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Facebook Says Government Demands For User Data Are at a Record High

Government demands for user data increased by 16% to 128,617 demands during the first-half of this year compared to the second-half of last year. That’s the highest number of government demands its received in any reporting period since it published its first transparency report in 2013. The U.S. government led the way with the most number of requests–50,741 demands for user data resulting in some account or user data given to authorities in 88% of cases. Facebook said two-thirds of all of the U.S. government’s requests came with a gag order, preventing the company from telling the user about the request for their data. But Facebook said it was able to release details of 11 so-called national security letters (NSLs) for the first time after their gag provisions were lifted during the period. National security letters can compel companies to turn over non-content data at the request of the FBI. These letters are not approved by a judge, and often come with a gag order preventing their disclosure. But since the Freedom Act passed in 2015, companies have been allowed to request the lifting of those gag orders.

The UK Invited a Robot To ‘Give Evidence’ In Parliament For Attention

“The UK Parliament caused a bit of a stir this week with the news that it would play host to its first non-human witness,” reports The Verge. “A press release from one of Parliament’s select committees (groups of MPs who investigate an issue and report back to their peers) said it had invited Pepper the robot to ‘answer questions’ on the impact of AI on the labor market.” From the report:

“Pepper is part of an international research project developing the world’s first culturally aware robots aimed at assisting with care for older people,” said the release from the Education Committee. “The Committee will hear about her work [and] what role increased automation and robotics might play in the workplace and classroom of the future.” It is, of course, a stunt.

As a number of AI and robotics researchers pointed out on Twitter, Pepper the robot is incapable of giving such evidence. It can certainly deliver a speech the same way Alexa can read out the news, but it can’t formulate ideas itself. As one researcher told MIT Technology Review, “Modern robots are not intelligent and so can’t testify in any meaningful way.” Parliament knows this. In an email to The Verge, a media officer for the Education Committee confirmed that Pepper would be providing preprogrammed answers written by robotics researchers from Middlesex University, who are also testifying on the same panel. “It will be clear on the day that Pepper’s responses are not spontaneous,” said the spokesperson. “Having Pepper appear before the Committee and the chance to question the witnesses will provide an opportunity for members to explore both the potential and limitations of such technology and the capabilities of robots.”

MP Robert Halfon, the committee’s chair, told education news site TES that inviting Pepper was “not about someone bringing an electronic toy robot and doing a demonstration” but showing the “potential of robotics and artificial intelligence.” He added: “If we’ve got the march of the robots, we perhaps need the march of the robots to our select committee to give evidence.”

Machine Logic: Our lives are ruled by big tech’s decisions by data

The Guardian’s Julia Powles writes about how with the advent of artificial intelligence and so-called “machine learning,” this society is increasingly a world where decisions are more shaped by calculations and data analytics rather than traditional human judgement:

“Jose van Dijck, president of the Dutch Royal Academy and the conference’s keynote speaker, expands: Datification is the core logic of what she calls “the platform society,” in which companies bypass traditional institutions, norms and codes by promising something better and more efficient — appealing deceptively to public values, while obscuring private gain. Van Dijck and peers have nascent, urgent ideas. They commence with a pressing agenda for strong interdisciplinary research — something Kate Crawford is spearheading at Microsoft Research, as are many other institutions, including the new Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence. There’s the old theory to confront, that this is a conscious move on the part of consumers and, if so, there’s always a theoretical opt-out. Yet even digital activists plot by Gmail, concedes Fieke Jansen of the Berlin-based advocacy organisation Tactical Tech. The Big Five tech companies, as well as the extremely concentrated sources of finance behind them, are at the vanguard of “a society of centralized power and wealth. “How did we let it get this far?” she asks. Crawford says there are very practical reasons why tech companies have become so powerful. “We’re trying to put so much responsibility on to individuals to step away from the ‘evil platforms,’ whereas in reality, there are so many reasons why people can’t. The opportunity costs to employment, to their friends, to their families, are so high” she says.”

It’s trivially easy to identify you based on records of your phone calls and texts

“Contrary to the claims of America’s top spies, the details of your phone calls and text messages—including when they took place and whom they involved—are no less revealing than the actual contents of those communications.

In a study published online Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Stanford University researchers demonstrated how they used publicly available sources—like Google searches and the paid background-check service Intelius—to identify “the overwhelming majority” of their 823 volunteers based only on their anonymized call and SMS metadata.

Using data collected through a special Android app, the Stanford researchers determined that they could easily identify people based on their call and message logs.

The results cast doubt on [show as lies] claims by senior intelligence officials that telephone and Internet “metadata”—information about communications, but not the content of those communications—should be subjected to a lower privacy threshold because it is less sensitive.”

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

“From Uber To Eric Schmidt, Tech Is Closer To the US Government Than You’d Think”

“Alphabet’s [Google] executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, recently joined a Department of Defense advisory panel. Facebook recently hired a former director at the U.S. military’s research lab, Darpa. Uber employs Barack Obama’s former campaign manager David Plouffe and Amazon.com tapped his former spokesman Jay Carney. Google, Facebook, Uber and Apple collectively employ a couple of dozen former analysts for America’s spy agencies, who openly list their resumes on LinkedIn.

These connections are neither new nor secret. But the fact they are so accepted illustrates how tech’s leaders — even amid current fights over encryption and surveillance — are still seen as mostly U.S. firms that back up American values. Christopher Soghoian, a technologist with the American Civil Liberties Union, said low-level employees’ government connections matter less than leading executives’ ties to government. For instance, at least a dozen Google engineers have worked at the NSA, according to publicly available records on LinkedIn. And, this being Silicon Valley, not everyone who worked for a spy agency advertises that on LinkedIn. Soghoian, a vocal critic of mass surveillance, said Google hiring an ex-hacker for the NSA to work on security doesn’t really bother him. “But Eric Schmidt having a close relationship with the White House does…”

Seeing Through Walls – Thermal Imaging Cameras

The use of technology that allows the police to “see” inside the homes of suspects has raised privacy questions.

At least 50 US police forces are believed to be equipped with radars that can send signals through walls.

The use of the radar device, known as Range-R, was made public in a Denver court late last year.

It was used by police entering a house to arrest a man who had violated the terms of his parole.

In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled that police cannot use thermal cameras without a warrant, specifically noting that the rule would also apply to radar-based systems that were then being developed.

“The idea that government can send signals through the wall of your house to figure out what’s inside is problematic,” Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union told USA Today.

“Technologies that allow the police to look inside of a home are among the intrusive tools that police have.”