School’s Plan for Facial Recognition System Raises Concerns

A New York school district has finished installing a facial recognition system intended to spot potentially dangerous intruders, but state officials concerned about privacy say they want to know more before the technology is put into use.

Education Department spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said Monday that department employees plan to meet with Lockport City School officials about the system being tested this week. In the meantime, she said, the district has said it will not use facial recognition software while it checks other components of the system.

The rapidly developing technology has made its way into airports, motor vehicle departments, stores and stadiums, but is so far rare in public schools.

Lockport is preparing to bring its system online as cities elsewhere are considering reining in the technology’s use. San Francisco in May became the first U.S. city to ban its use by police and other city departments and Oakland is among others considering similar legislation.

A bill by Democrat Assembly Member Monica Wallace would create a one-year moratorium on the technology’s use in New York schools to allow lawmakers time to review it and draft regulations. The legislation is pending.

Lockport Superintendent Michelle Bradley, on the district’s website, said the district’s initial implementation of the system this week will include adjusting cameras mounted throughout the buildings and training staff members who will monitor them from a room in the high school. The system is expected to be fully online on Sept. 1.

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FBI Investigators Thwarted Transfer of Trade Secrets to China

Wenfeng Lu was seemingly living the American dream—a comfortable life in Irvine, California, with his family and a career in medical device research and development.

Yet Lu’s secret goal was to use trade secrets stolen from his employer to strike it rich in his native China. However, thanks to an FBI investigation, his plan was thwarted, and Lu is now serving a 27-month prison sentence.

Lu worked for several different U.S. companies, all of which developed high-tech medical equipment, such as clot retrieval tools and balloon-guide catheters. In each job, Lu signed a non-disclosure agreement for his research and development work.

Despite signing the confidentiality agreement, Lu routinely did “data dumps” from his various medical research employers for about three years until his arrest in 2012. Lu transferred all of the data he could get his hands on to a personal laptop. Many of the hundreds of documents Lu stole had nothing to do with his own research; he took as much information as he could access, including proprietary information.

“He had access to so many files, not just for his own projects, and he downloaded files for a variety of different projects and took them home and to China,” said Special Agent Gina Kwon, who investigated this case out of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.

One of Lu’s former employers noticed the unusual activity on their systems and reported the results of their internal investigation to the FBI. Investigators quickly proceeded to build their case and arrested Lu, just before he boarded a plane to China with the files.

The investigative team learned that Lu had planned to create and run his own medical device manufacturing company in China using the stolen technology and Chinese government funding. He had even applied for Chinese patents using technology stolen from the American companies. (China’s government creates policies that disadvantage American businesses, and hacking against American companies and interests is a common tactic.)

“Lu wanted his own business, and he thought there was a great market in China for this technology,” Kwon said.

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Couple Sentenced for Arson and Fraud in Fire That Resulted in First Responder’s Death

A Kentucky couple nearly escaped prosecution for setting a fire that burned their rented home to the ground and led to the death of a firefighter until a new FBI agent’s search for fresh evidence helped bring them to justice.

Steve Allen Pritchard, 44, was found guilty by a federal jury of arson and insurance fraud and was sentenced on November 1, 2018, to 30 years in prison. His wife, Brandi Pritchard, who was his girlfriend at the time of the fire, was sentenced to 121 months after pleading guilty to the same crimes.

“This case has stayed with me because it was just so senseless,” said FBI Special Agent William Kurtz of the arson investigation he supported through the FBI’s Bowling Green Resident Agency out of the Louisville Field Office.

According to case records, on June 24, 2011, Brandi Pritchard purchased a $50,000 renter’s insurance policy for the furniture and possessions within the rented Columbia, Kentucky, home she shared with Steve Pritchard. In the early morning hours of June 30, 2011, prosecutors charge that one or both of the Pritchards set fire to the home and then fled the scene.

As firefighters arrived just past 3 a.m., the structure was engulfed in flames. First responders had just succeeded in bringing the fire under control when Columbia/Adair County Fire Department Assistant Chief Charles Sparks, 49, suffered a heart attack.

When firefighters turned their focus to aiding their ill colleague, Kurtz reported, “the fire rekindled and burned the house to the ground.” Sparks died eight days later at a Louisville hospital. Firefighter fatality investigators determined the physical exertion involved in responding to the fire may have triggered his heart attack.

The firefighter’s death prompted an investigation of the fire, but “because the house burned to the ground, any forensic evidence that could have pointed to an arson was destroyed,” said Kurtz.

Immediately after the fire, Brandi Pritchard made a claim against the renter’s insurance policy. She admitted later that Steve Pritchard directed her to invent or inflate the value of items lost during the fire in order to receive the full $50,000 in the policy.

The Kentucky State Police opened an arson investigation after members of the community reported hearing Steve and Brandi Pritchard brag about setting the fire, but investigators had little to go on beyond hearsay.

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