Arquivo da tag: Monitoramento

China’s Expanding Surveillance State: Takeaways From a NYT Investigation (NY Times)

nytimes.com

Isabelle Qian, Muyi Xiao, Paul Mozur, Alexander Cardia


Times reporters spent over a year combing through government bidding documents that reveal the country’s technological road map to ensure the longevity of its authoritarian rule.

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A New York Times analysis of over 100,000 government bidding documents found that China’s ambition to collect digital and biological data from its citizens is more expansive and invasive than previously known.

June 21, 2022

China’s ambition to collect a staggering amount of personal data from everyday citizens is more expansive than previously known, a Times investigation has found. Phone-tracking devices are now everywhere. The police are creating some of the largest DNA databases in the world. And the authorities are building upon facial recognition technology to collect voice prints from the general public.

The Times’s Visual Investigations team and reporters in Asia spent over a year analyzing more than a hundred thousand government bidding documents. They call for companies to bid on the contracts to provide surveillance technology, and include product requirements and budget size, and sometimes describe at length the strategic thinking behind the purchases. Chinese laws stipulate that agencies must keep records of bids and make them public, but in reality the documents are scattered across hard-to-search web pages that are often taken down quickly without notice. ChinaFile, a digital magazine published by the Asia Society, collected the bids and shared them exclusively with The Times.

This unprecedented access allowed The Times to study China’s surveillance capabilities. The Chinese government’s goal is clear: designing a system to maximize what the state can find out about a person’s identity, activities and social connections, which could ultimately help the government maintain its authoritarian rule.

Here are the investigation’s major revelations.

Analysts estimate that more than half of the world’s nearly one billion surveillance cameras are in China, but it had been difficult to gauge how they were being used, what they captured and how much data they generated. The Times analysis found that the police strategically chose locations to maximize the amount of data their facial recognition cameras could collect.

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The Chinese government bidding documents analyzed by The Times outline the authorities’ surveillance ambitions. Credit: The New York Times

In a number of the bidding documents, the police said that they wanted to place cameras where people go to fulfill their common needs — like eating, traveling, shopping and entertainment. The police also wanted to install facial recognition cameras inside private spaces, like residential buildings, karaoke lounges and hotels. In one instance, the investigation found that the police in the city of Fuzhou in the southeast province of Fujian wanted to install a camera inside the lobby of a franchise location of the American hotel brand Days Inn. The hotel’s front desk manager told The Times that the camera did not have facial recognition capabilities and was not feeding videos into the police network.

A document shows that the police in Fuzhou also demanded access to cameras inside a Sheraton hotel. In an email to The Times, Tricia Primrose, a spokeswoman for the hotel’s parent company, Marriott International, said that in 2019 the local government requested surveillance footage, and that the company adheres to local regulations, including those that govern cooperation with law enforcement.

These cameras also feed data to powerful analytical software that can tell someone’s race, gender and whether they are wearing glasses or masks. All of this data is aggregated and stored on government servers. One bidding document from Fujian Province gives an idea of the sheer size: The police estimated that there were 2.5 billion facial images stored at any given time. In the police’s own words, the strategy to upgrade their video surveillance system was to achieve the ultimate goal of “controlling and managing people.”

Devices known as WiFi sniffers and IMSI catchers can glean information from phones in their vicinity, which allow the police to track a target’s movements. It’s a powerful tool to connect one’s digital footprint, real-life identity and physical whereabouts.

The phone trackers can sometimes take advantage of weak security practices to extract private information. In a 2017 bidding document from Beijing, the police wrote that they wanted the trackers to collect phone owners’ usernames on popular Chinese social media apps. In one case, the bidding documents revealed that the police from a county in Guangdong bought phone trackers with the hope of detecting a Uyghur-to-Chinese dictionary app on phones. This information would indicate that the phone most likely belonged to someone who is a part of the heavily surveilled and oppressed Uyghur ethnic minority. The Times found a dramatic expansion of this technology by Chinese authorities over the past seven years. As of today, all 31 of mainland China’s provinces and regions use phone trackers.

The police in China are starting to collect voice prints using sound recorders attached to their facial recognition cameras. In the southeast city of Zhongshan, the police wrote in a bidding document that they wanted devices that could record audio from at least a 300-foot radius around cameras. Software would then analyze the voice prints and add them to a database. Police boasted that when combined with facial analysis, they could help pinpoint suspects faster.

In the name of tracking criminals — which are often loosely defined by Chinese authorities and can include political dissidents — the Chinese police are purchasing equipment to build large-scale iris-scan and DNA databases.

The first regionwide iris database — which has the capacity to hold iris samples of up to 30 million people — was built around 2017 in Xinjiang, home to the Uyghur ethnic minority. Online news reports show that the same contractor later won other government contracts to build large databases across the country. The company did not respond to The Times’s request for comment.

The Chinese police are also widely collecting DNA samples from men. Because the Y chromosome is passed down with few mutations, when the police have the y-DNA profile of one man, they also have that of a few generations along the paternal lines in his family. Experts said that while many other countries use this trait to aid criminal investigations, China’s approach stands out with its singular focus on collecting as many samples as possible.

We traced the earliest effort to build large male DNA databases to Henan Province in 2014. By 2022, bidding documents analyzed by The Times showed that at least 25 out of 31 provinces and regions had built such databases.

The Chinese authorities are realistic about their technological limitations. According to one bidding document, the Ministry of Public Security, China’s top police agency, believed the country’s video surveillance systems still lacked analytical capabilities. One of the biggest problems they identified was that the data had not been centralized.

The bidding documents reveal that the government actively seeks products and services to improve consolidation. The Times obtained an internal product presentation from Megvii, one of the largest surveillance contractors in China. The presentation shows software that takes various pieces of data collected about a person and displays their movements, clothing, vehicles, mobile device information and social connections.

In a statement to The Times, Megvii said it was concerned about making communities safer and “not about monitoring any particular group or individual.” But the Times investigation found that this product was already being used by Chinese police. It creates the type of personal dossier authorities could generate for anyone, that could be made accessible to officials across the country.

China’s Ministry of Public Security did not respond to faxed requests for comment sent to its headquarters in Beijing, nor did five local police departments or a local government office named in the investigation.

How next-gen satellites are transforming our view of climate change (CNET)

cnet.com

Megan Wollerton – Jan. 18 2022


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Robert Rodriguez/CNET
As more frequent and more severe storms erode coastlines, mapmakers must adapt quickly.

A shrinking swath of coastline in Washington state has a regrettable nickname: Washaway Beach. It’s named not for what’s there, but rather for what isn’t. Insatiable Pacific Ocean currents have taken greedy bites out of the land over the past century.

Washaway Beach’s disappearing shore isn’t measured in centimeters or inches. You can’t track the changes with a hardware store measuring stick. Residents of the area, roughly two and a half hours southwest of Seattle, are watching their homes and businesses get swallowed by the sea at an average rate of 100 feet per year; that’s about the height of a 10-story building. It’s the fastest-eroding place in the western United States.

Washaway Beach is an extreme case of erosion. Many factors contribute to its rapid decline. But the quickening march of climate change, including rising sea levels and more frequent and severe storms, poses a growing threat to coastal communities everywhere. 

I’ve never been to Washaway Beach. I’m hearing about it for the first time from Peter Doucette, the acting director for the Earth Resources Observation and Science Center at the US Geological Survey. Doucette is showing me over Zoom a colorful animated map of how the community changed between 1985 and 2017. The water eats away at the map’s multicolored patches. The brown beaches, red developed areas and light blue freshwater bogs evaporate in the Pacific’s 32-year sprint to wipe out the town. It’s jarring to watch how quickly the land dissolves into the deep blue as the ocean takes over. 

Watch Washaway Beach disappear. USGS

Scientists didn’t have the tech to visualize changes like this even five or 10 years ago, though they had the data. “This is the power of using the data from time; it’s taking advantage of the time dimension, which requires a lot of computing power … but we have that now,” Doucette explains. 

Faster satellites, sharper images taken in near real-time and advanced computing techniques are making it possible for mapmakers to redraw Washaway Beach as soon as coastal changes occur. Emerging technologies will help scientists predict what could happen to it in the future, just like a weather report. 

For coastal residents around the world, or anyone living in an area susceptible to extreme weather events, this type of mapping could save lives. Up-to-date maps can provide crucial information for first responders needing to traverse areas hit by natural disasters; residents and visitors need regular, ongoing updates to adapt to a changing landscape. 

For anyone living in areas less directly affected by the climate crisis, maps that show change over time provide a crucial bridge to understanding what’s really happening in other places, and how quickly. 

“By helping people visualize how the world is changing, maybe that will give them a better understanding of climate change as a whole,” says Tanya Harrison, director of science strategy at Planet, a private satellite imagery company. “How is your neighborhood being affected? How is your grandmother’s house being affected? Maybe she lives on the other side of the country or the other side of the world. In a way, that can kind of make this a little bit more personal.”

From clay tablets to satellites

Maps aren’t easy to define. They’re squishy things, molded by the minds of the people who create them. Imperfect representations of our world. One part art; one part science.

Still, they give us a baseline for decision-making, whether it’s finding the closest coffee shop, climbing a mountain or helping people understand something more serious, like climate change.

“[Maps are] such a great intuitive way to gather information and humans are really good at understanding spatial information presented in that way,” says Mike Tischler, director of the National Geospatial Program at the US Geological Survey. “You want to know what’s over the ridge, you want to know what’s around the bend, you want to know where things are.” That’s probably why maps have been around for thousands of years. 

A clay tablet known as the Babylonian Map of the World, or Imago Mundi, is the oldest known map of the world. It was discovered in Iraq and dates back to about 600 B.C.

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The Babylonian Map of the World is the oldest map of the world. The Trustees of the British Museum

Modern mapmaking got its start in 1852, when French army officer Aimé Laussedat created the first maps with photographs. Laussedat also experimented with aerial photography, sticking cameras on kites and balloons. As air travel became more sophisticated, aerial photography transitioned from balloons to planes in World War I and World War II and, eventually, to satellites in the 1970s. 

Nowadays, aerial photography is more automated than it was when ground crews launched unsteady balloons into the air, hoping to get the right shots. Hundreds or thousands of images are taken automatically from planes and satellites to make maps. Now planes and satellites visit the same place regularly, reliably showing how land changes over time.

“Land change is really complex. … Tying it to climate, I’m not sure we’re there yet,” says Jesslyn Brown, research geographer for the Earth Resources Observation and Science Center at the US Geological Survey. You can’t identify patterns that could point to climate change without monitoring the same places at regular intervals.

“This might be a little controversial, but my opinion is that governments don’t find monitoring very sexy,” Brown says. “But it’s an absolute necessity because you can’t manage what you can’t measure, so we need to take these measurements in order to have the information to monitor the Earth and to monitor the effects of climate change.”

Chasing change 

In the US, Landsat is the best-known Earth-observing satellite for monitoring and mapping purposes. Landsat 7 and Landsat 8 circle the globe once every 99 minutes, traveling at 17,000 miles per hour. Each satellite covers the entire planet in 16 days. Together, they cover the Earth in eight days because they’re in reverse orbit. 

The satellites are “roughly the size of a small school bus,” says Doucette, the USGS director who showed me the map of Washaway Beach, and have a 30-meter resolution, “about the size of a baseball diamond per pixel.”

Generations of Landsat satellites have been doing this since 1972. That 50-year record makes it extremely valuable for tracking changes over time.

“[50 years of data] provides researchers the ability to go back through time and monitor what kinds of changes are going on on the land surface,” Doucette says. “That really wasn’t possible until just the last five to 10 years with the big data compute capabilities that have become available.”

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This image of the Himalayan Mountains is one of the first shots taken by Landsat 9.  NASA

NASA launched its newest satellite, Landsat 9, on Sept. 27. Soon, it will hand over control of Landsat 9 to the USGS. Then, Landsat 7, which has been orbiting the planet for 22 years, will be retired. Most old Landsat satellites go into “disposal orbits,” destined to circle the planet until they eventually reenter the atmosphere and burn up. Landsat 7 won’t have the same fate; it will be moved into a different orbit to help test NASA’s robotic refueling project, Doucette explains. 

Landsat is still the gold standard for satellite imagery, says Terry Sohl, acting branch chief for the Integrated Science and Applications Branch and research scientist at the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center. “To be honest, I’m not sure that’s going to be the case in five years,” Sohl adds.

Private satellite companies are making it easier than ever to visualize changes worldwide almost as soon as they happen for much less money than Landsat. 

Smaller, faster, cheaper, sharper

“If you’ve got a satellite right now that covers the Earth every two weeks, you can have homes and cities destroyed in that time,” says Tischler, the USGS director of the National Geospatial Program. Private companies are sending larger numbers of tiny satellites into orbit that cost less to build, launch and operate, have very high-resolution cameras and cover more ground more quickly. 

One of the private companies, Planet, has two different types of satellites: Dove and Sky satellites. The 180 Dove satellites are the size of a loaf of bread; they orbit the globe every 90 minutes and have a three- to five-meter resolution, or about 10 to 16 feet. 

Fifteen of the Sky satellites orbit at the poles like the Dove satellites. The remaining six Sky satellites orbit at latitudes closer to where people live to capture images of cities. Combined, the Sky satellites orbit Earth 12 times per day. Sky satellites are about the size of a dishwasher and have a resolution of just 50 centimeters, or a little over a foot and a half. They capture details that Landsat’s baseball-diamond-size resolutions can’t. 

Planet satellites show the Milne Ice Shelf breaking apart in July 2020. Planet Labs PBC

Smaller satellites are cheaper, too. It costs about a billion dollars to design, build, test and deploy one Landsat satellite. One Planet satellite costs in the “low hundreds of thousands of dollars,” although the company wouldn’t say exactly how much. 

Having a lot of smaller satellites also makes it easier for the San Francisco-based team to build them locally and experiment with new technologies quickly. 

“If there’s something new that comes to the market that could lead to better image quality … we have the option to just switch that out in-house where we’re actually building the satellites in the basement of our headquarters in San Francisco and just say, ‘Hey, let’s put in a new sensor. Let’s launch that,'” says Harrison, Planet’s director of science strategy. 

That way, if they want to test something, they can try it on one satellite and see how it works, without having to update all 200 satellites in their fleet.

Its various satellites have observed many events related to the climate crisis all over the world. The most significant changes they’ve seen have taken place in the coldest regions.

In July 2020, Planet satellites captured the collapse of the last intact Arctic ice shelf. “That was obviously a big tragedy. It’s not the kind of thing that you want to see, but it’s something that we managed to capture,” Harrison says.

Seeing is believing

Newer satellites are giving us more data, more quickly. Advancements in computing are changing how mapmakers use that data to show how our planet is changing right now and how it could change in the future.

Doucette is showing me another map now, this time a projection of what the land near Lubbock, Texas, will look like decades from now. At some point, the Ogallala Aquifer, which supports cotton and other key crops in the region, is going to dry up. Scientists at the USGS worked with other government agencies to create forecasts of Lubbock between 2014 and the end of the century, drawing from Landsat data, socio-economic data and climate data.

The map shows the cotton crop disappearing in tandem with the Ogallala’s water. The projections will vary based on how water usage continues, so scientists create best, middle and worst case scenarios because of the uncertainty. 

“Climate is actually much more predictable than people. I don’t worry about the variability in a climate scenario; I worry about the variability of how people behave,” says Sohl, the USGS scientist. “There are all these things that happen that are just so totally unpredictable, like a new government policy that can have a huge impact on the landscape.”

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What happens when the Ogallala Aquifer runs out of water? NOAA

Either way, the Ogallala’s water will disappear and it isn’t coming back.

Knowing this in advance gives people in Lubbock time to shift to other types of crops that don’t depend so heavily on water. Doucette suggests dryland wheat or returning the area to grassland.

“This is how we hope to use Landsat and other related Earth observation data so we can understand the causes of change in the past that kind of help us develop these models for projecting potential change going into the future,” Doucette says. 

Historic data from Landsat combined with sharper-resolution imagery from private satellite companies equips mapmakers to show climate change impacts now and model what could happen to the same areas decades or even centuries from now. “[Landsat and private satellite companies] really [are] a nice mix of where we’re going in the future,” says Sohl.

As Washaway Beach’s erosion cuts further into inland Washington state, the freshwater cranberry bogs the area is known for are increasingly threatened with contamination from salt water. But with these technologies, scientists can look at the models and make decisions before Washaway Beach, the Ogallala Aquifer and other places like them fall off the map. 

“Imagine being able to do this kind of projection … and doing it on a national scale or even a global scale,” Doucette adds. “That’s our hope; this is still kind of cutting-edge research.” 

Soon, satellites will be able to watch you everywhere all the time (MIT Technology Review)

Can privacy survive?

Christopher Beam

June 26, 2019


In 2013, police in Grants Pass, Oregon, got a tip that a man named Curtis W. Croft had been illegally growing marijuana in his backyard. So they checked Google Earth. Indeed, the four-month-old satellite image showed neat rows of plants growing on Croft’s property. The cops raided his place and seized 94 plants.

In 2018, Brazilian police in the state of Amapá used real-time satellite imagery to detect a spot where trees had been ripped out of the ground. When they showed up, they discovered that the site was being used to illegally produce charcoal, and arrested eight people in connection with the scheme.

Chinese government officials have denied or downplayed the existence of Uighur reeducation camps in Xinjiang province, portraying them as “vocational schools.” But human rights activists have used satellite imagery to show that many of the “schools” are surrounded by watchtowers and razor wire.

Every year, commercially available satellite images are becoming sharper and taken more frequently. In 2008, there were 150 Earth observation satellites in orbit; by now there are 768. Satellite companies don’t offer 24-hour real-time surveillance, but if the hype is to be believed, they’re getting close. Privacy advocates warn that innovation in satellite imagery is outpacing the US government’s (to say nothing of the rest of the world’s) ability to regulate the technology. Unless we impose stricter limits now, they say, one day everyone from ad companies to suspicious spouses to terrorist organizations will have access to tools previously reserved for government spy agencies. Which would mean that at any given moment, anyone could be watching anyone else.

The images keep getting clearer

Commercial satellite imagery is currently in a sweet spot: powerful enough to see a car, but not enough to tell the make and model; collected frequently enough for a farmer to keep tabs on crops’ health, but not so often that people could track the comings and goings of a neighbor. This anonymity is deliberate. US federal regulations limit images taken by commercial satellites to a resolution of 25 centimeters, or about the length of a man’s shoe. (Military spy satellites can capture images far more granular, although just how much more is classified.)

Ever since 2014, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) relaxed the limit from 50 to 25 cm, that resolution has been fine enough to satisfy most customers. Investors can predict oil supply from the shadows cast inside oil storage tanks. Farmers can monitor flooding to protect their crops. Human rights organizations have tracked the flows of refugees from Myanmar and Syria.

But satellite imagery is improving in a way that investors and businesses will inevitably want to exploit. The imaging company Planet Labs currently maintains 140 satellites, enough to pass over every place on Earth once a day. Maxar, formerly DigitalGlobe, which launched the first commercial Earth observation satellite in 1997, is building a constellation that will be able to revisit spots 15 times a day. BlackSky Global promises to revisit most major cities up to 70 times a day. That might not be enough to track an individual’s every move, but it would show what times of day someone’s car is typically in the driveway, for instance.

Some companies are even offering live video from space. As early as 2014, a Silicon Valley startup called SkyBox (later renamed Terra Bella and purchased by Google and then Planet) began touting HD video clips up to 90 seconds long. And a company called EarthNow says it will offer “continuous real-time” monitoring “with a delay as short as about one second,” though some think it is overstating its abilities. Everyone is trying to get closer to a “living map,” says Charlie Loyd of Mapbox, which creates custom maps for companies like Snapchat and the Weather Channel. But it won’t arrive tomorrow, or the next day: “We’re an extremely long way from high-res, full-time video of the Earth.”

Some of the most radical developments in Earth observation involve not traditional photography but rather radar sensing and hyperspectral images, which capture electromagnetic wavelengths outside the visible spectrum. Clouds can hide the ground in visible light, but satellites can penetrate them using synthetic aperture radar, which emits a signal that bounces off the sensed object and back to the satellite. It can determine the height of an object down to a millimeter. NASA has used synthetic aperture radar since the 1970s, but the fact that the US approved it for commercial use only last year is testament to its power—and political sensitivity. (In 1978, military officials supposedly blocked the release of radar satellite images that revealed the location of American nuclear submarines.)

While GPS data from cell phones is a legitimate privacy threat, you can at least decide to leave your phone at home. It’s harder to hide from a satellite camera.

Meanwhile, farmers can use hyperspectral sensing to tell where a crop is in its growth cycle, and geologists can use it to detect the texture of rock that might be favorable to excavation. But it could also be used, whether by military agencies or terrorists, to identify underground bunkers or nuclear materials. 

The resolution of commercially available imagery, too, is likely to improve further. NOAA’s 25-centimeter cap will come under pressure as competition from international satellite companies increases. And even if it doesn’t, there’s nothing to stop, say, a Chinese company from capturing and selling 10 cm images to American customers. “Other companies internationally are going to start providing higher-­resolution imagery than we legally allow,” says Therese Jones, senior director of policy for the Satellite Industry Association. “Our companies would want to push the limit down as far as they possibly could.”

What will make the imagery even more powerful is the ability to process it in large quantities. Analytics companies like Orbital Insight and SpaceKnow feed visual data into algorithms designed to let anyone with an internet connection understand the pictures en masse. Investors use this analysis to, for example, estimate the true GDP of China’s Guangdong province on the basis of the light it emits at night. But burglars could also scan a city to determine which families are out of town most often and for how long.

Satellite and analytics companies say they’re careful to anonymize their data, scrubbing it of identifying characteristics. But even if satellites aren’t recognizing faces, those images combined with other data streams—GPS, security cameras, social-media posts—could pose a threat to privacy. “People’s movements, what kinds of shops do you go to, where do your kids go to school, what kind of religious institutions do you visit, what are your social patterns,” says Peter Martinez, of the Secure World Foundation. “All of these kinds of questions could in principle be interrogated, should someone be interested.”

Like all tools, satellite imagery is subject to misuse. Its apparent objectivity can lead to false conclusions, as when the George W. Bush administration used it to make the case that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling chemical weapons in Iraq. Attempts to protect privacy can also backfire: in 2018, a Russian mapping firm blurred out the sites of sensitive military operations in Turkey and Israel—inadvertently revealing their existence, and prompting web users to locate the sites on other open-source maps.

Capturing satellite imagery with good intentions can have unintended consequences too. In 2012, as conflict raged on the border between Sudan and South Sudan, the Harvard-based Satellite Sentinel Project released an image that showed a construction crew building a tank-capable road leading toward an area occupied by the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army. The idea was to warn citizens about the approaching tanks so they could evacuate. But the SPLA saw the images too, and within 36 hours it attacked the road crew (which turned out to consist of Chinese civilians hired by the Sudanese government), killed some of them, and kidnapped the rest. As an activist, one’s instinct is often to release more information, says Nathaniel Raymond, a human rights expert who led the Sentinel project. But he’s learned that you have to take into account who else might be watching.

It’s expensive to watch you all the time

One thing that might save us from celestial scrutiny is the price. Some satellite entrepreneurs argue that there isn’t enough demand to pay for a constellation of satellites capable of round-the-clock monitoring at resolutions below 25 cm. “It becomes a question of economics,” says Walter Scott, founder of DigitalGlobe, now Maxar. While some companies are launching relatively cheap “nanosatellites” the size of toasters—the 120 Dove satellites launched by Planet, for example, are “orders of magnitude” cheaper than traditional satellites, according to a spokesperson—there’s a limit to how small they can get and still capture hyper-detailed images. “It is a fundamental fact of physics that aperture size determines the limit on the resolution you can get,” says Scott. “At a given altitude, you need a certain size telescope.” That is, in Maxar’s case, an aperture of about a meter across, mounted on a satellite the size of a small school bus. (While there are ways around this limit—interferometry, for example, uses multiple mirrors to simulate a much larger mirror—they’re complex and pricey.) Bigger satellites mean costlier launches, so companies would need a financial incentive to collect such granular data.

That said, there’s already demand for imagery with sub–25 cm resolution—and a supply of it. For example, some insurance underwriters need that level of detail to spot trees overhanging a roof, or to distinguish a skylight from a solar panel, and they can get it from airplanes and drones. But if the cost of satellite images came down far enough, insurance companies would presumably switch over.

Of course, drones can already collect better images than satellites ever will. But drones are limited in where they can go. In the US, the Federal Aviation Administration forbids flying commercial drones over groups of people, and you have to register a drone that weighs more than half a pound (227 grams) or so. There are no such restrictions in space. The Outer Space Treaty, signed in 1967 by the US, the Soviet Union, and dozens of UN member states, gives all states free access to space, and subsequent agreements on remote sensing have enshrined the principle of “open skies.” During the Cold War this made sense, as it allowed superpowers to monitor other countries to verify that they were sticking to arms agreements. But the treaty didn’t anticipate that it would one day be possible for anyone to get detailed images of almost any location.

And then there are the tracking devices we carry around in our pockets, a.k.a. smartphones. But while the GPS data from cell  phones is a legitimate privacy threat, you can at least decide to leave your phone at home. It’s harder to hide from a satellite camera. “There’s some element of ground truth—no pun intended—that satellites have that maybe your cell phone or digital record or what happens on Twitter [doesn’t],” says Abraham Thomas, chief data officer at the analytics company Quandl. “The data itself tends to be innately more accurate.”

The future of human freedom

American privacy laws are vague when it comes to satellites. Courts have generally allowed aerial surveillance, though in 2015 the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that an “aerial search” by police without a warrant was unconstitutional. Cases often come down to whether an act of surveillance violates someone’s “reasonable expectation of privacy.” A picture taken on a public sidewalk: fair game. A photo shot by a drone through someone’s bedroom window: probably not. A satellite orbiting hundreds of miles up, capturing video of a car pulling into the driveway? Unclear.

That doesn’t mean the US government is powerless. It has no jurisdiction over Chinese or Russian satellites, but it can regulate how American customers use foreign imagery. If US companies are profiting from it in a way that violates the privacy of US citizens, the government could step in.

Raymond argues that protecting ourselves will mean rethinking privacy itself. Current privacy laws, he says, focus on threats to the rights of individuals. But those protections “are anachronistic in the face of AI, geospatial technologies, and mobile technologies, which not only use group data, they run on group data as gas in the tank,” Raymond says. Regulating these technologies will mean conceiving of privacy as applying not just to individuals, but to groups as well. “You can be entirely ethical about personally identifiable information and still kill people,” he says.

Until we can all agree on data privacy norms, Raymond says, it will be hard to create lasting rules around satellite imagery. “We’re all trying to figure this out,” he says. “It’s not like anything’s riding on it except the future of human freedom.”

Christopher Beam is a writer based in Los Angeles.

The space issue

This story was part of our July 2019 issue

NOAA Acknowledges the New Reality of Hurricane Season (Gizmodo)

earther.gizmodo.com

Molly Taft, March 2, 2021


This combination of satellite images provided by the National Hurricane Center shows 30 hurricanes that occurred during the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.
This combination of satellite images provided by the National Hurricane Center shows 30 hurricanes that occurred during the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.

We’re one step closer to officially moving up hurricane season. The National Hurricane Center announced Tuesday that it would formally start issuing its hurricane season tropical weather outlooks on May 15 this year, bumping it up from the traditional start of hurricane season on June 1. The move comes after a recent spate of early season storms have raked the Atlantic.

Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30. That’s when conditions are most conducive to storm formation owing to warm air and water temperatures. (The Pacific ocean has its own hurricane season, which covers the same timeframe, but since waters are colder fewer hurricanes tend to form there than in the Atlantic.)

Storms have begun forming on the Atlantic earlier as ocean and air temperatures have increased due to climate change. Last year, Hurricane Arthur roared to life off the East Coast on May 16. That storm made 2020 the sixth hurricane season in a row to have a storm that formed earlier than the June 1 official start date. While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration won’t be moving up the start of the season just yet, the earlier outlooks addresses the recent history.

“In the last decade, there have been 10 storms formed in the weeks before the traditional start of the season, which is a big jump,” said Sean Sublette, a meteorologist at Climate Central, who pointed out that the 1960s through 2010s saw between one and three storms each decade before the June 1 start date on average.

It might be tempting to ascribe this earlier season entirely to climate change warming the Atlantic. But technology also has a role to play, with more observations along the coast as well as satellites that can spot storms far out to sea.

“I would caution that we can’t just go, ‘hah, the planet’s warming, we’ve had to move the entire season!’” Sublette said. “I don’t think there’s solid ground for attribution of how much of one there is over the other. Weather folks can sit around and debate that for awhile.”

Earlier storms don’t necessarily mean more harmful ones, either. In fact, hurricanes earlier in the season tend to be weaker than the monsters that form in August and September when hurricane season is at its peak. But regardless of their strength, these earlier storms have generated discussion inside the NHC on whether to move up the official start date for the season, when the agency usually puts out two reports per day on hurricane activity. Tuesday’s step is not an official announcement of this decision, but an acknowledgement of the increased attention on early hurricanes.

“I would say that [Tuesday’s announcement] is the National Hurricane Center being proactive,” Sublette said. “Like hey, we know that the last few years it’s been a little busier in May than we’ve seen in the past five decades, and we know there is an awareness now, so we’re going to start issuing these reports early.”

While the jury is still out on whether climate change is pushing the season earlier, research has shown that the strongest hurricanes are becoming more common, and that climate change is likely playing a role. A study published last year found the odds of a storm becoming a major hurricanes—those Category 3 or stronger—have increase 49% in the basin since satellite monitoring began in earnest four decades ago. And when storms make landfall, sea level rise allows them to do more damage. So regardless of if climate change is pushing Atlantic hurricane season is getting earlier or not, the risks are increasing. Now, at least, we’ll have better warnings before early storms do hit.

IBM will no longer offer, develop, or research facial recognition technology (The Verge)

IBM’s CEO says we should reevaluate selling the technology to law enforcement

By Jay Peters Jun 8, 2020, 8:49pm EDT

Original article

IBM will no longer offer general purpose facial recognition or analysis software, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna said in a letter to Congress today. The company will also no longer develop or research the technology, IBM tells The Verge. Krishna addressed the letter to Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).

“IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any [facial recognition] technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency,” Krishna said in the letter. “We believe now is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies.” Facial recognition software has come under scrutiny for issues with racial bias and privacy concerns

Facial recognition software has improved greatly over the last decade thanks to advances in artificial intelligence. At the same time, the technology — because it is often provided by private companies with little regulation or federal oversight — has been shown to suffer from bias along lines of age, race, and ethnicity, which can make the tools unreliable for law enforcement and security and ripe for potential civil rights abuses.

In 2018, research by Joy Buolamwini and Timnit Gebru revealed for the first time the extent to which many commercial facial recognition systems (including IBM’s) were biased. This work and the pair’s subsequent studies led to mainstream criticism of these algorithms and ongoing attempts to rectify bias.

A December 2019 National Institute of Standards and Technology study found “empirical evidence for the existence of a wide range of accuracy across demographic differences in the majority of the current face recognition algorithms that were evaluated,” for example. The technology has also come under fire for its role in privacy violations.

Notably, NIST’s study did not include technology from Amazon, which is one of the few major tech companies to sell facial recognition software to law enforcement. Yet Rekognition, the name of the program, has also been criticized for its accuracy. In 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union found that Rekognition incorrectly matched 28 members of Congress to faces picked from 25,000 public mugshots, for example.

Another company, Clearview AI, has come under heavy scrutiny starting earlier this year when it was discovered that its facial recognition tool, built with more than 3 billion images compiled in part from scraping social media sites, was being widely used by private sector companies and law enforcement agencies. Clearview has since been issued numerous cease and desist orders and is at the center of a number of privacy lawsuits. Facebook was also ordered in January to pay $550 million to settle a class-action lawsuit over its unlawful use of facial recognition technology.

IBM has tried to help with the issue of bias in facial recognition, releasing a public data set in 2018 designed to help reduce bias as part of the training data for a facial recognition model. But IBM was also found to be sharing a separate training data set of nearly one million photos in January 2019 taken from Flickr without the consent of the subjects — though the photos were shared under a Creative Commons license. IBM told The Verge in a statement at the time that the data set would only be accessed by verified researchers and only included images that were publicly available. The company also said that individuals can opt-out of the data set.

In his letter, Krishna also advocated for police reform, arguing that more police misconduct cases should be put under the purview of federal court and that Congress should make changes to qualified immunity doctrine, among other measures. In addition, Krishna said that “we need to create more open and equitable pathways for all Americans to acquire marketable skills and training,” and he suggested Congress consider scaling the P-TECH school model nationally and expanding eligibility for Pell Grants.

Update, June 9th, 2:45AM ET: This story has been updated to reference the work of AI researchers Joy Buolamwini and Timnit Gebru, whose 2018 Gender Shades project provided the first comprehensive empirical data on bias in facial recognition systems.

CPTEC/INPE desenvolve novo conceito de sistema de previsão, monitoramento e de alertas para ondas e ressacas (CPTEC)

Atualizado em 15/05/2014 13:54

Sistema também pode ser utilizado para avaliar impactos ambientais em regiões costeiras

O grupo do CPTEC/INPE dedicado à previsão de agitação marítima lançou há dois anos em sua página de previsão de ondas a primeira fase do Sistema de Previsão e Monitoramento Costeiro (SIMCos) para 61 pontos da costa brasileira (link no canto superior direito da página http://ondas.cptec.inpe.br/). A segunda fase deste projeto foi concluída recentemente, colocando em operação um sistema de avaliação de impactos de ondas e marés, de alta resolução, para um daqueles 61 pontos do litoral brasileiro: a Baia de Vitória, no Espírito Santo. Esta região do litoral capixaba foi escolhida como área teste para avaliar o funcionamento completo do SIMCos (Sistema de Previsão e Monitoramento Costeiro), concebido para disparar um segundo sistema, como este voltado à Baia de Vitória, quando houver previsões de ondas ultrapassando limites que envolvam riscos ambientais e às atividades na costa.

O SIMCos, projeto temático da FAPESP, gera previsões diárias de ondas, indicando situações de risco ao comparar os níveis de ondas de cada um dos cerca de 60 pontos da costa brasileira a uma climatologia de 30 anos (condições atmosféricas de resolução espacial de 0,3 grau e temporal de 1 hora) da agitação marítima destes mesmos pontos. Para a baía capixaba, que abrange a ilha de Vitória, região metropolitana e os portos de Tubarão e Vitória, foram desenvolvidos modelos com o objetivo de monitorar e avaliar os possíveis impactos, através de simulações numéricas de ondas, de circulação, das marés astronômicas e meteorológicas, com alta resolução temporal e espacial, e capaz, se necessário, de emitir alertas de ressacas.

A plataforma do SIMCos foi composta pelo modelo WWATCH, do NCEP/NOAA, cujas previsões são rodadas em um computador de 120 processadores, obtido exclusivamente para o projeto. Segundo o pesquisador responsável pelo desenvolvimento do SIMCos, Valdir Innocentini, os 61 pontos de previsão e monitoramento ao longo da costa brasileira estão distantes entre si de 100 a 200 quilômetros, e se situam sobre uma linha de profundidade de 100 metros, aproximadamente, para que os efeitos do relevo oceânico não interfiram muito nas características das ondas. Já para o sistema desenvolvido para o litoral capixaba, foi utilizado o modelo holandês de circulação costeira e marés DELFT3D, com condições atmosféricas simuladas pelo modelo WRF (Weather Research Forecasting Model), dos Estados Unidos, e condições iniciais e de contorno hidrodinâmicas do modelo francês global Mercator.

O sistema implementado na Baía de Vitória permite simular e avaliar impactos relacionados à vazão de rios, circulação e interação de água doce e oceânica, erosão, dispersão e transporte de sedimentos e poluentes (como manchas de petróleo), entre outras aplicações. Também simula os efeitos das marés para obras de dragagem, construção de obras civis, como ampliação de portos, prevendo áreas de assoreamento e de possíveis danos ambientais. O desenvolvimento deste módulo do SIMCos contou com a cooperação da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo (UFES) e Universidade Nacional Autonoma do México (UNAM).

Segundo Innocentini, o desenvolvimento do SIMCos, alcançou seu objetivo, que era viabilizar um conceito de sistema de alerta, com potencial para ser lançado operacionalmente cobrindo toda a costa brasileira. Para implementar o sistema completo, o pesquisador do CPTEC/INPE explica que seria necessário um novo projeto que permitisse colocar em operação os modelos de alta resolução para cada uma das regiões associadas aos 60 pontos restantes do SIMCos. Para tal empreitada, seria preciso desenhar a grade do relevo submerso de cada uma destas regiões costeiras, com base na batimetria destas áreas.

O desenvolvimento destes modelos de maior resolução – melhor precisão e refinamento para boa parte da costa brasileira – permitiria a simulação de impactos dos movimentos de marés e ressacas nas diferentes atividades econômicas costeiras, como extração de petróleo, turismo e náutica. Os modelos também teriam aplicações em pesquisas ambientais, com possíveis aplicações na área de mudanças climáticas, além de atuarem como uma poderosa ferramenta de monitoramento ambiental capaz de oferecer subsídios a ações fiscais na costa e à formulação de políticas ambientais.

 

Kinsey Reporter: Free App Allows Public to Anonymously Report, Share Information On Sexual Behavior (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Sep. 5, 2012) — Indiana University has released Kinsey Reporter, a global mobile survey platform for collecting and reporting anonymous data about sexual and other intimate behaviors. The pilot project allows citizen observers around the world to use free applications now available for Apple and Android mobile platforms to not only report on sexual behavior and experiences, but also to share, explore and visualize the accumulated data.

The Kinsey Reporter platform is available free from Apple iOS and Google Play (for Android) online stores. Reports made by anonymous citizen scientists will be used for research and shared with the public at the Kinsey Reporter website. (Credit: Image courtesy of Indiana University)

“People are natural observers. It’s part of being social, and using mobile apps is an excellent way to involve citizen scientists,” said Julia Heiman, director of The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. “We expect to get new insights into sexuality and relationships today. What do people notice, what are they involved in, and what can they relate to us about their lives and their communities?”

The project will collect anonymous data and then aggregate and share it openly. Kinsey Reporter is a joint project between The Kinsey Institute and the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research, or CNetS, which is part of the IU School of Informatics and Computing and the Pervasive Technology Institute. Both Kinsey and CNetS are based on the IU Bloomington campus.

CNetS director Filippo Menczer called development of the citizen reporting platform an opportunity to gather information on important issues that may have been difficult to examine in the past.

“This new platform will allow us to explore issues that have been challenging to study until now, such as the prevalence of unreported sexual violence in different parts of the world, or the correlation between various sexual practices like condom use, for example, and the cultural, political, religious or health contexts in particular geographical areas. These were some of our initial motivations for the project,” he said.

Users simply download the free app and begin contributing observed information on topics such as sexual activity, public displays of affection, flirting, unwanted experiences and birth control use. Even though no information identifying users submitting reports is collected or stored, the time and general location of the report is collected and input into the database. Users also have the option of selecting their own geographic preference for the report by choosing city/town, state/region or country.

Surveys will change over time, and users can view aggregated reports by geographic region via interactive maps, timelines or charts. All of these reporting venues can be manipulated with filters that remove or add data based on specific survey topics and questions selected by the user.

Both Heiman and Menczer said The Kinsey Institute’s longstanding seminal studies of sexual behaviors created a perfect synergy with research going on at CNetS related to mining big data crowd-sourced from mobile social media. The sensitive domain — sexual relations — added an intriguing challenge in finding a way to share useful data with the community while protecting the privacy and anonymity of the reporting volunteers, they added.

Reports are transmitted to Kinsey Reporter using a secure, encrypted protocol, and the only data collected are a timestamp, the approximate geo-location selected by the user, and the tags the user chooses in response to various survey questions. The protections and anonymity provided to those responding to surveys allowed IU’s Institutional Review Board to classify the research as “exempt from review,” which allows the data to be used for research and shared without requiring informed consent from users of the apps.

The Kinsey Reporter platform is now in public beta release. Apps are available for free download at both the Apple iOS and Android app stores. Accompanying the app release are a Kinsey Reporter website, a Twitter feed and a Facebook page. The four resources also provide links to information about sexuality, such as blogs and podcasts from the Kinsey Confidential website. YouTube videos on “What Is the Kinsey Reporter App” and “Making the Kinsey Reporter App” are also available for viewing.

The Kinsey Institute receives support from the Office of the Vice Provost for Research at IU Bloomington, which is dedicated to supporting ongoing faculty research and creative activity and developing new multidisciplinary initiatives to enhance opportunities for federal, state and private research funding.