As the technological realm becomes more pervasive, whom can we trust? Each week, Liberty Nation brings new insight into the fraudulent use of personal data, breaches of privacy, and attempts to filter our perception.
DHS Flip Flops on Facial Recognition for U.S. Travelers
Airports are a hub for controversial, new, and invasive digital practices designed to track, record, and evaluate people as they move around the globe. From heartbeat trackers to rifling through the data on travelers’ phones, airport security has a wealth of options now and in the future to ensure border security.
With facial recognition in all areas of law enforcement, it’s no surprise that airport security wants in on the action. While Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is already taking travelers’ photos at ports of entry and exit, the procedure is not compulsory for U.S. citizens or eligible foreigners and Americans can still – at least technically – request an alternative method of identity and document verification, such as showing a passport.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has proposed a rule change to make facial recognition scans mandatory for all travelers, including U.S. citizens. A recent filing from the department established that the goal is:
“To facilitate the implementation of a seamless biometric entry-exit system that uses facial recognition and to help prevent persons attempting to fraudulently use U.S. travel documents and identify criminals and known or suspected terrorists, DHS is proposing to amend the regulations to provide that all travelers, including U.S. citizens, may be required to be photographed upon entry and/or departure.”
Whether the DHS is prepared to deal with the criticism such a move would – and already has – encountered, is another matter. Despite the recent proposal, CBP remained noncommittal in a December 4 statement and, a day later, appeared to have abandoned the whole idea – or did it?
A spokesperson said that although CBP “initially considered” implementing mandatory facial recognition for U.S. citizens, it changed its mind “[u]pon consultation with Congress and privacy experts.” According to the statement, CBP has “no current plans to require U.S. citizens to provide photographs upon entry and exit from the United States,” and it “intends to have the planned regulatory action regarding U.S. citizens removed from the unified agenda next time it is published.”
This seems to directly contradict a report by CNN Business, which quotes Michael Hardin, director of exit/entry policy and planning at the DHS, as saying the new rule is in the “final stages of clearance,” but will not go into effect until after the public has had time to comment. If the idea has already been shelved, the public’s time to comment was short, indeed.
New Face for Google
One of the world’s biggest companies has made a change this week. Alphabet – most known for being the parent company of Google – is under new management, although the move is perhaps not as much of a seismic shift as it would seem at first glance.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who presided over the huge growth of what has now become a Silicon Valley behemoth, are handing over the reins to the CEO of both Alphabet and Google, Sundar Pichai. It has not gone unnoticed that the change comes at a time when the companies are facing employee insurrections over various decisions and face heavy scrutiny from privacy and antitrust investigations in both Europe and the U.S.
Is the change as big as is being made out, however? Pichai is essentially an employee, albeit a high-earning one; owning only around 0.1% of Alphabet, Inc., while Brin and Page will remain on duty as directors and continue to be major shareholders – together owning a controlling 51% of special “supervoting” shares. The pair say they will remain “actively involved” on the board and “plan to continue talking with Sundar regularly, especially on topics we’re passionate about.”
So, will this new era of Google prove to be less invasive and more transparent than the old one? The market seems to think the change bodes well, as Google’s stock quickly went up 1.99%, adding around $13 billion to the company’s market cap. However, Natasha Bernal, writing for Wired, isn’t convinced. She points out that Pichai has been the public face of the company for some time and that this formal “handover” is simply the final stage in shedding any semblance of accountability from Google’s actual owners. She writes:
“And they have certainly found a better way: now they can have their cake and eat it too. Pichai will be the perfect human shield; someone to take all the flak and have next to no true power to determine the direction of the business. The transition from figurehead to shadowy major shareholders is complete.
First Government to Set Precedent for Social Media Fact-Checking
What if the government could call individuals out on “fake news” posted on social media? That is now a reality in Singapore. For the first time, Facebook has, by government request, put a correction notice on users’ posts. Singapore’s Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), which came into effect in October, mandates that social media platforms attach a “fact-checking” notice to posts the government determines to be misinformation. It is the first law of its kind, and it has now been used twice.
“Facebook is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information,” reads the notice attached to a message by exiled blogger, activist and former political candidate Alex Tan – though the text of the original message was not changed. Tan, now based in Australia, runs the States Times Review, a website banned in his home country of Singapore. The aforementioned Facebook post alleged that members of a student union had clashed with police and that a whistleblower had been arrested – a claim the Ministry of Home Affairs labeled “false and baseless,” maintaining that nobody had been arrested.
Tan responded to the first fact-check on his blog by thanking the Singaporean government for bringing more attention and traffic to his website. He added: “[I]n response to the POFMA censorship. I am happy to go to 10 years’ jail for it, so there shall be no compliance. I will defy and resist every unjust law.” He did alter the original Facebook message to say, “The Singapore government claimed that no arrest was made. This runs in contrary to the tip off [sic] we received.”
Tan was the second person affected by the new law; the first was Brad Bowyer, a member of the opposition Progress Singapore Party. Bowyer suggested in a Facebook post that the Singaporean state-owned companies GIC and Temasek were making bad investments – a claim the country’s Finance Ministry took issue with.
Bowyer wasn’t as vociferous as Tan in defending his statements, telling The Straits Times, “I feel it is fair to have both points of view and clarifications and corrections of fact when necessary. I do my best to use public facts and make informed statements of opinion based on the details I have access too. I am not against being asked to make clarifications or corrections especially if it is in the public interest.”
The correction notice attached to his post linked to Factually, a fact-checking website run by the Singaporean government, which contains a detailed dissection and debunking of Bowyer’s claims.
That’s all for this week from Tech Tyranny. Check back in next Monday to find out what’s happening in the digital realm and how it impacts you.
Read more from Laura Valkovic.