STATEN ISLAND DA BOUGHT CLEARVIEW FACE RECOGNITION SOFTWARE WITH CIVIL FORFEITURE CASH

THE STATEN ISLAND district attorney’s use of the highly controversial Clearview face recognition system included attempts to dig up the social media accounts of homicide victims and was paid for with equally controversial asset forfeiture cash, according to city records provided to The Intercept.

Clearview has garnered international attention and intense criticism for its simple premise: What if you could instantly identify anyone in the world with only their picture? Using billions of images scraped from social media sites, Clearview sells police and other governmental agencies the ability to match a photo to a name using face recognition, no search warrant required — a power civil libertarians and privacy advocates say simply places too much unsupervised power in the hands of police.

The use of Clearview by the Staten Island district attorney’s office was first reported by Gothamist, citing city records obtained by the Legal Aid Society. Subsequent records procured via New York State Freedom of Information Law request and provided to The Intercept now confirm the initial concerns about the tool’s largely unsupervised use by prosecutors. According to spokesperson Ryan Lavis, the DA’s office “completely stopped utilizing Clearview as an investigative tool last year.”

Yet the documents provide new information about how Staten Island prosecutors used the notorious face recognition tool and show that the software was paid for with funds furnished by the Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program. The program lets state and local police hand seized cash and property over to a federal law enforcement agency, whereupon up to 80 percent of the proceeds are then sent back the original state or local department to pocket.

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Ukraine is scanning faces of dead Russians, then contacting the mothers

Ukrainian officials have run more than 8,600 facial recognition searches on dead or captured Russian soldiers in the 50 days since Moscow’s invasion began, using the scans to identify bodies and contact hundreds of their families in what may be one of the most gruesome applications of the technology to date.

The country’s IT Army, a volunteer force of hackers and activists that takes its direction from the Ukrainian government, says it has used those identifications to inform the families of the deaths of 582 Russians, including by sending them photos of the abandoned corpses.

The Ukrainians champion the use of face-scanning software from the U.S. tech firm Clearview AI as a brutal but effective way to stir up dissent inside Russia, discourage other fighters and hasten an end to a devastating war.

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The creeping authoritarianism of facial recognition

In an effort to lower crime rates, American law enforcement is pushing to combine facial recognition with expanded video surveillance. Politicians worried about their re-election chances due to a perceived crime wave see the expansion as necessary. It’s a sharp swing from 2019 and 2020, when cities like San Francisco and New Orleans were banning or at least enacting limits on facial recognition technology due to privacy concerns.

Now, New Orleans plans to roll back its facial recognition prohibition. The Virginia State Senate gave law enforcement a late Valentine’s Day gift by passing a facial recognition expansion bill on February 15 — the Democrats who unanimously approved a ban on facial recognition last year suddenly changed their minds, as did five Republicans. New York City wants to expand its facial recognition program to fight gun violence.

Law enforcement has a long history of pining for any tool that might give it some sort of edge, citizen due process be damned. Supporters avow that the technology will help investigators find violent crime suspects, including those involved in the January 6 storming of the US Capitol. OneZero reported in 2020 that Wolfcom promoted its real-time face tracking software as perfect for police organizations looking to quickly identify suspects with outstanding warrants.

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IRS To Require Facial Recognition To View Tax Returns

The US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has partnered with a Virginia-based private identification firm which requires a facial recognition selfie among other things, in order to create or access online accounts with the agency.

According to KrebsonSecurity, the IRS announced that by the summer of 2022, the only way to log into irs.gov will be through ID.me. Founded by former Army Rangers in 2010, the McLean-based company has evolved to providing online ID verification services which several states are using to help reduce unemployment and pandemic-assistance fraud. The company claims to have 64 million users.

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Amazon patents show new level of surveillance

Amazon has registered 17 new patents for biometric technology intended to help its doorbell cameras identify “suspicious” people by scent, skin texture, fingerprints, eyes, voice, and gait.

The tech giant has been developing its doorbell security camera system since 2018, when Amazon acquired the firm named Ring and, with it, the original technology. According to media reports, Jeff Bezos’ company is now preparing to enable the devices to identify “suspicious” people with the help of biometric technology, based on skin texture, gait, finger, voice, retina, iris, and even odor.

On top of that, if Amazon’s new patents are anything to go by, all Ring doorbell cameras in a given neighborhood would be interconnected, sharing data with each other and creating a composite image of “suspicious” individuals.

One of the patents for what is described in the media as a “neighborhood alert mode” would allow users in one household to send photos and videos of someone they deem ‘suspicious’ to their neighbors’ Ring cameras so that they, too, start recording and can assemble a “series of ‘storyboard’ images for activity taking place across the fields of view of multiple cameras.

Aside from the possible future interconnectivity among the Ring devices themselves, Amazon’s doorbell cameras, as it stands now, already exchange information with 1,963 police and 383 fire departments across the US, according to Business Insider. Authorities do not even need a warrant to access Ring footage.

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You’d Better Watch Out: The Surveillance State Has a Naughty List, and You’re On It

“He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows when you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness’ sake!”

—“Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”

Santa’s got a new helper.

No longer does the all-knowing, all-seeing, jolly Old St. Nick need to rely on antiquated elves on shelves and other seasonal snitches in order to know when you’re sleeping or awake, and if you’ve been naughty or nice.

Thanks to the government’s almost limitless powers made possible by a domestic army of techno-tyrants, fusion centers and Peeping Toms, Santa can get real-time reports on who’s been good or bad this year. This creepy new era of government/corporate spying—in which we’re being listened to, watched, tracked, followed, mapped, bought, sold and targeted—makes the NSA’s rudimentary phone and metadata surveillance appear almost antiquated in comparison.

Consider just a small sampling of the tools being used to track our movements, monitor our spending, and sniff out all the ways in which our thoughts, actions and social circles might land us on the government’s naughty list.

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Australia Traded Away Too Much Liberty

Up to now one of Earth’s freest societies, Australia has become a hermit continent. How long can a country maintain emergency restrictions on its citizens’ lives while still calling itself a liberal democracy?

Australia has been testing the limits.

Before 2020, the idea of Australia all but forbidding its citizens from leaving the country, a restriction associated with Communist regimes, was unthinkable. Today, it is a widely accepted policy. “Australia’s borders are currently closed and international travel from Australia remains strictly controlled to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” a government website declares. “International travel from Australia is only available if you are exempt or you have been granted an individual exemption.” The rule is enforced despite assurances on another government website, dedicated to setting forth Australia’s human-rights-treaty obligations, that the freedom to leave a country “cannot be made dependent on establishing a purpose or reason for leaving.”

The nation’s high court struck down a challenge to the country’s COVID-19 restrictions. “It may be accepted that the travel restrictions are harsh. It may also be accepted that they intrude upon individual rights,” it ruled. “But Parliament was aware of that.” Until last month, Australians who are residents of foreign countries were exempt from the rule so they could return to their residence. But the government tightened the restrictions further, trapping many of them in the country too.

Intrastate travel within Australia is also severely restricted. And the government of South Australia, one of the country’s six states, developed and is now testing an app as Orwellian as any in the free world to enforce its quarantine rules. People in South Australia will be forced to download an app that combines facial recognition and geolocation. The state will text them at random times, and thereafter they will have 15 minutes to take a picture of their face in the location where they are supposed to be. Should they fail, the local police department will be sent to follow up in person. “We don’t tell them how often or when, on a random basis they have to reply within 15 minutes,” Premier Steven Marshall explained. “I think every South Australian should feel pretty proud that we are the national pilot for the home-based quarantine app.”

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Army Wants to Install Facial Recognition, Video Analytics at Child Development Centers

The Army wants to use facial recognition and advanced machine learning algorithms to monitor kids at base Children Development Centers and plans to launch a pilot program at Fort Jackson in the near future.

Army contracting officers posted a solicitation to SAM.gov for a vendor capable of developing a facial recognition and video analytics system and integrating that with the Fort Jackson CDC’s closed-circuit television system.

If successful, the system will be used for “monitoring the health and well-being of children in the CDC,” according to the performance work statement.

“The use of close-circuit television video-recording is common in CDCs for security purposes, however these feeds are not continually monitored during all hours of operation in live time,” the solicitation notes. “Instead, CDC staff log scheduled hours by watching the live video feeds periodically throughout the day for the mandated metrics.”

The center is hoping adding video analytics to the CCTV system will allow for continuous monitoring of students, “used as an addition to the human CCTV monitoring,” and capable of automatically alerting staff to situations as they arise.

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