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Government Surveillance

TSA Visited Apple and Google To Discuss Digital ID Collaboration

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In recent years, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been actively engaging in collaborations with major technology companies, particularly Apple and Google, to explore the integration of biometric surveillance technology and the development of digital IDs for passengers.

During a recent visit to California, TSA officials met with representatives from Apple and Google to discuss the ongoing efforts to implement digital ID solutions on smartphones. Administrator David Pekoske led the TSA delegation, referring to Apple and Google as “innovation partners” in this endeavor.

This collaboration between the government and Big Tech represents another example of a “public-private partnership” aimed at enhancing airport security and streamlining the passenger experience. The TSA has been transparent about its collaboration with tech giants, emphasizing its goal of enabling passengers to use IDs stored on their phones to verify their identities at airports.

Google has confirmed its involvement in the collaboration, citing its Google Wallet app as a platform for storing government IDs and facilitating TSA PreCheck in select airports. Although neither Google nor Apple provided comments on the recent TSA post, Connie LaRossa, Google’s Senior Policy Manager, expressed enthusiasm about being part of the TSA’s vision for the future of travel.

According to TSA Chief Innovation Officer Steven Parker, digital IDs of this nature are expected to be accepted at airports in approximately 20 states. The primary incentive for travelers is the prospect of expedited airport procedures and reduced wait times, aiming to alleviate the enduring challenges associated with air travel.

In March, the Biden White House said there were effectively new rules that would allow travelers to opt out of TSA’s facial recognition process, “without losing their place in line.”

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Then TSA came back to state this was “not a new option” – and then the White House “updated” its statement to say this was not indeed new, but “continued” to be the case.

Reality on the ground, however, can be quite different, as Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, found out when he tried to avoid facial recognition at a Washington airport last year.

Reports the newspaper: “(Markley) was pressured by a TSA officer who told the senator to step aside while others were allowed to bypass him. The senator published a video showing the TSA officer’s actions on his website.”

Overall, the TSA’s collaboration with Apple and Google underscores the growing role of technology in modernizing airport security and enhancing passenger convenience. While the integration of biometric surveillance and digital ID technologies raises privacy and security concerns, the potential benefits in terms of efficiency and customer experience are driving the exploration of these innovative solutions.

Government Surveillance

Automakers Confirm Warrantless Location Data Sharing With US Agencies

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Toyota, Nissan, Subaru, Volkswagen, BMW, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, and Kia all have confirmed that they have tech embedded in their vehicles allowing them to turn over location data to US government based solely on a subpoena, without a judge having to sign off on an approval.

Volkswagen is the “outlier” here, in that this company will do the same if the data is six days or less old – a subpoena will do. But an actual warrant will be needed to turn over data that spans data collected over a week, according to reports.

Recognizing the need to address these concerns, Democrat Senators Ron Wyden and Edward Markey reached out to the Federal Trade Commission to investigate car manufacturers’ sharing of data with law enforcement agencies.

Their letter highlighted various scenarios where the sharing of location data could infringe upon individuals’ rights, including cases involving sensitive matters like abortion access and instances of stalking. The broader question remains: why is the fundamental right to privacy seemingly eroding, regardless of suspected violations?

Here is a copy of the newly obtained letter.

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Government Surveillance

Oakland Approves ‘Nationwide Mass-Surveillance System’, Agrees to Install 480 New Cameras

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The California city of Oakland has approved a plan to install 480 surveillance cameras equipped with automatic license plate readers in an effort to fight rising crime in the city. Most of the cameras, 290, will be deployed inside the city while the remaining 180 will be placed on freeways.

The cameras will provide law enforcement with the ability to track vehicles as they drive around the area, and can track them using license plates, car type, color, decals, and bumper stickers.

“We’re equipping law enforcement with the tools they need to effectively combat criminal activity and hold perpetrators accountable,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Friday. “[We are] building safer, stronger, communities for all Californians.”

The initiative, funded through a significant contract with the private surveillance firm Flock Safety in collaboration with the California Highway Patrol, gained approval from the Oakland Privacy Advisory Commission in October. This decision marked a shift for the commission, which had previously recommended in 2019 that the city discontinue the use of automatic license plate readers.

Flock Safety, headquartered in Georgia, is a private company focused on establishing a nationwide surveillance network. One notable feature of its services is the option for users to integrate their cameras into this network, facilitating easy access for law enforcement agencies across the country. Co-founder Garrett Langley has expressed an ambition for 25% of all national crimes to be solved utilizing their network.

The company has gained traction in the Bay Area, with an increasing number of Homeowners Associations, including those in Oakland, opting to utilize Flock Safety for neighborhood surveillance. Flock Safety has already deployed cameras in 2,000 cities across at least 42 states.

Critics, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), have voiced concerns about the implications of Flock Safety’s system. They argue that the proliferation of its automatic license plate recognition cameras represents a form of widespread, unregulated surveillance. Additionally, they caution that the system could be exploited for investigations spanning state boundaries, potentially impacting areas like immigration and abortion cases. There are also fears that it could be utilized to monitor the activities of political activists or individuals attending certain religious services.

In a separate incident, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit organization advocating for digital privacy rights, disclosed that the San Francisco Police Department had been granted live-feed access to a network of privately owned surveillance cameras ahead of protests related to the police killing of Tyre Nichols in 2020.

The ACLU raises a significant concern regarding the Flock Safety system compared to traditional automatic license plate recognition cameras: the company retains captured images for up to 60 days. In contrast, conventional systems typically delete photos immediately if the license plate does not match any law enforcement or AMBER alert lists. New Hampshire has implemented a policy mandating the deletion of photos not resulting in a hit within three minutes, a move applauded by the ACLU.

While most cities in California experienced a decrease in crime last year, Oakland witnessed an 18% increase, particularly in robberies and motor vehicle thefts. However, the effectiveness of increased surveillance in reducing crime remains uncertain. Interestingly, among the ten most surveilled cities based on the number of cameras per 1,000 people, five of them—Washington DC, Chicago, Albuquerque, Detroit, and Memphis—are among the top 35 most dangerous cities in America, including two in the top five, namely Memphis and Detroit.

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Government Surveillance

FBI admits they interrogate Americans over social media posts ‘every day, all day long,’

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Government surveillance practices have come under scrutiny once again, as revealed in a recent encounter between an Oklahoma woman and some people claiming to be FBI agents at her residence. Rolla Abdeljawad of Stillwater was visited by alleged FBI agents who informed her that they regularly scrutinize social media posts, quoting their routine as “every day, all day long.”

Abdeljawad’s encounter with the agents was captured in a video posted by her lawyer, Hassan Shibly. In the footage, she can be seen requesting the agents to display their badges on camera, a request which was declined and not explained as to why they would not provide proper identification. Despite her reluctance to engage in conversation, the agents proceeded to inform her that Facebook had provided screenshots of her online activity.

Expressing her concerns, Abdeljawad questioned the erosion of free expression rights, to which one agent replied affirmatively, stating their objective was to ensure public safety rather than to make arrests.

While the specific posts that caught the alleged FBI’s attention remain undisclosed, Abdeljawad had been vocal on social media regarding the conflict in Gaza, referring to Israel as “Israhell” and expressing solidarity with Palestine. In one post, she denounced what she called “Israhelli terrorist filth” and advocated for the destruction of Zionists.

Abdeljawad had also warned her social media followers, particularly those in the Muslim and pro-Palestinian communities, about potential government monitoring of their online activities. She cautioned against complacency and urged vigilance, claiming that the community was under surveillance.

The incident raises questions about the extent of government surveillance and the role of social media companies in colluding and providing said information to the government. Meta, Facebook’s parent company, has a policy of cooperating with law enforcement agencies under specific circumstances, such as court orders or emergencies involving imminent harm.

Abdeljawad’s lawyer, Hassan Shibly, commended her decision not to engage with the agents without legal representation and emphasized the importance of exercising one’s rights in such situations. However, he did caution against interacting with law enforcement without legal counsel present.

The encounter serves as a reminder of the delicate balance between national security interests and individual privacy rights, prompting concerns about the scope and implications of government surveillance practices in the digital age.

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