privacy

Censorship Remains Viable in China– But For How Long?

by Greg Singer, UMN Law Student, MJLST Managing Editor

Thumbnail-Greg-Singer.jpgIn the west, perhaps no right is held in higher regard than the freedom of speech. It is almost universally agreed that a person has the inherent right to speak their mind as he or she pleases, without fear of censorship or reprisal by the state. Yet for the more than 1.3 billion currently residing in what is one of the oldest civilizations on the planet, such a concept is either unknown or wholly unreflective of the reality they live in.

Despite the exploding amount of internet users in China (from 200 million users in 2007 to over 530 million by the end of the first half of 2012, more than the entire population of North America), the Chinese Government has remained implausibly effective at banishing almost all traces of dissenting thought from the wires. A recent New York Times article detailing the fabulous wealth of the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and his family members (at least $2.7 billion) resulted in the almost immediate censorship of the newspaper’s English and Chinese web presence in China. Not stopping there, the censorship apparatus went on to scrub almost all links, reproductions, or blog posts based on the article, leaving little trace of its existence to the average Chinese citizen. Earlier this year, the Bloomberg News suffered a similar fate, as it too published an unacceptable report regarding the unusual wealth of Xi Jinping, the Chinese Vice President and expected successor of current President, Hu Jintao.

In “Forbidden City Enclosed by the Great Firewall: The Law and Power of Internet Filtering in China,” published in the Winter 2012 version of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, Jyh-An Lee and Ching-Yi Liu explain that it is not mere tenacity that permits such effective censorship–the structure of the Chinese internet itself has been designed to allow the centralized authority to control and filter the flow of all communications over the network. Even despite the decentralizing face of content creation on the web, it appears as though censorship will remain technically possible in China for the foreseeable future.

Yet still, technical capability is not synonymous with political permissibility. A powerful middle class is emerging in the country, with particular strength in the large urban areas, where ideas and sentiments are prone to spread quickly, even in the face of government censorship. At the same time, GDP growth is steadily declining from its tremendous peak in the mid-2000s. These two factors may combine to produce a population that has the time, education, and wherewithal to challenge a status quo that will perhaps look somewhat less like marvelous prosperity in the coming years. If China wishes to enter the developed world as a peer to the west (with an economy based on skilled and educated individuals, rather than mass labor), addressing its ongoing civil rights issues seems like an almost unavoidable prerequisite.


Google Glass: Augmented Realty or ADmented Realty?

by Sarvesh Desai, UMN Law Student, MJLSTStaff

Thumbnail-Sarvesh-Desai.jpgGoogle glasses . . . like a wearable smartphone, but “weighing a few ounces, the sleek electronic device has a tiny embedded camera. The glasses also deploy what’s known as a ‘heads-up display,’ in which data are projected into the user’s field of vision on a small screen above the right eye.”

google-glasses2.jpgThe glasses are designed to provide an augmented reality experience in which (hopefully useful) information can be displayed to the wearer based on what the wearer is observing in the world at that particular moment. The result could be a stunning and useful achievement, but as one commentator pointed out, Google is an advertising company. The result of Google glasses, or as Google prefers to call them “Google Glass”(since they actually have no lenses) is that advertisements following you around and continuously updating as you move through the world may soon be a reality.

With the ever increasing digital age, more of our movements, preferences, and lives are incessantly tracked. A large portion of the American population carries a mobile phone at all times, and as iPhone users learned in 2011, a smartphone is not only a handy way to keep Facebook up to date, it is also a potential GPS tracking device.

With technologies like smartphones, movement data is combined with location data to create a detailed profile of each person. Google Glass extends this personal profile even further by recording not only where you are, but what you are looking at. This technology makes advertising, as displayed in the hit movie, The Minority Report, a reality, while also creating privacy issues that previously could not even be conceptualized outside science fiction.

Wondering what it might look like to wander the world, as context-sensitive advertisements flood your field of vision? Jonathan McIntosh, a pop culture hacker has the answer. He released a video titled ADmented Reality in which he placed ads onto Google’s Project Glass promotional video demonstrating what the potential combination of the technology, tracking, and advertising might yield. McIntosh discussed the potential implications of such technology in the ABC News Technology Blog. “Google’s an ad company. I think it’s something people should be mindful of and critical of, especially in the frame of these awesome new glasses,” McIntosh said.

As this technology continues to improve and become a more integrated part of our lives, the issue of tracking becomes ever more important. For a thorough analysis of these important issues, take a look at Omer Tene and Jules Polonetsky’s article in the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, “To Track or ‘Do Not Track’: Advancing Transparency and Individual Control in Online Behavioral Advertising.” The article covers current online tracking devices, the use of tracking, and recent developments in the regulation of online tracking. The issues are not simple and there are many competing interests involved: efficiency vs. privacy, law enforcement vs. individual rights, and reputation vs. freedom of speech, to name a few. As this technology inexorably marches on, it is good to consider whether legislation is needed and, if so, how will it balance those competing interests. In addition, what values do we consider to be of greatest importance and worth preserving at the risk of hindering “awesome new” technology?


FBI Face Recognition Concerns Privacy Advocates

by Rebecca Boxhorn, Consortium Research Associate, Former MJLST Staff & Editor

Thumbnail-Rebecca-Boxhorn.jpgHelen of Troy’s face launched a thousand ships, but yours might provide probable cause. The FBI is developing a nationwide facial recognition database that has privacy experts fretting about the definition of privacy in a technologically advanced society. The $1 billion Next Generation Identification initiative seeks to harness the power of biometric data in the fight against crime. Part of the initiative is the creation of a facial photograph database that will allow officials to match pictures to mug shots, electronically identify suspects in crowds, or even find fugitives on Facebook. The use of biometrics in law enforcement is nothing new, of course. Fingerprint and DNA evidence have led to the successful incarceration of thousands. What privacy gurus worry about is the power of facial recognition technology and the potential destruction of anonymity.

Most facial recognition technology relies on the matching of “face prints” to reference photographs. Your face print is composed of as many as 80 measurements, including nose width, eye socket depth, and cheekbone shape. . Sophisticated computer software then matches images or video to a stored face print and any data accompanying that face print. Accuracy of facial recognition programs varies, from accuracy estimates as low as 61% to as high as 95%.

While facial recognition technology may prove useful for suspect identification, your face print could reveal much more than your identity to someone with a cell phone camera and a Wi-Fi connection. Researchers at Carnegie Melon University were able to link face print data to deeply personal information using the Internet: Facebook pages, dating profiles, even social security numbers! Although the FBI has assured the public that it only intends to include criminals in its nationwide database, this has not quieted concerns in the privacy community. Innocence before proof of guilt does not apply to the collection of biometrics. Police commonly collect fingerprints from arrestees, and California’s Proposition 69 allows police to collect DNA samples from all people they arrest, no matter the charge, circumstances, or eventual guilt or innocence. With the legality of pre-conviction DNA collection largely unsettled, the legal implications of new facial recognition technology are anything but certain.

It is not difficult to understand, then, why facial recognition has captured the attention of the federal government, including Senator Al Franken of Minnesota. During a Judiciary Committee hearing in July, Senator Franken underscored the free speech and privacy implications of the national face print database. From cataloging political demonstration attendees to misidentifications, the specter of facial recognition technology has privacy organizations and Senator Franken concerned.

But is new facial recognition technology worth all the fuss? Instead of tin foil hats, should we don ski masks? The Internet is inundated with deeply private information voluntarily shared by individuals. Thousands of people log on to Patientslikeme.com to describe their diagnoses and symptoms; 23andme.com allows users to connect to previously unknown relatives based on shared genetic information. Advances in technology seem to be chipping away at traditional notions of privacy. Despite all of this sharing, however, many users find solace and protection in the anonymity of the Internet. The ability to hide your identity and, indeed, your face is a defining feature of the Internet and the utility and chaos it provides. But as Omer Tene and Jules Polonetsky identify in their article “To Track or ‘Do Not Track’: Advancing Transparency and Individual Control in Online Behavioral Advertising,” online advertising “fuels the majority of free content and services online” while amassing enormous amounts of data on users. Facial recognition technology only exacerbates concerns about Internet privacy by providing the opportunity to harvest user-generated data, provided under the guise of anonymity, to give faces to usernames.

Facial recognition technology undoubtedly provides law enforcement officers with a powerful crime-fighting tool. As with all new technology, it is easy to overstate the danger of governmental abuse. Despite FBI assurances to use facial recognition technology only to catch criminals, concerns regarding privacy and domestic spying persist. Need the average American fear the FBI’s facial recognition initiative? Likely not. To be safe, however, it might be time to invest in those oversized sunglasses you have been pining after.