Facial recognition company Clearview AI caught breaching privacy again, first in Canada now in Australia. Talk Liberation - Your Worldwide INTERNET REPORT (Issue 11, 2021)

Would you give police control of your social media accounts to be used “for any purpose..."? This is NOT a theoretical question.

New Zealand police caught impersonating people online

Law enforcement is taking over the social media accounts and email addresses of suspects and defendants in New Zealand in order to gather information. Defense lawyers told New Zealand media that they are concerned for their “young and vulnerable” clients who received a form from police called “Consent to Assume Online Internet Identity.” Completion of the form grants permission for police to “take control” of the individual’s social media and email accounts to assume their online identity. 

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The form states, “I consent to the use of my online identity and accounts for any purpose relating to an official investigation by the New Zealand Police.” Once signed, the individual is asked to provide police with the passwords, so the accounts can be accessed and the information associated with them stored. By signing the form, the individual “relinquish(es) all present and future claims to the use of these accounts.” Additionally, police will change the password so the original account owner can no longer gain access.

The New Zealand Bar Association and the Auckland District Law Society have expressed concern over this investigative technique undertaken by police. In addition, the president of the Criminal Bar Association, Fiona Guy Kidd, questions whether vulnerable people understand that they have a right to say no. Furthermore, she says that while the form asks for consent, it is important to understand the imbalance of power between law enforcement and the individual being confronted with the form.

Robinhood App hacked for extortion

The popular online trading app Robinhood announced a security breach in which an unauthorized third party accessed the personal information of nearly seven million users and “demanded a ransom payment.” According to a statement from Robinhood, the breach began when a hacker called customer support and used social engineering tactics to access customer support systems. Once the third party acquired access, they demanded an extortion payment.

Robinhood assured that the breach had been contained and believes that no social security numbers, bank account numbers or debit-card numbers were exposed in the breach. For the majority of users impacted by the hack, only their email address or full name was obtained, while some users had their name, date of birth and zip code accessed. According to the company, approximately 10 users had extensive account information exposed.

The company has notified law enforcement and is investigating the situation. According to CBS, Robinhood shares fell by 3.2% upon the revelation being made public.

Israeli government using facial recognition technology in Palestine

Israel’s army has implemented a data collection program using facial recognition technology, which targets Palestinians in regions of the occupied West Bank. The program was revealed when a soldier provided testimony to Breaking the Silence, an Israeli NGO which allows for former and current soldiers to recount their experiences in the occupied territories.

According to Breaking the Silence Advocacy Director Ori Givati, soldiers in the area of Hebron use specialized devices to take photos of every Palestinian they see. Once the photo is taken, they use a system called “Blue Wolf,” which produces one of four possible results. According to the report, “a red result means the individual should be arrested, yellow means the Palestinian should be detained while an army superior is consulted, and green indicates the individual is free to go.” However, if there is no result, it means that the person is not yet in the Blue Wolf system, and the soldier is prompted to collect more personal data on the individual.

According to Givati, Israeli soldiers are competing to see who can take the most photos. In a statement to AFP, he said, “We are talking about another layer of control. Another layer of things that we allow ourselves to do to the Palestinian people.” 

Supreme Court hears case on FBI surveillance

Muslims are suing the FBI for an undercover year-long surveillance operation taking place at a California Mosque, which led to no findings of terrorism or extremism. The court case allegedly stems from a 2006 incident when a man on the FBI’s most-wanted list was spotted at a mosque in California. This came at a time when law enforcement and intelligence agencies had a focus on the Muslim community. Subsequently, the FBI recruited an undercover informant, with a sketchy past, to pose as a Muslim convert and infiltrate the Islamic Center of Irvine and catch anyone recruiting or training extremists.

According to a report for This American Life, the FBI confirmed that the man called Craig Monteilh was an informant, and he secretly recorded audio and video of people in the mosque. Monteilh admitted to asking others in the mosque about jihad and even encouraged them to “carry out a terrorist attack in this country” and “bomb something.” This resulted in the other mosque-goers reporting him to authorities, and eventually three of the targets then sued the FBI.

The lead plaintiff, Sheikh Yassir Fazaga, told NPR that he and the other plaintiffs believe they were targeted for their religious beliefs. Fazaga, who is a psychologist, also found a remote control that turned out to be a recording device in his office, which was placed there by Monteilh

The US government claims the case cannot be heard because the evidence may pose a threat to national security. However, Fazaga said to NPR, “ ... national security just becomes this blanket that you can cover anything you want with it.” Fazaga wants all the material collected by the FBI, including therapy sessions, to be destroyed and claims the operation is a massive breach of trust.

Clearview AI in breach of privacy laws

Australia found facial recognition company Clearview AI in violation of federal privacy laws by secretly collecting citizens’ facial biometric data and merging it with its AI-powered identity matching service, which is sold to law enforcement and other agencies. 

Australia’s information commissioner and privacy commissioner Angelene Falk said the company was in breach of the Privacy Act of 1988 for collecting Australian citizens’ personal information, failing to notify them and for failing to comply with the Australian Privacy Principles. According to the report, in a public statement, Falk said:

“The covert collection of this kind of sensitive information is unreasonably intrusive and unfair. It carries significant risk of harm to individuals, including vulnerable groups such as children and victims of crime, whose images can be searched on Clearview AI’s database.”

Clearview AI has been ordered to cease the collection of citizens’ facial biometrics and to destroy the existing data. The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) and UK data protection agency, the Information Commission’s Office (IOC), have launched a joint investigation into the company. Australia’s findings come just months after Canada found Clearview AI in violation of Canadian private sector privacy laws.

Vaccine app shares data with Amazon and Royal Mail

The NHS mobile phone vaccine app in Scotland, which includes the user’s health information in the form of a QR code, shares user data with companies including Amazon, Royal Mail, Microsoft, ServiceNow and an AI facial recognition firm. Civil liberties groups and some politicians have voiced outrage over the implementation of the new system as Scotland now requires proof of vaccination to gain entry to sporting events, pubs and other public places.

The head of policy and campaigns at Liberty Human Rights Organization Sam Grant told the Daily Record, “...data (stored in the app) has been shared with third parties without people having the option to opt out or without even being made aware that this is happening.”

The privacy policy on the vaccine passport app states that the data collected is shared with several companies. Despite this, Scottish Liberal Democrat Alex Cole-Hamilton said that “data protection is virtually non-existent” and “everyone has a right to medical privacy.”

Amazon to settle on EU antitrust inquiry

Mega corporation Amazon is reportedly seeking to settle two EU antitrust investigations in order to circumvent large fines and potential court orders to alter its business practices. According to Reuters, those familiar with the matter say Amazon is participating in discussions with the EU competition regulator to address the concerns and offer possible concessions. 

In November 2020, the European Commission charged Amazon with using its “size, power and data” to acquire an unfair advantage in the marketplace against rivals that sell items on its online platform. This latest development comes a month after Amazon appealed its record setting $865 million USD fine for violating the EU’s data protection regulations. 

The appeal was filed on October 15 at the Luxembourg Administrative Tribunal, and according to the report, Amazon 'strongly disagrees’ with the General Data Protection Regulation’s (GDPR) decision. Amazon was found to have been in violation of the European data protection regulation for its processing of users’ personal data.

Lufthansa to adopt biometric boarding process

The European airline company Lufthansa Group is seeking to enable biometrics across airports of all sizes as it currently uses biometrics at eight airports in the US. However, the Covid-19 crisis has presented new challenges for facial recognition technology with the wearing of face masks by passengers. 

Product Manager of Regulatory Services and Biometrics at Lufthansa Patrick Sgueglia says, “We’re hoping that as passengers return to travel, biometrics will be the new normal for them.” Lufthansa is working with several IT partners including Amadeus, Idemia, NEC, SITA, Vision-Box, and others to create new facial recognition algorithms that detect a person’s identity even with a mask on. According to Sgueglia, the need for technology has accelerated due to Covid-19. 

Additionally, due to a “renewed focus” on health and safety, the airline plans to establish a system for a “touchless’ airport experience. Some passengers at select airports begin check-in by taking a selfie and scanning their passports on the Lufthansa or Star Alliance app and proceed through airport security, checkpoints and even board the plane using the facial recognition technology.

That concludes Your Worldwide INTERNET REPORT for this week! 

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This issue of Your Worldwide INTERNET REPORT was written by Taylor Hudak; Edited by Suzie Dawson and Sean O’Brien; Graphics by Kimber Maddox; with production support by David Sutton.

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