This year’s “Enemies of the Internet” report, which Reporters Without Borders publishes every year on World Day Against Cyber-Censorship (12 March), spotlights the government units and agencies that implement online censorship and surveillance.
These entities, which include Pakistan’s Telecommunication Authority, North Korea’s Central Scientiﬁc and Technological Information Agency, Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communications and China’s State Internet Information Office, have used defence of national security as grounds for going far beyond their original mission in order to spy on and censor journalists, bloggers and other information providers.
Three of the entities that Reporters Without Borders has named as Enemies of the Internet are located in democracies that have traditionally claimed to defend freedom of expression and the free flow of information. The NSA in the United States, GCHQ in the United Kingdom and the Centre for Development of Telematics in India are no better than their Chinese, Russian, Iranian or Bahraini counterparts.
Online information could not be spied on and controlled without the help of private-sector companies. In last year’s Enemies of the Internet report, Reporters Without Borders spotlighted the Internet mercenaries, the companies that place their expertise in the service of authoritarian regimes in return for sums of money that are often colossal.
This year, Reporters Without Borders is also turning the spotlight on the “surveillance dealerships,” the trade fairs and forums that bring companies specializing in Internet surveillance and censorship with officials from authoritarian regimes. ISS World, Milipol and Technology against Crime are among the most notorious.
After these appalling practices have been exposed, action is needed to stop them. To this end, Reporters Without Borders has prepared a series of recommendations for governments and international bodies that are designed to help curtail the paranoid security excesses of recent years.
Attention must be drawn to the practices of these Enemies of the Internet, which usually operate in the shadows. As many people as possible must be made aware of them. This is needed so that international bodies, the United Nations, Europe and the treaties regulating the export of surveillance technology focus on these practices and adopt legislation to end them as quickly as possible. Reporters Without Borders invites Internet users throughout the world to join this initiative.
All practices will have to appoint a counter-terrorism lead in order to apply for enhanced services, Pulse has learnt.
An NHS England letter to all CCGs said all providers of commissioned services, including enhanced services, will need to specify their lead on the ‘Prevent’ scheme – the Government’s strategy for preventing radicalisation.
The new policy, issued by NHS England to all health authorities, states that GP practices must train a “lead” member of staff to recognise patients who are ” vulnerable to radicalization,” before notifying authorities.
Under the new rules, if a GP practice fails to send a member of staff on the “Prevent” counter terrorism course, part of their funding will be cut.
However, CCGs are now actively asking practices to name their lead before signing the NHS Standard Contract, which is used all services commissioned by CCGs, including enhanced services.
According to the national contract, Prevent leads will be expected to ensure that they have read and understand the Government’s Prevent strategy on counter-terrorism and make all practice employees aware of the strategy.
A letter from NHS England to all CCG clinical leads in September, informed them that they must ensure all providers of commissioned services – including GPs providing enhanced services – must have a named lead on the Prevent strategy in place in order to sign the standard contract.
The letter states: ‘As commissioners, you will be aware that Prevent delivery for each provider organisation is now included within the NHS Standard Contract for 2013/14 within Service Conditions paragraph 32.’
‘Please note this is mandated for all providers who deliver NHS services including non-NHS organisations.’
Former GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman questioned whether the requirement was meant to be a joke.
‘I think this a silly, totally pointless gimmick and I can see no inherent value in asking people who know nothing about something that is extremely serious to do this.’
Dr John Glasspool a Southampton GP raised the question of what the Prevent lead would be required to do in future and whether it was ethical.
‘I don’t see what role a GP should play in preventing radical Islam…we will lose the trust of our Muslim patients and it also raises the issue of patient confidentiality,’ he said.
Dr Maureen Baker, chairwoman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: “It is effectively asking GPs to be a government intelligence agency.”
An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘The health sector’s contribution to the Prevent strategy is one strand of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy (CONTEST). Prevent seeks to respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism to prevent individuals from being drawn into terrorism by ensuring they are given appropriate advice and support, and works with sectors and institutions, including, for example, healthcare, education and prisons where there are risks of radicalisation.
‘It is important that the heath sector can respond to these risks and enable healthcare workers to identify and provide support for those vulnerable to radicalisation. So far 44,112 health staff have received Prevent awareness training.’
‘Given the importance of the agenda and the role that healthcare staff have to play in protecting vulnerable people, Prevent is now part of the standard NHS contract. Any provider delivering NHS-funded services is required to ensure that Prevent is explicit within Safeguarding induction training for staff.’
Cyrus Farivar New Kickstarter-funded startup seeks to lower cost of GPS tracking.
A small company in Texas has produced the TraqCloud, a new, significantly cheaper way to track anyone or anything using GPS. TraqCloud, in its promotional materials, is marketed for luggage or kid tracking, but using such a tracker against a suspected cheating love interest, a sneaky business partner, or local law enforcement is now simple and inexpensive.
The electronics combine a GPS tracker with a GSM-based radio for real-time location reporting, all contained in a case roughly the size of a deck of cards. The TraqCloud is powered by a rechargeable battery, which the company says will last 1-14 days, depending on the frequency of location updates. All location data is uploaded to the company’s cloud service, where the TraqCloud can be tracked by anyone with a computer, tablet, or smartphone. The service can geofence specific locations, warning the owner if a TraqCloud either leaves or enters the property; it can also display a “breadcrumbs” view showing the TraqCloud’s location over time (with breadcrumbs in red if a tracked car is speeding at a specific location).
The real kicker here is the price: TraqCloud charges just $69 for the device plus $10 per month in service fees, which covers both the GSM data connection and the company’s cloud service. (Similar cheap devices are largely made by no-name manufacturers in Asia, selling on eBay.) For some time now, commercial products have made it easy for anyone to track anyone else for any reason, but those cost around $150 upfront, with a $20 to $50 monthly service fee after that. (Intrepid tinkerers have developed cheaper, DIY-basd solutions, particularly to track your own car.)
For the last 10 days, TraqCloud has tried to raise money for its product via its Kickstarter campaign, and the first 100 trackers sold for just $19, with the first three months of service free.
“It is possible for any type of tracking device to be used for the wrong reasons,” Michael Hamilton, a TraqCloud cofounder, told Ars. “We promote safety things like child location tracking, fleet tracking, luggage tracking, safe teenage driving, and theft prevention. Keep in mind we are just a couple of dads with an amazing idea focused on providing the best possible GPS tracking experience via our device and cloud service.”
“Violating this policy is grounds for termination of the service,” he added.
“Surveillance law is likely to be irrelevant”
Back in January 2012, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that law enforcement did not have the authority to place a GPS tracker onto someone’s car without a warrant. However, the same rule may not apply to individuals tracking other individuals (particularly those traveling on public roads); for now, such tracking remains a legal gray area.
“This strikes me as the classic glass-is-half-empty/glass-is-half-full scenario we so often face with new technologies and privacy,” Fred Cate, a law professor at Indiana University, told Ars by e-mail. “You can think of useful applications easily and at the same time envision enormous privacy invasions—keep an eye on an older adult with Alzheimer’s or become your own FBI. And as is so often the case with the development of new technologies, you don’t get the impression from the Kickstarter site that any attention has been paid to privacy or privacy-invading uses, again something that is very common with new tools and applications.”
Brian Pascal, a legal fellow at the University of California Hastings, told Ars that inexpensive surveillance devices like TraqCloud are “inevitable.”
“Over time, technology gets smaller, cheaper, and more available to consumers, and there’s no reason to think GPS is an exception to that rule,” he wrote in an e-mail. “That said, it is awfully easy to imagine many scary examples of how a $19 consumer-grade GPS unit could be misused.
“Moreover, because you are tracking your own device’s signal, even if it is in somebody else’s bag or car, current surveillance law is likely to be irrelevant, something else that is remarkably familiar,” he added. “Ironically, the keys to whether this succeeds or fails will probably be ease of use, battery life, and reliability—certainly not privacy. I could teach a whole privacy course based on this one device.”
Further, Ruthann Robson, a law professor at the City University of New York, told Ars that users of this product may find civil lawsuits knocking at their door.
“While criminal contexts may first come to mind, there are personal injury cases, workers’ compensation, employment, and many family law cases, including divorce, custody, and abuse and neglect,” she said. “The video jokingly refers to tracking one’s ‘significant other,’ but perhaps that’s not a joke, especially when it comes to intimate partner violence. We’ve been worried about government surveillance, but in a surveilled society, we might be able to do the government’s work by watching each other”
California-based Knightscope recently unveiled a line of K5 autonomous robots that it believes will “predict and prevent crime with an innovative combination of hardware, software and social engagement.”
Standing five feet tall — which gives the K5 its name — and weighing 300 pounds, the units have a look that resembles R2-D2 from “Star Wars,” but their casual design masks a highly advanced robot, with features including:
Autonomously Patrol Areas
LIDAR 3D Mapping
Thermal Imagining Camera
Night Vision Camera
Optical Character Recognition
Biological, Chemical, Radiation Detection
License Plate Scanning (1,500/minute)
Top Speed of 18 mph
“Data collected through these sensors is processed through our predictive analytics engine, combined with existing business, government and crowdsourced social data sets, and subsequently assigned an alert level that determines when the community and the authorities should be notified of a concern,” the company’s website states.
“We don’t want to think about ‘RoboCop’ or ‘Terminator,’ we prefer to think of a mash-up of ‘Batman,’ ‘Minority Report’ and R2D2,” says Knightscope co-founder William Santana Li.
“This is like R2D2’s evil twin,” said Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy and Information Center. “Clearly, this kind of surveillance technology has an unbounded capacity to collect personal information that a single patrol officer doesn’t.”
The company’s next move is to outfit a dozen beta customers with a dozen K5s each for a test run in 2014.