so he says that they are almost entirely responsible for what happens to global temperatures.

He is so excited by what he has discovered that he plans to tell the international scientific community at a conference in London at the end of the month.

If proved correct, this could revolutionise the whole subject.

Ocean cycles

What is really interesting at the moment is what is happening to our oceans. They are the Earth’s great heat stores.

According to research conducted by Professor Don Easterbrook from Western Washington University last November, the oceans and global temperatures are correlated.

The oceans, he says, have a cycle in which they warm and cool cyclically. The most important one is the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO).

For much of the 1980s and 1990s, it was in a positive cycle, that means warmer than average. And observations have revealed that global temperatures were warm too.

But in the last few years it has been losing its warmth and has recently started to cool down.

These cycles in the past have lasted for nearly 30 years.

So could global temperatures follow? The global cooling from 1945 to 1977 coincided with one of these cold Pacific cycles.

Professor Easterbrook says: “The PDO cool mode has replaced the warm mode in the Pacific Ocean, virtually assuring us of about 30 years of global cooling.”

So what does it all mean? Climate change sceptics argue that this is evidence that they have been right all along.

They say there are so many other natural causes for warming and cooling, that even if man is warming the planet, it is a small part compared with nature.

But those scientists who are equally passionate about man’s influence on global warming argue that their science is solid.

The UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre, responsible for future climate predictions, says it incorporates solar variation and ocean cycles into its climate models, and that they are nothing new.

In fact, the centre says they are just two of the whole host of known factors that influence global temperatures – all of which are accounted for by its models.

In addition, say Met Office scientists, temperatures have never increased in a straight line, and there will always be periods of slower warming, or even temporary cooling.

What is crucial, they say, is the long-term trend in global temperatures. And that, according to the Met office data, is clearly up.

To confuse the issue even further, last month Mojib Latif, a member of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) says that we may indeed be in a period of cooling worldwide temperatures that could last another 10-20 years.

Professor Latif is based at the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences at Kiel University in Germany and is one of the world’s top climate modellers.

But he makes it clear that he has not become a sceptic; he believes that this cooling will be temporary, before the overwhelming force of man-made global warming reasserts itself.

So what can we expect in the next few years?

Both sides have very different forecasts. The Met Office says that warming is set to resume quickly and strongly.

It predicts that from 2010 to 2015 at least half the years will be hotter than the current hottest year on record (1998).

Sceptics disagree. They insist it is unlikely that temperatures will reach the dizzy heights of 1998 until 2030 at the earliest. It is possible, they say, that because of ocean and solar cycles a period of global cooling is more likely.

One thing is for sure. It seems the debate about what is causing global warming is far from over. Indeed some would say it is hotting up.

Senators Vote to Renew Patriot Act Spy Powers

leahy patriot act

Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) and Patrick Leahy, (D-Vermont) ride the Up escalator moments after approving constitutionally suspect Patriot Act provisions./AP photo

Wired |  Oct 8, 2009

By David Kravets

A deeply divided Senate committee on Thursday forwarded legislation to the full Senate that reauthorizes three expiring provisions of the Patriot Act hastily adopted in the wake of the 2001 terror attacks.

The measures greatly expanded the government’s ability to spy on Americans in the name of national security.

Thursday’s 11-8 vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee came as lawmakers struggled to beat a looming deadline. The three provisions expire at year’s end, unless renewed.

During more than two hours of sometimes-heated debate in the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, some lawmakers accused one another of caving to intelligence officials who wanted to expand their powers, while other senators said the renewal was necessary to protect against looming — and classified — terror threats.

But when the hearing was over, the committee approved renewing measures that include allowing broad warrants to be issued by a secretive court for any type of record, from financial to medical, without the government having to declare that the information sought is connected to a terrorism or espionage investigation. A proposal that would put limits on such requests was defeated.

Many senators said they’d been privately briefed by intelligence officials who were worried that adding constitutional protections for Americans could place them in harm’s way and jeopardize ongoing investigations. Lawmakers said they could not discuss the private briefing publicly because it was classified. “That’s the very nature of dealing with some of the laws dealing with the collection of highly classified material. It’s regrettable,” said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) who approved the renewals.

Committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said he wished “the American public could have seen” the classified briefing. Leahy voted to forward the measure to the Senate.

Full Story

Castro hails Obama’s Nobel peace prize

Cuba’s Fidel Castro is the latest world leader to opine on the controversial award of the Nobel peace prize to President Barack Obama.

Telegraph | Oct 10, 2009

By Philip Sherwell in New York and Leonard Doyle in Washington

But the endorsement of the veteran communist revolutionary may be the last thing Mr Obama wanted, as his words will only strengthen conservative complaints that the prize was an anti-American gesture.

The former dictator, who handed power to his brother Raul last year after falling seriously ill, made clear that he believed the award was primarily a repudiation of Mr Obama’s predecessors.

“Many believe that he still has not earned the right to receive such a distinction,” he wrote in a column published in state media. “But we would like to see, more than a prize for the US president, a criticism of the genocidal policies that have been followed by more than a few presidents of that country.”

Mr Castro, 83, who has spent half a century railing at international bodies, said he had often disagreed with the choice of Norway’s Nobel judges.

But this time, he noted modestly, “I must admit that in this case, in my opinion, it was a positive step”.

In his regular “Reflections of Comrade Fidel” outpourings, Mr Castro has praised some of the young American president’s policies in recent months, while criticising him for not lifting the US trade embargo on the Caribbean island.

By the time Mr Castro delivered his opinion on Saturday, plaudits and criticisms over the award had been flowing in for more than 24 hours. But Bill Clinton, the last Democratic president before Mr Obama, remained strangely silent at this stage.

He and Mr Obama appeared to have been slowly warming to each other after an ugly fall-out during last year’s combative primary campaign between Mr Obama and Hillary Clinton, the former president’s wife.

But veteran Clinton-watchers suggested the ex-president might harbour resentment at being consistently passed over for a Nobel himself over the years. The award has never come his way, despite having worked to bring peace to Bosnia and Northern Ireland, having devoted himself to Middle East talks, and having later setting up a huge philanthropic initiative – “which some might view as a transparent effort to win a Nobel”, observed Glenn Kessler in the Washington Post.

Since Mr Clinton left office in 2001, three prominent Democrats have been made the Nobel peace laureates – former president Jimmy Carter (in 2002), his former vice president Al Gore (in 2007) and now the current White House incumbent. Mr Clinton has had testy relations with all three.

Mr Carter and Mr Gore were both quick to compliment Mr Obama. But elsewhere in the US, little positive was being said and even the White House tacitly acknowledged that the prize only served to highlight the yawning gap between the President’s promise and his accomplishments.

“I’d like to believe that winning the Nobel Peace Prize is not a political liability,” said David Axelrod his senior adviser. “Hopefully people will receive it with some sense of pride. But I don’t know; it’s uncharted waters.”

“This is ridiculous — embarrassing, even,” wrote Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post, “I admire President Obama. I like President Obama. I voted for President Obama. But the peace prize?” American conservatives were bemused by the award, but most of the cringing was among those sympathetic to Mr Obama. “The Nobel Peace Prize award to Barack Obama seems so goofy,” wrote the columnist David Ignatius, “even if you’re a fan, you have to admit that he hasn’t really done much yet as a peacemaker.” And the generally adulatory Huffington Post commented: “Whatever one might feel about Obama, he has not earned this singular award.”

In the Rose Garden on Friday, Mr Obama described himself as “surprised and deeply humbled” by the award, saying he did not deserve it but would accept it as “a call to action”.

And he went out of his way to remind listeners that he has still a long way to go to achieve the goals that the Nobel Committee apparently expects of him, whether it be ridding the world of nuclear weapons, fighting climate change or delivering peace to the Middle East.

Before Mr. Obama spoke, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, openly mocked him. “The real question Americans are asking is, ‘What has President Obama actually accomplished?'” he said. “One thing is certain – President Obama won’t be receiving any awards from Americans for job creation, fiscal responsibility, or backing up rhetoric with concrete action.”

Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk-show host, was as outspoken as ever. “Can you imagine, folks, how big Obama’s head is today?” he asked listeners. “I think it’s getting so big that his ears actually fit.” He said the award was evidence the Nobel committee simply wanted America “neutered,” and an attempt “to emasculate the United States”.

Others joked that the Nobel committee had lower standards than the TV comedy show Saturday Night Live, which recently poked fun at Mr Obama for his lack of accomplishments. Even Arizona State University, declined to award him an honorary degree, when he was a guest speaker – because of his inexperience.