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.