Foiling Facial Recognition

One of the many fronts in technology’s war against personal privacy comes from the refinement of facial recognition software.  Like the eye scanners in the movie “Minority Report”, these new programs are able to scan and identify people’s faces on the fly, and can be simply implemented into common security systems or personal devices.  While this tech has tons of useful and beneficial applications (such as blurring out the faces on the people captured in Google Maps’ “street view”) the privacy implications are terrifying.

What is worse is the efficiency with which these new programs can identify you.  Some of the more sophisticated of them can identify a face in profile, from many angles, even when partially obscured.  A trench coat and sunglasses will no longer be enough to keep you out of the spotlight, and in response a new movement has sprung up trying to develop ways of foiling facial recognition technology.  The website cvdazzle.com attempts to meld camouflage and fashion by developing provocative hair and makeup styles, to confuse computer (and human) onlookers.  The Japanese National Institute of Informatics disregards style entirely with its new anti-recognition goggles.  The goggles are covered in LEDs which blast infra-read light to wash out computer images but without blinding the people around them.  However, it is likely that further advances in the technology will be able to see through these disguises, leading to an arms-race of sorts between the hiders and seekers.  As this technology becomes more prevalent, it is likely that we will need a more legal solution to this surveillance problem.


Debate Continues Over Brazil’s “Internet Bill of Rights”

Since 2009, lawmakers in Brazil have been attempting to pass a revolutionary piece of legislation which would recognize a new swath of civil rights regarding the Internet.  The “Marco Civil da Internet” borrows from international internet norms regarding expression, privacy, and net neutrality to identify new legal rights which would ensure that citizens reap the benefits of internet freedom while still being protected from data snooping and other possible harms.  The Marco Civil would restrict both the government and private actors’ abilities to violate citizens new rights. Many global tech companies such as Google, Facebook, and Mozilla support this bill in the hopes that other nations would follow Brazil’s lead.

The bill has faced harsh opposition from corporate groups and telecom companies who fear that continuing common, benign, practices under the new regime would leave them open to liability.  Other groups fear that changes to the bill have diluted its effectiveness in protecting for freedom of expression and other rights.  The result up to this point has been to make the process of drafting and revising the bill very difficult.   Questions arise such as whether these are negative rights, in that they dictate what the government and private actors cannot do with respect to a citizen’s use of the Internet, or positive rights, in that they convey an obligation by the government to ensure that its citizens have free and protected access to the Internet.

The text of the final product would be immensely important not just for Brazil, but will affect how all nations frame their discussions on internet rights.  As such many are hoping the bill is passed as soon as possible, so that such a step forward in internet rights does not founder under Brazil’s political struggles.


Google Glass: Always Watching

As Americans are becoming more privacy conscious over what they voluntarily make available on the internet, a new and exciting product from Google may pose a significant risk in the form of traditional snooping. Google Glass is essentially a futuristic pair of glasses which provide a heads-up display to the wearer, allowing them to view a wealth of information hands-free. Privacy concerns arise from the integrated photo/video camera, which can record both video and audio at any time, and without giving any sort of external indication that it is doing so.

Google has stated that they are conscious of the privacy concerns, and are attempting to build in ways to prevent unauthorized snooping. However, just as cell phones can be jail-broken, tech enthusiasts will likely be able to modify their devices to circumvent any sort of protections which Google would build into the device. Essentially, this means that anyone could be under surveillance from private individuals at any time, and be totally unaware of it.

While such snooping would in many circumstances still be illegal, were Google Glass to become common, it may become difficult or impossible to properly police this surveillance, and would easy fodder for abuse. Clearly, there needs to be a greater dialogue on the issue before the technology can be widely disbursed.

 

Image provided by techradar.com


SCOTUS Ruling: Human Genes cannot be patented.

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled last week that naturally occurring human genetic material cannot be patented, a step which would overturn some 4,000 patents already held by genetic research companies.  The Court essentially held that where genes occur naturally in humans, merely isolating them from the surrounding genetic information results in no “invention” to which a company could claim rights.  Many are viewing this as a very positive ruling which would ensure that the study of human genetics, and by the extension medical breakthroughs which come from it, would not be hobbled by legal burden and profit motive.

Opponents to the ruling hold that the ability to patent individual genes is an incentive for companies to do the research, and would lead to more efficient and valuable medical developments.  However, it remains true that the processes by which these genes were isolated can still be patented.  Moreover, the Court seems to have suggested that synthetic genes not found in nature can still be pattented, as it is more apt to consider them “inventions” rather than discoveries.  Likely, these rights will provide enough incentives on their own to keep companies engaged in research for the foreseeable future.

Image provided by zmescience.com


Practical Tech Tools

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Practical Technology Tools is an experiential course designed to introduce affordable and accessible online dispute resolution (ODR) technology to the practice of alternative dispute resolution (ADR).

Participants will engage in four synchronous, real-time lectures and discussions over a five-week period, with asynchronous forums, wikis, directional study, and instructor interaction.  Students will learn about numerous tested online platforms and tools that can elevate and streamline their current mediation and dispute
resolution practices.  These technologies will concentrate on the functions of an ADR practice that can most easily be adapted to working digitally, including client intake, client narrative, document review and storage, information sharing, brainstorming, and agreement development, drafting, and execution.

Skills targeted by course:

  • Understanding and Assessing Technology: learn about available tools and which are most appropriate  for ADR and your practice
  • Digital Case Management: assess and apply case management skills to information and communication technologies (ICTs)
  • Third Party Skills: anticipate and prepare for how clients will react to and learn to use new platforms and technology tools
  • Ethical Evaluation: analyze and adapt mediation and legal ethics to the use of ICT
  • Technology Integration: dissecting the practicalities of maintaining a face-to-face dispute resolution practice while integrating technology and/or creating your own virtual ADR practice

About the lead instructor:

Daniel_Rainey_headshot_dropDaniel Rainey is one of the leading ODR educators and practitioners in the world. Working with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, he was one of the first instructors to teach a university ODR course, and has since developed graduate level ODR courses for several universities and dispute resolution centers. He has designed ADR and ODR systems for numerous organizations.

He is a Fellow of the National Center for Technology and Dispute Resolution, a delegate at the UNCITRAL Working Group III on ODR, a member of the ABA Web-based Interdisciplinary Dispute Resolution Environment Task Force, a member of the ABA President-elect’s Technology Initiative, and co-author and editor of the definitive ODR source book, ODR Theory and Practice.


Proposed Law Defining How GPS Data Can Be Used and by Whom

The proliferation of GPS devices represent a prime example of technology outpacing the law, with profound effects on individual privacy. As of yet there is no unified law dictating when using GPS tracking is acceptable or not.  Although there have been some cases on the issue, it is far from clear when businesses are allowed to track employees, when the government can track suspects (or individuals in general), when cellphone companies can track their users, or even how that data should be handled when collected.

The proposed Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act (hr. 1312/s. 639, or simply the GPS act) is an attempt by lawmakers to give “government agencies, commercial entities, and private citizens clear guidelines for when and how geolocation information can be accessed and used”.  Information on the bill and other proposed legislation can be found at gps.gov