Posts Tagged ‘privacy’

Search for “car accidents” on any video sharing site, and you’ll quickly find thousands upon thousands of videos of vehicles large and small smashing into each other on highways and byways around the world. For whatever reason, Russia seems to have some of the craziest crashes, but the U.S. has its share of wild accident vids as well.

Image courtesy of Bill Longshaw /

Image courtesy of Bill Longshaw /

The Department of Transportation is trying to do something about all this vehicular carnage by mandating newly made vehicles contain communication technology that allows them to talk with other cars on the road – something they call V2V.

According to a report by NPR:

“V2V crash avoidance technology has game-changing potential to significantly reduce the number of crashes, injuries and deaths on our nation’s roads,” National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Acting Administrator David Friedman said in a statement. “Decades from now, it’s likely we’ll look back at this time period as one in which the historical arc of transportation safety considerably changed for the better, similar to the introduction of standards for seat belts, airbags, and electronic stability control technology.”

Essentially, the system works by tracking your speed and location, and then transmitting that data anonymously to surrounding vehicles. If the system detects an imminent collision, it warns the driver to take evasive action.

So far, so good. I think we could all use a little less smashiness in our lives.

Associated Press

There is a downside here, though. Just like other attempts to make ourselves safer through the miracles of modern technology, collision avoidance systems create yet another vector for intrusions upon citizen privacy.

It’s one thing for car insurance companies to offer incentives to customers willing to use tracking systems to voluntarily monitor and report their driving activity on a time-limited basis. It’s quite another for the government to mandate such data sharing on an involuntary and continuing basis.

Yes, driving is a privilege and, of course, minimizing injuries and deaths is an important public safety concern – but what about privacy? You can bet that once the technology is in place, individuals and organizations, both good and evil, will be lining up to collect, store, analyze, and exploit the data from V2V systems.

The DOT claims that the data being transmitted is anonymous, but doesn’t define the term. Do the police have access to it? Is the data stored somewhere? We don’t know.

The police, in particular, could easily harness this technology to track vehicle movements and issue tickets for violations with little investment of investigative or patrol resources. On the surface, that might sound like a benefit. But, as with so-called red-light cameras, the potential for technology failure and other abuses is quite real.

Also, when we look at V2V in the context of all the other technology currently being used to track drivers, the privacy issues become even more prevalent. As one Youtuber put it in his comments about this technology:

Feds want put a tracking device in your car. So you don’t crash. It’s for safety. There will be a chip that sends a signal to every police-car’s computer that gives them your VIN, Name/State/Address of registry and license plate. For your safety. I mean, you might have a Joint outside Colorado and that would be dangerous to the public.

He’s overstating things just a bit, as internet commenters everywhere tend to do, but he is identifying the central tension that arises time and again between safety and privacy.

Is it reasonable – even in the interest of safety – for my driving behavior to be constantly monitored and possibly recorded by strangers or government officials , and to also have my license plate read and recorded anytime I enter and exit a city, and to also have my car photographed when going through intersections, such that anyone with the motivation and resources can scrutinize my every move?

If you say yes, then what are the limits to privacy in the US? Do we want the minutiae of our lives to be tracked in ways that compromise basic ideas of free movement and freedom from government interference without just cause, even if doing so results in an increase in safety?

As we head down the road of improving driver safety, we also need to keep privacy firmly in mind. It’s all too easy to be lured by the promise that technology will make our lives better without fully considering all of the ramifications.

What are your thoughts?  

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It’s been a great first year, and I want to thank all of you for taking the time to read, post, comment, share, and otherwise support this blog. I especially want to thank for all the reblogs of our content and the comments they’ve shared over the past months. Much appreciated, friends. You can read their blog here.

Image courtesy of jannoon028 /

Image courtesy of jannoon028 /

Our blog began simply as an information project, primarily to help my students. I referred them here for more info on topics that commonly came up in our discussions and the other work we were doing together. Not only was it helpful to them, and a springboard for further discussion and learning, but I soon found that other people were interested in these topics as well.

That lead to additional topics, some guest posts, experiments with different approaches, and even a shot at a podcast (I plan to revive that in the new year). We also upped the game with a new and improved research blog, also supported by the company that sponsors this blog – Æquitas Educational Services – and a new weekly news site for parents: Social Web Safety.

Our Blog — Æquitas Educational Services 2013-12-14 08-28-44

So, to wrap things up, I’ve pulled together the top ten posts from Crime & Justice in terms of views, comments, and reblogs for 2013. I look forward to another year of growth and experimentation in 2014, and we’ll continue striving to provide you with the types of content you’re seeking.

If you have suggestions, story ideas, or just some feedback you’d like to share, let me know. And, as always, please spread the word about our blog and what we’re up to.

Top Ten Posts of 2013
  1. How Many Innocent People are in Prison?
  2. Why do Non-violent Felons Lose the Right to Bear Arms?
  3. Female Sex Offenders – Hidden in Plain Sight?
  4. Compliance with Authority and The Strip Search Prank Call Scam
  5. What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
  6. The Legal System’s Non-Response to “Revenge Porn” (Updated 11/7/13)
  7. Friday Crime Vids – The Failed War on Drugs
  8. Why Therapeutic Jurisprudence?
  9. Does Privacy Still Matter?
  10. Kratom – Wonder Drug or Potential Health Threat?

Thanks again, and have a happy and safe holiday season!

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We’ve all seen surveillance cameras in public spaces – hanging under the eaves of local businesses, lashed to public towers, and staring back at us from the ceilings of airports and transit stations. Cameras are ubiquitous tools of our safety-inclined culture and, if one startup has its way, they’re about to go mobile, predictive, and social.

Security sign

In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting, a company called Knightscope is seeking funding for their version of a security robot, with the odd sounding name, K5 Autonomous Data Machine, that they assert will protect public spaces, like schools, from security threats.

School shootings, although rare, do generate a lot of fear – not to mention a profound sense of helplessness – among students, teachers, parents and others concerned about child safety.

That fear, warranted or not, also generates business opportunities for safety companies, like Knightscope, to develop and sell technologically-based security solutions.

The Knightscope K5 – Autonomous Data Machine

The K5 prototype can carry a wide variety of sensing technology, including optical character readers, standard video capture, thermal imaging, infrared, radar, and acoustical monitoring equipment that allow it to thoroughly scour its environment for security and safety threats.

It also appears from the above promotional video that facial recognition and license plate scanning will be options as well.

According to the Knightscope web site, the robot also uses a type of predictive algorithm and “crowdsourced social data sets” to make decisions about what to do once it detects a threat:

The Knightscope K5 Autonomous Data Machine utilizes a combination of autonomous robots and predictive analytics to provide a commanding but friendly physical presence while gathering important real-time on-site data with numerous sensors. Data collected through these sensors is processed through our predictive analytics engine, combined with existing business, government and crowdsourced social data sets, and subsequently assigned an alert level that determines when the community and the authorities should be notified of a concern. If an alert is pushed, the K5 machine will turn on all of its sensors to allow the entire community to review everything and also contribute important real-time information. Our approach alleviates any privacy concerns, engages the community on a social level to effectively crowdsource security, and provides an important feedback loop to the prediction engine.

Needless to say, privacy advocates are concerned about yet another method for monitoring, recording, and analyzing law-abiding citizens’ public behavior.

Given that we have yet to develop a clear consensus – not to mention a workable legal framework – regarding the balance between privacy and safety, the Knightscope project seems to be jumping the gun a bit, so to speak.

Perhaps if the developers installed a cynicism sensor on the K5, they’d detect the potential for public concern about yet more surveillance of an already overly watched society.

What are your thoughts about the K5? Is it the next step in public safety, or yet another tool of Big Brother?

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Some argue we don’t have a justice system at all.  Outcomes of the law, they say, are often not about what’s best for all involved, or even what’s fair and reasonable under the circumstances. Instead, what we have is a “legal” system. Any behavior is acceptable, as long as it comports with the letter of the law.

Nowhere is that more clear than in the recent debate over internet surveillance.

Mockup of Security Panel

I’ve posted before about Edward Snowden’s revelations regarding the NSA and how that has freshened the debate over the government’s ability to intrude into the lives of innocent citizens around the world. That debate doesn’t hinge on justice in any way, not that the concept has even entered the conversation as far as I know. Instead, it turns on the “legality” of surveillance.

The difference may seem slight, but it’s actually quite profound.


Several months ago, and again this past weekend, I engaged in discussions about drones, how they’re being used, what the potential for abuse might be, and how we go forward from here. The perspectives run the gamut from those who say “no drones, no way,” to those who say “drones okay, but unarmed only,” to others who feel that literally the sky’s the limit.

If you haven’t read it yet, Daniel Suarez’s book, Kill Decision, is not only an excellent story, it’s also a fascinating look at the potential future of drone technology.  The book tends toward the dystopian, but it may not be too far off in terms of its predictions about how drones are ultimately used in the future.

Daniel Suarez’s TED Talk from June 2013 on the topic of lethal autonomous drones

I personally have a complex position on drones. I love technology and feel that drones hold significant promise for so many fields, policing being just one. At the same time, however, the technology is outstripping society’s ability to understand and regulate its use. This would be especially true of the lethal autonomous drones that Suarez warns about in his novel and TED Talk.

The ACLU has also raised concerns related to the privacy implications of drone use by the police. For this reason, some communities, such as Seattle, have declared a moratorium on drone use by police, pending further research. Other jurisdictions are going full steam ahead despite reservations.

But, police aren’t the only ones using drones. The group, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) announced they’ll begin using drones to monitor hunters. And, there are any number of individuals and hobbyists who enjoy using (and abusing) drones for their personal enjoyment.

So, what’s your opinion on drones? Technological marvel or sinister tool of Big Brother? Vote in this week’s poll!

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While pundits, lawmakers, and talking heads quibble about whether Edward Snowden should be cast as a “hero” or a “traitor,” the NSA leak story raises a more fundamental issue for debate: The relationship between governments and citizens.


If media accounts can be  taken at face value, the PRISM program – while perhaps well intentioned – represents a significant threat to individual liberty and privacy, not only of U.S. citizens, but of law-abiding and peaceful people in countries around the world.

According to a follow-up article by Glenn Greenwald, it would appear that members of Congress were not fully aware of the extent or invasiveness of the NSA’s data collection, which raises the question of how any meaningful oversight could have been occurring, as some officials have claimed.

Regardless of where you come down on government surveillance in a philosophical sense, ask yourself this question: If the watchers are not able to watch those who are watching us, how can the public have any hope of engaging in reasoned debate on this issue?

What do we base our decisions about NSA intrusions upon? How do we evaluate what liberties we’re giving up and whether that’s acceptable to us or not?

This week’s videos feature a roundup of reporting from a variety of angles. Take a look and make up your own mind.

Edward Snowden’s interview with the Guardian

Marco Rubio’s response to the NSA leaks

Rand Paul responds to NSA’s testimony

Harry Reid: Lawmakers have had “every opportunity to be aware” of the NSA’s programs

Have a safe weekend and, for all the dads out there, have a Happy Father’s Day!

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I’ve been following an unfolding story over the past few months about so-called “revenge porn” websites that publish nude pictures of individuals without their knowledge or permission. Apparently, the idea is that jilted ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends can submit these pictures to the web as a way of getting even.

Ars Technica has been running a series of articles on a particularly egregious “revenge porn” website called IsAnyBodyDown that published not only nude pictures of people without their consent, but also identifying and contact information for the person in the photos as well.

To add insult to injury, the website also allegedly owned and operated a second website that, for a fee, offered to have the offending pictures removed.

Surprisingly, there doesn’t appear to be any clear way of shuttering an operation like this via the legal system, but an attorney named Marc Randazza has reportedly attempted to do so using copyright law as a tool. The legal theory is that the site’s owner, Craig Brittain, is violating the ownership rights held by the individuals who actually took the photos, which in some cases is the same person who is pictured.

It’s not certain if this approach would have prevailed in court or not, especially in cases where the person pictured is not the same person who took the photograph, but copyright law is one potential avenue for shutting down what are arguably vindictive sites that do real harm to real people.

Fortunately, Brittain announced last month that he would be closing his site, which is definitely a good thing.  But, other sources have since reported that the same day he made that announcement, he also registered two new domain names. So, it remains to be seen what will happen next.

Clearly, the law needs to evolve in ways that prohibit publishing photos without informed consent, especially if the purpose of doing so is to embarrass or harass. And, it’s yet another reason for everyone to take precautions to carefully protect their online privacy.

If you’ve been the victim of this type of harassment, you might also consider checking out the website, Without My Consent, which provides resources that may be helpful.

Update – 10/2/13: Governor Jerry Brown today signed a bill that makes it a “misdemeanor to post identifiable nude pictures of someone else online without permission with the intent to cause emotional distress or humiliation.”  Obviously, the law only applies in California, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Update – 11/7/13: This Slate article makes the case that revenge porn doesn’t qualify as free speech due to its intent and its lack of contribution to free speech generally. Here’s a nice quote from said article that explains it more fully:

To be sure, the government cannot censor the expression of an idea because society finds it offensive or distasteful. Truthful speech should not be banned because it makes people uncomfortable. But certain categories of speech can be regulated because they bring about serious harm and make only the slightest contribution to free speech. Revenge porn comes under that exact heading.

To my mind, this is a solid argument that puts the lie to any claims that censoring revenge porn is a violation of First Amendment protections.

The Boston bombing isn’t the first case in which video footage helped solve a crime, of course, but the scale of IT consumerization and the wide availability of commercial grade CCTV in this instance was unprecedented. The presence of so much raw footage made video forensics and subsequent release of relevant footage to the public two of the key investigative steps that cracked the case.

The  availability of volumes of personal video and commercial CCTV also presented a test case for application of facial recognition systems. Unfortunately, such technology is still somewhat limited in its practical usage and, as a result, it played no role in the Boston case at all.  Companies like 3VR, discussed in the video above, are working to overcome that, however. There’s every indication that, at some point, facial recognition software will be able to quickly and easily identify individuals, even if they attempt to disguise their appearance.

Despite the current limitations, though, the general role of video footage in solving the Boston case argues for expanded use of CCTV systems in cities around the U.S. and, along with that, the potential for increased use of facial recognition technologies as well, once they mature.

All of this has generated considerable debate that highlights the tension between maintenance of public safety on the one hand and the privacy rights of law abiding citizens on the other. Should the government use what some would term “invasive” technology, such as CCTV and facial recognition software, that potentially allows the government to intrude on the privacy of its citizens? Are such intrusions warranted if they help solve serious crimes like the Boston bombing? If so, how should the technology be regulated, if at all?

What do you believe is most important in this debate, safety or privacy? Vote in our first Monday poll and see the results!