AI detection of COVID-19 via cough

Remarkable example of AI that could scale and protect:

In a paper published recently in the IEEE Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology, the team reports on an AI model that distinguishes asymptomatic people from healthy individuals through forced-cough recordings, which people voluntarily submitted through web browsers and devices such as cellphones and laptops.

The researchers trained the model on tens of thousands of samples of coughs, as well as spoken words. When they fed the model new cough recordings, it accurately identified 98.5 percent of coughs from people who were confirmed to have Covid-19, including 100 percent of coughs from asymptomatics — who reported they did not have symptoms but had tested positive for the virus.

Artificial intelligence model detects asymptomatic Covid-19 infections through cellphone-recorded coughs

Is it ok to be surveilled at all times if it keeps you super safe? I expect this is exactly the trade-off most people will accept.

Anonymization is hard, Waze edition

Security engineer Peter Gasper:

What I found is that I can ask Waze API for data on a location by sending my latitude and longitude coordinates. Except the essential traffic information, Waze also sends me coordinates of other drivers who are nearby. What caught my eyes was that identification numbers (ID) associated with the icons were not changing over time. I decided to track one driver and after some time she really appeared in a different place on the same road.

Waze: How I Tracked Your Mother (via Schneier on Security)

Anonymizing is hard

The task of proper anonymization is harder than it looks. Yet another example:

It turns out, though, that those redactions are possible to crack. That’s because the deposition—which you can read in full here—includes a complete alphabetized index of the redacted and unredacted words that appear in the document.

We Cracked the Redactions in the Ghislaine Maxwell Deposition (via Schneier on Security)

This seems to be a corollary of Schneier’s Law: Any person can anonymize data in a way that he or she can’t imagine breaking it.

Although the truth is most don’t even try to break their own work.

Surveillance for everyone

Kashmir Hill, writing for the NYT:

“I am involved with developing facial recognition to in fact use on Portland police officers, since they are not identifying themselves to the public,” Mr. Howell said. Over the summer, with the city seized by demonstrations against police violence, leaders of the department had told uniformed officers that they could tape over their name. Mr. Howell wanted to know: Would his use of facial recognition technology become illegal?

Portland’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, told Mr. Howell that his project was “a little creepy,” but a lawyer for the city clarified that the bills would not apply to individuals. The Council then passed the legislation in a unanimous vote.

Activists Turn Facial Recognition Tools Against the Police

The democratization of surveillance continues, and it will not slow down.

Freedom vs. Security continued…

Kashmir Hill for the NYT:

Floyd Abrams, one of the most prominent First Amendment lawyers in the country, has a new client: the facial recognition company Clearview AI.

Litigation against the start-up “has the potential of leading to a major decision about the interrelationship between privacy claims and First Amendment defenses in the 21st century,” Mr. Abrams said in a phone interview. He said the underlying legal questions could one day reach the Supreme Court.

Facial Recognition Start-Up Mounts a First Amendment Defense

Is everything known to the public truly available for any use whatsoever? We are trending away from that view, and this will be a battle to watch closely.

Crime fighting tools of social media posts

James Vincent, reporting for The Verge:

As reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer, at the start of their investigation, FBI agents only had access to helicopter footage from a local news station. This showed a woman wearing a bandana throwing flaming debris into the smashed window of a police sedan.

By searching for videos of the protests uploaded to Instagram and Vimeo, the agents were able to find additional footage of the incident, and spotted a peace sign tattoo on the woman’s right forearm. After finding a set of 500 pictures of the protests shared by an amateur photographer, they were able to clearly see what the woman was wearing, including a T-shirt with the slogan: “Keep the Immigrants. Deport the Racists.”

The only place to buy this exact T-shirt was an Etsy store, where a user calling themselves “alleycatlore” had left a five-star review for the seller just few days before the protest. Using Google to search for this username, agents then found a matching profile at the online fashion marketplace Poshmark which listed the user’s name as “Lore-elisabeth.” 

A search for “Lore-elisabeth” led to a LinkedIn profile for one Lore Elisabeth Blumenthal, employed as a massage therapist at a Philadelphia massage studio. Videos hosted by the studio showed an individual with the same distinctive peace tattoo on their arm. A phone number listed for Blumenthal led to an address. As reported by NBC Philadelphia, a subpoena served to the Etsy seller showed a “Keep the Immigrants. Deport the Racists.” T-shirt had recently been delivered to that same address.

FBI used Instagram, an Etsy review, and LinkedIn to identify a protestor accused of arson

Constant aerial surveillance, coming to an American city

In 2015, Radio Lab ran a fascinating story about a re-purposed military project that put a drone in the sky all day long to film an entire city in high resolution. This allows the operators to rewind the tape and track anyone moving, forward or backward, anywhere within the city. It’s an amazing tool for fighting crime. And it’s a remarkable privacy intrusion.

The question was, would Americans be ok with this? I figured it was just a matter of time. Maybe another DC sniper would create the push for it.

Five years later Baltimore is the first off the sidelines, and the ACLU is suing to stop them:

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued to stop Baltimore police from launching a sweeping “eye in the sky” surveillance program. The initiative, operated by a company called Persistent Surveillance Systems (PSS), would send planes flying over Baltimore at least 40 hours a week as they almost continuously collect wide-angle photos of the city. If not blocked, a pilot program is expected to begin later this year.

Lawsuit fights new Baltimore aerial surveillance program

Privacy vs. the Coronavirus

Everywhere and at all at once rules around privacy are being relaxed in the face of urgent public health concerns:

As countries around the world race to contain the pandemic, many are deploying digital surveillance tools as a means to exert social control, even turning security agency technologies on their own civilians. Health and law enforcement authorities are understandably eager to employ every tool at their disposal to try to hinder the virus — even as the surveillance efforts threaten to alter the precarious balance between public safety and personal privacy on a global scale.

As Coronavirus Surveillance Escalates, Personal Privacy Plummets

Meanwhile, global data privacy regulators are confident that “data protection requirements will not stop the critical sharing of information to support efforts to tackle this global pandemic.”

In the hierarchy of human needs, security always has and always will come first.