Mass Surveillance Is Coming to a City Near You

The tech entrepreneur Ross McNutt wants to spend three years recording outdoor human movements in a major U.S. city, KMOX news radio reports.

If that sounds too dystopian to be real, you’re behind the times. McNutt, who runs Persistent Surveillance Systems, was inspired by his stint in the Air Force tracking Iraqi insurgents. He tested mass-surveillance technology over Compton, California, in 2012. In 2016, the company flew over Baltimore, feeding information to police for months (without telling city leaders or residents) while demonstrating how the technology works to the FBI and Secret Service.

The goal is noble: to reduce violent crime.

There’s really no telling whether surveillance of this sort has already been conducted over your community as private and government entities experiment with it. If I could afford the hardware, I could legally surveil all of Los Angeles just for kicks.

And now a billionaire donor wants to help Persistent Surveillance Systems to monitor the residents of an entire high-crime municipality for an extended period of time––McNutt told KMOX that it may be Baltimore, St. Louis, or Chicago.

McNutt’s technology is straightforward: A fixed-wing plane outfitted with high-resolution video cameras circles for hours on end, recording everything in large swaths of a city. One can later “rewind” the footage, zoom in anywhere, and see exactly where a person came from before or went after perpetrating a robbery or drive-by shooting … or visiting an AA meeting, a psychiatrist’s office, a gun store, an abortion provider, a battered-women’s shelter, or an HIV clinic. On the day of a protest, participants could be tracked back to their homes.

In the timely new book Eyes in the Sky: The Secret Rise of Gorgon Stare and How It Will Watch Us All, the author Arthur Holland Michel talks with people working on this category of technology and concludes, “Someday, most major developed cities in the world will live under the unblinking gaze of some form of wide-area surveillance.”

At first, he says, the sheer amount of data will make it impossible for humans in any city to examine everything that is captured on video. But efforts are under way to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to “understand” more. “If a camera that watches a whole city is smart enough to track and understand every target simultaneously,” he writes, “it really can be said to be all-seeing.”

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Not Only Can Alexa Eavesdrop — She Can Also Testify Against You

When it was revealed last month that a team of Amazon workers were tasked with listening to and reviewing Echo customers’ recordings—including those that customers never intended to record—the news sparked a flurry of criticism and concern regarding what this meant for the average consumer’s privacy.

At the same time, many were left unsurprised. Previous incidents, such as when an Amazon customer in Germany accidentally received someone else’s private Alexa recordings last year, have shown not only that the devices can record when least expected (such as when the user is in the shower, or having a private conversation) but also that these recordings can end up in unexpected hands.

This reality can leave users feeling that the device that helps them control their schedule, their music and even their home appliances isn’t completely within their control. In fact, the Echo can even be used against its owner—and may have the potential to send some users to prison.

As explained by Oxygen Forensics COO Lee Reiber in an interview with Forensic Magazine, when you live with an Alexa device, “it’s almost like your room is bugged.” Of course the “almost” is that Alexa isn’t necessarily always recording, but that doesn’t mean it only records when it’s supposed to either.

“We have a sample Alexa (…) that I utilize to do research on, and there is a lot of information on there. And I found several (recordings) that are specifically marked by Amazon as an error,” said Reiber, who has firsthand experience using Oxygen’s digital forensic tools to extract data from Echo devices. “I’m sitting there in my kitchen and I am talking to my wife, and it’s recording that information.”

Echo devices are meant to record what the user says to it after using a “wake word”—either “Echo,” “Amazon,” “computer” or the classic “Alexa,” depending on what the user prefers. The catch is that Alexa, which always has its microphone on listening for that word, has a habit of mishearing other words or sounds as its wake word, causing it to activate and record the voices or noises that follow.

I’ve noticed this with my own Echo Dot device, which sometimes lights up blue on its own, or startles me with a robotic “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that” when I never said anything to begin with. Reiber also said those kitchen conversations with his wife were recorded without permission from a wake word, and plenty of other users have reported similar experiences with accidentally waking up their all-hearing assistant.

As Reiber explained, Amazon typically marks unintentional recordings as an error, and in forensic tools like Oxygen’s extractor, they show up marked as discarded items, similar to files someone has deleted from their phone or computer but are still there in the device’s memory. And like these unseen “deleted” files that any skilled digital examiner can recover and view, those accidental recordings are still available to investigators in full—and have the potential to become valuable forensic evidence in a case.

“Because they are already recording, any of these types of IoT (internet of things) devices can be tremendous, because again, if it’s still listening, it could record, and the quality is fantastic,” said Reiber, who also has a law enforcement background. “It’s just a great recording of the person who’s actually speaking. So, someone could say, ‘Well, it wasn’t me, it wasn’t me talking.’ Well, no, it is, it’s an exact recording of your voice.”

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Half a Face Enough for Recognition Technology

Facial recognition technology works even when only half a face is visible, researchers from the University of Bradford have found.

Using artificial intelligence techniques, the team achieved 100 percent recognition rates for both three-quarter and half faces. The study, published in Future Generation Computer Systems, is the first to use machine learning to test the recognition rates for different parts of the face.

Lead researcher, Professor Hassan Ugail from the University of Bradford said: “The ability humans have to recognise faces is amazing, but research has shown it starts to falter when we can only see parts of a face. Computers can already perform better than humans in recognising one face from a large number, so we wanted to see if they would be better at partial facial recognition as well.”

The team used a machine learning technique known as a “convolutional neural network,” drawing on a feature extraction model called VGG—one of the most popular and widely used for facial recognition.

They worked with a dataset containing multiple photos—2,800 in total—of 200 students and staff from FEI University in Brazil, with equal numbers of men and women.

For the first experiment, the team trained the model using only full facial images They then ran an experiment to see how well the computer was able to recognize faces, even when shown only part of them. The computer recognized full faces 100 percent of the time, but the team also had 100 percent success with three-quarter faces and with the top or right half of the face. However, the bottom half of the face was only correctly recognized 60 percent of the time, and eyes and nose on their own just 40 percent.

They then ran the experiment again, after training the model using partial facial images as well. This time, the scores significantly improved for the bottom half of the face, for eyes and nose on their own and even for faces with no eyes and nose visible, achieving around 90 percent correct identification.

Individual facial parts, such as the nose, cheek, forehead or mouth had low recognition rates in both experiments.

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Evaluating the Use of Automated Facial Recognition Technology in Major Policing Operations

Academics at Cardiff University have conducted the first independent academic evaluation of Automated Facial Recognition (AFR) technology across a variety of major policing operations.

The project by the Universities’ Police Science Institute evaluated South Wales Police’s deployment of Automated Facial Recognition across several major sporting and entertainment events in Cardiff city over more than a year, including the UEFA Champion’s League Final and the Autumn Rugby Internationals.

The study found that while AFR can enable police to identify persons of interest and suspects where they would probably not otherwise have been able to do so, considerable investment and changes to police operating procedures are required to generate consistent results.

Researchers employed a number of research methods to develop a rich picture and systematically evaluate the use of AFR by police across multiple operational settings. This is important as previous research on the use of AFR technologies has tended to be conducted in controlled conditions. Using it on the streets and to support ongoing criminal investigations introduces a range of factors impacting the effectiveness of AFR in supporting police work.

The technology works in two modes: Locate is the live, real-time application that scans faces within CCTV feeds in an area. It searches for possible matches against a pre-selected database of facial images of individuals deemed to be persons of interest by the police.

Identify, on the other hand, takes still images of unidentified persons (usually captured via CCTV or mobile phone camera) and compares these against the police custody database in an effort to generate investigative leads. Evidence from the research found that in 68 percent of submissions made by police officers in the Identify mode, the image was not of sufficient quality for the system to work.

Over the period of the evaluation, however, the accuracy of the technology improved significantly and police got better at using it. The Locate system was able to correctly identify a person of interest around 76 percent of the time. A total of 18 arrests were made in ‘live Locate deployments during the evaluation, and in excess of 100 people were charged following investigative searches during the first 8-9 months of the AFR Identify operation (end of July 2017-March 2018).

The report suggests that it is more helpful to think of AFR in policing as ‘Assisted Facial Recognition’ rather than a fully ‘Automated Facial Recognition’ system. ‘Automated’ implies that the identification process is conducted solely by an algorithm, when in fact, the system serves as a decision-support tool to assist human operators in making identifications. Ultimately, decisions about whether a person of interest and an image match are made by police operators. It is also deployed in uncontrolled environments, and so is impacted by external factors including lighting, weather and crowd flows.

“There is increasing public and political awareness of the pressures that the police are under to try and prevent and solve crime. Technologies such as Automated Facial Recognition are being proposed as having an important role to play in these efforts. What we have tried to do with this research is provide an evidence-based and balanced account of the benefits, costs and challenges associated with integrating AFR into day-to-day policing,” says Professor Martin Innes, director, Crime and Security Research Institute and Director, Universities’ Police Science Institute.

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FBI thwarts Brinks armed car robbery outside Merrillville Aldi

HAMMOND — “Bingo,” a would-be robber told his accomplice as a Brinks armored truck pulled into their view in Merrillville Monday, federal authorities allege.

Traveling in a black Jeep Cherokee, the suspects began following the Brinks truck to various stops, with the ultimate plan of robbing it, federal prosecutors allege.

But the FBI was reportedly trailing them each step of the way.

A short time later, FBI agents thwarted the robbery by following and arresting the two men outside of the Aldi grocery store in Merrillville, the agency reported.

The men also are suspects in another $500,000 robbery of an armored truck in July, federal law enforcement officials said.

On Wednesday, the U.S. attorney’s office charged Reilly Jackson Jr., 23, of Griffith, with conspiracy to commit robbery after the Merrillville incident.

His alleged companion, Delvin Perkins, 23, of South Holland, was charged with being an armed felon.

Federal prosecutors allege in a criminal complaint that an ongoing FBI investigation of the suspects prompted agents to follow Jackson and Perkins on Monday.

The government alleges the men are suspects in a $500,000 robbery of a Thillens Cagistics armored truck July 25 in Blue Island, Illinois.

The government alleges that robbery was an inside job because Jackson was the armored car driver employed by Thillens Cagistics, and Perkins was the alleged robber.

The FBI said it found a photo in Jackson’s cellphone of Perkins wearing the same clothes in which he robbed that armed truck and concluded the pair worked together to commit the Blue Island robbery.

An FBI surveillance team was following the two defendants as they traveled in the Jeep Cherokee on Monday. Agents saw the men following a Brinks armed truck as it made multiple stops to collect money from local banks and businesses, the agency reported.

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A Tennessee clinic swindled the military out of $65M. This is how it got caught

CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif. — Bill Schneid stood in his home office, holding a package of skin cream worth more than gold. He didn’t know exactly what he had stumbled on, but he was pretty sure it was illegal.

It was March 2015. A few weeks before, Schneid, 72, a curmudgeonly private investigator, had been snooping around Southern California military bases when a Marine he knew mentioned he had a strange source of side income.

The Marine was being paid to get medicine he didn’t need. A Tennessee doctor he had never met wrote him a medicinal cream prescription, which was being filled by a pharmacy in Utah. The military covered the bill and the Marine got a cash kickback from somebody. When the creams arrived in the mail, the Marine didn’t actually use them.

He was in it for the money, not the medicine, after all.

Suspicious, Schneid launched a ruse to investigate, persuading the Marine to reroute the shipments to his house. Soon, Schneid received a shoebox-sized parcel that held several tubes of cream about the same size and consistency as sunscreen that was supposedly used to treat pain and scars.

This medicine had been prescribed, supplied and delivered seemingly for no reason at all. Nobody needed it. Nobody wanted it. So what was the point?

“After the second delivery, I realized this was some kind of fraud,” Schneid said in an interview. “I believed there were about a dozen Marines involved, and they were being actively recruited to be prescribed this cream.

“It was a conspiracy, and it was growing, but I just didn’t know how huge.”

Today, court records make clear the enormity of the conspiracy. The scheme that Schneid stumbled upon in 2015 stretched from California to Tennessee, involving people and companies from at least four states. In Tennessee, two doctors and a nurse practitioner have pleaded guilty to defrauding a military insurance program, called Tricare, out of $65 million. At least two more suspects are still facing charges. Federal prosecutors also are attempting to seize swaths of East Tennessee farmland, a strip mall, and a large estate they argue was purchased with health care fraud profits.

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Los Angeles to Screen Transit Passengers With Body Scanners

Los Angeles CA Aug 15 2018 Los Angeles’s transit agency said Tuesday that it would become the first in the nation to screen its passengers with body scanners as they enter the public transit system — a bold effort to keep riders safer from terrorism and other evolving threats.

But officials said that riders need not worry that their morning commute would turn into the sort of security nightmare often found at airports or even sporting events. In a statement released Tuesday, transit officials said the portable screening devices they plan to deploy later this year will “quickly and unobtrusively” screen riders without forcing them to line up or stop walking.

“We’re looking specifically for weapons that have the ability to cause a mass casualty event,” Alex Wiggins, the chief security and law enforcement officer for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said Tuesday, according to The Associated Press. “We’re looking for explosive vests, we’re looking for assault rifles. We’re not necessarily looking for smaller weapons that don’t have the ability to inflict mass casualties.”

The devices themselves resemble the sort of black laminate cases that musicians lug around on tour — not upright metal detectors. Dave Sotero, a spokesman for Metro, said the machines, which are on wheels, can detect suspicious items from 30 feet away and can scan more than 2,000 passengers per hour. The units can be pointed in the direction of riders as they come down an escalator or into a station.

“Most people won’t even know they’re being scanned, so there’s no risk of them missing their train service on a daily basis,” he said.

Mr. Sotero said the agency had purchased several of the units for about $100,000 each, but he would not specify exactly how many. He said that the authorities still needed to be trained on how to use the technology.

The county’s metro system has one of the largest riderships in the country, with 93 rail stations alone — and it is set to expand. Mr. Sotero said the new scanning units would be mostly deployed at random stations, but would certainly be used at major transit hubs and in places were large crowds are expected for marches, races and other events.

“There won’t be a deployment pattern that will be predictable,” he said. “They will go where they’re needed.”

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Palo Alto Turns to Cameras to Keep Watchful Eye on Railroad

Palo Alto is turning to technology in hopes of preventing people from attempting to stand in front of or jump in front of trains traveling through the Peninsula city.

The city has installed thermal imaging-equipped video cameras designed to keep an eye out for people standing or hanging around the tracks at four railroad crossings within city limits.

While the video cameras have already been put in place, the city is still conducting rounds of testing before making the cameras fully operational later this month.

Palo Alto has hired a company to watch the camera feeds from an off-site location and call law enforcement if they spot anything unusual. Those monitoring the camera feeds can also speak via a public address system to alert someone on the tracks that help is on the way.

The Peninsula city has been paying security guards to scan the railroad crossings since about 2009 after a number of teenagers committed suicide on the tracks.

Unlike the human eye, the cameras are able to scan for movement roughly 1,000 feet away from where they are located along the tracks. The cameras can also capture movement when its dark, raining or foggy.

“We’re hoping that not only will this provide better monitoring, the ability to see much better down the tracks than the human eye, but also in the long run to provide faster notification to law enforcement and be more cost effective,” Claudia Keith with the city of Palo Alto said.

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8 arrested in retail theft ring ‘Operation Loot and Scoot’

Jacksonville FL May 30 2018

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has successfully arrested eight people in connection with an organized retail theft ring that they believe stole more than $500,000 worth of merchandise.

Following a two-year investigation which involved undercover officers, police arrested Natasha Soukseunchay, Latoya Shurman, Jennifer Upton, Chiquita Moorehead, Brian Harris, Deedra Berry, Dantavia Berry and the man they credit with being the leader of the ring, Antoun “Tony” Arbaji.

Sheriff Mike Williams told the media in a press conference that Arbaji sold upwards of $300,000 dollars of stolen merchandise on websites he maintained.

He would pay people for the stolen items either $10 per item or 20% of the total worth. Sherriff Williams said the suspects would enter stores with a large box and conceal stolen items within it and would walk out only having paid for the item printed on the box or having not paid at all.

“There’s a method that these suspects know what stores do or won’t do and they take advantage of that at the end of the day,” said Williams.

This investigation was difficult and took two years due to the merchandise being sold not only online but also across state lines. The investigation led police as far away as Tallahassee and St. Marys, Georgia and everywhere in between, according to the Sheriff.

When police arrest Arbaji they seized $53,000 in stolen merchandise and $11,000 in cash.

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Oakbrook mall security using license plate readers technology

Oak Brook IL April 24 2018 If you park at Oakbrook Center, your car may be part of a candid camera scenario, as security cars drive up and down aisles in lots and garages, using license plate reading technology to check the plate numbers on vehicles.

The license plate recognition system, which has been used since late 2016, helps Oakbrook Center monitor and enforce that shopping center employees are parking in designated areas and leaving the best parking for guests, explained Marissa Ellenby, senior manager of communications for General Growth Properties, the owner/operator of Oakbrook Center.

“Our research has shown us that parking is a top pain point of our shoppers,” Ellenby stated.

But a senior investigative researcher for an organization that defends civil liberties in the digital world says the use of license plate recognition systems raise privacy questions.

“It’s important that businesses respect their customers,” said Dave Maass of the 28-year-old Electronic Frontier Foundation. “People do care when they find out about this; privacy is a major issue.”

Maass said potential privacy concerns over the type of system being used at Oakbrook Center include whether the system is being checked for cyber security, possible use of a third-party server for collected data, whether any stored photos taken may include more than a license plate, how long data is retained, whether notice of system use is posted and who is authorized to access data, including police.

He said that photos taken of license plates could include bumper stickers.

“Sometimes, a bumper sticker indicates someone’s political views, for example,” he said. “Anyone who sees the vehicle could see a bumper sticker, but if you don’t know for sure who might have access to a photo taken of it with a license plate scanner, that could be an issue.”

The issues Maass raised, including the use of third-party servers, how long data is saved, whether data is used for marketing purposes and if the system is audited, were asked of Ellenby via email, but were not answered.

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