Category Archives: Privacy Issues

Sky Deutschland to broadcast adverts directly into train passengers’ heads

skydeutsche_2608740b
Passengers leaning their head against the window will “hear” adverts “coming from inside the user’s head”, urging them to download the Sky Go app.
Andy Trotman

Sky Deutschland has developed technology to transfer adverts from train windows directly and silently into commuters’ heads.

telegraph.co.uk | Jul 3, 2013

By Andrew Trotman

Passengers leaning their head against the window will “hear” adverts “coming from inside the user’s head”, urging them to download the Sky Go app.

The proposal involves using bone conduction technology, which is used in hearing aids, headphones and Google’s Glass headset, to pass sound to the inner ear via vibrations through the skull.

A video for the Talking Window campaign released by Sky Deutschland and ad agency BBDO Germany states: “Tired commuters often rest their heads against windows. Suddenly a voice inside their head is talking to them. No one else can hear this message.”

The voice comes from a Sky-branded transmitter made by Audiva that is attached to the train window.

BBDO spokesman Ulf Brychcy told the BBC: “If our customer Sky Deutschland agrees, we will start with the new medium as quickly as possible.

“Some people don’t like advertising in general. But this is really a new technology. [It might] not only be used for advertising, but also for music, entertainment, mass transport information, weather reports and so on.”

Sky Deutschland said it had not made a decision on whether to launch the campaign.

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NSA secretly collecting phone records, locations of millions of Verizon customers daily

nsa-tia
Under the terms of the order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data and the time and duration of all calls.

NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily

Exclusive: Top secret court order requiring Verizon to hand over all call data shows scale of domestic surveillance under Obama

Guardian | Jun 5, 2013

by Glenn Greenwald

Read the Verizon court order in full here
Obama administration justifies surveillance

The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.

The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.

Related

NSA collection of Verizon phone records sparks angry reaction

Top-secret court order reveals NSA’s daily data collection on millions of Americans

NSA secretly vacuumed up Verizon phone records

Also Revealed by Verizon Leak: How the NSA and FBI Lie With Numbers

The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.

Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered.

The disclosure is likely to reignite longstanding debates in the US over the proper extent of the government’s domestic spying powers.

Under the Bush administration, officials in security agencies had disclosed to reporters the large-scale collection of call records data by the NSA, but this is the first time significant and top-secret documents have revealed the continuation of the practice on a massive scale under President Obama.

The unlimited nature of the records being handed over to the NSA is extremely unusual. Fisa court orders typically direct the production of records pertaining to a specific named target who is suspected of being an agent of a terrorist group or foreign state, or a finite set of individually named targets.

The Guardian approached the National Security Agency, the White House and the Department of Justice for comment in advance of publication on Wednesday. All declined. The agencies were also offered the opportunity to raise specific security concerns regarding the publication of the court order.

The court order expressly bars Verizon from disclosing to the public either the existence of the FBI’s request for its customers’ records, or the court order itself.

“We decline comment,” said Ed McFadden, a Washington-based Verizon spokesman.

The order, signed by Judge Roger Vinson, compels Verizon to produce to the NSA electronic copies of “all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon for communications between the United States and abroad” or “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls”.

The order directs Verizon to “continue production on an ongoing daily basis thereafter for the duration of this order”. It specifies that the records to be produced include “session identifying information”, such as “originating and terminating number”, the duration of each call, telephone calling card numbers, trunk identifiers, International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number, and “comprehensive communication routing information”.

The information is classed as “metadata”, or transactional information, rather than communications, and so does not require individual warrants to access. The document also specifies that such “metadata” is not limited to the aforementioned items. A 2005 court ruling judged that cell site location data – the nearest cell tower a phone was connected to – was also transactional data, and so could potentially fall under the scope of the order.

While the order itself does not include either the contents of messages or the personal information of the subscriber of any particular cell number, its collection would allow the NSA to build easily a comprehensive picture of who any individual contacted, how and when, and possibly from where, retrospectively.

It is not known whether Verizon is the only cell-phone provider to be targeted with such an order, although previous reporting has suggested the NSA has collected cell records from all major mobile networks. It is also unclear from the leaked document whether the three-month order was a one-off, or the latest in a series of similar orders.

The court order appears to explain the numerous cryptic public warnings by two US senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, about the scope of the Obama administration’s surveillance activities.

For roughly two years, the two Democrats have been stridently advising the public that the US government is relying on “secret legal interpretations” to claim surveillance powers so broad that the American public would be “stunned” to learn of the kind of domestic spying being conducted.

Because those activities are classified, the senators, both members of the Senate intelligence committee, have been prevented from specifying which domestic surveillance programs they find so alarming. But the information they have been able to disclose in their public warnings perfectly tracks both the specific law cited by the April 25 court order as well as the vast scope of record-gathering it authorized.

Julian Sanchez, a surveillance expert with the Cato Institute, explained: “We’ve certainly seen the government increasingly strain the bounds of ‘relevance’ to collect large numbers of records at once — everyone at one or two degrees of separation from a target — but vacuuming all metadata up indiscriminately would be an extraordinary repudiation of any pretence of constraint or particularized suspicion.” The April order requested by the FBI and NSA does precisely that.

The law on which the order explicitly relies is the so-called “business records” provision of the Patriot Act, 50 USC section 1861. That is the provision which Wyden and Udall have repeatedly cited when warning the public of what they believe is the Obama administration’s extreme interpretation of the law to engage in excessive domestic surveillance.

In a letter to attorney general Eric Holder last year, they argued that “there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows.”

“We believe,” they wrote, “that most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted” the “business records” provision of the Patriot Act.

Privacy advocates have long warned that allowing the government to collect and store unlimited “metadata” is a highly invasive form of surveillance of citizens’ communications activities. Those records enable the government to know the identity of every person with whom an individual communicates electronically, how long they spoke, and their location at the time of the communication.

Such metadata is what the US government has long attempted to obtain in order to discover an individual’s network of associations and communication patterns. The request for the bulk collection of all Verizon domestic telephone records indicates that the agency is continuing some version of the data-mining program begun by the Bush administration in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attack.

The NSA, as part of a program secretly authorized by President Bush on 4 October 2001, implemented a bulk collection program of domestic telephone, internet and email records. A furore erupted in 2006 when USA Today reported that the NSA had “been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth” and was “using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity.” Until now, there has been no indication that the Obama administration implemented a similar program.

These recent events reflect how profoundly the NSA’s mission has transformed from an agency exclusively devoted to foreign intelligence gathering, into one that focuses increasingly on domestic communications. A 30-year employee of the NSA, William Binney, resigned from the agency shortly after 9/11 in protest at the agency’s focus on domestic activities.

In the mid-1970s, Congress, for the first time, investigated the surveillance activities of the US government. Back then, the mandate of the NSA was that it would never direct its surveillance apparatus domestically.

At the conclusion of that investigation, Frank Church, the Democratic senator from Idaho who chaired the investigative committee, warned: “The NSA’s capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter.”

Additional reporting by Ewen MacAskill and Spencer Ackerman

Why a drone can hover over your home, and you can’t stop it

800px-AR_Drones
Private drones. Source: Creative Commons

National Constitution Center | Mar 8, 2013

By Scott Bomboy

Lost in the controversy over the federal government’s use of military drones is an issue that hits home: commercial drones that can videotape you in your backyard.

Under limited circumstances, the FAA has approved the use, starting in 2015, of drones owned and operated by citizens. Some will be used for commercial purposes; others will used for recreational purposes.

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 was approved by Congress and the president. It tasks the Federal Aviation Administration with setting policies for the commercial drone business by September 2015.

The act is mostly focused on air safety issues, but the implications of drones, with photo and infrared cameras, flying over personal air spaces is fraught with privacy issues.

Then there are the implications for commercial drones, news gathering and the First Amendment. Television stations spend millions of dollars on helicopters, which can show live video from a distance. Drones are the fraction of a helicopter’s cost, but they can’t fly as high as a helicopter under normal circumstances.

So what happens if a drone is hovering over your house as journalists gather news? Or what if it is drone owned by a police department? Or a news entertainment show like TMZ?

The Congressional Research Service prepared a detailed analysis of these conflicting issues in January 2013, and its conclusions were that until the civilian drones are tested and in service, the legal problems probably won’t be resolved.

“The legal issues discussed in this report will likely remain unresolved until the civilian use of drones becomes more widespread,” the Congressional Research Service said. “Once these regulations are tested and promulgated, the unique legal challenges that could arise based on the operational differences between drones and already ubiquitous fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters may come into sharper focus.”

In the end, the FAA will be the first government agency to set commercial drones use policies, under its powers to regulate national airspace. Congress will also get involved, at some point.

One immediate issue is the definition of a commercial drone, compared with a “model aircraft.” The operator of a commercial drone needs a special test certificate from the FAA to operate its flying vehicle. Larger models can’t fly near airports and over schools and churches.

Private, noncommercial drones are considered as recreational models.

The Congressional Research Service says smaller drones are exempt from FAA rules that apply to larger recreational drones.

“This prohibition [from FAA rules] applies if the model aircraft is less than 55 pounds, does not interfere with any manned aircraft, and is flown in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines,” says the report.

The novelty of commercial and recreation drones poses other legal issues. One Supreme Court case that set standards for ownership rights for the airspace over your house dates back in 1946.

In United States v. Causby, the Supreme Court dealt with a case where low-flying military planes flew over a chicken farm, causing chaos among the birds that resulted in damage to the property owner (i.e., lots of dead chickens).

Modern drones are silent (their noise won’t kill chickens), but they will most likely fly at lower altitudes, potentially putting them airspace that the courts may consider to be the controlled by the owner of the property below it.

Privacy concerns are even more problematic. As any journalist can tell you, the press has a right to photograph or videotape what can be seen from a public location, with some exceptions.

But what point in its flight is a drone above the airspace controlled by a homeowner? And can a drone operator use a thermal imaging camera to video record your house?

The Congressional Research Service rattles off other privacy scenarios: Can homeowners harm a drone if they deem it to be a trespassing threat? What about stalkers, Peeping Toms and wire tappers? Some drones can record sounds from 100 yards away from a source.

Part of the solution to these problems could come from Congress, which can pass laws to better define drone etiquette.

A lot depends on testing and recommendations that needs to come from the FAA in the next three years.

So far, the FAA is selecting six unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) test sites as mandated by Congress. The sites will function as test drone airports, with the purpose of figuring out how to safely manage flights.

But smaller, commercial drones are already being used for various purposes. A recent story from NBC News outlined how operators are widely using drones to capture video and images, by literally flying under the FAA’s radar.

One photographer interviewed by NBC said he has shot 60 hours of high-quality video using a 48-inch-sized drone, with no FAA issues.

Balancing the safety and privacy concerns over commercial and private drones is the useful news of drones for many purposes. They can help farmers manage their lands, realtors sell property, and they can be used to fight fires.

One estimate puts the global value of the commercial and private drone industry at $90 billion in the next 10 years, which will also create jobs.

The FAA also estimates that 10,000 commercial drones could be in use after September 2015, if the various problems are worked out with air traffic controls, licensing and logistics.

The legal matters could take much longer to resolve when it comes to privacy and other Constitutional issues. So you may need to encounter a drone flying over your backyard to claim damages and prove a legal point.

Pentagon contractor Raytheon knows what you are doing, where you are and where you are going

Defence contractor Raytheon has developed a tool that can mine social media to track and predict individuals’ behaviour, according to The Guardian.

Privacy crisis in progress as social media tracking again found to be intrusive

Register | Feb 11, 2013

A global “Big Sinister Defence Company Develops ‘Google For Spies’ That Your Government May Already Have Bought “ story is therefore unfurling as you read this piece.

The key “features” of Raytheon’s tool, developed in co-operation with the US government and delicately titled Rapid Information Overlay Technology (RIOT), are said to be an ability to sift through social media and figure out who your friends are and the places you frequent. With that data in hand, The Guardian feels “monitoring and control” of you, I, and everyone we collectively hold dear is eminently possible. It’s implied, despite Raytheon saying it’s had no buyers, that such software is likely to end up in the hands of a repressive State, or a shadowy agency inside a more open State. Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald has piled in with a story on the same theme.

How Raytheon software tracks you online video

All of which sounds just terrifying, except for the fact similar software can be had from other sources that are far less scary than a “defence contractor.”

IBM, for example, happily sells “social media analytics” software that can “Capture consumer data from social media to understand attitudes, opinions, trends and manage online reputation” and even “Predict customer behavior”. And yes, that’s the same IBM that can whip up a supercomputer or sell you a scale-out NAS capable of storing multiple petabytes of data. Throw in the social stuf and Big Blue, too, could help someone nasty to obtain, retain and analyse petabytes of data about us all.

SAS’ offering in the same software category is capable of “continuously monitoring online and social conversation data to identify important topics” and “continuously captures and retains more than two years of online conversation history”. SAS even offers to host its solution, meaning all that data about you is stored by a third-party company you’ve never heard of (and isn’t even open to the scrutiny afforded to listed companies).

Customer service software outfit Genesys sells “Social engagement” software that “Automates the process of (social) listening to your customers” and “Extends business rules and service level strategies to the growing volume of social media-based customer interactions. Could those business rules become “security rules”?

A quick mention of Big Data, daily and breathlessly advanced as capable of all of the above, and much more to more data, is also surely worth inserting at this point.

And then there are Google, Twitter, Facebook and others whose entire business is built on figuring out who you spend time with and where you spend (or intend to spend) that time, so they can sell that information to advertisers. Or hand it over to the government, when asked, which seems to be happening rather more regularly if the social networks’ own reports on the matter suggest.

We’re not suggesting any of the software or services mentioned above were designed as instruments of State surveillance, but it is surely worth pointing out that Raytheon is far from alone in having developed software capable of tracking numerous data public sources, aggregating them into a file on an individual, and doing so without individuals’ knowledge. That the company has done so in collaboration with the US government should not surprise, either: show The Reg a software company uninterested in adapting their wares for government and/or military applications and we’ll show you a software company begging for a shareholder lawsuit and/or swift and replacement of its top executives.

As for the spatial aspect of the allegations, the fact that photos contain spatial metadata is hardly news, nor is the notion that social media leaves a trail of breadcrumbs novel. One has only to revisit news from 2010 to be reminded of how pleaserobme.com pointed out how social media can alert thieves to the fact you’ve left your home. And let’s not even try to draw a line between a new-wave marketing tool like Geofeedia (today spruiking itself as offering real-time maps showing Tweets around the Grammies and as capable of letting one “monitor events to gather sentiment data”), mashups from clever folks who map check-ins and sinister surveillance-ware.

Far clearer is the fact that you, dear reader, are the product for any free online product. Also crystal clear is that by using such services, data about you will be consumed by a large and diverse audience. The scariest thing of all may be how few of those that use such services care or even realise the reality of the situation.

 

11 Body Parts Defense Researchers Will Use to Track You

Slightly creepy, no? Well, it gets creepier…
. . .
wired.com | Jan 25, 2013By Noah Shachtman and Robert Beckhusen
The Ear

Cell phones that can identify you by how you walk. Fingerprint scanners that work from 25 feet away. Radars that pick up your heartbeat from behind concrete walls. Algorithms that can tell identical twins apart. Eyebrows and earlobes that give you away. A new generation of technologies is emerging that can identify you by your physiology. And unlike the old crop of biometric systems, you don’t need to be right up close to the scanner in order to be identified. If they work as advertised, they may be able to identify you without you ever knowing you’ve been spotted.

Biometrics had a boom after 9/11. Gobs of government money poured into face and iris recognition systems; the Pentagon alone spent nearly $3 billion in five years, and the Defense Department was only one of many federal agencies funneling cash in the technologies. Civil libertarians feared the worst as face-spotters were turned on crowds of citizens in the hopes of  catching a single crook.

But while the technologies proved helpful in verifying identities at entry points from Iraq to international airports, the hype — or panic — surrounding biometrics never quite panned out. Even after all that investment, scanners still aren’t particularly good at finding a particular face in the crowd, for example; variable lighting conditions and angles (not to mention hats) continue to confound the systems.

Eventually, the biometrics market — and the government enthusiasm for it — cooled off. The technological development has not. Corporate and academic labs are continuing to find new ways to ID people with more accuracy, and from further away. Here are 11 projects.

Above:

The Ear

My, what noticeable ears you have. So noticeable in fact that researchers are exploring ways to detect the ears’ features like they were fingerprints. In 2010, a group of British researchers used a process called “image ray transform” to shoot light rays at human ears, and then repeat an algorithm to draw an image of the tubular-shaped parts of the organ. The curved edges around the rim of the ear is a characteristic — and most obvious — example. Then, the researchers converted the images into a series of numbers marking the image as your own. Finally, it’s just a matter of a machine scanning your ears again, and matching it up to what’s already stored in the system, which the researchers were able to do accurately 99.6 percent of the time. In March of 2012, a pair of New Delhi scientists also tried scanning ears using Gabor filters — a kind of digital image processor similar to human vision — but were accurate to a mere 92 to 96.9 percent, according to a recent survey (pdf) of ear biometric research.

It may even be possible to develop ear-scanning in a way that makes it more reliable than fingerprints. The reason is because your fingerprints can callous over when doing a lot of hard work. But ears, by and large, don’t change much over the course of a lifespan. There’s a debate around this, however, and fingerprinting has a much longer and established history behind it. A big question is whether ear-scanning will work given different amounts of light, or when covered (even partially) by hair or jewelry. But if ear-scanners get to the point of being practical, then they could possibly work alongside fingerprinting instead of replacing them. Maybe in the future we’ll see more extreme ear modification come along as a counter-measure.

Photo: Menage a Moi/Flickr

Odor

Odor

In the early and mid-2000s, the Pentagon’s blue-sky researchers at Darpa dabbled in something called the “Unique Signature Detection Project,” which sought to explore ways to detect people by their scent, and maybe even spot and identify individuals based on their distinct smells. Darpa’s work ended in 2008. The following year, the Department of Homeland Security fielded a solicitation for research in ways that human scent can indicate whether someone “might be engaging in deception,” specifically at airports and other ports of entry.

Odor detection is still just a research project at the moment. The science is intricate, involving more than 300 chemical compounds that produce human odor. Our personal stinks can change depending on everything from what we eat to our environment. But it may be possible to distinguish our “primary odor” — separate from “secondary” odors based on our diet and “tertiary” odors based on things like soaps and shampoos. The primary odor is the one linked to our genetics, and there have already been experiments with mice, which have been found to produce distinct scents unique to individuals. In 2007, the government’s counter-terror Technical Support Working Group even started a program aimed at collecting and storing human odors for the military’s dog handlers. Dogs, of course, have been used to track people by smell for decades, and are believed to distinguish between humans based on our genetic markers.

Photo: Cabaret Voltaire/Flickr

Heartbeat

Heartbeat

Your chest moves, just a little, every time your heart beats or your lungs take in air. For years, researchers have been monkeying with radars that are sensitive enough to to detect those minuscule chest movements — but powerful enough to do it from hundreds of yards away. Even reinforced concrete walls and electromagnetic shielding won’t stop these radars, or so claim the researchers at the small, Arizona-based defense contractor VAWD Engineering, who are working on such a system for Darpa’s “Biometrics-at-a-distance” program.

The key is the Doppler Effect — the changes in frequency when one object moves relative to another. We hear it all the time, when a fire engine passes by, siren blaring. VAWD says their vehicle-mounted Sense Through Obstruction Remote Monitoring System (STORMS) can pick up even small fluctuations of chests.

STORM (pictured above) “can be used to detect, classify and identify the specific cardiac and pulmonary modulations of a… person of interest,” a company document boasts. By itself, a heartbeat or a breathing rate won’t serve as a definitive biometric. But combine it with soft biometrics (how someone subtly sways when he or she stands) and you’ve got a unique signature for that person that can’t be hidden or covered up.

VAWD says these signature will help improve disaster relief and medical care by providing a “reliable, real time medical status equal to or better than the current devices, while increasing the mobility and comfort of the patient.”

But the company also notes that its system performs “automated human life-form target tracking” even when construction materials like “Afghan mud-huts” are in the way. STORM “has already been deployed by the United States Army on one of its most advanced ground vehicles,” the company adds.

Does any of that sound like hospital work to you?

Illustration: Yale University/Wikimedia

Photo: VAWD Engineering

Voice

Most people are likely to be familiar with voice readers on gadgets like the iPhone. But what if there was software that could quickly analyze the voice of thousands, and even use those voices to identify specific people?

Russian biometrics firm Speech Technology Center — known as SpeechPro in the U.S. — has the technology. Called VoiceGrid, the system is able to automatically recognize a person’s voice as their own, provided your voice is pre-recorded in a database and can be recalled by the computer. The company has also developed a version for “large city, county, state or national system deployments.”

It’s seen use in Mexico, according to Slate, “where it is being used by law enforcement to collect, store, and search hundreds of thousands of voice-prints.” The National Security Agency has taken interest in similar technology. So has the FBI. A 2012 presentation from the National Institute of Standards and Technology — with the assistance of the FBI — also speculated on potential uses including identifying and clearing people ‘involved in illegal activities,” locating serial killers and identifying arms traffickers (.pdf). Iarpa, the intelligence community’s research agency, has also been looking into ways to solve some of its problems: audio interference mainly. In 2011, the agency concluded its Biometric Exploitation Science and Technology Program (or BEST), which made “speaker recognition advances which included improving robustness to noise, reverberation, and vocal effort, and by automatically detecting these conditions in audio channels,” spokesperson Schira Madan told Danger Room in an email. But we wonder if it’ll detect autotune.

The Iris

The Iris

Imagine a scanner than can look deep inside your eye — from 10 feet away. Actually, you don’t have to think that hard. The technology is already here. Scanners have been developed that can focus in and scan irises from a distance of 10 feet, such the IOM PassPort, developed by government contractor SRI International. The company promises the machine can scan irises at a rate of 30 people per minute — like in high-traffic areas such as airports and train stations. SRI also claims it can see through contact lenses and glasses.

But the longer-range scanners could also see other uses, aside from airports. U.S. troops field existing, short-range and handheld iris scanners to build databases of Afghan eyes as part of a plan to use biometric data to tell civilians apart from insurgents. The Department of Homeland Security has tested iris scanners at a Border Patrol station along the Texas-Mexico border. The FBI has been working on an iris database for federal prisoners, and Google uses them at company data centers. But these systems can be fussy, and require that the targets don’t move too much.

There might be another way. The Pentagon’s scientists at Darpa have funded a research project at Southern Methodist University to develop cameras that can automatically zoom-in and scan irises, kinda like what happened to Tom Cruise in Minority Report — and without being blocked by pesky obstructions like eyelashes and glare from light. But another problem is that iris scanners are not the most secure means of identifying people. In July 2012, a group of researchers from the U.S. and Spain discovered a way to spoof the scanners by duplicating iris images stored in databases and creating synthetic copies. That means someone could conceivably steal your eyes, in a way.

Illustration: Air Force

Periocular

Periocular

Spotting someone by their irises is one of the best-developed biometric techniques there is. But Savvides and his Carnegie Mellon colleagues think there may be an equally-promising approach in the area around the eye — also known as the “periocular” region.

The “periocular region has the most dense and the most complex biomedical features on human face, e.g. contour, eyelids, eyeball, eyebrow, etc., which could all vary in shape, size and color,” they wrote in a 2011 paper. (.pdf) “Biologically and genetically speaking, a more complex structure means more ‘coding processing’ going on with fetal development, and therefore more proteins and genes involved in the determination of appearance. That is why the periocular region should be the most important facial area for distinguishing people.”

And unlike other biometrics — the face, for instance — the periocular region stays remarkably stable as a person ages. “The shape and location of eyes remain largely unchanged while the mouth, nose, chin, cheek, etc., are more susceptible to changes given a loosened skin,” the researchers note. In other words, this is a marker for life.

Nearby, Savvides and his colleagues think they’ve found a second biometric: the shape of the eyebrow. Face-scanners are sometimes thrown off when people smile or frown. But the eyebrow shape is “particularly resilient to certain (but not all) expression variations,” the researchers note in a separate, yet-to-be-published paper. And the eyebrow can still be seen, even when the subject has most of his or her face covered.

What’s not fully clear is how the eyebrow biometric responds to threading, shaving or waxing. Saavides, who responded to tons of questions about his research, says there’s no fullproof means to avoid this kind of spoofing. But Saavides is also working on sensors that can analyze multiple facial cues and features, while incorporating algorithms that detect the possibility of a person changing one or two of them. A pair of plucked eyebrows might be a weak match compared to the bushy ones the computer has on file — but the computer could also be smart enough to recognize they’ve been plucked.

Photo: Carnegie Mellon University

Long-Range Fingerprint Scanners

Long-Range Fingerprint Scanners

Most fingerprint scanners today require physical contact, but constantly being soaked with finger-oil and dirt can also muck-up the machines. For that reason, among others, one developer is working on a scanner that may one day read your fingerprints at a distance of 20 feet.

But first, scanners with a 20-foot distance haven’t hit the market quite yet. One machine called the AIRprint, made by Alabama firm Advanced Optical Systems, has a range of nine feet, and uses two 1.3 megapixel cameras that receives light in different wavelengths: one horizontally polarized, and the other vertically polarized. To sort out the different wavelengths, a device beams light at your fingerprints, which bounce back into the lenses, which then combines the separate wavelengths into a clear picture. A spin-off company called IDair also has a commercial scanner that reaches up to six feet and is marketed toward “security personnel.” IDair’s 20-foot-range machine is currently in development, and is described as functioning similar to satellite imagery.

The military is reportedly an interested customer. The MIT Technology Review surmised that Marines may use them for scanning fingerprints from inside the relative safety of an armored vehicle or behind a blast wall. It beats exposing yourself to the possibility of a suicide bomb attack. For the civilian market, that seems better than pressing your fingertips against a greasy scanner, if you’re comfortable with the idea of having your prints scanned from far away.

Photo: LetTheCardsFall/Flickr

Gait

Gait

Even before 9/11, researchers were floating that notion that you could pick out someone by how he or she walks. And after the Towers fell, Darpa made gait recognition one of the cornerstones of its infamous Total Information Awareness counterterror program.

The problem is that gait can be kind of hard to spot. A briefcase or a bum leg prevents the recognition system from getting a clear view. So filming someone walk didn’t make for a particularly reliable biometric system. Plus, the same person may have multiple gaits — one for walking, and another for running, say.

But the spread of smartphones has opened up a new way of identifying someone’s stride. Androids and iPhones all have accelerometers — sensors that measure how far, how fast, and with how much force an object moves.

“By using the accelerometer sensor in the cell phone, we are able to capture a person’s walking pattern. As it turns out, these patterns are very good biometric traits for people identification. Because it does not require any special devices, the gait biometrics of a subject can even be captured without him or her knowing,” write Carnegie Mellon University professor Marios Savvides and his colleagues in a recent paper. (.pdf)

In a small, preliminary study, Savvides and his fellow researchers at the CyLab Biometrics Center claim they were able to get a 99.4% verification rate with the system when the subjects were walking. 61% of the time, they were even able to match someone’s fast-paced gait to their slower one. In other words, you can run…. but with a phone in your pocket, it’s going to be harder to hide.

Photo: sfllaw/Flickr

Sweat

Sweat

The Army wants to see some sweat. No, not workout sweat, but sweat that can betray hostile intentions. In 2010, the Army awarded a nearly $70,000 contract to California security firm Irvine Sensors Corporation to develop software that can use sensors to recognize at “abnormal perspiration and changes in body temperature.” The idea was to determine “harmful intent in such military applications as border patrol, stand-off interrogation, surveillance and commercial applications” including surveillance at businesses and “shopping areas.” It’s a bit out there, and still very much in the research stage, but makes a certain kind of sense. Elevated stress levels could give a suspect away when scanned by hyperspectral sensors that read changes in body temperature.

Though a reliable system will have to work in combination with other biometric signals: threatening body movements, facial expressions, iris scans — all of these will also have to be factored into determining whether someone is up to no good. The Army contract, dubbed Image Analysis for Personal Intent, also sought to develop sensors that read these signs from a distance of nearly 150 feet. Perhaps a bit optimistic. But in 2002, a group of scientists in Minnesota managed to determine if military recruits were engaging in deception by scanning for changes in temperature around their eyes. So if you’re at all freaked out about the idea of sweat-scanners, now might be time for a cold shower.

Photo: Army

Advanced Face Recognition

Advanced Face Recognition

Most machines that scan and recognize your face require taking a good, clean look. But now researchers are working on replacing them with scanners that only need a few fragmentary snapshots at much longer ranges than ever before.

One machine that can do it is being developed by defense contractor Progeny Systems Corporation, called the “Long Range, Non-cooperative, Biometric Tagging, Tracking and Location” system. Once a person of interest is spotted, the system captures a 2D image of the person’s face before converting it into 3D. Then, once the image has been converted and filed in a database, it can be quickly recalled when the system spots the person for a second time. That’s because 3D reduces the number of pixels needed to analyze the image, speeding up the process and allowing the system to identify a person with a mere glance. The company also claims the machine works at more than 750 feet.

But a face alone may not be enough to recognize a person with a machine. Everything from lighting conditions to distance can make it harder to get a clear picture, especially if the person being scanned is on the move, in a crowd, or ducking in and out of buildings. Using 3D models makes it easier, but the technology will likely have to be combined with “soft biometrics” like an individual’s gender, height, weight, skin color and even tattoos.

Slightly creepy, no? Well, it gets creepier, like the group of Swiss scientists working on scanning facial features to detect your emotions. Developers at Carnegie Mellon University have also developed a mobile app called PittPatt –which has since been acquired by Google — that can scan your face and match it up with images you’ve shared over the internet, all in less than a minute.

Photo: Carnegie Mellon University

Rapid DNA Testing

Rapid DNA Testing

It used to be that DNA testing took months to perform, from the time when a DNA sample was picked up on a swab, to analyzing it and creating a DNA profile. Now there are machines that can do it in less than 90 minutes, and the Pentagon wants them.

This month, researchers at the University of North Texas are beginning to test a $250,000 machine for the Defense and Justice Departments, and the Department of Homeland Security, so that “casualties and enemies killed in action can be quickly identified in the field,” according to the Biometrics Research Group. But according to the October issue of Special Operations Technology magazine, rapid DNA testing systems co-developed by defense giant Northrop Grumman had already been delivered to “unspecified government customers” beginning back in August. One of those customers is believed to be the FBI. California company IntegenX also has a portable rapid-DNA machine that can analyze molecules taken off everything from clothing to cigarette butts. There’s a simple reason why police are so interested. For a burglar who’s breaking into houses and leaving a DNA trail, the machines could clue-in faster than the burglar is able to continue the spree.

Photo: US Navy

NYPD to begin testing a new high-tech device that scans through people’s clothing on the street

gun scanner
The NYPD’s newest asset in its battle against illegal handguns: a scanner that tests for radiation and can reveal a concealed handgun.

Get ready for scan-and-frisk.

The device, which tests for terahertz radiation, is small enough to be placed in a police vehicle or stationed at a street corner where gunplay is common

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS | Jan 23, 2013

By Rocco Parascandola

The NYPD will soon deploy new technology allowing police to detect guns carried by criminals without using the typical pat-down procedure, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Wednesday.

The department just received a machine that reads terahertz — the natural energy emitted by people and inanimate objects — and allows police to view concealed weapons from a distance.

“If something is obstructing the flow of that radiation, for example a weapon, the device will highlight that object,” Kelly said.

A video image aired at a Police Foundation breakfast Wednesday showed an officer, clad in a New York Jets jersey and jeans, with the shape of a hidden gun clearly visible under his clothing when viewed through the device.

The department will begin testing the high-tech device for use on the street. The device is small enough to be placed in a police vehicle or stationed at a street corner where gunplay has occurred in the past.

OUR NEW GUN LAW: RUSHED AND WRONG

Kelly, who first discussed the possibility of using this technology last year, said the NYPD has been working with the London Metropolitan Police and a contractor “to develop a tool that meets our requirements.”

“We took delivery of it last week,” Kelly said at the gathering at the Waldorf Astoria. “One of our requirements was that the technology must be portable …

“We still have a number of trials to run before we can determine how best to deploy this technology. We’re also talking to our legal staff about this. But we’re very pleased with the progress we’ve made over the past year.”

GOV. CUOMO SIGNS GUN CONTROL BILL 

The New York Civil Liberties Union last year raised concerns about “virtual pat downs,” and some security experts have said false positives could lead to unjustified stops.

rparascandola@nydailynews.com

NRA CHIEF WAYNE LAPIERRE RESPONDS TO OBAMA’S INAUGURATION ADDRESS

GUNTECH24N_2_WEB

 In this test, the device shows a gun being concealed under the garment of an NYPD officer.

FBI Uses Portable Device to Track Cell Phone Users

Stingray

allgov.com | Jan 14, 2013

by Matt Bewig

Even on dry land, Americans should fear the stingray. Not the flat cartilaginous fishes related to sharks, but the secret government surveillance device that not only tracks suspected criminals but also intercepts the private information of law-abiding citizens who happen to be nearby. Now, because of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and lawsuit brought by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) against the FBI, the government is slowly releasing thousands of relevant documents that are already raising alarms among privacy and civil liberties advocates.

The stingray came to public notice in 2011 when the FBI used a “cell-site simulator” to track down a suspect. This portable device, also called an “IMSI catcher” or a “stingray,” sends out a signal that fools nearby wireless phones into connecting with a fake network. It can then capture all sorts of personal data from all of those phones, including location data that can then be used to track a person’s movements in real time. A stingray can be handheld or mounted on a motor vehicle or an unmanned surveillance drone.

As the FBI has admitted to EPIC, because the stingray fools all nearby wireless phones into connecting with its bogus network and uploading private data to it, its use would constitute a “search and seizure” under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution and thus require a warrant. However, because the FBI argues that wireless phone users have no reasonable expectation to privacy, the agency says it does not need a warrant. The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the privacy of cell phone calls.

Enter the FBI’s ‘Stingray’ Phone Tracker, Able to Locate Cell Phones Even When Not In Use

In addition to (probably) violating the constitution, the use of stingrays is also prohibited by federal law. Although heavily redacted, the files reluctantly released by the FBI reveal snippets of internal Justice Department discussions of how to justify use of the stingray as compliant with the provisions of the Communications Act that prohibit “interference” with communication signals like those of wireless phones.

These documents demonstrate, according to EPIC attorney Alan Butler, that “there are clearly concerns, even within the agency, that the use of Stingray technology might be inconsistent with current regulations. I don’t know how the DOJ justifies the use of Stingrays given the limitations of the Communications Act prohibition.”

Nor is it just the FBI. According to a recent report, local police are “quietly” using stingrays in Los Angeles, Miami, Fort Worth, and Gilbert, Arizona. And likely other places, as well.

To Learn More:

FBI Documents Shine Light on Clandestine Cellphone Tracking Tool (by Ryan Gallagher, Slate)

EPIC v. FBI – Stingray / Cell Site Simulator FOIA Case (Electronic Privacy Information Center)

“Stingray” Phone Tracker Fuels Constitutional Clash (by Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Wall Street Journal)

Judge Questions Tools That Grab Cellphone Data on Innocent People (by Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Wall Street Journal)