Mass surveillance fears as India readies facial recognition system

Mass surveillance fears as India readies facial recognition system
By Rina Chandran

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – As India prepares to install a nationwide facial recognition system in an effort to catch criminals and find missing children, human rights and technology experts on Thursday warned of the risks to privacy and from increased surveillance.

Use of the camera technology is an effort in “modernising the police force, information gathering, criminal identification, verification”, according to India’s national crime bureau.

Likely to be among the world’s biggest facial recognition systems, the government contract is due to be awarded on Friday.

But there is little information on where it will be deployed, what the data will be used for and how data storage will be regulated, said Apar Gupta, executive director of non-profit Internet Freedom Foundation.

“It is a mass surveillance system that gathers data in public places without there being an underlying cause to do so,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Without a data protection law and an electronic surveillance framework, it can lead to social policing and control,” he said.

A spokesman for India’s Home Ministry did not return calls seeking comment.

Worldwide, the rise of cloud computing and artificial intelligence technologies have popularised the use of facial recognition for a range of applications from tracking criminals to catching truant students.

There is a growing backlash however, and in San Francisco authorities banned the use of facial recognition technology by city personnel, and “anti-surveillance fashion” is becoming popular.

Facial recognition technology was launched in a few Indian airports in July, and Delhi police last year said they had identified nearly 3,000 missing children in just days during a trial.

But technology site Comparitech, which ranked the Indian cities of Delhi and Chennai among the world’s most surveilled cities in a recent report https://www.comparitech.com/vpn-privacy/the-worlds-most-surveilled-cities, said it had found “little correlation between the number of public CCTV cameras and crime or safety”.

Indian authorities have said facial recognition technology is needed to bolster a severely under-policed country.

There are 144 police officers for every 100,000 citizens, among the lowest ratios in the world, according to the United Nations.

The technology has been shown to be inaccurate in identifying darker-skinned women, those from ethnic minorities, and transgender people.

So its use in a criminal justice system where vulnerable groups such as indigenous people and minorities are over-represented risks greater abuse, said Vidushi Marda, a lawyer and artificial intelligence researcher at Article 19, a Britain-based human rights organisation.

“The use of facial recognition provides a veneer of technological objectivity without delivering on its promise, and institutionalises systemic discrimination,” she said.

“Being watched will become synonymous with being safe, only because of a constant, perpetual curfew on individual autonomy. This risks further entrenching marginalisation and discrimination of vulnerable sections.”

India’s Supreme Court, in a landmark ruling in 2017 on the national biometric identity card programme Aadhaar, said individual privacy is a fundamental right, amid concerns over data breaches and the card’s mandated use for services.

Yet the ruling has not checked the rollout of facial recognition technology, or a proposal to link Aadhaar with social media accounts, said Gupta.

“There is a perceptible rise in national security being a central premise for policy design. But national security cannot be the reason to restrict rights,” he said.

“It is very worrying that technology is being used as an instrument of power by the state rather than as an instrument to empower citizens.”

(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran; Editing by Michael Taylor. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

U.S. to announce new ‘security upgrades’ to refugee program

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen testifies to the Senate Judiciary Committee on "Oversight of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 16, 2018.

By Yeganeh Torbati

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – New “security upgrades” to the U.S. refugee admissions program will help block criminals and other suspicious persons from entering the United States from high-risk nations, the head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said on Monday.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, speaking at a public event in Washington, did not give further details and said the upgrades would be announced on Monday.

The new measures would protect the refugee program from “being exploited by terrorists, criminals and fraudsters,” she said. “These changes will not only improve security but importantly they will help us better assess legitimate refugees fleeing persecution.”

Since taking office last year, President Donald Trump has slashed the number of refugees allowed into the country and paused the refugee program for four months. He has also instituted stricter vetting requirements and quit negotiations on a voluntary pact to deal with global migration.

State Department data show that the number of people admitted to the United States as refugees has plummeted under the Trump administration’s new restrictions.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Paul Simao)

FBI chief calls unbreakable encryption ‘urgent public safety issue’

FILE PHOTO: FBI Director Christopher Wray delivers remarks to a graduation ceremony at the FBI Academy on the grounds of Marine Corps Base Quantico in Quantico, Virginia, U.S. December 15, 2017.

By Dustin Volz

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The inability of law enforcement authorities to access data from electronic devices due to powerful encryption is an “urgent public safety issue,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday as he sought to renew a contentious debate over privacy and security.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation was unable to access data from nearly 7,800 devices in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 with technical tools despite possessing proper legal authority to pry them open, a growing figure that impacts every area of the agency’s work, Wray said during a speech at a cyber security conference in New York.

The FBI has been unable to access data in more than half of the devices that it tried to unlock due to encryption, Wray added.

“This is an urgent public safety issue,” Wray added, while saying that a solution is “not so clear cut.”

Technology companies and many digital security experts have said that the FBI’s attempts to require that devices allow investigators a way to access a criminal suspect’s cellphone would harm internet security and empower malicious hackers. U.S. lawmakers, meanwhile, have expressed little interest in pursuing legislation to require companies to create products whose contents are accessible to authorities who obtain a warrant.

Wray’s comments at the International Conference on Cyber Security were his most extensive yet as FBI director about the so-called Going Dark problem, which his agency and local law enforcement authorities for years have said bedevils countless investigations. Wray took over as FBI chief in August.

The FBI supports strong encryption and information security broadly, Wray said, but described the current status quo as untenable.

“We face an enormous and increasing number of cases that rely heavily, if not exclusively, on electronic evidence,” Wray told an audience of FBI agents, international law enforcement representatives and private sector cyber professionals. A solution requires “significant innovation,” Wray said, “but I just do not buy the claim that it is impossible.”

Wray’s remarks echoed those of his predecessor, James Comey, who before being fired by President Donald Trump in May frequently spoke about the dangers of unbreakable encryption.

Tech companies and many cyber security experts have said that any measure ensuring that law enforcement authorities are able to access data from encrypted products would weaken cyber security for everyone.

U.S. officials have said that default encryption settings on cellphones and other devices hinder their ability to collect evidence needed to pursue criminals.

The matter came to a head in 2016 when the Justice Department tried unsuccessfully to force Apple Inc to break into an iPhone used by a gunman during a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

The Trump administration at times has taken a tougher stance on the issue than former President Barack Obama’s administration. U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in October chastised technology companies for building strongly encrypted products, suggesting Silicon Valley is more willing to comply with foreign government demands for data than those made by their home country.

(Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. immigration targets some Iraqis for deportation in wake of travel ban deal

The badge of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Fugitive Operations team is seen in Santa Ana, California, U.S

By Mica Rosenberg

(Reuters) – U.S. immigration authorities are arresting Iraqi immigrants ordered deported for serious crimes, the U.S. government said on Monday, after Iraq agreed to accept U.S. deportees as part of a deal to remove it from President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

“As a result of recent negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq, Iraq has recently agreed to accept a number of Iraqi nationals subject to orders of removal,” said Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Christensen said the agency recently arrested a number of individuals, all of whom had criminal convictions for violations ranging from homicide to drug charges and had been ordered removed by an immigration judge. She declined to give more details, citing the ongoing nature of the operation.

Trump has said more countries need to take back nationals ordered deported from the United States and has pledged to increase immigration enforcement.

Al-Hamza Al-Jamaly, the attache at the Iraqi Embassy in Washington said Iraqi diplomatic and consular missions would coordinate with U.S. authorities to issue travel documents for the deportees “that we can prove to be ‘Iraqi’ based on our records and investigation.”

Attorneys, activists and family members told Reuters that ICE officials had arrested dozens of people in the Chaldean Catholic community in Detroit, Michigan and Kurdish Iraqis in Nashville, Tennessee over the weekend and last week.

Many in the communities have been in the United States for decades and were blindsided by the roundups.

Reuters could not independently confirm all of the cases.

The moves come after the U.S. government dropped Iraq from a list of countries targeted by a revised version of Trump’s temporary travel ban issued in March.

The March 6 order said Iraq was taken off the list because the Iraqi government had taken steps “to enhance travel documentation, information sharing, and the return of Iraqi nationals subject to final orders of removal.”

There are approximately 1,400 Iraqi nationals with final orders of removal currently in the United States, according to U.S. officials.

Iraq had previously been considered one of 23 “recalcitrant” countries, along with China, Afghanistan, Iran, Somalia and others, that refused to cooperate with ICE’s efforts to remove its nationals from the United States, according to congressional testimony by ICE Deputy Director Daniel Ragsdale.

Christensen said a deal was struck on March 12 of this year and since then, eight Iraqi nationals had been removed to the country.

At least some of the people who were picked up came to the United States as children, got in trouble years ago and already served their sentences, according to immigration attorneys and local activists. They had been given an effective reprieve from deportation because Iraq would not take them back.

“Suddenly after years of living their lives, and getting past that, they’re being greeted by ICE at the door saying that they’re going to be deported to Iraq,” said Drost Kokoye, a Kurdish-American community organizer in Nashville, home to the largest Kurdish population in the United States.

TRUMP SUPPORTERS

Some of the weekend arrests took place in Michigan’s Macomb County, which Trump won by 53.6 percent in the 2016 Presidential race, backed by many in the Iraqi Christian community.

At least one family of Trump supporters has been affected by the recent enforcement actions.

Nahrain Hamama said ICE agents came to her house on Sunday morning and arrested her 54-year-old husband Usama Hamama, a supermarket manager who goes by “Sam.” He has lived in the United States since childhood and has four U.S.-born children. During the election, all his U.S. citizen relatives were Trump supporters, Hamama said.

“He forgot his language, he doesn’t speak Arabic anymore. We have no family there on both sides. Where would he go? What would he do? How would he live?” Hamama said. She fears for his health and that he will be targeted by groups in Iraq because of his religion, made more visible because of a cross tattooed on his wrist.

Sam got in trouble with the law in his 20s, in what his wife called a “road rage” incident where he brandished a gun during a fight in traffic. He served time in prison and was ordered deported after being released. For the past seven years he has regularly checked in with immigration officials, his wife said. “It is a shame that for one mistake, that he paid for legally, now he has to pay with his own life.”

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York; additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Washington, Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago, and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Andrew Hay)

U.S. Justice Department orders tougher criminal punishments

FILE PHOTO: Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivers remarks at the Ethics and Compliance Initiative annual conference in Washington, U.S., April 24, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration called for tougher charges and longer prison time for criminals in a move to return to strict enforcement of mandatory minimum-sentencing rules, according to a memo the U.S. Department of Justice released on Friday.

In a two-page memo to federal prosecutors, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed course from the previous Obama administration and told the nation’s 94 U.S. attorneys to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.”

The move is in line with tough campaign rhetoric against criminals by U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican who had also pledged to support police and law enforcement.

“It ensures that the Department enforces the law fairly and consistently, advances public safety and promotes respect for our legal system,” Sessions said in the memo dated on Wednesday.

Sessions will make additional comments on the changes later on Friday, the Justice Department said in a separate statement.

Under former president Barack Obama, a Democrat, the Justice Department had sought to reduce mandatory sentencing to reduce jail time for low-level drug crimes and ease overcrowding at U.S. prisons.

Obama’s then-attorney general Eric Holder had advised prosecutors to avoid pursuing the toughest charges in certain cases, such as more minor drug offenses, that would have triggered mandatory sentencing under laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s.

In recent years, however, there has been growing bipartisan interest among some in Congress, the U.S. states and the courts to reevaluate lengthy prison terms.

Sessions’ memo rescinds the Obama-era policy, saying prosecutors must now disclose all information about a case to the courts and follow current sentencing rules. It also requires prosecutors seeking a different sentence to get approval and make a case in writing.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will oversee the new policy’s implementation and issue any additional guidance or clarifications, Sessions wrote.

(Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)