San Francisco votes to ban city use of facial recognition technology

Robie de Guzman   •   May 16, 2019   •   1090

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)

San Francisco rolls out RVs for self-isolation, amid coronavirus concerns for homeless

UNTV News   •   March 11, 2020

The city of San Francisco in the United States preemptively rolled out 30 recreational vehicles on Tuesday (March 19) it said would be used to house individuals who do not have their own home and have tested positive for COVID-19, the highly contagious and sometimes fatal respiratory illness caused by coronavirus.

The 30 vehicles, which cost just above $440,000, were rented through June, and were paid for by funds gained through Mayor London Breed’s emergency declaration, will be available to individuals identified through the Department of Public Health or through health care providers, Francis Zamora, director of external affairs for the city’s emergency management department, told reporters on Tuesday.

Zamora said the main purpose was to have the vehicles ready in the event that the virus spreads further, affecting the city’s most vulnerable, including some 8,000 people estimated to be living in shelters, on the streets, or with family and friends.

As of Tuesday, the city had 14 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Nationwide, almost three-quarters of U.S. states have confirmed COVID-19, with almost 1,000 cases in the United States and 29 deaths.

The vehicles, for now, will remain in the Presidio of San Francisco, a park on the northern tip of the city, but Zamora said they are still finalizing plans for where throughout the city the RVs would be deployed as well as how many RVs are sent out to different neighborhoods in groups.

In addition to the RVs, the city says it’s working with local hotels to find empty hotel rooms where individuals can quaranteine and self-isolate. Zamora said he did not have an exact number of the rooms that the city is targeting. (Reuters)

(Production: Nathan Frandino)

Iran admits to having downed UIA passenger plane, says it was by mistake

UNTV News   •   January 11, 2020

A view of victims’ possessions around the wreckage after an Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 carrying 176 people crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran, killing everyone on board, in Shahriar, Iran, 08 January 2020. EPA-EFE/ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH

TEHRAN — Iran admitted on Saturday that its armed forces had downed a Ukraine International Airlines passenger jet with 176 civilians on board and said it had been an involuntary human error.

The Iranian military had been denying their responsibility in the tragedy – which took place on Tuesday, shortly after the UIA flight PS752 took off from Tehran airport – for the past two days after several NATO members, spearheaded by Canada, said they had intelligence suggesting the plane crash was not due to a technical error, but rather had been brought down by ballistic missiles.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani wrote on Twitter. “My thoughts and prayers go to all the mourning families. I offer my sincerest condolences.”

Rouhani said in a separate post that the investigation into the circumstances that led to the tragic error would continue.

Meanwhile, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard said in a statement that the mistake was made in the context of a “very delicate crisis situation,” claiming that the Boeing 737 had flown close to a IRG military center with the “altitude and flight position of an enemy target.”

Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, also took to Twitter to express his regret for the incident and partially blamed it on the United States’ “adventurism.”

“A sad day. Preliminary conclusions of internal investigation by Armed Forces: Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster,” Zarif wrote. “Our profound regrets, apologies and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations.”

The crash occurred in the context of a targeted missile attack against two US bases in Iraq, Tehran’s retaliation for the assassination of its top general, Qasem Soleimani, via drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3. Iran warned the US in advance of this limited response, thus avoiding any casualties.

On Friday, the head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, Ali Abedzade, ruled out the possibility that the airliner had been shot down by the army.

“One thing is for certain, this airplane was not hit by a missile,” Abedzadeh said during a press conference in Tehran held in response to earlier remarks by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying his government had evidence indicating that the cause of the crash that killed all 176 passengers was a missile strike.

On Saturday, it was also revealed that 57 passengers onboard the aircraft were Canadian nationals, instead of the 63 that had been initially reported. EFE-EPA

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Trump imposes new sanctions after Iran attacks US bases in Iraq

UNTV News   •   January 9, 2020

US President Donald J. Trump (C) delivers a statement on the US response to Iranian missile strikes, beside US Vice President Mike Pence (Front R) US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper (Front L) in the Grand Foyer of the White House in Washington, DC, 08 January 2020. EFE/EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

WASHINGTON — The president of the United States Donald Trump said Wednesday his country would be imposing fresh sanctions on Iran which would remain in place until the country “changes its behavior.”

The announcement comes after Iran struck two military bases used by US troops stationed in Iraq overnight.

“As we continue to evaluate options in response to Iranian aggression, the United States will immediately impose additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime,” Trump said.

“We suffered no casualties. All of our soldiers are safe and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases,” Trump told reporters of the attack on the two military installations.

“Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for every American, and for the world” he continued.

Trump said Iran was a “leading sponsor of terrorism,” something that posed a “threat” to the “civilized world.”

He also spoke about the killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike on Friday, saying that the US had “eliminated a terrorist” who had been behind some of the world’s “atrocities” and who had “fueled bloody civil wars” in the Middle East.

The slain commander had been “planning new attacks on American targets but we stopped him,” according to Trump.

“He should have been terminated long ago,” he said, adding that his killing sent a “powerful message” to others.

Trump also made reference to the “very defective” nuclear deal with Iran that “expires soon,” and urged other signatories to abandon it in favor of finding another solution to curb the country’s activities.

The US has already withdrawn from the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (PCPOA), which was agreed under his predecessor, Barack Obama, along with the leaders of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany.

“We must all work together toward making a deal with Iran,” Trump told the media.

The president vowed that Iran would “never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon” while he was the leader of the US.

He used the occasion to hail the US economy, saying it was “stronger than ever before.

“We are independent, and we do not need Middle East oil.”

The head of state also referred to US military equipment, saying: “the fact we have this great military equipment however does not mean we have to use it.”

Trump also called on NATO to get “much more involved in the Middle East process.” EFE-EPA

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