What Does Obama’s Identity Management Vision Mean?

Posted by on May 29th, 2009

On the Internet, no one knows if your’re a dog, or so I’m told.  But does President Obama’s newly announced “Cyberspace strategy” herald a possible end to the days of anonymity (or for that matter Anonymous) on the internet?

The answer is, “Possibly”.

Along with his press conference, today listing Cyber-Security as a national security priority, the White House also released the 75 page “Cyberspace Policy Review”.  It all seems pretty straightforward, answering basic national security, infrastructure and financian concerns about various “cyber threats”.  (The validity of a lot of these threats is, of course, up for debate, but isn’t what I’m looking to address here.)   However, buried in the text is a somewhat scary bit of policy jargon:

10.  Build a cybersecurity-based identity management vision and strategy that addresses privacy and civil liberties interests, leveraging privacy-enhancing technologies for the Nation.

Now, to be frank, there’s a few scary bits throughout the document.  There’s a lot of wording that could support the growing of walled gardens in the private and public sector and the promise of more government regulation of the internet in the United States, but that bit sticks out to me.

An “identity management vision” is a means of regulating and more importantly authenticating your identity online.   This would mean the creation of some sort of regulatory agent that can assist in the establishment of authenticity standards in the hopes of allowing federal agencies the ability to tell if sexb0mb29@gmail.com, Captain Swing on myspace, and chimplover35 who comments on Digg are all in fact the same individual.  It’s, theoreticaly, the end of anonnimity on the internet.  (At least the US bits.)  Obviously it’s not the first time the US Federal government has shown an interest in policing identity on the internet, and it probably won’t be last, but it doesn’t bode well.

Io9′s Annalee Newitz has an interesting (and likely) take on the likelyhood of indentity policing ending up in the hands of a private sector company:

And here’s where my not-so-wild speculation about Facebook identities comes in. Many companies have turned to Facebook as an “identity management” system (including Gawker Media), allowing people to log into their services using their Facebook identity. The reason is simple: Most people only have one Facebook identity, and they stick with it. There’s a general notion that your Facebook identity is your authentic identity, or at least an identity that you keep over time, and that its characteristics can be traced back to who you are in real life. Therefore, having you log into every web service, from io9 comments to Digg to (possibly in the future) Paypal, is a way of managing your identities. Instead of having a separate identity for each of those services, you have one. Easy to manage, easy to trace.

Why shouldn’t Obama’s cyberczar just cut a deal with Facebook (and maybe a few other social networks like LinkedIn) and turn those profiles into your authentic identities? So you can send mail and buy things using your Facebook ID, and that’s how you’ll be tracked. Hey, you’re already on Facebook right? And you can set your profile to “private.” So it’s easy and “privacy enhancing.” (Never mind how easy it is to get around those privacy settings – pay no attention to that black hat behind the curtain.)

The scenario I’m describing is, in essence, how the Social Security Card became the twentieth century’s identity management system starting in the 1930s. These cards were not originally intended as ID cards, or as a way to authenticate your true identity. They were just a way to manage government assistance to those who needed it. But they became an ID card simply because everyone in the US had been issued one. When the government and businesses needed a way to track people’s identities, it became the easy choice. Showing your social security card meant that you couldn’t just come up with random new names for yourself every time you signed a form or took a job.

Though people in the US now think of the Social Security Card as the “obvious” form of ID, it took years for it to evolve from a simple social assistance card to an “identity management vision.”

Just as the (currently, temporarily scrapped) National ID card system would have been carried on the backbone of private interests, it’s entirely likely that any form of identity policing on the internet would end up being, by and large, maintained by a pre-existing entity in the private sector.   At first glance, a Facebook/US Government partnership seems unlikely, but does it really?   Newitz is right in claiming that this is exactly what happened with the Social Security Card.  This little white and blue piece of paper that most Americans posess quickly became a universal form of ID even though it was never intended to act as such.  (And in fact the card insists that a SSN is not an ID.)     And there are many, many companies that are currently using Facebook as identity sourcing or are looking at doing so.

Why not link your email addresses and your paypal accounts and your amazon information and your bank information to your Facebook account.  It’s safe and private, right?   While you’re at it, why not link your biometric information to your email account to your facebook account?  (Here’s the fun part — a lot of people already do that, and expect to see more push for email-based biometric security in the next year.)

Facebook is just one likely candidate for an increasingly likely scenario, and that scenario is one in which the powerful anonymizing factor of the internet is slowly reduced via public-private partnerships.  Partnerships which will be based on “convienence” and public safety.

On the bright side, Obama claims that he still supports net neutrality:

“Our pursuit of cybersecurity will not include — I repeat, will not include — monitoring private sector networks or internet traffic,” he said. “We will preserve and protect the personal privacy and civil liberties that we cherish as Americans. Indeed, I remain firmly committed to net neutrality so we can keep the internet as it should be, open and free.”

But those aren’t very comforting words when they’re released next to a document that encourages us to look back to the cold war, and discussed the importance of selling the idea of a national security cyber-threat to the American People.  It’s easy to say “I remain firmly committed to net neutrality…” but harder to accomplish when your policy documents outline how to convince the Internet-using populace  to allow internet regulations and promotes solidifying “who is in charge” of the internet.  (Those are just a few of the gems I noticed on a quick skim.)

Am I being reactionary?  Maybe a little.  But while the Obama adminstration has talked a good game regarding electronic civil liberties, he certainly hasn’t actually backed up the talk with actions, yet.  In fact, he’s done just the opposite with his support of enhanced wireless wiretapping powers and his appointment of MPAA/RIAA and staunch anti-P2P advocate Joe Biden as his VP.    While I’m not quite ready to go down to my local teabaggers meeting just yet, It’s obvious that electronic privacy is going to be an interesting minefield to watch Obama walk through.

On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.  Except Facebook.  And Linkdin.  And the FTC and LexisNexis and the CIA and the NSA and SEC.  Oh, and 4Chan.


Bomb Sniffing Rats

Posted by on March 30th, 2009

Too small to set of the bombs, but smart enough to indicated a bomb is present, Gambian poached rats are taught to sniff out explosive devices. Trained from five weeks of age, they can two days worth of work in only 30 minutes. The rats are already working in Mozambique, Africa.

Photo and link via telegraph.co.uk.


World Builder

Posted by on March 12th, 2009

Created by Bruce Branit, who shot in it a few days.World Builder involved two years of post-production work to bring it to this moment.

Sent to me via twitter by heresybob.


RFID Wardriving demo

Posted by on February 3rd, 2009

From Hack a Day, this video demos “reading and logging unique IDs of random tags and Passport Cards while cruising around San Francisco”:

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More details on this from The Register:

The $250 proof-of-concept device – which researcher Chris Paget built in his spare time – operates out of his vehicle and contains everything needed to sniff and then clone RFID, or radio frequency identification, tags. During a recent 20-minute drive in downtown San Francisco, it successfully copied the RFID tags of two passport cards without the knowledge of their owners.

Paget’s device consists of a Symbol XR400 RFID reader (now manufactured by Motorola), a Motorola AN400 patch antenna mounted to the side of his Volvo XC90, and a Dell 710m that’s connected to the RFID reader by ethernet cable. The laptop runs a Windows application Paget developed that continuously prompts the RFID reader to look for tags and logs the serial number each time one is detected. He bought most of the gear via auctions listed on eBay.

thanks to Vertigo Jones for the tip-off!


It’s going to get worse, before it gets better

Posted by on January 24th, 2009

No Future
photo by ~emimerx

Let’s start this thing off nice.  Firstly, a belated Happy New Year to everyone.  Personally, I had a freaking fantastic NYE, and I hope y’all did too. 2008 was a great year for me, and building on that, personally, 2009 was filling me with optimism.  So many great projects in the works, so much hope for the Future.

And then I turn on the News. Reality is a harsh mistress my friends.

And now I’m going to tell you all the ways in which we are totally fucked.

Firstly, we’ve got the news from NY, which George Rohac was kind enough to alert me to.

The New York Police Department wants to be able to shut down cell phones, in case of a terrorist attack.

Because, you know Mumbai.  The whole attack was apparently coordinated over mobile phones by handlers who were monitoring the Media.

Which you kind of need, given the attackers were allegedly dosed to the eyeballs on LSD and Cocaine. Making the thing sound more and more like a 24 script-writer’s wet dream.

So the NY police want to prevent a similar coordinated attack.  Does this make sense?  Yes and No.

No, because Terrorists analyse and exploit weak points to create maximum carange.  The best way to do this is by making every attack original. That’s why post-9/11′s hellish flight security measures only punishes the masses.  And those guys sure didn’t need mobile phones, did they.

Yes, because Obama. Here’s my first prediction for the year:  Copycat Terrorism is coming kids.

You can bet there’s armed and angry right-wing militias in the States studying every single bit of data they can on the Mumbai attacks. And thinking they can do it one better.  Have we forgotten who the first people to try to blow up the World Trade Center were. And when that was.  The Clinton era.  Those “evil Democrats” who want to take peoples guns away.

Al Qaeda et al have hardened troops from the battlefields of Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia. The US has a bunch of pissed-off Vets returning from Afganistan and Iraq.  How many people remember the post-WWII crime waves? We have a lot of trained killers out there again.

But let’s keep moving.  Let me tell you why blocking cellphones and filtering the Internet is the beginning of the end of this phase of civilization.

Corporate Democracy hates you.  Every single Democracy is deeply in bed with and funded by the Corporations.

The US passes the DMCA laws because Disney wants to sell more Mickey Mouse dolls.  Then through “Free Trade” it spreads around the world. France wants to filter the Internet so that Carla Bruni can sell more CDs.  Britain apes France, and Australia apes Britain. But of course they do it in the name of the children and the family.  Please.

It’s about CONTROL.  The State exists to command and control.

We are supposed to Trust in Authority.  But the illusion of Control is being eaten away.

Exhibit A:

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The Police, the fists of the State, caught red-handed executing one of it’s citizens.

Has this happened before?  No doubt.  What’s the big difference then? Not only was it witnessed by the train full of passengers, it was recorded by a great deal of them.This clip is just the best of many you can find on YouTube. 

This is evolutionary. If those Cops were more than just brutish thugs, if they had half a fucking brain, they’d have gone onto that train and taken every single mobile phone and video camera away.

As Evidence.

So let’s fast-forward a little.  Because you can bet that the band of brothers, those boys in blue, are mighty pissed off that one of their own had to resign like that. And they’ll be sure now not to go out that way either.  They will confiscate all the phones and video cameras from now on. But some bright soul will have already uploaded photos to Flickr, or even better using Zannel to post it through Twitter. Even better an impromptu citizen-journalist might be streaming the whole affair with Qik or its many clones.

That might work a few times.  Until the Police decide they need to be equipped with mobile cellphone jammers, nominally for the fight against Terror. Then second the shit goes down in front of a bunch of witnesses, on goes the jamming.

But Terrorism is bad, right.  We want to stop that.  It’s all for the Greater Good!

Exhibit B:

Well, let’s wander over to France for a minute.  A bunch of kids decide to drop out and live their own Future in a little village.

There’s a tenuous link to them involving some train derailments.  Trains were hurt, but there were no deaths.  So what happens?

..the French government claims that Tarnac and its small shop are the headquarters of a dangerous cell of anarchist terrorists plotting to overthrow the state. Images of balaclava-clad police swooping to arrest suspects in Tarnac were compared by bewildered villagers to a strange, rural action movie. The government hinted that locals were too gormless to have noticed the terrorist activity in their midst. But after weeks of controversy, supporters are rising up to defend the young people of the village.

Those kids aren’t ETA (the Basque separatists). They’re just saying no to the ‘rat race’ and finding their own niche to live in. Yet they are declared an Enemy of the State that must be crushed.

So let’s go back to the start; to Mumbai.  How did the word get out so quicklyTwitter and Flickr. What did the Government eventually try to stop happening?  You guessed it.  Would this have stopped the handlers coordinating the attacks? Given they were most likely getting their intel from CNN, no.  Would an immediate Media blackout have prevented this?  NO! Because you can bet your asses they had their own, separate cell watching from afar and reporting in anyway.

I repeat, these are well planned attacks exploiting observed gaps in the defenses of their target(s). 9/11 was accomplished with just box-cutters. The best defense is an armed and knowledgeable citizenry; all this just demonstrates the increasing power of mobile communications technology.

Are you still reading?  Did you think I’d forgotten about the Economic Collapse?  Don’t worry, I’m getting to it.

This is, as a Prime Minister of Australia once said, “the recession we had to have”.  This is the System collapsing. The Governments of the world can’t fix Global Warming; it is, quite frankly, all their fault.  They are agents of the Status Quo.

As Dr Horrible sez: “the status is far from quo”.

The next decade will be very interesting.  These are the Breaking Times. The Post-Industrial future is coming, whether people like it or not. You can look forward to more decaying strip-malls and empty shops in general.  eBay and it’s like will be where everyone shops. As everything slows down, people will be forced to prioritize.  Shopping as therapy will become a 20th relic.

The Future as I see it is peer2peer.  The answer is never Fear, but Love.  So I call for Revolutionary Optimism!

I implore you; skip the Corporations and buy from your fellow man as much as you can. Make your own clothes or buy them on etsy at least. Garden!  Barter! Hang out at local markets.  Cook for your friends.  Skip that crappy Hollywood blockbuster and veg out on the Internet instead.  Or with people in Real Life.

Reality is Fiction;  society is a social construct.  The Future has never been more in our hands. Since our species first stopped hunting and settled down to start Agriculture it’s been all about top-down control systems. But, Internet be praised, we are quite possibly positioned for the first time since then to change this. Technology is what defines us as being human; and we increasingly don’t need the Bureaucracy of the State to manage things for us. Instead, we can engineer and maintain solutions that run fine by themselves.

The State’s days are numbered!  Sadly, this most likely means it will become more violent in it’s death throes. The Evolution is not about burning shit down; it’s about obviating all the crap that’s got us in this mess to begin with.

Power to the People!

Thanks for listening; you’ve been a wonderful audience.


USB Condoms

Posted by on January 7th, 2009

Only a concept at this time:

Ding ding, yes it’s true. Condoms can significantly reduce the likelihood of you catching some nasty virus except this condom is designed for the digital kind. Computer viruses are just as virulent as the biological variety, just as insidious, and just as detrimental. The Condom USB is a device that acts as a stopgap between any USB enabled device and your computer.

Link and photo via yankodesign.com.


Futuristic Security Checkpoints Know What You Do Before You Do It

Posted by on January 1st, 2009

    - image via techfragments.com

New security check points in 2020 will look just like something out of the futuristic movie, The Minority Report. The idea of the new checkpoints will allow high traffic to pass through just as you were walking at a normal pace. No more, waving a wand to get through checkpoints. The new checkpoint can detect if you have plans to set off a bomb before you even enter the building.

How does it work?

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is developing a system called Future Attribute Screening Technology, or FAST for short. The system uses cameras to detect slight alterations in pupil sizes, blink rate and even direction of gaze. A laser radar called BioLIDAR measures heart rate and changes between heartbeats. The BioLIDAR can even monitor a persons respiration and track movements in the face, neck, and cheeks. Stressed out? A thermal camera will pick up on this too by gauging changes in the skin temperature.

The protoypes’ initial tests results are showing over 75% accuracy for deception or mal-intent by test subjects. Given these numbers, it might show up even sooner than 2020.

See also:

Link via /., photo via techfragments.com.


Behavioral screening — the future of airport security?

Posted by on December 2nd, 2008

Worrying about what you are wearing or carrying on the plane may soon be a thing of the past.

From CNN.com:

We are seeing a needed paradigm shift when it comes to security,” says Omer Laviv, CEO of ATHENA GS3, an Israeli-based security company.

“This ‘brain-fingerprinting,’ or technology which checks for behavioral intent, is much more developed than we think.”

Several Israeli-based technology companies are developing detection systems that pick up signs of emotional strain, a psychological red flag that a passenger may intend to commit an act of terror. Speedier and less intrusive than metal detectors, these systems may eventually restore some efficiency to the airplane boarding process.

One firm, WeCU (pronounced “We See You”) Technologies, employs a combination of infra-red technology, remote sensors and imagers, and flashing of subliminal images, such as a photo of Osama bin Laden. Developers say the combination of these technologies can detect a person’s reaction to certain stimuli by reading body temperature, heart rate and respiration, signals a terrorist unwittingly emits before he plans to commit an attack.

Be calm and think good thoughts as you pass through security.

See also:


Release the (robot) hounds!

Posted by on October 23rd, 2008

I’m not a particular fan of Alex Jones, whose conspiracies tend to fall wayy too close to the “Reptoids in the White House” flavor for my tastes, but this article was sent my way by a reader.  Steve Watson of Jones’ Infowars.net links to what appears to be a request for contractors to work on the development of a human-hunting robot program.

Paul Marks of The New Scientist asked police and military technology expert Steve Wright about the proposal:

“What we have here are the beginnings of something designed to enable robots to hunt down humans like a pack of dogs. Once the software is perfected we can reasonably anticipate that they will become autonomous and become armed.

We can also expect such systems to be equipped with human detection and tracking devices including sensors which detect human breath and the radio waves associated with a human heart beat. These are technologies already developed.”

Infowars’ Watson goes on to hypothize that the basis for such a robot would be Boston Dynamics’ “Big Dog”.


Next-gen DoCoMo phones predict your every move

Posted by on October 5th, 2008

From textually.org:

Japan’s NTT DoCoMo mobile carrier is working on new technology for its next generation mobile phones that will quite literally predict your every move. Their next gen phones will be stuffed full of senors that will be able to identify the movement that you’re making.

“Based on your actions you make when you move in a particular way (all of which the phone records via its sensors), sophisticated software will predict what your next actions wil be and will provide recommendations in advance. In other words, the phone will attempt to guess what you’re doing, and the predict what you’re about to do, which sounds just a little bit freaky if it works too well!

The work is part of Japan’s “Information Grand Voyage” research project, in which they’re trying to capitalize on the untapped data that can be harnessed through a world of sensors. Japan recognizes that Google effectively owns the Web’s information, and so cannot compete with existing digital info.”


Hostility Detector

Posted by on September 24th, 2008


    - photo via dvice.com

Here’s FAST (Future Attribute Screening Technologies), a system the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is testing that measures facial expressions, pupil dilation, pulse/breathing rates, and skin temperature to determine if someone has hostile intent.

Testing the system with 140 paid volunteers, DHS says it’s 79% accurate on hostility and 80% on deception. This is just creepy. Isn’t there a law about search and seizure, privacy, anything? Never mind the U.S. Constitution, just protect us from evildoers no matter what, Big Brother. What if someone is just angry at a roommate or girlfriend? It sounds like the DHS should borrow a new name: the Pre-Crime Division, lifted from fiction to fact, right out of Minority Report.

Travel happy, never angry.

Link and photo via dvice.com.


How the credit-card companies killed a Mythbusters segment on RFID vulnerabilities

Posted by on September 1st, 2008

No, the MegaCorps don’t want to keep you uninformed and ignorant of how vulnerable you may be. Whatever gave you that idea?

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via Cory@BoingBoing

See Also:


Satellites track Mexico kidnap victims with chips

Posted by on August 21st, 2008

Wealthy Mexicans, terrified of soaring kidnapping rates, are spending thousands of dollars to implant tiny transmitters under their skin so satellites can help find them tied up in a safe house or stuffed in the trunk of a car…..Mexico ranks with conflict zones like Iraq and Colombia as among the worst countries for abductions….The company injects the crystal-encased chip, the size and shape of a grain of rice, into clients’ bodies with a syringe. A transmitter then sends signals via satellite to pinpoint the location of a person in distress.

Most people get the chips injected into their arms between the skin and muscle where they cannot be seen. Customers who fear they are being kidnapped press a panic button on an external device to alert Xega which then calls the police.

Outside of Mexico, U.S. company Verichip Corp uses the same kind of implants to identify patients in critical condition at hospitals or find elderly people who wander away from their homes.

But Xega sees kidnapping as a growth industry and is planning to expand its services next year to Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela.

Link via reuters.com.


Building the Black Iron Future

Posted by on July 9th, 2008

The first time I ever heard of Shenzhen and the “Special Economic Zone” was when I was working for an international information clearinghouse that should remain nameless. It came up when I was facing the possibility of transferring to our Pan-Asia branch and living there part time. However, over the years, other than being the place where, chances are good, any random bit of tech you have on your desk was manufactured (your iPhone’s been there, as have many other Apple and IBM products, Wal-Mart items and the like) Shenzhen only popped back up on my radar a few months ago as one of the birthplaces of the new surveillance culture.

Chinese officials call it call it “The Golden Shield” and while it’s ostensibly a project of the Chinese Government, it’s being developed by familiar companies like IBM, AT&T, Nortel, Cisco, General Electric, Yahoo, Honeywell, and according to some reports, Google. What the Golden shield comprises is the largest integrated surveillance network in existence. It combines the existing “Great Firewall” which filters almost all net content into China with the “Safe Cities” initiative which includes cameras in all internet cafes, many entertainment venues, and in many cities (2 million cameras in Shenzhen alone by 2010) and a massive photo and biometric information database of all of China’s 1.3 billion citizens.

It’s a massive and lucrative project which is why Western companies are flocking to build a better democracy-free future for China, while here in the US they continue to sell a “freedom friendly” image. Meanwhile the “Golden Shield” has already been tested on examples like the Lhasa riots which recently left anywhere from 16 to 100 people dead as monks clashed with police. The Shield allowed CCTV footage to yield become identities and then locations of many monks and passersby involved in the rioting allowing Chinese police to quickly round up hundreds of people allegedly involved. The same security system is being used, of course, to protect the upcoming 2008 Olympics as well.

As Naomi Klein writes in the Rolling Stone article that many of my statistics are pulled from, these are the kind of companies doing business with China on the sly in order to testbed a new generation of biometrics technologies:

You have probably never heard of L-1, but there is every chance that it has heard of you. Few companies have collected as much sensitive information about U.S. citizens and visitors to America as L-1: It boasts a database of 60 million records, and it “captures” more than a million new fingerprints every year. Here is a small sample of what the company does: produces passports and passport cards for American citizens; takes finger scans of visitors to the U.S. under the Department of Homeland Security’s massive U.S.-Visit program; equips U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan with “mobile iris and multimodal devices” so they can collect biometric data in the field; maintains the State Department’s “largest facial-recognition database system”; and produces driver’s licenses in Illinois, Montana and North Carolina. In addition, L-1 has an even more secretive intelligence unit called SpecTal. Asked by a Wall Street analyst to discuss, in “extremely general” terms, what the division was doing with contracts worth roughly $100 million, the company’s CEO would only say, “Stay tuned.”

The good news, though is that the American Government, as they learn about these technologies is only too eager to strip mine them for ideas:

The revelation that China was constructing a gigantic digital database capable of watching its citizens on the streets and online, listening to their phone calls and tracking their consumer purchases sparked neither shock nor outrage. Instead, Walton says, the paper was “mined for ideas” by the U.S. government, as well as by private companies hoping to grab a piece of the suddenly booming market in spy tools. For Walton, the most chilling moment came when the Defense Department tried to launch a system called Total Information Awareness to build what it called a “virtual, centralized grand database” that would create constantly updated electronic dossiers on every citizen, drawing on banking, credit-card, library and phone records, as well as footage from surveillance cameras. “It was clearly similar to what we were condemning China for,” Walton says. Among those aggressively vying to be part of this new security boom was Joseph Atick, now an executive at L-1. The name he chose for his plan to integrate facial-recognition software into a vast security network was uncomfortably close to the surveillance system being constructed in China: “Operation Noble Shield.”

Empowered by the Patriot Act, many of the big dreams hatched by men like Atick have already been put into practice at home. New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., are all experimenting with linking surveillance cameras into a single citywide network. Police use of surveillance cameras at peaceful demonstrations is now routine, and the images collected can be mined for “face prints,” then cross-checked with ever-expanding photo databases. Although Total Information Awareness was scrapped after the plans became public, large pieces of the project continue, with private data-mining companies collecting unprecedented amounts of information about everything from Web browsing to car rentals, and selling it to the government.

Check out the rest of that excellent article for far more detail on the topic of surveillance culture in China. My goal isn’t to poke at China in particular. For example the draconian national firewall around our old friend Dubai (as well as Saudi Arabia, and Qatar) is built and administered by U.S. based company Secure Computing a.k.a. Smart Filter. Now leaving aside the possibly vastly hypocritical clash behind some of their senior staff’s personal lives (Google boingboing, adult baby, and smartfilter, if you care to) and the technologies they develop to limit internet access for others, once again we have a Western company (this one more public about it since internet censorship is their raison d’etre) implementing and developing censorship technologies overseas.

What prompts this little link-filled rant, then? Well, today the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 passed. This act, for those of you playing along at home or abroad, first of all offers up immunity to Verizon, AT&T, and several other telecom companies for their part in assisting the National Security Agency with warrentless wiretaps before and after the 9/11 attacks. The act then proceeds to arguably weaken oversight of domestic wiretaps and information collection. The Bill passed with overwhelming support, granting retroactive protections for invasions of privacy by a collection of telecom companies.

These are some of the same telecom companies and their interests that, as we’ve seen elsewhere, have their hands on the rudder of a different Web 2.0. One that resembles the satirical USIdent integrated internet/entertainment/surveillance solution from Southland Tales more than it does the Web 2.0 of a thousand blog entries. While it’s easy to see mainly the utopian or fantastic applications of a lot of the technologies we discuss and trumpet on here, so many of them have an equal footing in a parallel version of the future being grown as we speak by some of the same companies produce the cool new future gadgets.

This is one of the reasons I take the “find outbreaks of the future” mandate so seriously. First of all, outbreaks of the future are not always pretty; but secondly, by keeping our eyes open and aggregating this kind of information, we’re at least increasing the odds of being able to pick our own futures. Because honestly? I don’t want the futures that the people are offering “liberation” with jokes about surveillance are selling.

At least, that’s what I tell myself at night.


Rhode Island school turns kids into SPIMEs

Posted by on June 18th, 2008

From Natural News:

schoolA Rhode Island school district has announced a pilot program to monitor student movements by means of radio frequency identification (RFID) chips implanted in their schoolbags.

The Middletown School District, in partnership with MAP Information Technology Corp., has launched a pilot program to implant RFID chips into the schoolbags of 80 children at the Aquidneck School. Each chip would be programmed with a student identification number, and would be read by an external device installed in one of two school buses. The buses would also be fitted with global positioning system (GPS) devices.

Parents or school officials could log onto a school web site to see whether and when specific children had entered or exited which bus, and to look up the bus’s current location as provided by the GPS device.

I am all for the future, but not when it is being driven by Fear.

That being said, it would be cool to have a screensaver that shows your child and pet running around on a GoogleMap.

thanks for the tip-off Ryan Jarrell!


Highlights from the New Yorker Conference, “Stories from the Near Future”

Posted by on June 15th, 2008

The New Yorker recently sponsored a conference “Stories from the Near Future”.

Here is a selection of some of the archived videos:

  • NeurobioticsYoky Matsuoka, the director of the neurobotics laboratory at the University of Washington, discusses how brain signals can control prosthetic limbs and other advances in the hybrid field of neuroscience and robotics.
  • Saving the world through game designJane McGonigal talks with Daniel Zalewski about alternate-reality gaming.
  • Securing the CityNew York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly discusses anti-terrorism tactics.
  • 23 And YouLinda Avey and Anne Wojcicki talk with Michael Specter on genetics.

See Also:

Thanks for the tip-off George Rohac, Jr!


Bruce Schneier on The Myth of the ‘Transparent Society’

Posted by on June 8th, 2008

Bruce Schneier let recently in an opinion piece in WIRED:

Explained in books like David Brin‘s The Transparent Society, the argument goes something like this: In a world of ubiquitous surveillance, you’ll know all about me, but I will also know all about you. The government will be watching us, but we’ll also be watching the government. This is different than before, but it’s not automatically worse. And because I know your secrets, you can’t use my secrets as a weapon against me.

All aspects of government work best when the relative power between the governors and the governed remains as small as possible — when liberty is high and control is low. Forced openness in government reduces the relative power differential between the two, and is generally good. Forced openness in laypeople increases the relative power, and is generally bad.

But we all know this is rarely the case. He does provide an example of when it is though:

Seventeen-year-old Erik Crespo was arrested in 2005 in connection with a shooting in a New York City elevator. There’s no question that he committed the shooting; it was captured on surveillance-camera videotape. But he claimed that while being interrogated, Detective Christopher Perino tried to talk him out of getting a lawyer, and told him that he had to sign a confession before he could see a judge.

Perino denied, under oath, that he ever questioned Crespo. But Crespo had received an MP3 player as a Christmas gift, and surreptitiously recorded the questioning. The defense brought a transcript and CD into evidence. Shortly thereafter, the prosecution offered Crespo a better deal than originally proffered (seven years rather than 15). Crespo took the deal, and Perino was separately indicted on charges of perjury.

As he concludes:

Police routinely record traffic stops from their squad cars for their own protection; that video record shouldn’t stop once the suspect is no longer a threat.

Cameras make sense when trained on police, and in offices where lawmakers meet with lobbyists, and wherever government officials wield power over the people. Open-government laws, giving the public access to government records and meetings of governmental bodies, also make sense. These all foster liberty.

Who watches the watchers? Almost no one. Let us all see what little we can each do to change this.

I am talking about members of Anonymous uploading photos of the Scientology agents that routinely follow them after events.

Everyone having access to CCTV footage in cities like London; could not this be far more effective if crowd-sourced, and then citizens nearby alerted to help their fellows? An online Neighbourhood Watch?

Would it not be great if by logging in your position on BrightKite, you were also registered as being the nearest First-Aid provider?


Band uses CCTV’s to film it’s music video

Posted by on June 3rd, 2008

From Telegraph.co.uk:

Unable to afford a proper camera crew and equipment, The Get Out Clause, an unsigned band from the city, decided to make use of the cameras seen all over British streets.

They set up their equipment, drum kit and all, in eighty locations around Manchester – including on a bus – and proceeded to play to the cameras.

Afterwards they wrote to the companies or organisations involved and asked for the footage under the Freedom of Information Act.

Yet another example of ‘the street finding it’s own use for things’. Oh, and a novel way for the band to generate a bunch of publicity. The Song is not horrible either.

via /.


Billboards With Cameras Bring Us One Step Closer to “Minority Report”

Posted by on June 2nd, 2008

Advertising has always been an enterprise fraught with uncertainty. How can you know if all that money you’re paying is actually making you a return? Who’s actually even giving your advertisements a look? And are those people really paying attention? With some forms of media (e.g. on the internet), these questions are relatively easy to answer, but with other forms, like billboards, it’s still a significant gamble.

Enter billboard cameras, the type that can monitor not only how many people see a billboard, but what type of people they are too:

They are equipping billboards with tiny cameras that gather details about passers-by — their gender, approximate age and how long they looked at the billboard. These details are transmitted to a central database. Behind the technology are small start-ups that say they are not storing actual images of the passers-by, so privacy should not be a concern. The cameras, they say, use software to determine that a person is standing in front of a billboard, then analyze facial features (like cheekbone height and the distance between the nose and the chin) to judge the person’s gender and age. So far the companies are not using race as a parameter, but they say that they can and will soon. The goal, these companies say, is to tailor a digital display to the person standing in front of it — to show one advertisement to a middle-aged white woman, for example, and a different one to a teenage Asian boy.

Link via neatorama.com


RFID “virtual walls” could keep tabs on hospital assets

Posted by on May 26th, 2008

    - image via engadget.com

RFID has long since been a pretty common find in your modern day hospital, but now GE and CenTrak are teaming up to make the technology even more useful in those long, winding hallways. Simply hailed as RFID “virtual walls,” the creation enables venues to “track tagged mobile medical equipment down to a portion of a single room.” By providing sub-room-level distinction, personnel can locate hardware within a monitored area as tiny as 6- x 8-feet, and although it’ll likely be used to locate cardiac defibrillators and portable ultrasound machines, patients could theoretically be tracked, too. The new tech will be shown off at the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) Conference in San Jose next week, though there’s no word on how soon the duo will roll this stuff out en masse.

Link via engadget.com