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San Francisco votes to ban city use of facial recognition technology

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Thursday, May 16th, 2019

Courtesy : Reuters

San Francisco officials on Tuesday voted 8 to 1 to ban the purchase and use of facial recognition technology by city personnel, in a move to regulate tools that local Silicon Valley companies helped develop.

The ordinance, which also would require city departments to submit surveillance technology policies for public vetting, can become final after a second vote next week by the same officials, the city’s Board of Supervisors.

The action puts San Francisco at the forefront of increasing discontent in the United States over facial recognition, which government agencies have used for years and now has become more powerful with the rise of cloud computing and artificial intelligence technologies.

“We have a fundamental duty to safeguard the public from potential abuses,” Aaron Peskin, the city supervisor who championed the ban, said before the board’s vote.

Peskin said the ordinance was not an anti-technology policy. It allows continued use of surveillance tools like security cameras; the district attorney or sheriff can make an appeal to use certain restricted technology in exceptional circumstances as well.

Rather, Peskin said, the aim is to protect “marginalized groups” that could be harmed by the technology.

For instance, Amazon.com Inc has come under scrutiny since last year for selling an image analysis and ID service to law enforcement. Researchers have said this service struggles to identify the gender of individuals with darker skin, prompting fears of unjust arrests. Amazon has defended its work and said all users must follow the law.

Jennifer Lynch, the surveillance litigation director at Electronic Frontier Foundation, which defends digital privacy, told Reuters “They say, for example, that this might be a way to catch criminals and catch terrorists but what we’ve seen is that face recognition oftentimes is used to identify people who didn’t actually commit a crime. Face recognition’s accuracy is notoriously poor and it’s very inaccurate at trying to identify people of color and especially African American women.”

Civil rights groups and companies including Microsoft Corp , which markets a facial recognition service, have called for regulation of the technology in recent months. This has added momentum to the effort in San Francisco and to a parallel ban reportedly in the works in nearby Oakland.

While communities at the heart of the technology industry are moving to limit facial recognition, police elsewhere have increased their use, primarily to spot potential suspects in known offender databases after a crime has occurred.

U.S. customs agents are vetting foreign travelers at airports with facial recognition, and other federal agencies use the technology too.

Matt Cagle, an attorney for technology and civil liberties at ACLU Northern California, said “Face surveillance gives the government the power to watch us as we go to a protest, when we attend a place of business and when we just walk down the street going about our daily business. This isn’t power that belongs in government hands and is one that is easily abused to watch protestors, to scan and track activists and to discriminate against people of color.”

He also added that San Francisco will be just one of a number of American cities to join the ban on facial recognition technology.

Cagle told Reuters “So 13 American cities have already adopted ordinances that require community oversight of surveillance technology so we’re excited to see where this can go next and what we’re seeing is a lot of interest in community members across the United States in reining in secretive surveillance and placing communities in control of it.” (REUTERS)

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Iran ready to talk to U.S. if sanctions lifted

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Monday, July 15th, 2019

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaking at televised address | Courtesy: Reuters footage

Iran is ready to hold talks with the United States if Washington lifts sanctions and returns to the 2015 nuclear deal it quit last year, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech on Sunday (July 14).

“When a big power that is a bully, well then we have to stand up to it. It must stop being a bully. We have always believed in talks. Always, right this hour, right this moment, if they stop the oppression, if they stop the belligerence, if they lift sanctions, return to the table, return to to logic; we are ready,” said Rouhani.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration says it is open to negotiations with Iran on a more far-reaching agreement on nuclear and security issues.

But Iran has made any talks conditional on first being able to export as much oil as it did before the United States withdrew from the nuclear pact with world powers in May 2018.

Confrontations between Washington and Tehran have escalated, culminating in a plan for U.S. air strikes on Iran last month that Trump called off at the last minute. (REUTERS)

(Production: Vin Shahrestani)

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Japan airports to use facial recognition for foreign visitors

by Marje Pelayo   |   Posted on Thursday, July 4th, 2019

TOKYO, Japan – Starting this year, foreign visitors leaving Japan’s major airports will have to register an image of his or her face during check-in.

Japanese Immigration authorities will implement starting this month the use of facial recognition systems at automatic gates for departing foreigners in preparation for the influx of overseas visitors ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympic games.

According to Kyodo News, the Immigration Services Agency said the artificial intelligence-powered facial recognition technology will be provided by NEC Corp., one of Japan’s leading IT services providers.

Upon registering, passengers may advance to baggage drop-off and security checks.

The photo from the traveler’s passport will be scanned and compared with the photograph taken at the gate which only opens when the two images match.

Haneda airport first utilized the technology on returning Japanese travelers in October 2017. It is now being used at four other airports in the country: Narita, Chubu, Kansai and Fukuoka.

The introduction of the facial recognition system to departing foreign travelers is expected to be in full blast in major airports in the country – at Haneda in July; Narita in August; Kansai in September; Fukuoka in October; Chubu and Chitose in November this year, and Naha Airport in Okinawa Prefecture next year.

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Duterte dares Western nations to ‘seize’ Spratly Islands

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Thursday, June 27th, 2019

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view of China occupied Subi Reef at Spratly Islands in disputed South China Sea April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Francis Malasig/Pool

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday dared western countries to “assemble” and “seize” the Spratly Islands amid calls for him to defend the Philippine territory against China’s incursion.

Duterte’s challenge came as he acknowledged that the Philippines cannot prevent China from fishing in Recto Bank (also called Reed Bank) and asserting its claim over the West Philippine Sea.

“Ito ang hamon ko, ang hamon ko sa America, Britain, France: mag-assemble tayo dito sa Palawan tapos diretso na tayo doon sa Spratly [Islands]. Agawin na natin kung maagaw natin,” the president said in a speech during a Presidential Security Group event at Malacañang.

He, however, reminded western nations of the dire consequences of such decision, particularly on the lives of Filipinos.

“Kung maubos tayo lahat… Sabihin nila, ‘Duterte is not protecting the interest of the Fili — [Filipinos]’ You’re a g**** s***. You want me to put the lives of 110 million Filipinos by going into trouble?” he said.

The Spratly Islands are a group of islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) which are being claimed by various nations, including the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

Duterte said the Philippines would need all the help it can get from its powerful allies if it continues to insist on claiming the contested areas.

“Para maintindihan ninyo ‘yung galit ko. Hindi ako sa hindi natatakot. Kung gusto nila, sabi ko nga, mag-imbita sila kay hindi naman talaga natin kaya ‘yang — p** karami ng armas diyan ngayon. Sabay-sabay kami,” he said.

“It’s not the time to go to war. Eh kasi hindi… Reality, that’s geopolitics,” he added.

Duterte earlier drew flak over his remark that he will allow China to fish in the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as part of a mutual agreement.

Some quarters said that allowing Chinese fishers to trawl in the country’s exclusive sea zone is unconstitutional, citing Article 12, Section 2 (paragraph 2) of the 1987 Philippine Constitution which states that, “The State shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in its archipelagic waters, territorial sea, and exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens.”

Responding to criticisms, the president said he cannot drive Chinese fishers away from the disputed waters because they also laid claim to the area.

He also said that no country in the world has a sovereignty over its economic zone.

“Hindi binigay sa atin ‘yung sovereignty. Our sovereignty is only 12 [nautical] miles. Ang economic zone, wala tayong sovereignty. No country in the world has a sovereignty sa kanyang economic zone — exclusive. It is not a question of sovereignty,” he said.

He added that even the United States of America is not confronting China over its activities in the West Philippine Sea.

“Ngayon, sabi nila, ‘You have to ban China. I-prohibit mo.’ Kung i-prohibit ko, how do I enforce my desire? Takot nga ang America, ayaw ngang mag-confront tapos ako pa ang ipusta nila. Gusto talaga nilang mapasubo ako,” the chief executive said.

“Anything that is — that would force anybody to act contrary to his will is always offensive. As a matter of fact, sa law, that is what’s called compelling anybody — is a crime… Why will I go there and prohibit them? Na the only way to stop them is talagang gamitan ko ng ngipin ‘yan,” he added. (with details from Rosalie Coz)

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