Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category
Radley Balko points out the unreliability of eye-witness memory and testimony, and how videos of police actions can indeed exonerate police officers accused of misconduct. The full article is linked to in Balko’s comment, but here’s the key event:
Fascinating developments in the recent NYPD shooting of a hammer-wielding assailant. Here is what two witnesses told the New York Times shortly after the shooting.
Mr. O’Grady spoke to a reporter for The New York Times and said the wounded man was in flight when he was shot. “He looked like he was trying to get away from the officers,” Mr. O’Grady said.
Another person on Eighth Avenue then, Sunny Khalsa, 41, had been riding her bicycle when she saw police officers and the man. Shaken by the encounter, she contacted the Times newsroom with a shocking detail.
“I saw a man who was handcuffed being shot,” Ms. Khalsa said. “And I am sorry, maybe I am crazy, but that is what I saw.”
As it turns out, surveillance video has since shown that both witnesses were wrong. It also appears from the video that the shooting was justified.
As the Times article points out, we’ve known for a long time that eyewitness testimony is unreliable, yet studies have shown that jurors tend to put more stock in it than any evidence outside of DNA. We usually hear about eyewitness mistakes in wrongful conviction cases, often in the context of false identifications due to improper lineup procedures or signaling by police (which can often be unintentional).
This story is interesting because it flips the narrative, and shows how an eyewitness’ biases can just as easily work against law enforcement. The Times went back to Khalsa for comment after the video showed she was wrong.
“I feel totally embarrassed,” she said on Thursday, after having seen the video.
She now believes that she saw the initial encounter and then looked away, as she was on her bicycle. In that moment, the man began the attack, which lasted about three seconds until he was shot. “I didn’t see the civilian run or swing a hammer,” she said. “In my mind I assumed he was just standing there passively, and now is on the ground in handcuffs.”
“With all of the accounts in the news of police officers in shootings, I assumed that police were taking advantage of someone who was easily discriminated against,” she added. “Based on what I saw, I assumed the worst. Even though I had looked away.”
As the article points out, there’s no reason to think that Khalsa was lying. False memories can seem just as real as real memories. This also likely explains why there were so many contradictory accounts of the Michael Brown shooting. People can see the same event, remember it very differently, and recount it very differently — and they can all be telling the truth about what they remember. . .
Andrea Peterson reports in the Washington Post:
When Myrna Arias discovered that her employer could track her movements even when she was off duty, she disabled the GPS-enabled app on her company-issued smartphone. That got her fired, according a suit filed by Arias.
In the lawsuit, Arias, a former sales executive for international wire-transfer service Intermex, claims that her boss “admitted that employees would be monitored while off duty” and even bragged about being able to track her driving speeds. She was “scolded” for disabling the app and fired not long after despite strong performance in other parts of her job, according to the lawsuit, which was first reported on by Ars Technica.
The privacy implications of that kind of 24/7 monitoring “would be highly offensive to a reasonable person,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed in the Superior Court of California last week.
Companies are increasingly using GPS-enabled technology to track their employees when they are not in the office. . .
Maybe it’s getting out of hand? What’s next, 24/7 webcam monitoring?
In Motherboard Eric Mill has an article of interest to those who use the internet:
In practice, the nonprofit plans to do this by gradually removing the ability for HTTP websites to use various web features. The Firefox developers are joined by the Chrome security team, who declared something similar in December.
Mozilla’s announcement has gotten a lot of attention, more than Chrome’s, and much of it negative. There have been various laments, but the most sincere and helpful one is Ben Klemens’ “HTTPS: the end of an era.”
But the Mozilla foundation’s HTTPS requirement is, to me, the real end of the DIY era. This is not a closed-source corporation, or a startup pushing its new tool, or the arrogant guy at the hackathon, but the Mozilla Foundation — ”Our mission is to promote openness, innovation & opportunity on the Web” — saying that if you are building web pages using tools from your desert island, without first filling in registration forms, then you are doing it wrong.
I understand the fear of raising the barriers to entry. As a child, I too fell in love with an internet made by everyone, and have spent my career, my volunteer work, and myhobbies trying to share what that love has taught me. I want children everywhere in the world to grow up feeling like the internet that permeates their lives is also in their service—a LEGO set in real life that you can buy with a week’s allowance.
Yet as an adult, I also understand that power for ordinary people is hard to come by and hard to keep. The path of least resistance for human society is for money to buy more money, and might to demand more might. Democracy is designed not so much to expand freedom as it is to give people tools to desperately hold onto the freedom they have.
Put another way: power has a way of flowing away from the varied, strange, beautiful little leaf nodes and into the unaccountable, unimaginative, ever-hungry center.
TCP/IP, DNS, and the web were each tremendous reversals of this trend, freely giving the means of production to all of us little leafs. It felt like the powers that be just didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late.
But when I look at the last few years, I see a very different web than the one I was introduced to:
- Verizon injects tracking headers into unencrypted traffic so it can sell your browsing activity to advertisers. This program started in 2012, after Verizon realized it “had a latent asset,” but wasn’t noticed until 2014.
- Other companies like Turn piggyback on Verizon’s tracking header to sell your data to even more people, because they “are trying to use the most persistent identifier that we can in order to do what we do,” says Turn’s chief privacy officer.
- Comcast injects ads into unencrypted traffic, because “it’s a courtesy, and it helps address some concerns that people might not be absolutely sure it’s on a hotspot from Comcast.”
- Andreas Gal (Mozilla’s CTO, in his personal capacity) has claimed that Yahoo and Bing “can acquire search traffic by working with large internet service providers” to harvest users’ Google search results to improve their own—and strongly implies that they used to do this before Google shut them out through encryption. Even if you support better competition against Google, I doubt you expected your ISP to make deals to sell your traffic to other corporations without your knowledge.
- The nation of India tried and failed to ban all of GitHub. HTTPS meant they couldn’t censor individual pages, and GitHub is too important to India’s tech sector for them to ban the whole thing.
And then there’s government surveillance. Still here, still real, and not getting better:
- The NSA scans just about everything that goes through the internet backbones and saves as much of it as possible, in collaboration with intelligence agencies around the world. This is called “upstream collection,” and the agency’s “posture” is to“collect it all.”
- The NSA’s upstream collection program, authorized under section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, has not been reformed. It will not be reformed by the current draft of the USA Freedom Act, in fact was endorsed by the only government agencywhose job it is to review it, and the most meaningful court victory so far—while a wonderful and important precedent—addresses a separate program that only touches data about telephone calls.
- After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, France is now making bulk internet spying explicitly legal and giving its intelligence services vast powers to work with ISPs to surveil the network.
- The United Kingdom is likely to do something similar, after Cameron’s strong re-election means he can make good on his pledge to make all online communication subject to monitoring.
When I look at all these things, I see companies and government asserting themselves over their network. I see a network that is not just overseen, but actively hostile. I see an internet being steadily drained of its promise to “interpret censorship as damage.”
In short, I see power moving away from the leafs and devolving back into the center, where power has been used to living for thousands of years.
What animates me is knowing that we can actually change this dynamic by making strong encryption ubiquitous. We can force online surveillance to be as narrowly targeted and inconvenient as law enforcement was always meant to be. We can force ISPs to be the neutral commodity pipes they were always meant to be. On the web, that means HTTPS.
As problematic as the certificate authority (CA) system that underlies HTTPS may be, its relative centralization allows for one of the very few systems of encryption available today that Just Works for regular people. In many ways, it’s no different than registering a domain: you pay a nominal fee to a usually for-profit organization to participate in a mostly centralized system.
Richard Barnes, the author of Mozilla’s HTTP deprecation announcement and policy,responded to Ben, saying:
I’ve been using a plug-in called “HTTPS everywhere” for quite a while now, and when I provide links they are now almost always HTTPS links.
Interesting article—particular the use of robot arms to use stone tools repeatedly so wear patterns can be examined. Emiko Jozuka writes at Motherboard:
There could be a treasure trove of archeological finds down in the Roman catacombs, but getting there means tackling radioactive gas dangerous to humans. And once you’ve unearthed something, it can take ages to figure out what you’ve actually found. Enter the archeology bots.
According to paleoanthropologist Radu Iovita, there are two major trends when it comes to archeology bots. One is the use of robots to get to places that are inaccessible or dangerous for humans, and the other is the development of robots for repetitive tasks. He’s particularly concerned with the latter.
Making it the finals of KUKA’s innovation awards in Hanover last month, Iovita’s KUKA LBR iiwa robot arm has been helping his team speed up the process of sussing out what Stone Age tools may have been used for in the past.
“The biggest problem in Stone Age archaeology is that we have only a vague idea of what people did with those bits of rock we call ‘tools’. In order to find out, we have to interpret microscopic wear traces on the rocks,” Iovita told me.Back when Iovita was a student, he carried out 1,000 strokes per session by hand with a replica tool. This is called “use-wear analysis” and involves repetitively performing a range of cutting techniques on various materials with a number of Stone Age tool replicas, so that another researcher can put the tool replica under a microscope to analyse the wear traces, and compare them to those on real tools to see if the patterns match up. This helps work out what the tool might have been used for.
“I remember how I would always lose count or speed up or slow down, even though I was specifically asked to use even strokes,” he said. . .
It makes sense, as Michael Byrne explains in Motherboard:
To see just how reasonable a self-driving semi-truck really is, it helps to first understand what an absurd proposition it is in the very first place to ship relatively tiny units of freight vast distances—usually under the watch of some sleepy, caffeine-addled dude. While there are of course good reasons (sometimes, at least) why this particular transportation inefficiency persists in the face of container ships and trains (each capable of hauling hundreds of containers at a time), it can still seem goofy, like digging a mineshaft with a plastic spoon.
As you may have already heard, the truck manufacturer Freightliner has unveiled the first-ever prototype for a semi-truck capable of fully autonomous operation, dubbed the Inspiration—”fueled by the energy of infinite inspiration” (lol). It’s already licensed to operate on public highways in Nevada, which two of them are doing as you read this. According to IEEE Spectrum, the acquisition of said license came only after some 16,000 hours of testing. The truck is able to follow GPS directions, obey traffic rules, and stop/slow down/speed up, as dictated by traffic conditions.
This is what’s categorized by the DOT as autonomy level 3: . . .
How do we protect ourselves against the police? Recording their actions can help, although police often ignore the law and confiscate such recordings and abuse those making the record. (The fact that this happens so often shows the degree to which the police have become not only militarized but also criminalized, acting illegally with impunity.) Alessandra Ram writes in Wired about apps that can help:
ON APRIL 12 police in West Baltimore took 25-year-old Freddie Gray into custody, where he sustained a fatal spinal injury that led to his death. On Friday, the Maryland DA charged the six police officers involved with manslaughter, false imprisonment, and in the case of one officer, homicide. Since Gray’s death, the city of Baltimore has been at the center of renewed public outrage over the role of racial discrimination and violence in the criminal justice system, and specifically, fatal interactions between black residents and police officers.
And like the shooting death of Michael Brown by a policeman before this, and the choking death of Eric Garner before this, and most recently the murder of Walter Scott in South Carolina, justice in the case of Freddie Gray seems to hinge upon camera evidence from bystanders.
With smartphones, we the citizens have in our pockets the power to hold our government responsible. Apps are cropping up to make it easier to videotape incidents like this. And organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and National Lawyers Guild are working to make sure we, the people with cameras in our hands, know our rights under the law.
First of all, it’s important to state up front that it is completely within a US citizen’s constitutional rightsto record interactions with police officers, according to the ACLU. The EFF has created a guide for knowing your legal rights to digital property. Unless you are on private property, you have the right to photograph, film, or record anything in plain sight. Officers are not allowed to confiscate this material—or even search your cell phone—without a warrant. Yet, law enforcement frequently confiscates these recordings, while harassing, detaining, and arresting those who fail to comply.
It is also true that if you film a crime, you may inadvertently become part of the investigation, and may become subject to attention from police yourself.
Take, for instance, the individual who filmed the choking of Eric Garner, Ramsey Orta. Orta has been in and out of Rikers since that tragic day. Speaking with VICE, Orta, who was friendly with Garner, decided to start documenting police misconduct in the summer of 2014 around his heavily-policed neighborhood of Staten Island. But since Garner’s death, Orta and his family allege that police have zeroed in on him, following close family members as well as his girlfriend. Police charged Orta with gun and drug possession as well as armed robbery. On April 6, the Free Thought Project wrote about Orta’s imprisonment. His case went viral, and soon a GoFundMe campaign had collected over $54,000 to free him. Orta was released on April 10.
If an individual is already marginalized in society, or lacks resources, the implications are huge: On Thursday, for instance, Mashable reported that police had arrested a transgender woman who was filming the Baltimore protests, and then forced her to stay in a male holding cell, remove her bra, and wear men’s clothing. Her bail is currently set at $100,000.
Apps for Witnesses
In 2012, the ACLU created an app that allowed anyone to film interactions between police and citizens and upload footage to the ACLU’s website. Similar apps have cropped up since then, with new features allowing for quick and automatic upload to the Cloud or to YouTube, in case of confiscation or destruction of your device.
Duncan Kirkwood’s app, “Hands Up 4 Justice,” allows people to discreetly record interactions with police officers during traffic stops, etc. The app integrates emergency contacts and GPS, uploads to YouTube or a Dropbox account, and is available for download in the iTunes store. Inspired by his own experience at a traffic stop, Kirkwood wanted to make it easier for people of color (who are disproportionately stopped by police on US highways) to record their interactions without fear of intimidation.
Inspired by Occupy Wall Street, “I’m Getting Arrested,” is a free Android app that instantly sends texts to emergency contacts that you’ve pre-programmed into your phone.
Other apps like “Swat,” “Five-O,” and “Stop and Frisk Watch” allow you to report police misconduct as well as educate yourself about your rights and connect with other users via community feeds. All of these were modeled after social justice movements like Occupy and Ferguson, but their founders developed them as a result of personal experience with police brutality.
Reports and recordings via . . .