Social Articles from 2020
The Biometric Threat
by Jayati Ghosh
Posted April 3, 2020
As with so many other convenient technologies, the world is underestimating the risks associated with biometric identification systems. India has learned about those risks the hard way – and should serve as a cautionary tale to the governments and corporations seeking to expand the use of these technologies.
If a fingerprint or iris scan is even slightly tilted or otherwise wrongly positioned, it may not match future verification scans. Moreover, bodies can change over time – for example, daily manual labor may alter fingerprints – creating discrepancies with the recorded data. And that does not even cover the most basic of mistakes, like misspelling names or addresses.
If honest mistakes can do that much harm, imagine the damage that can be caused by outright fraud. Police in Gujarat, India, recently found more than 1,100 casts of beneficiary fingerprints made on a silicone-like material, which were used for illicit withdrawals of food rations from the public distribution system. Because we leave fingerprints on everything we touch, we are all vulnerable to such replication.And manual replication is just the tip of the iceberg. More…
The USA’s Doll House: A Vast Tapestry of Lies and Illusions
by Edward Curtin
Posted April 2, 2020
While truth-tellers Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning sit inside jail cells and Edward Snowden lives in exile in Russia, the American people hole up in an illusionary dwelling constructed to reduce them to children afraid of the truth. Or is it the dark?
This is not new; it has been so for a very long time, but it has become a more sophisticated haunted doll’s house, an electronic one with many bells and whistles and images that move faster than the eye can see. We now inhabit a digital technological nightmare controlled by government and corporate forces intent on dominating every aspect of people’s lives.
This is true despite the valiant efforts of dissidents to use the technology for human liberation. The old wooden doll houses, where you needed small fingers to rearrange the furniture, now only need thumbs that can click you into your cell’s fantasy world. So many dwell there in the fabricated reality otherwise known as propaganda. The result is mass hallucination. More…
The Superorganism That Created the Pandemic
By Gaia Vince
Posted April 1, 2020
Humans do not operate within their ecosystems in the same way as other species, even other top-level predators. We don’t have an ecological niche, but rather we dominate and alter the local—and now, global—ecosystem cumulatively to suit our lifestyles and improve our survival, including though habitat loss, introduction of invasive species, climate change, industrial-scale hunting, burning, planting, infrastructure replacement, and countless other modifications.
We also don’t interact with each other in the same way as other species. We operate in large networks of unrelated individuals, treating each other as other species treat family. Just as genetic information is passed down through generations of families, humans also pass a whole suite of cultural information through societies and down the generations, including knowledge, behaviors, tools, languages, and values. More…
How to be anonymous in the age of surveillance
By Melissa Hellmann
Posted March 31, 2020
Cory Doctorow’s sunglasses are seemingly ordinary. But they are far from it when seen on security footage, where his face is transformed into a glowing white orb.
At his local credit union, bemused tellers spot the curious sight on nearby monitors and sometimes ask, “What’s going on with your head?” said Doctorow, chuckling.
The frames of his sunglasses, from Chicago-based eyewear line Reflectacles, are made of a material that reflects the infrared light found in surveillance cameras and represents a fringe movement of privacy advocates experimenting with clothes, ornate makeup and accessories as a defense against some surveillance technologies. More…
What does Google know about me?
by Gabriel Weinberg
Posted March 30, 2020
Did you know when you search on Google, they keep your search history forever? That means they know every search you’ve ever done on Google. That alone is pretty scary, but it’s just the shallow end of the very deep pool of data that they try to collect on people.
What most people don’t realize is that even if you don’t use any Google products directly, they’re still trying to discover as much as they can about you. Google trackers have been found on 75% of the top million websites. This means they’re also trying to track most everywhere you go on the internet, trying to slurp up your browsing history!
Most people also don’t know that Google runs most of the ads you see across the internet and in apps – you know those ones that follow you around everywhere? Yup, that’s Google, too. They aren’t really a search company anymore – they’re a tracking company. More…
How the Pandemic Will End
by Ed Yong
Posted March 30, 2020
Three months ago, no one knew that SARS-CoV-2 existed. Now the virus has spread to almost every country, infecting at least 446,000 people whom we know about, and many more whom we do not. It has crashed economies and broken health-care systems, filled hospitals and emptied public spaces. It has separated people from their workplaces and their friends. It has disrupted modern society on a scale that most living people have never witnessed. Soon, most everyone in the United States will know someone who has been infected. Like World War II or the 9/11 attacks, this pandemic has already imprinted itself upon the nation’s psyche.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed and distributed a faulty test in February. Independent labs created alternatives, but were mired in bureaucracy from the FDA. In a crucial month when the American caseload shot into the tens of thousands, only hundreds of people were tested. That a biomedical powerhouse like the U.S. should so thoroughly fail to create a very simple diagnostic test was, quite literally, unimaginable. “I’m not aware of any simulations that I or others have run where we [considered] a failure of testing,” says Alexandra Phelan of Georgetown University, who works on legal and policy issues related to infectious diseases. More…
How Do You Blow The Whistle On a Whole Society?
By David Swanson
Posted March 28, 2020
How do major U.S. newspapers and television news programs refer to the murder of an Iranian general? Never with the word murder. Often with words like “deal with” or “take out.” Trump had to deal with him. You could read an article like that, about a guy who is famous for hiring someone to put his name on a book called The Art of the Deal, and imagine that Trump had made a bargain with Suleimani, rather than blew him up along with whoever was nearby.
There have been societies studied by anthropologists that were literally incapable of understanding, much less committing, murder. But you’d only have to be incapable of understanding mafia talk to be bewildered by a U.S. newspaper. I want to live in a society where “took him out” indicates that you went with a friend to a restaurant and had a nice meal. But first, we’re going to have to create a society in which a murder is referred to as murder. Assassination comes close, but it’s beginning to be treated as potentially acceptable, whereas murder still means unacceptable. More…
COVID-19: How Corona Broke the System
By Marc Saxer
Posted March 27, 2020
No one knows how long the pandemic will last, how many people will fall ill, how many lives the coronavirus will claim. But the economic and political consequences of the outbreak are already emerging. Measures to contain the pandemic are disrupting public life around the world.
The age of neoliberalism, in terms of the primacy of market interests over all other social interests, is coming to an end. Of course, all of these measures are due to the state of emergency. However, citizens will remember them when they soon again are told ‘There is no alternative.’ With the crisis, long-dormant sphere of politics has been set into motion. After four decades of neoliberal scepticism about the state, a long forgotten fact is coming to the light: that nation states still have enormous creative power, if only they are willing to use it. More…
40 Privacy Groups Warn That Facial Recognition is Threatening Democracy
by Derrick Broze
Posted March 27, 2020
We must take action and guard what little privacy remains before it’s too late.
On Monday, forty organizations signed a letter calling on an independent government watchdog to recommend a ban on U.S. government use of facial recognition technology.
The letter was drafted by the digital privacy advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and signed by organizations including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Color of Change, Fight for the Future, Popular Resistance, and the Consumer Federation of America. The letter calls on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) to “recommend to the President and the Secretary of Homeland Security the suspension of facial recognition systems, pending further review.“
The PCLOB was originally created in 2004, as an independent agency that advises the administration on privacy issues. “The Congress specifically found that new surveillance powers ‘calls for an enhanced system of checks and balances to protect the precious liberties that are vital to our way of life and to ensure that the Government uses its powers for the purposes for which the powers were given’,” the letter states. More…
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