People policed by robots: a dystopian future? Or 2021 reality in Singapore? Talk Liberation - Your Worldwide INTERNET REPORT (Issue 9, 2021)

EU votes to ban mass biometric surveillance while other actors push to normalize its use; see what Delta is up to and what happens when those you trust with your data let you down.

Talk Liberation dedicates this edition of our Internet Report to our treasured friend and colleague, Eynelys Garcia, who was killed in a hit-and-run this week. Eynelys was one of the kindest people you could meet and will be sadly missed. She was our Digital Media Team Coordinator and the sole supporter of her mother and sister who are of course devastated by her loss. We are doing our best as a community to support her family - if you would like to help too, please visit their GoFundMe.

Singapore installs patrol robots to police “undesirable” human behavior

The Singaporean government is testing patrol robots intended to monitor “undesirable behavior.” A three-week trial took place in September, in which two robots patrolled a housing estate and a shopping center. The robots blasted warnings to anyone engaging in what the government deems poor social behavior including smoking, improper parking and failure to engage in the proper Coronavirus social distancing guidelines. According to The Guardian, one robot targeted a group of elderly residents watching a chess match and blared “Please keep one meter distancing, please keep to five persons per group.” 

The installation of patrol robots has been met with criticism from activists and privacy experts. Digital rights activist Lee Yi Ting told AFP that the use of such technology gives people a sense that they must think twice about what they say and do in Singapore compared to other countries. 

However, the government defended its use of robots stating that the workforce is shrinking and therefore relying on technology can help reduce the number of officers needed.

Australia requiring selfies from locked down citizens

The health minister of Australia’s second most populous state, Victoria, announced the implementation of a new home quarantine check-in system. The “app-based program” will randomly call or send messages to quarantining Victorians and request a selfie, which must be sent within five minutes to track the individual’s geolocation via GPS. Those who fail to send a photo on time will receive a follow up visit or call from authorities.

Health Minister Martin Foley says the new program will be used in addition to the existing measures to ensure “that people are where they’re meant to be when they’re meant to be.”

Victoria’s new quarantine check-in app with “live face check.”
Victoria’s new quarantine check-in app with “live face check”

While still in its trial phase, the program is intended to monitor Victorians returning to Australia from foreign travel. The new experimental measure in Victoria comes at a time when Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the country must move forward and learn to live with the virus. However, human rights groups worry that data collected from home quarantine apps may be used for other purposes. Human Rights Law Centre and Digital Rights Watch have written to Australian health ministers over their concern of the use of facial recognition technology without the proper privacy infrastructure.

Twitter applies “intense” warning label to tweets about Assange assassination plot

The social media site Twitter announced it is testing a new feature that warns users if the subject matter of a conversation may be “intense” as Twitter claims it is learning how to better support “healthy” communications. The new experimental warning label was attached to a Twitter thread from Julian Assange’s fiancée Stella Moris. 

Warning label above tweet by Julian Assange’s fiancée Stella Moris.
Warning label above tweet by Julian Assange’s fiancée Stella Moris

The thread referenced the CIA’s assassination attempts against Assange, a story that was brought back into the news as a Yahoo News investigative report shed further light onto the CIA’s plans to target WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange and other WikiLeaks staff. The report, which includes more than 30 sources from within the intelligence community, reveals that attempts to assassinate Assange were taking place at the highest levels of the US government. 

Moris’ thread, which was accompanied by the new “intense” Twitter label, stated “Moral repugnance shouldn't stop at the CIA's plans to assassinate or abduct and render Julian #Assange..."

It is unclear what words or phrases triggered Twitter’s algorithm to label the conversation ‘intense’ nor is it understood if the new feature will be more widely implemented in the future. Assange remains in Belmarsh prison and his appeal hearing will take place on October 27 and 28, 2021.

Personal information of disabled Virginians leaked in data breach

The data of disabled Virginians was leaked on the Internet after The Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) had a breach of one of its online programs. The Individual and Family Support Program assists the family members of disabled citizens and provides resources, support and other services.

Just minutes after families logged on to the program’s website there was a data breach. One mother was applying for funds for her autistic son when she noticed that another individual’s information took the place of his profile, which included a social security number. The profile included a name, date of birth, address and other personal information that could be used to steal their identity. Other parents noticed similar problems and took to the Facebook support page to express their concern. DBHDS notified the family members of the situation and claimed to be working on solving the matter. 

However, this was not the first time there was a data breach involving The Individual and Family Support Program website. In 2019, there was a similar incident where some family information was exposed to other families who were also part of the program. The department’s IT team is working to determine the scale of the data breach as well as to notify the individuals impacted.

Biometrics falsely declare student dead - restricting food access 

In India, the Aadhaar identification system is required for access to vital services such as fuel and food rations, bank accounts and telephone SIM card purchases. Aadhaar has been plagued by scandals and cybersecurity issues since its widespread roll-out in 2018, as well as criticism by human rights organizations and high-profile security experts such as Edward Snowden.

One student from the Anantapur district found out just how disastrous the Aadhaar system could be, receiving a shocking cellphone message that his Aadhaar update application was rejected and he had been declared dead. Additionally, the message stated that his family members confirmed he was deceased.

Aadhaar is administered by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and is based upon biometric and demographic data that is intimately tied to the person. The student and his father met with various officials within government to resolve the issue, but were unable to resolve the situation. Without active Aadhaar identification, the student was not able to receive government rations and welfare.

His father lamented the situation, saying, “It has been three months since the death of my wife… and now even my son has been falsely reported as dead by authorities.” He also called on authorities to immediately rectify the problem.

European Parliament votes to ban mass biometric surveillance

Despite the increase in AI powered surveillance technologies being implemented in Europe, the European Parliament voted to support a ban on biometric mass surveillance. According to a report in TechCrunch, facial recognition technologies pose serious privacy risks and many MEPs are taking initiative to push back against the surveillance trend.

MEPs stated that EU lawmakers must respect privacy and human dignity by passing a permanent ban on the use of biometrics in public spaces and such technology should only be used to track citizens accused of a crime. Additionally, the European Parliament advocated for the ban of private facial recognition databases like Clearview AI, which is already being used by some police agencies throughout Europe. Predictive policing strategies based on behavioral metrics and social scoring systems were also under scrutiny among many MEPs.

However, the European Data Protection Board and European Data Protection Supervisor and several MEPs said that this proposal is insufficient and now Parliament urges for additional protections and safeguards for fundamental rights.

Parliament voted in favor of the LIBE committee’s report on Artificial Intelligence in criminal law sending a message as to what it will accept in the Artificial Intelligence Act, which will be discussed among EU Institutions. According to the resolution it calls on the Commission for “a ban on the use of private facial recognition databases in law enforcement.... a ban on any processing of biometric data, including facial images, for law enforcement purposes that leads to mass surveillance in publicly accessible spaces...” in addition to other regulations and prohibitions.

Delta Air Lines teams up with TSA to launch new facial recognition technology

Delta Air Lines is launching the “digital identity experience” at its headquarters in Atlanta, which allows TSA PreCheck and Delta SkyMiles travelers to pass through airport security and board their flight without ever having to show their ID. This new partnership with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will allow for a speedy pass through airport security through use of facial recognition technology.

The new technology was first utilized by Delta in early 2021 for travelers in Detroit. However, the technology has been tested by Delta for international travelers for more than five years, and in 2018 the airline launched its first biometric terminal in Atlanta, according to MSN

Customers must store their passport information and TSA PreCheck or Global Entry traveler number into the Delta app. Once passing through security, the customer’s photo is taken and sent to US Customs and Border Protection facial recognition matching services.

The airline claims it does not store any biometric data collected.

Massive Twitch data breach exposing streamers’ income

The popular streaming platform Twitch announced more than 100GB of data from the platform was posted on the Internet. Leaked documents shared on online forums show the earnings of top Twitch streamers who made millions of dollars through the streaming service. The documents date from August and September 2019 to October 2021 and name well-known streamers including CriticalRole, Canadian xQC and American Summit1g.

Several streamers corroborated the figures, which suggests that the material leaked is accurate. In a statement to BBC News, BBG Calc said, “The earnings list got my figure 100% correct.” Other streamers disclosed to BBC News that the information was either “accurate” or “about right.”

In a statement posted to Twitter, Twitch confirmed that a breach had taken place and indicated it was working urgently to better understand the incident. Additionally, Twitch stated that as of October 7 it has reset all stream keys. The leakers claim to have the source code for the platform.

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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