Monday, November 10, 2008

Big Brother has arrived - Big time


They say that when the student is ready, the teacher will come. I am not sure how I came upon George Orwell's 1984 in my daily reading last week. I remember of course from school, but I must have been skiving during that lesson. Moreover, at that stage in my life, I lacked the maturity to understand the concepts. So it is just as well I came across it this week and reviewed it.

Since then, I see 1984 everywhere. Newspeak; what better term for our 'terrorist, anti-terrorist' redefinition of society. We no longer have un-constitutional laws which invade our dignity and rights; we have 'anti-terrorist' laws. Much of the time, the news of the world seems like an impossible mire of random puzzle pieces that don't fit together; but every once in a while a few pieces fit. And I get a tiny glimpse of the big picture. For real.

Here are the three puzzle pieces that fit this week:
  • Executive Order NSPD 59 (USA) which makes legal the holding of biometric information of everyone.
  • EU order to hold data on its MS citizens.
  • Manufacturing contract between USA and China to produce high resolution facial recognition security systems.
Some time ago, I came across a piece of EU news, that citizens data was to be made available to USA Homeland Security. After writing a few letters to my Member of the European Parliament, we succeeded in putting the issue on the parliament agenda. Here is a copy of the submitted amendment.
Amendment 42
Diana Wallis and Silvana Koch-Mehrin
on behalf of the ALDE Group

Joint motion for a resolution
Commission’s Legislative and Work Programme for 2009
Joint motion for a resolution
Paragraph 68 a (new)

Joint motion for a resolution Amendment
68a. Recognises that sharing data and information is a valuable tool in the international fight against terrorism, but also stresses the importance of safeguarding human rights and fundamental freedoms; regrets, in this context, that current negotiations between the EU and the US on concluding a data protection agreement, within the High-Level Contact Group, have taken place in camera without any transparency or democratic oversight and without any involvement of the European Parliament or of national parliaments and thus of European citizens; therefore insists that the Commission bring these negotiations to a natural close and make an appropriate legislative proposal to the Council and Parliament;
Why would the EU give away its citizen's data to the USA? Cui bono? I can certainly understand why the Commission would not want us to vote on it; noone I have spoken to is in favor of this subrosa agreement made by unelected officials.

I came across another news item from May of 2008 this week, which makes this little agreement have sense; this Executive Order is from the USA.

"Big Brother" Presidential Directive: "Biometrics for Identification and Screening to Enhance National Security"

My guess is that very few people are aware of this order which has been passed behind closed doors without Congressional approval. The full text of the order can be viewed at the above url, following here are excerpts from the article defining the 'Universal Enemy'. I highly recommend a reading of the entire text of the order.

In a carefully worded text, NSPD 59 "establishes a framework" to enable the Federal government and its various police and intelligence agencies to: "use mutually compatible methods and procedures in the collection, storage, use, analysis, and sharing of biometric and associated biographic and contextual information of individuals in a lawful and appropriate manner, while respecting their information privacy and other legal rights under United States law."

The Directive recommends: "actions and associated timelines for enhancing the existing terrorist-oriented identification and screening processes by expanding the use of biometrics".

The stated intent of NSPD 59 is to protect America from terrorists, but in fact the terms of reference include any person who is deemed to pose a threat to the Homeland. The government requires the ability:

"to positively identify those individuals who may do harm to Americans and the Nation... Since September 11, 2001, agencies have made considerable progress in securing the Nation through the integration, maintenance, and sharing of information used to identify persons who may pose a threat to national security.

The Directive is not limited to KSTs, which in Homeland Security jargon stands for "Known and Suspected Terrorists":

"The executive branch has developed an integrated screening capability to protect the Nation against "known and suspected terrorists" (KSTs). The executive branch shall build upon this success, in accordance with this directive, by enhancing its capability to collect, store, use, analyze, and share biometrics to identify and screen KSTs and other persons who may pose a threat to national security.

The executive branch recognizes the need for a layered approach to identification and screening of individuals, as no single mechanism is sufficient. For example, while existing name-based screening procedures are beneficial, application of biometric technologies, where appropriate, improve the executive branch's ability to identify and screen for persons who may pose a national security threat. To be most effective, national security identification and screening systems will require timely access to the most accurate and most complete biometric, biographic, and related data that are, or can be, made available throughout the executive branch."

NSPD 59 calls for extending the definition of terrorists to include other categories of individuals "who may pose a threat to national security".

In this regard, it is worth noting that in the 2005 TOPOFF (Top officials) anti-terror drills, two other categories of individuals were identified as potential threats: "Radical groups" and "disgruntled employees", suggesting than any form of dissent directed against Big Brother will be categorized as a threat to America.

In a previous 2004 report of the Homeland Security Council entitled Planning Scenarios, the enemy was referred to as the Universal Adversary (UA).

This project is due to be implemented one year from May 2008:


(19) Within 90 days of the date of this directive, the Attorney General, in coordination with the Secretaries of State, Defense, and Homeland Security, the DNI, and the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, shall, through the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, submit for the President's approval an action plan to implement this directive. The action plan shall do the following:

(a) Recommend actions and associated timelines for enhancing the existing terrorist-oriented identification and screening processes by expanding the use of biometrics;

(b) Consistent with applicable law, (i) recommend categories of individuals in addition to KSTs who may pose a threat to national security, and (ii) set forth cost-effective actions and associated timelines for expanding the collection and use of biometrics to identify and screen for such individuals; and

(c) Identify business processes, technological capabilities, legal authorities, and research and development efforts needed to implement this directive.

(20) Within 1 year of the date of this directive, the Attorney General, in coordination with the Secretaries of State, Defense, and Homeland Security, the DNI, and the heads of other appropriate agencies, shall submit to the President, through the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, a report on the implementation of this directive and the associated action plan, proposing any necessary additional steps for carrying out the policy of this directive. Agencies shall provide support for, and promptly respond to, requests made by the Attorney General in furtherance of this report. The Attorney General will thereafter report to the President on the implementation of this directive as the Attorney General deems necessary or when directed by the President.
Of particular interest is article 17:
(17) The Secretary of State, in coordination with the Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security, the Attorney General, and the DNI, shall coordinate the sharing of biometric and associated biographic and contextual information with foreign partners in accordance with applicable law, including international obligations undertaken by the United States.

The last clue comes from Naomi Klein article on China where Szenzhen has become the new surveillance model for America. The following excerpt can be found here.

Police State 2.0 might not look good from the outside, but on the inside, it appears to have passed its first major test. In Guangzhou, an hour and a half by train from Shenzhen, Yao Ruoguang is preparing for a major test of his own. "It's called the 10-million-faces test," he tells me. Yao is managing director of Pixel Solutions, a Chinese company that specializes in producing the new high-tech national ID cards, as well as selling facial-recognition software to businesses and government agencies. The test, the first phase of which is only weeks away, is being staged by the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing.

The idea is to measure the effectiveness of face-recognition software in identifying police suspects. Participants will be given a series of photos, taken in a variety of situations. Their task will be to match the images to other photos of the same people in the government's massive database. Several biometrics companies, including Yao's, have been invited to compete. "We have to be able to match a face in a 10 million database in one second," Yao tells me. "We are preparing for that now."
The companies that score well will be first in line for lucrative government contracts to integrate face-recognition software into Golden Shield, using it to check for ID fraud and to discover the identities of suspects caught on surveillance cameras. Yao says the technology is almost there: "It will happen next year."

When I meet Yao at his corporate headquarters, he is feeling confident about how his company will perform in the test. His secret weapon is that he will be using facial-recognition software purchased from L-1 Identity Solutions, a major U.S. defense contractor that produces passports and biometric security systems for the U.S. government. To show how well it works, Yao demonstrates on himself. Using a camera attached to his laptop, he snaps a picture of his own face, round and boyish for its 54 years. Then he uploads it onto the company's proprietary Website, built with L-1 software. With the cursor, he marks his own eyes with two green plus signs, helping the system to measure the distance between his features, a distinctive aspect of our faces that does not change with disguises or even surgery. The first step is to "capture the image," Yao explains.

Next is "finding the face." He presses APPLY, telling the program to match the new face with photos of the same person in the company's database of 600,000 faces. Instantly, multiple photos of Yao appear, including one taken 19 years earlier — proof that the technology can "find a face" even when the face has changed significantly with time. " It took 1.1 milliseconds!" Yao exclaims. "Yeah, that's me!"

In nearby cubicles, teams of Yao's programmers and engineers take each other's pictures, mark their eyes with green plus signs and test the speed of their search engines. "Everyone is preparing for the test," Yao explains. "If we pass, if we come out number one, we are guaranteed a market in China." Every couple of minutes Yao's phone beeps. Sometimes it's a work message, but most of the time it's a text from his credit-card company, informing him that his daughter, who lives in Australia, has just made another charge. "Every time the text message comes, I know my daughter is spending money!" He shrugs: "She likes designers."

Like many other security executives I interviewed in China, Yao denies that a primary use of the technology he is selling is to hunt down political activists. "Ninety-five percent," he insists, "is just for regular safety." He has, he admits, been visited by government spies, whom he describes as "the internal-security people." They came with grainy pictures, shot from far away or through keyhole cameras, of "some protesters, some dissidents." They wanted to know if Yao's facial-recognition software could help identify the people in the photos.

Yao was sorry to disappoint them. "Honestly, the technology so far still can't meet their needs," he says. "The photos that they show us were just too blurry." That is rapidly changing, of course, thanks to the spread of high-resolution CCTVs. Yet Yao insists that the government's goal is not repression: "If you're a [political] organizer, they want to know your motive," he says. "So they take the picture, give the photo, so at least they can find out who that person is."

Until recently, Yao's photography empire was focused on consumers — taking class photos at schools, launching a Chinese knockoff of Flickr (the original is often blocked by the Great Firewall), turning photos of chubby two-year-olds into fridge magnets and lampshades. He still maintains those businesses, which means that half of the offices at Pixel Solutions look like they have just hosted a kid's birthday party. The other half looks like an ominous customs office, the walls lined with posters of terrorists in the cross hairs: FACE MATCH, FACE PASS, FACE WATCH.

When Beijing started sinking more and more of the national budget into surveillance technologies, Yao saw an opportunity that would make all his previous ventures look small. Between more powerful computers, higher-resolution cameras and a global obsession with crime and terrorism, he figured that face recognition "should be the next dot-com." Not a computer scientist himself — he studied English literature in school — Yao began researching corporate leaders in the field.

He learned that face recognition is highly controversial, with a track record of making wrong IDs. A few companies, however, were scoring much higher in controlled tests in the U.S. One of them was a company soon to be renamed L-1 Identity Solutions. Based in Connecticut, L-1 was created two years ago out of the mergers and buyouts of half a dozen major players in the biometrics field, all of which specialized in the science of identifying people through distinct physical traits: fingerprints, irises, face geometry. The mergers made L-1 a one-stop shop for biometrics. Thanks to board members like former CIA director George Tenet, the company rapidly became a homeland-security heavy hitter. L-1 projects its annual revenues will hit $1 billion by 2011, much of it from U.S. government contracts. In 2006, Yao tells me, "I made the first phone call and sent the first e-mail." For a flat fee of $20,000, he gained access to the company's proprietary software, allowing him to "build a lot of development software based on L-1's technology." Since then, L-1's partnership with Yao has gone far beyond that token investment. Yao says it isn't really his own company that is competing in the upcoming 10-million-faces test being staged by the Chinese government: "We'll be involved on behalf of L-1 in China."

Yao adds that he communicates regularly with L1 and has visited the company's research headquarters in New Jersey. ("Out the window you can see the Statue of Liberty. It's such a historic place.") L1 is watching his test preparations with great interest, Yao says. "It seemed that they were more excited than us when we tell them the results." L-1's enthusiasm is hardly surprising: If Yao impresses the Ministry of Public Security with the company's ability to identify criminals, L-1 will have cracked the largest potential market for biometrics in the world.

But here's the catch: As proud as Yao is to be L-1's Chinese licensee, L-1 appears to be distinctly less proud of its association with Yao. On its Website and in its reports to investors, L-1 boasts of contracts and negotiations with governments from Panama and Saudi Arabia to Mexico and Turkey. China, however, is conspicuously absent. And though CEO Bob LaPenta makes reference to "some large international opportunities," not once does he mention Pixel Solutions in Guangzhou. After leaving a message with the company inquiring about L-1's involvement in China's homeland-security market, I get a call back from Doni Fordyce, vice president of corporate communications.

She has consulted Joseph Atick, the company's head of research. "We have nothing in China," she tells me. "Nothing, absolutely nothing. We are uninvolved. We really don't have any relationships at all." I tell Fordyce about Yao, the 10-million test, the money he paid for the software license. She'll call me right back. When she does, 20 minutes later, it is with this news: "Absolutely, we've sold testing SDKs [software development kits] to Pixel Solutions and to others [in China] that may be entering a test." Yao's use of the technology, she said, is "within his license" purchased from L-1.

The company's reticence to publicize its activities in China could have something to do with the fact that the relationship between Yao and L-1 may well be illegal under U.S. law. After the Chinese government sent tanks into Tiananmen Square in 1989, Congress passed legislation barring U.S. companies from selling any products in China that have to do with "crime control or detection instruments or equipment."

That means not only guns but everything from police batons and handcuffs to ink and powder for taking fingerprints, and software for storing them. Interestingly, one of the "detection instruments" that prompted the legislation was the surveillance camera. Beijing had installed several clunky cameras around Tiananmen Square, originally meant to monitor traffic flows. Those lenses were ultimately used to identify and arrest key pro-democracy dissidents. "The intent of that act," a congressional staff member with considerable China experience tells me, "was to keep U.S. companies out of the business of helping the Chinese police conduct their business, which might ultimately end up as it did in 1989 in the suppression of human rights and democracy in China." Pixel's application of L-1 facial-recognition software seems to fly in the face of the ban's intent.

By his own admission, Yao is already getting visits from Chinese state spies anxious to use facial recognition to identify dissidents. And as part of the 10-million-faces test, Yao has been working intimately with Chinese national-security forces, syncing L-1's software to their vast database, a process that took a week of intensive work in Beijing. During that time, Yao says, he was on the phone "every day" with L-1, getting its help adapting the technology. "Because we are representing them," he says. "We took the test on their behalf."

In other words, this controversial U.S. "crime control" technology has already found its way into the hands of the Chinese police. Moreover, Yao's goal, stated to me several times, is to use the software to land lucrative contracts with police agencies to integrate facial recognition into the newly built system of omnipresent surveillance cameras and high-tech national ID cards. As part of any contract he gets, Yao says, he will "pay L-1 a certain percentage of our sales." When I put the L-1 scenario to the Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security — the division charged with enforcing the post-Tiananmen export controls — a representative says that software kits are subject to the sanctions if "they are exported from the U.S. or are the foreign direct product of a U.S.-origin item." Based on both criteria, the software kit sold to Yao seems to fall within the ban. When I ask Doni Fordyce at L-1 about the embargo, she tells me, "I don't know anything about that." Asked whether she would like to find out about it and call me back, she replies, "I really don't want to comment, so there is no comment." Then she hangs up.

You have probably never heard of L-1, but there is every chance that it has heard of you. Few companies have collected as much sensitive information about U.S. citizens and visitors to America as L-1: It boasts a database of 60 million records, and it "captures" more than a million new fingerprints every year. Here is a small sample of what the company does: produces passports and passport cards for American citizens; takes finger scans of visitors to the U.S. under the Department of Homeland Security's massive U.S.-Visit program; equips U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan with "mobile iris and multimodal devices" so they can collect biometric data in the field; maintains the State Department's "largest facial-recognition database system"; and produces driver's licenses in Illinois, Montana and North Carolina. In addition, L-1 has an even more secretive intelligence unit called SpecTal.

Asked by a Wall Street analyst to discuss, in "extremely general" terms, what the division was doing with contracts worth roughly $100 million, the company's CEO would only say, "Stay tuned." It is L-1's deep integration with multiple U.S. government agencies that makes its dealings in China so interesting: It isn't just L-1 that is potentially helping the Chinese police to nab political dissidents, it's U.S. taxpayers. The technology that Yao purchased for just a few thousand dollars is the result of Defense Department research grants and contracts going as far back as 1994, when a young academic named Joseph Atick (the research director Fordyce consulted on L-1's China dealings) taught a computer at Rockefeller University to recognize his face.

Yao, for his part, knows all about the U.S. export controls on police equipment to China. He tells me that L-1's electronic fingerprinting tools are "banned from entering China" due to U.S. concerns that they will be used to "catch the political criminals, you know, the dissidents, more easily." He thinks he and L-1 have found a legal loophole, however. While fingerprinting technology appears on the Commerce Department's list of banned products, there is no explicit mention of "face prints" — likely because the idea was still in the realm of science fiction when the Tiananmen Square massacre took place. As far as Yao is concerned, that omission means that L-1 can legally supply its facial-recognition software for use by the Chinese government.

Whatever the legality of L-1's participation in Chinese surveillance, it is clear that U.S. companies are determined to break into the homeland-security market in China, which represents their biggest growth potential since 9/11. According to the congressional staff member, American companies and their lobbyists are applying "enormous pressure to open the floodgates."
Yes, it is now possible to access every detail about you, including medical records, from a
camera on a street corner. And this technology is being manufactured in China for export to the USA.

I can't help but wonder what plans the EU has for this given England's recent draconian new laws on the elimination of privacy. Similar laws have already been enacted in Sweden and Ireland requires all phone records to be saved for five years.

So maybe George Orwell was right about Big Brother; he just got the year wrong. The book should be called 2009.


adolfo said...

The government has decided to issue an anti-terrorist ordinance by the second week of october - instead of the bill it was planning to introduce in the winter session of parliament. The meeting was attended by home ministry officials including home secretary.

Internet marketing

Sheilanagig said...

Adolfo I can never find you in Internet were of course so right and I believe what you refer to has been passed.

Posted under...are you a terrorist on my site.

Thank you for your heads up and sorry to have taken so long to reply.

At times I dont check comments as I think there is noone listening.



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