ABUSIVE PARENTS SEARCHING for kids who have fled to shelters. Governments targeting the sons and daughters of political dissidents. Pedophiles stalking the victims they encounter in illicit child sexual abuse material.

The online facial recognition search engine PimEyes allows anyone to search for images of children scraped from across the internet, raising a host of alarming possible uses, an Intercept investigation has found.

Often called the Google of facial recognition, PimEyes search results include images that the site labels as “potentially explicit,” which could lead to further exploitation of children at a time when the dark web has sparked an explosion of images of abuse.

“There are privacy issues raised by the use of facial recognition technology writ large,” said Jeramie Scott, director of the Surveillance Oversight Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “But it’s particularly dangerous when we’re talking about children, when someone may use that to identify a child and to track them down.”

Over the past few years, several child victim advocacy groups have pushed for police use of surveillance technologies to fight trafficking, arguing that facial recognition can help authorities locate victims. One child abuse prevention nonprofit, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore’s Thorn, has even developed its own facial recognition tool. But searches on PimEyes for 30 AI-generated children’s faces yielded dozens of pages of results, showing how easily those same tools can be turned against the people they’re designed to help.

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Nebraska wants to test body and facial scans that work from a distance

The state of Nebraska is planning to test whole-body and facial recognition technology from far-off sensors. The project, funded by the Department of Defense, aims to test the accuracy of AI in identifying subjects from images and videos captured by stationary towers and drones positioned far from the subjects.

The project is backed by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) as part of its Biometric Recognition and Identification at Altitude or Range, aka Briar, program. The first phase, dubbed WatchID, of the three-part program will run for 18 months.

Researchers from the University of Nebraska’s Omaha and Lincoln campuses, University of Maryland College Park, Resonant Sciences, and BlueHalo Co. will participate in WatchID. The program will require 200 volunteers who will stand and walk in circles and straight lines in an open space. Once the first phase is successful, it will be expanded to require 600 volunteers.

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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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