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Friday links roundup

Jay Stanley,
Senior Policy Analyst,
ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project
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June 15, 2012

A roundup of some items that caught our eye recently, but we haven’t had a chance to write about.

San Francisco’s MUNI train system is installing new “intelligent” cameras that will track and monitor commuters, raising an alarm when it spots “anomalous activities,” which it will identify by learning over time what is “normal.” It always surprises me when cutting-edge surveillance technologies are introduced in the Bay Area (see BART, phone cutoffs in, and bar cameras). Don’t people know that Northern California is home to perhaps the most tech-savvy and privacy-aware population in the country?

As I mentioned in this post on big data, it may be that we’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg for the possibilities of extracting meaning from vast data sets. Here’s an article on Facebook’s efforts to begin unlocking value in the vast sea of data it’s collecting on its users. Among other things, it shows that Facebook’s data scientists sometimes manipulate users as part of experiments—blocking some users from seeing their friends’ links, for example. It’s just a little reminder of the enormous power that the network could potentially wield.

Jon Fox at CalPirg posted a nice piece on the implications of IPv6 for privacy. IPv6 is the new, updated version of the Internet Protocol—the technological standard that allows different computer networks around the world to connect together into what we call the internet. The bottom line is that this new standard will have bad effects on our privacy. That does not mean it is a bad thing—it is a necessary technological upgrade. If we actually had strong overarching privacy rules in this country, we could benefit from the upgrade and leave it at that. Sadly, we can’t. However, as Fox explains, the new standard does go out of its way to allow those implementing it to protect privacy—it’s just that many companies may not do so, because they have strong incentives to spy on their customers.

On the other side of the coin, CNET’s Declan McCullagh writes today that law enforcement is concerned that IPv6 will diminish compliance with record-keeping chores that help police quickly identify the source of an IP address.

Always a lot happening on drones. A poll found that while Americans approve when asked if they support using drones to “track down runaway criminals,” an overwhelming majority disapproves of their use to issue speeding tickets. We could have predicted that—actually, we did. Overall, 64% were very or somewhat concerned over privacy, while only 15% were “not at all concerned.” As we posted about earlier, a couple drone-related items have been proposed in Congress. An unmanned Navy drone crashed in Maryland, making headlines. Turns out this drone cost $176 million, which is pretty incredible. Speaking of fatuously expensive military-industrial hardware, Wired reports that the Air Force has decided not to pursue this $211 million giant spy blimp. But, the Navy may take it over. The New York Times ran a cartoon on drones, but this one from Tom Tomorrow is much more biting, and funnier too. Our friends at EFF have launched a crowdsourced program to try to track drone use—we think participating would be a great idea.

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