Conference at UCB on Digital Privacy and Surveillance - March 6

Pan-Optics: Perspectives on Digital Privacy and Surveillance

March 6, 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m. 310 Sutardja Dai Hall, Banatao Auditorium

Featured Speakers: Rebecca MacKinnon, Senior Research Fellow, New America Foundation; Trevor Paglen, Artist, Social Scientist, and Author

Advances in drone aircraft, networked cameras, and recent disclosures about the NSA’s international and domestic surveillance activities have stimulated public protests, outrage from activists, and new policy discussions among elected leaders. This symposium will highlight emerging perspectives on visual privacy and consider the state of the art from a variety of disciplines and professions, including technology, journalism, filmmaking and the arts.

Though traditionally considered separate domains, visual and digital surveillance practices are being combined as machine vision, facial recognition and other technologies become more sophisticated and interoperable. Institutional surveillance by semi-autonomous drones and remote cameras, citizen video monitoring, and incessant photo-sharing and tagging on social networks enable perpetual documentation. The same tools can be used for both transparency and repression.

This symposium will bring together scholars and practitioners from a range of disciplines to discuss privacy protections, surveillance methods, and modes of resistance in a digital age. The program will feature two keynote addresses and two panel discussions that will explore emerging surveillance technologies and applications across a range of contexts, and then turn to resistant strategies employed by individuals and organizations in response.

Registration required: $20 General Admission,  $10 Faculty or Staff,  $5 Students

Follow up on Supreme Court gps+privacy case

From the NYTimes. Police Are Using Phone Tracking as a Routine Tool. By Published: March 31, 2012.

Law enforcement tracking of cellphones, once the province mainly of federal agents, has become a powerful and widely used surveillance tool for local police officials, with hundreds of departments, large and small, often using it aggressively with little or no court oversight, documents show.

A GPS tracker. The Supreme Court recently ruled that such a device placed on a suspect's car was an unreasonable search.

The Supreme Court recently ruled that such a device placed on a suspect's car was an unreasonable search (but sidestepepd the question of how to treat information gathered from devices installed by the manufacturer and how to treat information held by third parties like cellphone companies). The practice has become big business for cellphone companies, too, with a handful of carriers marketing a catalog of “surveillance fees” to police departments to determine a suspect’s location, trace phone calls and texts or provide other services. Some departments log dozens of traces a month for both emergencies and routine investigations.

With cellphones ubiquitous, the police call phone tracing a valuable weapon in emergencies like child abductions and suicide calls and investigations in drug cases and murders. One police training manual describes cellphones as “the virtual biographer of our daily activities,” providing a hunting ground for learning contacts and travels.


Farm surveillance for subsidy checking: the case in Europe

Europe's farmers receive payments for maintaining basic standards on the environment, food safety, plant health and animal welfare. In this BBC article "spying on Europe’s farms with satellites and drones" Lawrence Peter discusses the use of UAVs in conjunction with satellite imagery to validate and verify farmers' subsidies without having to send inspectors in person. They are not used everywhere: Austria does not use them, on the grounds that the shadows cast by very mountainous terrain sometimes make satellite images inaccurate. And Scotland, unlike the rest of the UK, decided against satellites because of the difficulty of getting enough clear weather for flyovers.


  • Agriculture accounted for 42% of the EU's budget in 2011 - about three-quarters of that went on direct payments to farmers, totalling 44bn euros (£37bn; $58bn)
  • In each EU country, at least 5% of farms must be inspected every year - and many check more than 5%
  • Satellites carried out about 70% of all inspections in 2010
  • Growth of satellite monitoring has cut number of infringements
  • EU officials say fraud accounts for only a small fraction of the irregularities - in most cases farmers overclaim because of a miscalculation

That was fast! Supreme Court rules on GPS & privacy

From the NYTimes today. The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously ruled that the police violated the Constitution when they placed a Global Positioning System tracking device on a suspect’s car and monitored its movements for 28 days.

But the justices divided 5-to-4 on the rationale for the decision, with the majority saying that the problem was the placement of the device on private property. That ruling avoided many difficult questions, including how to treat information gathered from devices installed by the manufacturer and how to treat information held by third parties like cellphone companies.

Walter Dellinger, a lawyer for the defendant in the case and a former acting United States solicitor general, said the decision “is a signal event in Fourth Amendment history.” “Law enforcement is now on notice,” he said, “that almost any use of G.P.S. electronic surveillance of a citizen’s movement will be legally questionable unless a warrant is obtained in advance.”

Previous wrap-up post on the case.

A wrap-up of the news surrounding Supreme Court's foray into GPS + privacy

United States vs. Jones raises questions about the limits of police searches, personal privacy and the use of new technology in law enforcement. At issue is whether police need warrants to attach GPS tracking devices to a cars to monitor suspects' movements for indefinite periods of time.

Stay tuned for more analysis. From NPR, some indication that the Supreme Court was not happy with un-warranted GPS tracking. The justices were told police could slap GPS devices on their cars and track their movements, without asking a judge for advance approval.

Also an interesting take from Wired: A number of Supreme Court justices invoked the specter of Big Brother while hearing arguments Tuesday over whether the police may secretly attach GPS devices on Americans’ cars without getting a probable-cause warrant.

While many justices said the concept was unsettling, the high court gave no clear indication on how it will rule in what is arguably one of the biggest Fourth Amendment cases in the computer age. The Obama administration maintains that Americans have no privacy rights when it comes to their movements in public.

Another informative opinion piece from the Washington Post.

Google acquires facial recognition technology company

Missed this earlier, but found it in prep for my privacy and GIS lecture. The article is excerpted here:

Google has acquired a seven-year-old company that develops facial-recognition technology for images and video, though the Web-search giant didn’t say what it plans to do with it.

Regarding face recognition, the spokesman said, “We’ve said that we won’t add face recognition to our apps or product features unless we have strong privacy protections in place, and that’s still the case.”

Google has said it built facial recognition technology for smartphones into a product known as Google Goggles, but withheld it. “As far as I know, it’s the only technology that Google built and after looking at it, we decided to stop,” said Google Chairman Eric Schmidt last month at a conference. “People could use this stuff in a very, very bad way as well as in a good way.”

Google Goggles is pretty sweet, by the way.

Privacy and the web

An interesting article about the use of social-media, such as facebook, for employment background checks.

The article points out that "some companies are mining photo- and video-gathering sites using facial-recognition software" so a person could still be identified by potential employers in seemingly anonymous photos.


The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed. Or maybe it is.

William Gibson (yes that one) in the NYTimes Opinion page, writes about Google, and the way it has changed how we interact with information and the world. It is a really interesting article touching on human choice, surveillance, and the catch-up game the law plays with technology. This visionary author of Neuromancer says "Science fiction never imagined Google..." and goes on to describe its omipresence, our ready participation in this process, and our discomfort at the result. He is a fantastic writer. Check it:

Google is not ours. Which feels confusing, because we are its unpaid content-providers, in one way or another. We generate product for Google, our every search a minuscule contribution. Google is made of us, a sort of coral reef of human minds and their products.

Wow. Here is another example of his engaging and illuminating prose:

Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon* prison design is a perennial metaphor in discussions of digital surveillance and data mining, but it doesn’t really suit an entity like Google. Bentham’s all-seeing eye looks down from a central viewpoint, the gaze of a Victorian warder. In Google, we are at once the surveilled and the individual retinal cells of the surveillant, however many millions of us, constantly if unconsciously participatory. We are part of a post-geographical, post-national super-state, one that handily says no to China. Or yes, depending on profit considerations and strategy.

The title of this post comes from his oft-cited quote in 2003 in The Economist.

*About the Panopticon from wikipedia: The Panopticon is a type of prison building designed by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in 1785. The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) prisoners without the incarcerated being able to tell whether they are being watched, thereby conveying what one architect has called the "sentiment of an invisible omniscience."

Year-end comments on self-location technology and privacy

As many in recent academic papers have pointed out (e.g. Sarah Ellwood, Jerry Dobson, Michael Goodchild) we seem, for a number of reasons, to be increasingly comfortable disclosing our location by "opting in" to technology that in addition to being very useful, also allows our surveillance. I am not talking Lucy Milligan-style gps necklaces here, but more common fare: gps-enabled cell phones, street view, cctv cameras and the like.  These technologies and our use of them might be changing our notions of our “reasonable expectations of privacy”. It is perhaps no coincidence that in this season for the media to summarize the year's news, there have been many interesting examples focusing on the interface between privacy and geo-location. Consider these:

  • Along those lines is the much posted recent revelation that Sprint has so far filled over 8 million requests from law enforcement for customer GPS data. Posted at Engaget and elsewhere.

Welcome to 2010, another exciting year in mapping technology no doubt.

Satellite Photos Show Cleansing of Syrian Site

Satellite imagery of a facility in Syria collected on August 5, 2007, left, and October 24.
Published: October 26, 2007
The New York Times

New commercial satellite photos show that a Syrian site believed to have been attacked by Israel last month no longer bears any obvious traces of what some analysts said appeared to have been a partly built nuclear reactor. Read More (NYTimes). ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I found it interesting how traditionally "filtered" news relating to wars/conflict found more accountability to the public after the integration of global communication systems into society. We saw it during the second Iraq War with "embedded" journalists, freelance journalism, and first hand accounts from soldiers utilizing digital cameras, cell phones, and blogs to relay uncensored information that once was filtered by those in power. With the availability of high spatial and temporal resolution satellite imagery it seems the public has one more weapon to keep tabs on our government and others. Cheers, Josh

Satellite Images Reveal Burmese Atrocities

I guess they're not just looking for lost hikers anymore..... Cheers, Josh  Hamlet no more.  A satellite image showing black scars in the middle of a forest confirm that a village in east Myanmar was burned down, most likely in a military raid earlier this year.Credit: 2007 DigitalGlobe By Yudhijit Bhattacharjee ScienceNOW Daily News 29 September 2007 The military dictatorship of Myanmar--also known as Burma--has consistently dismissed allegations of human-rights violations against ethnic minorities and other citizens. But new satellite images that show the charred remains of villages in east Myanmar and a buildup of refugees across the country's border with Thailand provide silent confirmation of those atrocities. Read more...

Speculative NSA Surveillance Map

The ACLU has released an article and map that speculate on the ways and means the National Security Agency might be spying on Americans. The map is especially interesting, showing known ports of entry for telecom data into the country, and potential points of NSA interception. I suppose it's largely rhetorical since it's almost completely speculative, but it's a powerful infographic nonetheless. Is this an abuse of cartography or a case study in its ability to simply convey important data?