Editor’s Note – 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.
EFF Suggests Iranians Could Face Increased Digital Surveillance
During times of international conflict, a nation’s leaders must balance the observance of residents’ rights with their safety and security. In today’s globalized world, this is not as simple as it once was – few countries and cultures maintain the isolation of the past, and modern-day travel creates an interconnected web of people across the globe. How, then, can a government protect its citizens while continuing to respect the rights it claims to value?
After the recent U.S.-Iran skirmish, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights advocacy group, suggested that there had been “reports of increased scrutiny of people of Iranian descent” at the border and in major urban centers. If accurate, is this a sensible move by the authorities to protect American lives during a time of diplomatic and military tension, or is it a violation of rights?
The issue of increased digital security at ports of entry/exit has been a controversial one – the DHS recently seems to have abandoned a plan to mandate facial recognition for U.S. citizens at the border, while officers inspecting the contents of travelers’ and U.S. citizens’ smartphones has been examined in the case of Alasaad v. McAleenan. Massachusetts District Court Judge Denise Casper recently found that digital searches for personal information (as opposed to contraband items) at the border, without reasonable suspicion, were in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Mohammad Halbawy, a U.S. citizen with partially Lebanese heritage told Buzzfeed that he recently had his phone examined by Customs and Border Protection while driving into the country from Canada. Among questions related to his potential military training and family background, Buzzfeed reported Halbawy told the outlet that officers had inspected his phone:
“‘When I walk in, the first thing the [CBP agent] said was, “Yeah you picked the wrong time to travel. Haven’t you seen the news?”’ Halbawy said. ‘Literally everybody was Persian or had a connection to Persia. We were the lone Arab people.’
CBP agents took his phone and asked for its passcode. Halbawy provided the passcode after he was told by CBP officers they would get into it eventually without it, only he’d have to wait even longer while they got access. CBP took their phones for two hours before returning them, Halbawy said.”
From a law enforcement point of view, profiling suspects according to national, ethnic, or religious affiliation makes sense in certain scenarios, particularly when it comes to terrorism or international conflict – but civil rights advocates continue to argue that personal background is no grounds for “reasonable suspicion.”
While rumors circulated in the press and social media that CBP officers had been ordered to prevent Iranians’ entry into the U.S., the agency denied that was the case.
Los Angeles and New York authorities announced they were increasing security prior to Iran’s retaliatory strike in response to the death of Qassem Soleimani, which, according to the EFF, could mean increased surveillance in these areas. Notably, the measures included heightened protection against possible cyber attacks, although it was not made clear what kind of cyber attacks Americans could fall victim to.
Lifting Cows’ Moooods
We’ve had a few weird and wacky stories from around the world over the last few weeks – first it was chickenization in Indonesia, then voyeuristic hotels in Japan – well, why stop now? Virtual reality has been a science fiction dream for decades, and nowadays we are able to experience these alternate universes in a rudimentary form – but have you ever wondered if this technology might benefit animals? One Russian dairy farm has, and it is testing virtual reality headsets on cows. The experiment was announced by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food of the Moscow Region, which suggests that improving the cows’ quality of life can benefit milk production – and that VR goggles may aid other, more well established relaxation aides such as classical music and massage brushes. “Examples of dairy farms from different countries show that in a calm atmosphere, the quantity, and sometimes the quality, of milk increases markedly,” said the ministry.
Virtual reality architects have programmed a summer field simulation based on previous studies about bovine vision, and, according to the ministry, researchers recorded “a decrease in anxiety and an increase in the overall emotional mood of the herd.” Some, however, have questioned whether a simple headset can provide enough sensory information to compare with what a creature would receive in a real-life environment – such as a genuine summer field with its associated scents and rich variety of sensations.
Austin Stewart, inventor of Second Livestock, a “Virtual Free Range™” simulation for chickens, asked, “Will animals actually accept a virtual world as readily as we do, or is there some level of intelligence or imagination that needs to happen where we can suspend disbelief more readily than a chicken can?” in a Vox interview. “I don’t know.”
Cows and chickens are not the only animal species being subjected to virtual reality – neuroscientists are already putting mice and rats in VR simulations to study brain activity, while researchers at the University of Washington are performing similar experiments to study memory in monkeys.
Australian researchers into “digital enrichment” for animals in captivity suggested in a recent article for The Conversation that animals themselves have shown little interest in technology for the purpose of entertainment. Interestingly, however, seeing orangutans use the technology boosted humans’ empathy for the creatures. It makes one wonder – how much is technology now wrapped up in how we see ourselves and the creatures that surround us?
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.