Backyards, Cameras, Proctorio, Tennessee, and Cohorts

Your round up of surveillance news for the week of April 12, 2021

Daniel Janzen / Unsplash

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#130: Can police spy on you without a warrant? Colorado Supreme Court to consider modern surveillance techniques

April 6, 2021 | The Denver Post by Shelly Bradbury | ~656 words

The Colorado Supreme Court is set to hear arguments this week in a case where police used a camera to spy on a man in his backyard for three months straight. They did so without a warrant on the grounds that the man had no expectation of privacy in his backyard as parts of it were viewable from public places.

The case is eerily similar to United States v. Jones, a 2012 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled police could not place a GPS device on a suspect’s car without a warrant. The police argued it was effectively the same as tailing his car 24/7, something they typically would not need a warrant for, but the Court ruled otherwise.

The debate of whether police use of technology to automate such tasks contradicts the Fourth Amendment is perhaps the privacy question of the century. Yet, this case, as did U.S. v. Jones, will likely result in a very narrow ruling specific to the use of surveillance cameras monitoring a subject in their place of residence.

#131: Public forum: Mixed reaction to York City surveillance system proposal

April 6, 2021 | York Dispatch by Logan Hullinger | ~618 words

The public debate happening in York, PA about a city-wide surveillance camera network is now being facilitated by a series of public forums. Hullinger reports on the first public forum hosted last Tuesday in which, beforehand, 68% of attendees expressed some support for the program. However, Hullinger notes that the percentage seemed less so based on public comments.

One resident said that in order to solve the surge of violence in their city, they needed to “address the root cause of the issue,” which they believe is proverty. Other residents expressed budgetary and planning concerns. Among the proposals supporters was a candidate for city council. The city’s NAACP chapter has yet to take an official stance.

For more background on this story, check out surveil-links #95 and #117.

#132: Proctorio Is Using Racist Algorithms to Detect Faces

April 8, 2021 | Motherboard by Todd Feathers | ~691 words

Proctorio is a proctoring application that, like many educational apps, has seen increased use in midst of a pandemic. It allows for schools to proctor their test-taking students using algorithms rather than have an actual person do the proctoring. Sounds like a great idea, right? Not when the algorithms are biased, as they often are.

Feathers reported on a student software researcher who found that the code used in Proctorio’s facial dection feature fails to identify Black students’ faces more than 50% of the time. Notice I say facial detection and not recognition, because Proctorio is ironically adamant about not using facial recognition for the “ethical, legal, and socioeconomic dilemmas it raises.”

Yet Black students are finding that they have ot use an excessive amount of light in order to be recognized, making the already tense experience of taking a test even more stressful. Some are then worried they will be kicked out of the exam should the lighting change.

#133: Bill would expand surveillance on Tennessee interstates

April 9, 2021 | News Channel 5 Nashville by Cole Johnson | ~165 words

This very short article, which is actually a televised news segment in text form, may appear fairly benign at first. A Tennessee state Senator proposes a bill to put more security cameras across the interstate highways to aid in, as the news cast puts it, “Amber and Silver alerts, prisoner escapes and carjackings.”

But later a clip of the Senator on the floor plays in which he states the following:

“Right now, Tennessee is missing an opportunity with one of the most effective deployments of public safety technology, and that’s the automatic license plate readers on interstate and state highways. These locations are ideal for effective deployment of these cameras.”

License plate readers have often led to more confusion than clarity in certain situations. Just this past January, a Colorado woman and her four kids, were held at gun point because the technology mistakenly reported their car as matching a plate from a stolen one. Additionally, the civil liberty concerns on ubiquitous license plate readers are enormous, as discussed in surveil-link #79

#134: Am I FLoCed? A New Site to Test Google’s Invasive Experiment

April 9, 2021 | Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Deep Links Blog by Andrés Arrieta | ~950 words

The EFF launched a new website called Am I FLoCed in response to Google rolling out a pilot test of their new FLoC protocol to a very small percentage of people using their Chrome browser. The potocol, announced last month and discussed in surveil-link #77, does away with third party cookies as a mechanism of tracking user activity across the web, but rather scans users’ browser history and places them in “cohorts” of other people with similar interests. The new website tells you if your browser is one of the few chosen to participate in the test.

The EFF’s Arrieta argues that FLoC is “deeply flawed,” and “if data is used to infer something about you, about who you are, and how you can be targeted, and then shared with other sites and advertisers, then it’s not private at all.” Thus, once again, ditch Chrome and consider Firefox, or at least install a privacy preserving plugin such as Privacy Badger.

ICYMI: The Movement to Ban Surveillance Advertising

I sat down with Jesse Lehrich co-founder of Accountable Tech about the coalition of groups he organized to call for a ban on surveillance advertising. The call was discussed in surveil-link #120. The conversation addressed their motivation, what it’s going to take to get there, what things may look like if surveillance advertising is banned, and Facebook’s reaction to the pushback of their advertising model. It was a fun conversation. If you have yet to read it, go check it out now!

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