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Beyond electric cars

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 01/07/2022 - 7:18pm in

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Technology

Beyond electric cars How electrifying trucks, buses, tractors and scooters will help tackle climate change – Peter Newman When you think of an electric vehicle,…

The post Beyond electric cars first appeared on Economic Reform Australia.

Driving NASCAR Off the American Cultural Cliff

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 01/07/2022 - 1:40am in
by Brian Czech

In the heart of New York’s spectacular Finger Lakes region last Sunday, 40 drivers lined up to race—for six hours—round and round a circuitous route of doglegs four miles southwest of Seneca Lake. I don’t know who won, and I couldn’t care less, but I do know who lost. That would be people and planet.

Brian France

Brian France: Billionaire grandson of “Big Bill” France and master of NASCAR branding. (CC BY-SA 2.0, Zach Catanzareti)

Watkins Glen International Raceway, dubbed “the spiritual home of road racing in the USA,” is among six major car-racing tracks scattered about the state parks, national forests, and wildlife refuges of the Finger Lakes region. These six tracks are among 64 in the great state of New York, where they plunder the peace from the Pennsylvania state line all the way over to Long Island, up into the Adirondack Mountains and back down to the shores of Lake Ontario.

It’s unclear why Watkins Glen gets the “spiritual home” title. Could it be for the dozen spirits (eleven drivers and one spectator) who gave theirs up at “The Glen”? Or, maybe it has to do with the historical origins of the raceway, so parallel with the origins of NASCAR. Possibly it’s because of the diversity of racing styles that have convened there, including NASCAR, the Grand Prix, and GT World Challenge America.

Yet my guess is it’s the majesty of the Finger Lakes region that spiritualizes all who enter its hallowed valleys. The sweeping vistas, clear blue lakes, and cool, crisp air are inspiring and energizing to travelers, whether afoot, aboard a bike, or driving a Prius. By the time they arrive anywhere near Watkins Glen, their spirits are lifted and their psychological engines are revved.

And NASCAR capitalizes like a vulture on a Seneca Lake updraft.

Who Is NASCAR?

NASCAR is the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, LLC. Don’t mistake it for a motorized version of the NFL, NBA, or NHL. It’s not a trade association designed to serve its constituent teams, complete with a commissioner holding teams and players accountable to fans and each other. Rather, NASCAR is a privately held corporation; held in particular by the France family ever since its founding by Bill France, Sr. in 1948.

While it’s not a trade association, NASCAR is somewhat of a syndicate, sponsoring races under twelve “series” across North America and another series in Europe. Most Americans can’t avoid some exposure to the “Cup Series” with its history of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt tearing up tires at Daytona, Talladega, and The Glen. The other two primary American series are the “Xfinity Series” for up-and comers—much like minor league baseball—and the “Camping World Truck Series” for pickup truck lovers.

Bib that says "I have a checkered future."

NASCAR fans are made, not born, but with NASCAR’s help, the making starts shortly after birth.

The latter two series remind us that NASCAR is also a brand, unto its own and as a mother brand for all kinds of offspring. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series used to be the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, and for one brief year Gander got in on NASCAR glory.

Even the coveted NASCAR Cup Series has had its spin-off branding, with Winston (cigarettes), Sprint, and Monster Energy all putting their names on the cup over the recent decades of shifting consumer preferences.

Branding and sponsorship vis-à-vis NASCAR is a bewildering phenomenon. A logical start in sorting it out would be with the list of racing team sponsors. Most NASCAR teams have “partners” as well, including “primary partners” that evidently provide more money than regular old partners. NASCAR per se—the France family—has its “premier partners,” “official partners,” and “broadcast partners.”

Then there’s the straight-up NASCAR retail line, spread across a gazillion vendors including Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, JCPenney, and presumably every truck stop along the Interstate Highway System. You can get the goods directly from NASCAR’s own online NASCARSHOP, too. There, for example, you can get your NASCAR T-shirts (over a thousand choices), NASCAR earrings, NASCAR nightlights, NASCAR baby bibs, NASCAR leashes (presumably for pets), and all manner of NASCAR memorabilia and collectibles. But you’ll never collect it all, try as you might, because each year and each new team brings new combinations and permutations of drivers and cars (with a current collection of 730 diecasts in sizes up to 1/24th).

None of this stuff is cheap, but don’t worry; just use code “Lap25”—no kidding—to get 25% off!

NASCAR Money

It’s not easy to assess the financials of a privately held corporation, especially in the USA, but in 2015 Forbes managed to estimate the France family at #53 in “America’s Richest Families” with a net worth of $5.7 billion. Brian France alone (the grandson of “Big Bill”) evidently clocks in today around $1 billion, and the annual gross revenue of NASCAR is about $3 billion.

How do the Frances and NASCAR make all that money? A big chunk of it comes from the $8.2 billion, ten-year television contract NASCAR signed in 2014 for the period 2015-2024. NASCAR gets ten percent of it from the get-go. The rest is split primarily between racing venues and teams.

Now imagine if a Dan Snyder or a Jerry Jones (two of the more reviled NFL team owners, for non-Americans) owned legendary Lambeau Field, AT&T Stadium, FedEx Field, and the Superdome, plus ten more of the biggest NFL venues. That would be comparable to NASCAR and the France family with their fourteen racetracks. Along with Watkins Glen, the “spiritual home,” NASCAR properties include the iconic Daytona International Speedway, Richmond Raceway, and Talladega Superspeedway.

Photo of race cars racing around Michigan International Speedway.

Cars and consumers on the fast track at Michigan International Speedway, a property of NASCAR, LLC. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, Stephanie Wallace)

Since 2019 when the France family bought out the ISC (International Speedway Corporation), they’ve had only one rival in the hosting and scheduling of NASCAR races: Speedway Motorsports with its twelve tracks. Given 39 tracks where NASCAR races are held in the USA (38) and Canada (1), only thirteen are owned by others, including a handful of public entities (Los Angeles County with its Memorial Coliseum, for example).

While NASCAR and the France family used to be at odds with Speedway Motorsports, that seems to have changed since NASCAR took over the ISC. That same year, Speedway went private, emulating the France family. Now they’ve “entered a period of détente,” and we can only imagine the potential for collusion. With a little cooperation, the two entities—especially the France family—can fairly monopolize prime-time stock car racing and scheduling in the USA (which of course you can monitor at NASCAR’s own ESPN-like website).

Either way, NASCAR rakes in close to a billion more annually from its “venue share” of the TV contract combined with ticket sales ($660 million and $194 million in 2018, respectively). Some of the ticket sales go back to the drivers (40 of them in the Cup Series, including 36 chartered) and their teams (17 of them in the Cup Series). But then, teams and charters (the latter analogous to NFL franchises) pay hefty fees back into NASCAR.

Don’t forget those sponsorships and partnerships, too. Sprint, for example, is thought to have paid NASCAR between $50 and $75 million annually for some years before 2016.

All we can say for sure is, if you’d like a challenging accounting job, sign on with NASCAR.

NASCAR and Economic Bloating

What could contribute to GDP at a faster pace, in a fossil-fueled economy, than some of the planet’s fastest, most gas-guzzling machines tearing around in circles? Especially when a NASCAR race typically attracts around 100,000 attendees, many of them driving their own souped-up coups to the raceway in undying tribute to their favorite “sport.”  So, when NASCAR comes to town, the chamber of commerce listens.

A NASCAR race can bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in local revenue, most of it taxable and therefore good for the public goose as well as the private gander. Richmond International Raceway, for example, “generates $557 million for the state, including $36 million in local and state tax revenues.”

Don’t get me started on “generates.” At CASSE, we know how money is generated. Money is expended, “fast and furious,” at NASCAR races, but the money is generated at the ecological base of the economy, where it invariably entails an ecological footprint in addition to the one at the raceway. That said, it doesn’t take a genius to calculate that hundreds of millions of dollars are brought to the region of a NASCAR event.

Bimp of the Daytona International Speedway

Location, Location, Location. Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR’s corporate home, is next to Daytona Beach International Airport, and now next to a hundred-acre Amazon campus. (CC BY 2.0, Chad Sparkes)

Politicians want to be in on the action, too. Here’s how Illinois state senator Rachelle Crowe (a Democrat from Glen Carbon) puts it: “By bringing the NASCAR cup series to the [St. Louis] Metro East this summer, our state is solidifying its commitment to supporting regional development and driving economic growth throughout the area.”

Conversely, when NASCAR pulls out (as it readily can, given its control of venues and schedules), the locale feels the pinch. That’s precisely what happened at Watkins Glen in 2020, when the staunchly conservative France family moved the big event down to Daytona, blaming it on the differential in COVID regulations between New York and Florida.

NASCAR knows it brings the dough, and plays it up as needed. As Lesa France Kennedy, NASCAR’s executive vice chairperson, puts it, “We are proud to be a part of positive economic development in each market in which NASCAR races.” In a country where economic growth is a hot pursuit at every political level, pitching a race is easy, but NASCAR plays good growth citizen in other ways as well.

NASCAR recently cut a land deal with Amazon, which is developing 100 acres adjacent to Daytona International Speedway. The deal prompted France Kennedy to add, “As Amazon has continued to expand its operations within Florida, we’re excited to play a role in bringing new jobs and a first-class partner to Volusia County. We look forward to this project serving as a catalyst for future growth and development in the community.”

In other words, even where a lot of the townspeople might view NASCAR as an unwelcome intruder, it’s likely to horn its way in by “virtue” of its economic growth credentials. As with so many other questionable pursuits, NASCAR would be far easier to stop if growth itself were recognized as the problem it has become.

The Gas, the Materials, and the Waste

NASCAR has its own version of green energy: Sunoco’s 98-Octane Green E15. It’s literally green; think of it as Mr. Yuk green. By the end of 2016, after only five years of running on Sunoco Green, NASCAR was celebrating “10 million competition miles” fueled by this so-called “biofuel” containing 15 percent “American-made ethanol.”

Note that celebrated phrase “competition miles,” in cars that get 2-5 miles per gallon during competition.  That means somewhere between 2 million and 5 million gallons of Sunoco Green was combusted during the five-year period, just during the races. A lot more than that would have been burned up practicing. While most NASCAR races take about two hours (the Watkins Glen marathon being a notable exception), “NASCAR drivers must practice for hours at a time to develop sound habits at a racetrack.” Thus, NASCAR has a ridiculous carbon footprint: approximately 4 million pounds per year.

Another thing NASCAR burns is rubber. About 75,000 tires were used up by NASCAR in 2015, resulting in $35 million of expenditure on tires in 2016.

If we went down the list of supplies and materials used up for all this unnecessary “car circling,” we’d find steel, aluminum, plastic, paint, solvents, glass, fiberglass, lead, copper, titanium, magnesium, wood, sand, oil, and cement.

Meanwhile, NASCAR has tried to paint itself “green” with tree planting and recycling initiatives. Has there ever been a greasier splash of lipstick on a sloppier looking pig? The salient fact remains that the “sport” consists of circling around and around, ad nauseum, in gas guzzlers, for no apparent reason whatsoever than the “entertainment” of a crowd that could probably benefit from a little healthy exercise. Certainly their ears would benefit.

The Symbolism

Approximately 23 years ago, while writing Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train, I recall finding (and duly reporting) that NASCAR was “the fastest growing spectator sport in North America.” I was shocked, not because it seemed untrue—it rang true indeed—but because of the absolute collapse of the American conservation ethic. I recall wondering, “What could the world possibly be thinking of us?”

On September 11, 2001 (a year after Shoveling Fuel was published), al-Qaeda terrorists attacked the symbols of American capitalism and the U.S. Government. Almost immediately, President George W. Bush hideously exhorted Americans to “go shopping” and travelling. “Get down to Disney World in Florida,” he said from O’Hare Field. “Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.”

Empty NASCAR stadium with one car racing the track.

Goodbye NASCAR.

NASCAR fans took Bush to heart, and NASCAR, as always, was ready to capitalize. In the first major spectator event after 9/11, on September 23, 140,000 screaming fans—with 140,000 NASCAR-provided American flags—packed the Dover International Speedway in Delaware. Lee Greenwood sang “God Bless the USA.” The fans chanted as one, “Wooo! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!”

It’s understandable to have mixed feelings about the Dover event. Americans needed an emotional outlet, and it happened to be a time of year when NASCAR would likeliest provide it. Yet the symbolism was horrific at a time when the rest of the world was trying to sympathize with the USA. Everyone knew American tensions in the Middle East were all about the oil, and here were filthy rich NASCAR teams launching their legendarily gas guzzling noise makers into circles yet again.

The USA blew its opportunity to secure long-lasting international goodwill. Her citizens went shopping, to Disney World, and to NASCAR races. They practiced “consumer patriotism.” The tide of goodwill turned quickly, and in a matter of months one of the prevalent topics over the airwaves and in the think tanks became “Why do they hate us?” While President Bush kept that question focused on Islamic extremists, many of us understood it wasn’t just the extremists, but rather a whole world of nations with a growing resentment of “the way we want it.”

Fast-forwarding to now, consider how frustrating it must be for the world’s other nations to watch our obnoxious NASCAR spew carbon and particulates into the global atmosphere, again and again and again, for almost 75 years, as if we were kicking sand in their faces, while they meet in handwringing futility on reducing carbon emissions. It’s not so much about the pollution and global warming directly attributable to racing—industrial and military sectors cause far more of that—but the symbolism is as stark as a Confederate flag.  What could possibly be more symbolic of Americans’ casual disregard of the world citizenry, the global environment, and posterity, than NASCAR?

Fortunately, NASCAR is no longer “the fastest growing spectator sport in North America.” It’s on the decline with all kinds of political and financial problems, thanks to a toxic mixture of Trump, Confederate stain, France family greed, COVID, and environmental concerns. Now is no time to take our foot off the gas. The Frances made their billions, drivers made their millions, and fans had their fun. Let’s welcome the fans back to sanity; we need them on the team and in the pits, if not in the driver’s seat. Together, we’ve got to drive NASCAR off the cultural cliff and let it lie in the rusty pile of American mistakes.

Nothing could be more patriotic.

Brian Czech, Executive Director of CASSEBrian Czech is CASSE’s executive director.

The post Driving NASCAR Off the American Cultural Cliff appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Cryptocurrency Titan Coinbase Providing “Geo Tracking Data” to ICE

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 30/06/2022 - 6:59am in

Coinbase, the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the United States, is selling Immigrations and Customs Enforcement a suite of features used to track and identify cryptocurrency users, according to contract documents shared with The Intercept.

In August 2021, Coinbase sold a single analytics software license to ICE for $29,000, followed by a software purchase potentially worth $1.36 million the next month, but details of exactly what capabilities would be offered to the agency’s controversial Homeland Security Investigations division of were unclear. A new contract document obtained by Jack Poulson, director of the watchdog group Tech Inquiry, and shared with The Intercept, shows ICE now has access to a variety of forensic features provided through Coinbase Tracer, the company’s intelligence-gathering tool (formerly known as Coinbase Analytics).

Coinbase Tracer allows clients, in both government and the private sector, to trace transactions through the blockchain, a distributed ledger of transactions integral to cryptocurrency use. While blockchain ledgers are typically public, the enormous volume of data stored therein can make following the money from spender to recipient beyond difficult, if not impossible, without the aid of software tools. Coinbase markets Tracer for use in both corporate compliance and law enforcement investigations, touting its ability to “investigate illicit activities including money laundering and terrorist financing” and “connect [cryptocurrency] addresses to real world entities.”

According to the document, released via a Freedom of Information Act request, ICE is now able to track transactions made through nearly a dozen different digital currencies, including Bitcoin, Ether, and Tether. Analytic features include “Multi-hop link Analysis for incoming and outgoing funds,” granting ICE insight into transfers of these currencies, as well as “Transaction demixing and shielded transaction analysis” aimed at thwarting methods some crypto users take to launder their funds or camouflage their transactions. The contract also provides, provocatively, “Historical geo tracking data,” though it’s unclear what exactly this data consists of or from where it’s sourced. An email released through the FOIA request shows that Coinbase didn’t require ICE to agree to an End User License Agreement, standard legalese that imposes limits on what a customer can do with software.

When asked about the ICE contract and the data involved, Coinbase spokesperson Natasha LaBranche directed The Intercept to a disclaimer on its website stating “Coinbase Tracer sources its information from public sources and does not make use of Coinbase user data.” LaBranche did not answer questions about how ICE is using Coinbase Tracer, how it sources location data, or if the company imposed any limits on ICE’s use of the tool.

Coinbase has in recent years made a concerted effort to pitch its intelligence features to government agencies, including the IRS, Secret Service, and Drug Enforcement Administration. Earlier this month, Coinbase vice president of global intelligence John Kothanek testified before a congressional panel that his company was eager to aid the cause of Homeland Security. “If you are a cyber criminal and you’re using crypto, you’re going to have a bad day. … We are going to track you down and we’re going to find that finance and we are going to hopefully help the government seize that crypto.” Coinbase’s government work has proved highly controversial to many crypto fans, owing perhaps both to the long-running libertarian streak in that community and the fact that these currencies are so frequently used to facilitate various forms of fraud.

The Coinbase Tracer tool itself was birthed in controversy. In 2019, Motherboard reported that Neutrino, a blockchain-analysis firm the company acquired in order to create Coinbase Tracer, “was founded by three former employees of Hacking Team, a controversial Italian surveillance vendor that was caught several times selling spyware to governments with dubious human rights records, such as Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan.” Following public outcry, Coinbase announced these staffers would “transition out” of the company.

Homeland Security Investigations, the division of ICE that purchased the Coinbase tool, is tasked not only with immigration-related matters, aiding migrant raids and deportation operations, but broader transnational crimes as well, including various forms of financial offenses. “The contract provides a tool that supplements an HSI capability to investigative traffickers of deadly opioids on the dark web and cyber criminals who seek to attack critical infrastructure,” an ICE spokesperson wrote in a statement to The Intercept. “This tool does not reveal any sensitive personally identifiable information, is only referenced in criminal investigations, and it is not utilized in civil immigration enforcement.” The spokesperson did not respond to questions about how precisely it has used Tracer or might in the future, including the use of location data, noting “the agency does not provide specifics on investigative techniques, tools, and/or ongoing investigations or operations.”

Update: July 2, 2022

This article has been updated with a response from ICE.

Update: June 29, 2022

This article has been updated with a response from Coinbase and additional detail about the company’s business relationship with ICE.

Correction: June 29, 2022

A previous version of this article misattributed a quotation from Coinbase VP John Kothanek to the company’s CEO, Brian Armstrong.

The post Cryptocurrency Titan Coinbase Providing “Geo Tracking Data” to ICE appeared first on The Intercept.

Facebook Labels Abortion Rights Vandals as Terrorists Following Roe Reversal

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 29/06/2022 - 3:02am in

The day after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Facebook’s parent company, Meta, internally designated the abortion rights group Jane’s Revenge as a terrorist organization, according to company materials reviewed by The Intercept, subjecting discussion of the group and its actions to the company’s most stringent censorship policies. Experts say the decision, Meta’s first known policy response for the post-Roe era, threatens free expression around abortion rights at a critical moment.

The brief internal bulletin from Meta Platforms Inc., which owns Instagram and Facebook, was titled “[EMERGENCY Micro Policy Update] [Terrorism] Jane’s Revenge” and filed to the company’s internal Dangerous Individuals and Organizations rulebook, meaning that the abortion rights group, which has so far committed only acts of vandalism, will be treated with the same speech restrictions against “praise, support, and representation” applied to the Islamic State and Hitler. The memo, circulated to Meta moderators on June 25, describes Jane’s Revenge as “a far-left extremist group that has claimed responsibility on its website for an attack against an anti-abortion group’s office in Madison, Wisconsin in May 2022. The group is responsible for multiple arson and vandalism attacks on pro-life institutions.” Terrorist groups receive Meta’s strictest “Tier 1” speech limits, treatment the company says is reserved for the world’s most dangerous and violent entities, along with hate groups, drug cartels, and mass murderers.

Although The Intercept published a snapshot of the entire secret Dangerous Individuals and Organizations list last year, Meta does not disclose or explain additions to the public, despite the urging of scholars, activists, and its own Oversight Board. Speech advocates and civil society groups have criticized the policy for its secrecy, bias toward U.S. governmental priorities, and tendency to inaccurately delete nonviolent political speech. According to Meta’s most recent quarterly transparency report, the company restored nearly half a million posts between January and March in the terrorism category alone after determining that they had been censored erroneously.

Discussion of Jane’s Revenge was already technically subject to Tier 1 censorship stemming from another previously unreported internal speech restriction enacted by Meta last month. In May, just days after Politico published a leaked Supreme Court decision auguring the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the office of Wisconsin Family Action, an anti-abortion group, was vandalized. The very next day, Meta silently banned its roughly 2 billion users from “praising, supporting, or representing” the vandalism or its perpetrators, according to company materials reviewed by The Intercept. While these event-based restrictions are often temporary, the more recent use of the formal “terror” label suggests a more permanent policy position.

“This designation is difficult to square with Meta’s placement of the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters in Tier 3, which is subject to far fewer restrictions, despite their role organizing and participating in the January 6 Capitol attack,” said Mary Pat Dwyer, academic program director of Georgetown Law School’s Institute for Technology Law and Policy. “And while it’s possible Meta has moved those groups into Tier 1 more recently, that only highlights the lack of transparency into when and how these decisions, which have a huge impact on people’s abilities to discuss current events and important political issues, are made.”

The Wisconsin incident, which consisted of a small fire and graffiti denouncing the group’s anti-abortion stance, resulted in only minor property damage to the empty office. But the vandalism was rapidly designated a “Violating Violent Event,” a kind of ad hoc speech restriction that Meta distributes to its content moderation staff to limit discussion across its platforms in response to breaking news and various international crises, typically prominent events like the January 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol, terrorism, public shootings, or ethnic bloodshed.

“We are internally classifying this as a Violating Violent Event (General Designation),” reads the May 11 internal memo, obtained by The Intercept. “All content praising, supporting or representing the event and/or perpetrator(s) should be removed from the platform.” The dispatch instructed moderators to censor depiction and discussion of the vandalism under the Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy framework, which restricts speech about violent actors like terror cells, neo-Nazis, and drug cartels. “The office of a conservative political organization that lobbies against abortion rights was vandalized and damaged by fire in Madison, Wisconsin,” the memo continued. “A group called Jane’s Revenge took credit for the attack.” The number of victims of the “Violating Violent Event” is marked as “0.”

The Wisconsin Family Action designation is notable not only for the relative low severity of the attack itself, which Madison police are investigating as an act of arson, but also because it marks a rare foray by Facebook into limiting speech around abortion. Striking as well is the company’s choice to censor abortion rights action, even destructive action, given that throughout the long history of the American abortion debate, the overwhelming majority of violence has been conducted by those seeking to thwart access to the procedure via bombings and assassinations, not expand it. Earlier this month, Axios reported that “assaults directed at abortion clinic staff and patients increased 128% last year over 2020,” according to a report from the National Abortion Federation. And yet of the more than 4,000 names on the company’s Dangerous Individuals and Organizations list, only two are associated with anti-abortion violence or terrorism: the Army of God Christian terrorist cell and one of its affiliates, the notorious bomber Eric Rudolph. While extremely little is known about Jane’s Revenge, including whether the vandalism is even being committed by the same actors and to what extent it is even a group, prominent right-wing politicians have begun demanding that the property damage be treated as domestic terrorism, a stance now essentially endorsed by Meta.

But the company also appears to have avoided censoring discussion of more recent anti-abortion acts comparable to the Wisconsin fire. On New Year’s Eve, arsonists destroyed a Planned Parenthood clinic in Knoxville, Tennessee, that had been riddled with bullets earlier in the year on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling. According to multiple sources familiar with Facebook’s content moderation policies, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not permitted to speak to the press, the New Year’s Eve Planned Parenthood torching was never similarly designated a “Violating Violent Event.” While anti-abortion advocates are still barred from inciting further violence against Planned Parenthood clinics (or anything else), Meta users now have far greater latitude to discuss — or even praise — that instance of anti-abortion violence than comparable acts from the other side.

The frequently malfunctioning nature of Facebook’s global censorship rules also means that the Wisconsin-specific update and more recent terror label, even if intended only to thwart future real-world acts of violence from either side of the abortion debate, could end up stifling legitimate political speech. While the company’s general purpose “Community Standards” rulebook places a blanket prohibition against any explicit calls for violence, only explicitly flagged people, groups, and events are subject to Meta’s far more stringent bans against “praise, support, and representation,” restrictions that bar users from quoting, depicting, or speaking positively of the entity or action in question. But the ambiguous formulation and frequently uneven enforcement of these rules means that speech far short of crossing the red line of violent incitement is subject to deletion. The Dangerous Individuals and Organizations ban on “praise, support, and representation” has been frequently cited by Facebook when deleting posts documenting or protesting Israeli state violence against Palestinians, for example, instances of which have at times been designated “Violating Violent Events” as well.

Jane’s Revenge is poorly understood, controversial, and subject to intense debate at precisely the time the Dangerous Individuals and Organizations designations mean that billions of people are limited in what they can say about the perpetrators, their motives, or their methods. Anything that could be construed as “praise,” however tentative, risks deletion. Indeed, even Facebook’s public description of the “praise, support, and representation” standard notes that any posts “Legitimizing the cause of a designated entity by making claims that their hateful, violent, or criminal conduct is legally, morally, or otherwise justified or acceptable” are prohibited.

“There are legitimate concerns that this might shut down debate.”

The company’s internal overview of the “praise” standard, obtained and published by The Intercept last year, directs moderators to delete anything that “engages in value-based statements and emotive argument” or “seeks to make others think more positively” of the sanctioned entity or event. While these internal rules permit “Academic debate and informative, educational discourse” of a violent entity or event, what meets the threshold for “academic debate” or “informative discourse” is left to Facebook’s thousands of overworked, low-paid hourly contractors to determine.

Content moderation experts who spoke to The Intercept said the policy threatens discussion and debate of abortion rights protests at a time when such speech is of profound national importance. “What we’ve seen in the past is that when Facebook bans certain types of harmful speech, they often catch counterspeech and other types of commentary in their content moderation net,” said Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “For example, efforts to ban terrorist content often result in the removal of counterspeech against terrorism or the sharing of documentation. The use of automated technologies only exacerbates this; therefore, it isn’t difficult to imagine that an attempt to ban vandalism against an anti-abortion group could also ban legitimate speech against such a group.”

Evelyn Douek, a Harvard Law School lecturer and fellow with the Knight First Amendment Institute, described the ad hoc censorship of “violating events” via the Dangerous Individuals and Organizations framework as “extremely capacious” and “one of Facebook’s most controversial and problematic policies,” both because these designations are made in secret and because they are so likely to constitute subjective political determinations. While Meta moderators are provided with an extensive rulebook containing this designation and countless others, the combination of the company’s increasing reliance on automated algorithmic content screening and the personal judgment calls of low-paid, overworked contractors creates erratic, faulty results. “There are legitimate concerns that this might shut down debate,” said Douek.

“Ukrainians get to say violent shit, Palestinians don’t. White supremacists do, pro-choice people don’t.”

Douek said the opacity of the censorship policy, paired with Facebook’s “incredibly blunt and error-prone” enforcement of speech restrictions, poses a threat to political discussion and debate around both abortion per se and the broader reproductive rights movement. Even those who don’t condone the methods of Jane’s Revenge have an interest in talking about them and perhaps even entertaining them: There is a vast universe of discourse about political direct action and violence, even vandalism, that isn’t in and of itself incitement, a swath of speech that could be vacuumed up by Facebook’s bludgeon approach to speech rules. “[Saying] you support the goals, the underlying policy of what Jane’s Revenge is fighting for, even if you disagree with their tactics, there’s all sorts of conversation here that we have about lots of different groups in society on the margins that I’m worried about losing.”

Significant as well is the fact that a free expression around relatively minor acts of violence would not only be censored in the first place but also subjected to the same limits Facebook uses for Al Qaeda and the Third Reich. “It’s somewhat remarkable that this act of vandalism was so quickly added to the list. It really is intended to be reserved for the most serious kind of incidents” like hate crimes, gun massacres, and terrorist attacks, Douek explained, “a policy that’s really targeted at the worst of the worst.” The decision to censor free discussion of Jane’s Revenge, responsible for a failed firebombing and a series of threatening graffiti incidents, makes the fact that Facebook did not similarly limit discussion of the Tennessee Planned Parenthood arson even more puzzling. Douek and York place that decision in a long history of Facebook putting its finger on the scales of political discourse in a way that often appears ideologically motivated, or on other occasions completely arbitrary. “It’s precisely the issue raised by their constant picking and choosing of ‘winners,’” York told The Intercept. “Ukrainians get to say violent shit, Palestinians don’t. White supremacists do, pro-choice people don’t.”

In an email to The Intercept, Meta spokesperson Devon Kearns confirmed the terror designation of Jane’s Revenge and said that the company “will remove content that praises, supports, or represents the organization.” Kearns stated that the company has a multifaceted process when determining which people and groups are restricted under the Dangerous Organizations policy, but did not say what it was or why Jane’s Revenge had been flagged but not other actors committing violence to advance their stance on abortion. Kearns further noted that users may appeal deletions made through the Dangerous Organizations policy if they believe it was made in error.

Assessing the merits of a decision made and implemented in secret is exceedingly difficult. Although Meta provides a generalized, big-picture overview of what sort of speech is barred from its platforms with a handful of uncontroversial examples (e.g., “If you want to fight for the Caliphate, DM me”), the specifics of the rules are concealed from the billions of people expected to heed them, as is any rationale as to why the rules were drafted in the first place. York told The Intercept that the Jane’s Revenge move is another indication that Meta needs to “immediately institute the Santa Clara Principles,” a content moderation policy charter that mandates “clear and precise rules and policies relating to when action will be taken with respect to users’ content or accounts,” among many other items.

Without the entirety of the company’s rules and their justification provided to the public, Meta, which exercises an enormous degree of control over what speech is allowed on the internet, leaves billions posting in the dark. Meta’s claim has always been that it takes no sides on any issue and only deletes speech in the name of safety, a claim the public generally has to take as an article of faith given the company’s deep secrecy in both what the rules are and how they’re enforced. “For a platform that is consistently insisting that it’s neutral and doesn’t have its finger on the scale, it’s really incumbent on Meta to be much more forthcoming,” Douek added. “These are highly charged political decisions, and they need to be able to defend them.”

The post Facebook Labels Abortion Rights Vandals as Terrorists Following Roe Reversal appeared first on The Intercept.

The Benefits of Cybersecurity Risk Management

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/06/2022 - 7:55pm in

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Is your organization vulnerable to cybersecurity threats? Cyber risk management is essential for businesses of all sizes. Understanding and mitigating cybersecurity risks can help you protect your organization from attacks, data breaches, and other threats. A cyber security course can also help you develop the skills you need to identify and assess cybersecurity risks, implement…

The post The Benefits of Cybersecurity Risk Management appeared first on Peak Oil.

Psychocandy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 20/06/2022 - 10:59pm in

Art versus the algorithm.

Pentagon Explores Using SpaceX for Rocket-Deployed Quick Reaction Force

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 19/06/2022 - 9:00pm in

The Pentagon envisions a future in which Elon Musk’s rockets might someday deploy a “quick reaction force” to thwart a future Benghazi-style attack, according to documents obtained by The Intercept via Freedom of Information Act request.

In October 2020, U.S. Transportation Command, or USTRANSCOM, the Pentagon office tasked with shuttling cargo to keep the American global military presence humming, announced that it was partnering with Musk’s SpaceX rocketry company to determine the feasibility of quickly blasting supplies into space and back to Earth rather than flying them through the air. The goal, according to a presentation by Army Gen. Stephen Lyons, would be to fly a “C-17 [cargo plane] equivalent anywhere on the globe in less than 60 minutes,” an incredible leap forward in military logistics previously confined to science fiction. A USTRANSCOM press release exclaimed that one day SpaceX’s massive Starship rocket could “quickly move critical logistics during time-sensitive contingencies” and “deliver humanitarian assistance.” While the Pentagon alluded to potentially shuttling unspecified “personnel” through these brief space jaunts, the emphasis of the announcement was squarely on moving freight.

But USTRANSCOM has more imaginative uses in mind, according to internal documents obtained via FOIA. In a 2021 “Midterm Report” drafted as part of its partnership with SpaceX, USTRANSCOM outlined both potential uses and pitfalls for a fleet of militarized Starships. Although SpaceX is already functionally a defense contractor, launching American military satellites and bolstering Ukrainian communication links, the report provides three examples of potential future “DOD use cases for point to point space transportation.” The first, perhaps a nod to American anxieties about Chinese hegemony, notes that “space transportation provides an alternative method for logistics delivery” in the Pacific. The second imagines SpaceX rockets delivering an Air Force deployable air base system, “a collection of shelters, vehicles, construction equipment and other gear that can be prepositioned around the globe and moved to any place the USAF needs to stand-up air operations.”

spaceX-foia-theintercept

A partially redacted illustration of a SpaceX Starship vessel.

Credit: U.S. Transportation Command

But the third imagined use case is more provocative and less prosaic than the first two, titled only “Embassy Support,” scenarios in which a “rapid theater direct delivery capability from the U.S. to an African bare base would prove extremely important in supporting the Department of State’s mission in Africa,” potentially including the use of a “quick reaction force,” a military term for a rapidly deployed armed unit, typically used in crisis conditions. The ability to merely “demonstrate” this use of a SpaceX Starship, the document notes, “could deter non-state actors from aggressive acts toward the United States.” Though the scenario is devoid of details, the notion of an African embassy under sudden attack from a “non-state actor” is reminiscent of the infamous 2012 Benghazi incident, when armed militants attacked an American diplomatic compound in Libya, spurring a quick reaction force later criticized as having arrived too late to help.

As much as American generals may be dreaming of rocket-borne commandos fighting off North African insurgents, experts say this scenario is still squarely the stuff of sci-fi stories. Both Musk and the Pentagon have a long history of making stratospherically grand claims that dazzling and entirely implausible technologies, whether safe self-driving cars and hyperloop or rail guns and missile-swatting lasers, are just around the corner. As noted in another USTRANSCOM document obtained via FOIA request, all four Starship high-altitude tests resulted in the craft dramatically exploding, though a May 2021 test conducted after the document’s creation landed safely.

“What are they going to do, stop the next Benghazi by sending people into space?” said William Hartung, a senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute who focuses on the U.S. arms industry and defense budget. “It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.” Hartung questioned the extent to which a rocket-based quick reaction force would be meaningful even if it were possible. “If a mob’s attacking an embassy and they dial up their handy SpaceX spaceship, it’s still going to take a while to get there. … It’s almost like someone thinks it would be really neat to do stuff through space but haven’t thought through the practical ramifications.” Hartung also pointed to the Pentagon’s track record of space-based “fantasy weapons” like “Star Wars” missile defense, elaborate projects that soak up massive budgets but amount to nothing.

SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment. In an email to The Intercept, USTRANSCOM spokesperson John Ross wrote that “interest in PTP deployment is explorative in nature and our quest for understanding what may be feasible is why we’ve entered into cooperative research and development agreements like the one you reference,” adding that “the speed of space transportation promises the potential to offer more options and greater decision space for leaders, and dilemmas for adversaries.” Asked when USTRANCOM believes a rocket-deployed quick reaction force might actually be feasible, Ross said the command is “excited for the future and believe it’s possible within the next 5-10 years.”

“My two cents are that it’s unlikely that they would be able to evacuate anyone quickly via rocket,” said Kaitlyn Johnson, deputy director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Aerospace Security Project. Johnson pointed out that even if the underlying technology were sound, the small question of where to land an enormous 165-foot Starship rocket, the world’s largest, remains. “If it’s in a city, it’s not like they can land [a] Starship next to the embassy.” In the hypothetical embassy rescue mission, “you still have logistics issues there about getting forces onto the launch vehicle and then again on where you could land the vehicle and how to get the forces from the landing site to the base/embassy,” Johnson added, “which has not been tested or proven and in my opinion is a bit sci-fi.”

“What are they going to do, stop the next Benghazi by sending people into space? It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.”

The document also nods at another potential hitch: Are other countries going to let SpaceX military rockets drop out of space and onto their turf? The unrealized vision of American “Starship Troopers” is not a new one: As far back as the 1950s, Nazi rocket scientist turned American space hero Wernher Von Braun pondered transporting U.S. troops via rocket, and in the 1960s, defense contractor Douglas Aircraft pitched “Project Ithacus,” a spacecraft carrying 1,200 soldiers to their destination in an hour. More recently, according to one 2006 Popular Science report, the Pentagon has dreamed of an age in which “Marines could touch down anywhere on the globe in less than two hours, without needing to negotiate passage through foreign airspace.” But the USTRANSCOM paper admits that Cold War-era treaties governing the use of space provide little guidance as to whether an American rocket could bypass sovereign airspace concerns by cruising through outer space. “It remains unclear whether and how vehicles are subject to established aviation laws and to what extent, if any, these laws follow them into space for PTP space transportation,” reads one section. “Moreover, the lack of a legal definition of the boundary between air and space creates an issue of where the application of aviation law ends and space law begins.” The document does hint that part of SpaceX’s promise could be to leap over these concerns. Following a redacted discussion of a hypothetical military Starship’s legal status while in flight, USTRANSCOM noted: “This recovery places the Starship outside of altitudes typically characterized as controlled airspace.”

Brian Weeden, director of program planning for the Secure World Foundation, a space governance think tank, told The Intercept that territorial concerns are just one of many, “along with whether or not the countries the rocket/spaceship pass over regard it as a weapon or ballistic missile threat or not.” Hartung argued that SpaceX, despite its “Mr. Clean” image as a peaceful enabler for cosmic exploration, is contributing to the global militarization of space. And as with drones, once an advanced and exclusively American technology begins proliferating, the U.S. will have to face its implications from the other side. “The question is, what would keep other countries from doing the same thing, and how would the U.S. feel about that?” asked Hartung. “This notion that going anywhere without having to get any approval from anybody has appeal from a military point of view, but would the U.S. want other countries to have that same capability? Probably not.”

The post Pentagon Explores Using SpaceX for Rocket-Deployed Quick Reaction Force appeared first on The Intercept.

The Wearable Help Button Keeping Hospital Workers Safe

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/06/2022 - 6:00pm in

This story was originally published by The Philadelphia Citizen.

Yasmine Mustafa knows danger.

As a child, she and her family fled Gulf War-torn Kuwait. Since then, for most of her life, she’s been undocumented, vulnerable to abusive employers, yelled at by strangers to “Go back to your own country.” During her travels through South America, she learned of an endless stream of attacks on women. She’d seen the same in our own very high-crime city, including in her neighborhood.

And, she believed she could do something to help. “I’ve always had this naïve mentality that one person can make a difference,” she told the Philadelphia Citizen in 2015.

Yasmine Mustafa knows tech.

A graduate of Temple University’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute, she created an advertising plugin that she sold to WordPress and brought Girl Develop It, a nonprofit that teaches women coding and web development, to Philadelphia.

In 2014, she co-founded ROAR for Good, a business that builds wearable, wireless panic buttons. Her first device was Athena, which, with a push, sounded an alarm, lit a light, and called 9-1-1. Mustafa wanted to get it in the hands of the most vulnerable. She gave a TEDx Talk about it, crowdfunded nearly $300,000 for it, won awards for it — and then had to reinvent it when manufacturing costs made it unaffordable to her intended consumers.

Yasmine Mustafa really knows how to pivot.

In 2018, she turned her B-to-C company into a B-to-B, adapting her device to hotel workers, specifically housekeeping staff, who experienced sexual harassment on the job at a rate of 58 percent. ROAR went on to supply Hilton and Marriott hotels nationwide.

Then came the pandemic. Everyone was home. No one was traveling. Demand decreased. What increased, however, was violence against healthcare workers.

So, she pivoted. Again.

A dangerous workplace

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in healthcare and social services now face the highest rates of workplace violence across all industries. An April survey of 2,500 nurses from National Nurses United, the country’s largest nursing union, said 48 percent of nurses working in hospitals reported an increase in workplace violence, up from 31 percent in September 2021. OSHA has said the problem has been around for a while now.

The pandemic has exacerbated matters, as has nationwide healthcare burnout and staffing shortages. There’s been an industry-wide outcry for stronger security to protect remaining workers — and to rebuild in order to attract new ones.

The American Hospital Association has been lobbying for federal funding for increased security measures. In May, Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin introduced the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, a Senate companion to a bill that passed the House in April 2021 with bipartisan support.

Hospitals, the places we go to heal, assuming we are safe there, are not just sites of mass shootings, as earlier this month in Tulsa, Oklahoma, or workplaces an employee can sneak an assault rifle into, kill a coworker, escape, and go on to shoot two police officers, as last October at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia. They’ve also become a hotbed of everyday aggressions against healers.

“There’s this pent-up rise of incivility. We’re more on edge than we’ve ever been. There’s increased yelling, harassment, abuse,” says Mustafa, “I realized we could really be there to help people.”

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Last year, an advisor connected her to Doug Maier, the CFO of BeWell, a 296-bed, inpatient acute and residential behavioral center specializing in addiction in Philadelphia. There are more than 6,000 hospitals in the U.S. and 14,000 addiction centers.

During the pandemic, BeWell experienced increased demand for services — and decreased ability to be in groups, because of social distancing protocols. “People were knocking on our doors,” says Maier. They hired more staff, but incidents of violence were almost inevitable. “Oftentimes, our nurses and mental health workers were working one-to-one with a client. If a client becomes physically abusive or a danger to themselves, and one person is in the room … It becomes about numbers.”

Like most healthcare facilities, BeWell has help buttons on walls, but, “the downside of a static panic button is, you have to be there to push it,” says Mustafa. A wearable button, however, goes wherever you are.

On any given shift, about 94 BeWell employees are wearing activated devices that get coded when they clock in and turned in when they leave. When a button is pressed, it alerts the closest person who can help, including security guards trained in de-escalation. Maier estimates an AlwaysOn button gets pressed once every few days, which he considers infrequent.

The cost: $1 to $2 per employee per day over a five-year period. The cost changes based on facility size and needs. Mustafa says a large hospital system could require 20,000 buttons.

After one year, the ROAR-BeWell partnership reported a 39 percent decrease in year-over-year incidents of violence and a 20 percent increase in employee satisfaction with workplace safety. But maybe not just because the system worked, or works, well.

Maier says the very visible buttons, along with signage throughout the facility that remind staff, clients and family, act as deterrents. “So much of the work is prevention. Having these devices is like having a big security guard popping up out of nowhere,” he says, “A mental health worker told me a client was acting up and they pointed to their button and said, You see this? Don’t make me do it. Mustafa agrees and compares the system to ADT stickers.

It’s a boon to clients, too. Knowing ROAR is there “influences those families as to where they should send their relative who has a medical or psychiatric need,” he says.

Nonetheless, Mustafa emphasizes that functionality is paramount. ROAR can now update its tech remotely, and has two backup suppliers on standby, in case their original one can’t meet demand.

She might just need to go to her second string. Mustafa has been talking with a large hospital system in New Jersey, and, for the first time since 2018, “We are getting more interest from healthcare than from hospitality,” she says. She has expanded her team to 28 full-time staffers. She declined to comment on the company’s profits. But, with the promise of federal funding, she is poised to take ROAR to healthcare locations nationwide.

As for after healthcare? Lately, Mustafa has been thinking a lot about potential applications in school settings.

“What we’re learning within healthcare is, the knowledge of the system reduces the likelihood of violence happening,” she says. “I’m interested in: What could our system do for the peace of mind of teachers? Could it help with bullying? Schools are installing metal detectors, which are not cheap, or, from what I’m hearing, effective. What if we could prevent violence from happening in the first place?”

The post The Wearable Help Button Keeping Hospital Workers Safe appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Sen. Ed Markey Calls On Ring to Make Itself Less Cop-Friendly

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/06/2022 - 1:02am in

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Technology

Despite years of criticism, Amazon’s Ring cameras are increasingly ubiquitous in American neighborhoods, an always-watching symbol of residential suspicion, and the company’s privatized surveillance dragnet remains wildly popular with police. In a new letter to Amazon CEO Andrew Jassy, Sen. Edward Markey is calling on the company to implement pro-privacy reforms and limit its collaboration with police.

Ring’s nationwide network of house-mounted cameras provide police with millions of potential audiovisual feeds from which they can request data with an easy series of clicks, and the company has gone to great lengths to foster this symbiotic relationship between camera owner and law enforcement, formally partnering with hundreds of departments, running promotional giveaways, and offering cops special product discounts. Although Ring has adopted some limited reforms in response to prolonged scrutiny — for instance, ceasing direct donations of cash and cameras to police — the company’s 10 million customers provide a steady current of data that police can request, sans warrant or meaningful oversight, directly from the user.

Although it helps police the general public, Ring’s inner workings are about as opaque as any other private firm, and much remains unknown about the company’s ongoing relationship with police or plans to bolster their powers in the future. In the letter, a copy of which was shared with The Intercept, Markey asks Amazon to disclose some of the many open questions about its surveillance subsidiary and to commit to a series of further reforms. The letter is only the latest correspondence between Markey and Ring, part of a multiyear effort to pry information out of the generally secretive company. “While I acknowledge and appreciate steps Ring has taken in response to my previous letters to your company,” the letter reads, “I remain troubled by your company’s invasive data collection and problematic engagement with police departments.”

“[T]he public’s right to assemble, move, and converse without being tracked is at risk.”

The letter emphasizes concern over the fact that Ring cameras not only continuously record video data but also audio: “As Ring products capture significant amounts of audio on private and public property adjacent to dwellings with Ring doorbells — including recordings of conversations that people reasonably expect to be private — the public’s right to assemble, move, and converse without being tracked is at risk.” In the letter, Markey asks Ring to disclose the precise distance at which its devices are capable of recording audio, “commit to eliminating Ring doorbells’ default setting of automatically recording audio when video is recorded, and “commit to never incorporating voice recognition technology into its products.” Markey also asked Ring for pledges to “never accept financial contributions from policing agencies,” “never allow immigration enforcement agencies to request Ring recordings,” and “never participate in police sting operations.”

In addition, Markey wants Ring to clarify some of its vague, legalese policy language. For instance, the company claims it will always require a court order to disclose “customer information” without that customer’s permission first, unless there is an “an exigent or emergency” situation, a murky term the company leaves undefined and thus means potentially anything at all. Markey is now pushing for a definition of “exigent or emergency,” along with a disclosure of how many times Ring has granted access to data under such circumstances.

While Markey’s proposals, if implemented, would place some limits on the ability of police to monitor the public through entirely private means, a larger issue will remain: There are millions of these cameras already in place, capturing round-the-clock footage of people who’ve committed no offense other than walking down the street and beaming it directly to a company that has zero accountability to the public. Whatever voluntary measures Ring may choose to adopt following pressure from Markey or other surveillance critics, short of legislative guardrails, they will remain voluntary.

Still, Markey is optimistic about his missive campaign and expressed a broader concern over these problems inherent to the age of the ubiquitous doorbell camera: “I’m pleased that my efforts to hold Ring accountable and demand answers for its invasive practices have brought about real change in how Amazon does business, because the stakes are high,” he wrote in a statement to The Intercept. “As surveillance technologies proliferate, our ability to move, congregate and converse in public without being tracked is at risk of slipping away. The threats are particularly high for Black and Brown communities who have long been subjected to over-policing and higher levels of surveillance. Ring has taken steps in the right direction, but I remain deeply concerned about the ways in which privacy invasions have become the new normal in our country.”

The post Sen. Ed Markey Calls On Ring to Make Itself Less Cop-Friendly appeared first on The Intercept.

ICE Searched LexisNexis Database Over 1 Million Times in Just Seven Months

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/06/2022 - 11:54pm in

Immigration and Customs Enforcement searched a massive database of personal information provided by LexisNexis over 1.2 million times in just a seven-month period in 2021, according to documents reviewed by The Intercept. Critics say the staggering search volume confirms fears that the data broker is enabling the mass surveillance and deportation of immigrants.

The Intercept first reported last year that ICE had purchased access to LexisNexis Risk Solutions databases for $16.8 million, unlocking an oceanic volume of personal information on American citizens and noncitizens alike that spans hundreds of millions of individuals, totaling billions of records drawn from 10,000 different sources. Becoming a LexisNexis customer not only provides law enforcement with instant, easy access to a wealth of easily searchable data points on hundreds of millions of people, but also lets them essentially purchase data rather than having to formally request it or seek a court order.

Internal documents now show that this unfathomably large quantity of data is being searched with a regularity that is itself vast. LexisNexis usage logs between March and September 2021 totaled 1,211,643 searches and 302,431 “reports,” information packages that provide an exhaustive rundown of an individual’s location, work history, family relationships, and many other data points aggregated by LexisNexis, a data broker better known for its legal research resources. Although the names were redacted, the logs show that a single user conducted over 26,000 searches in that period.

Most of the queries were conducted through Accurint, a powerful LexisNexis tool that promises “cutting-edge analytics and data linking,” and touts its ability to provide a firehose of “investigative intelligence” to police on a national scale. “Criminals have no boundaries,” reads the Accurint homepage. “So neither can you when it comes to critical investigative intelligence and crime reporting. That’s why Accurint Virtual Crime Center gives you visibility beyond your own jurisdictions into regional and nationwide crime data.”

The new documents, obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request by the immigrant advocacy organization Just Futures Law and shared with The Intercept, cast doubt on earlier assurances from LexisNexis that its sprawling database would be used only narrowly to target people with “serious criminal backgrounds.” In 2021, following widespread criticism of the ICE contract, LexisNexis published a brief FAQ attempting to downplay the gravity of the collaboration and dispel concerns their databases would facilitate dragnet surveillance and deportations. “The tool promotes public safety and is not used to prevent legal immigration,” reads the document, “nor is it used to remove individuals from the United States unless they pose a serious threat to public safety including child trafficking, drug smuggling and other serious criminal activity.”

However, the logs show that a sizable share of the usage — over 260,000 searches and reports — were conducted by ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, a branch explicitly tasked with finding and deporting immigrants, often for minor infractions or no offense at all. An internal ERO memo obtained through the FOIA request and also shared with The Intercept contradicts the idea that Accurint’s use was to be narrowly focused on only the most dangerous criminal elements. In an email sent June 30, 2021, ERO’s assistant director of enforcement wrote, “Please note this additional valuable resource should be widely utilized by ERO personnel as an integral part of our mission to protect the homeland through the identification, location, arrest, and removal of noncitizens who undermine the safety of our communities and the integrity of our immigration laws.” The email noted that LexisNexis would be directly providing ICE with educational seminars on how to most effectively use the data.

ICE’s long documented history of rounding up immigrants with no criminal history or those with only nonviolent offenses like traffic violations further undermines the notion that these hundreds of thousands of ERO searches all pertained to hardened, dangerous criminals. A breakdown of LexisNexis usage by individual ICE office shows that the single highest generator of searches and reports, with a total of 56,467, was ERO’s National Criminal Analysis and Targeting Center, a division tasked with locating immigrants who are merely deemed “amenable to removal,” according to agency documents. Though ICE and LexisNexis are both keen to couch these investigations as a bulwark against dangerous transnational terrorists and criminal syndicates, an analysis of 2019 ICE arrest data conducted by Syracuse University found that “exceedingly few detainees” had committed grave national security-related offenses like terrorism or election fraud, and that “the growth in detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) over the past four years has been fueled by a steady increase in the number of detainees with no criminal history.”

“LexisNexis is using the same type of scare tactics ICE tries to use to justify the brutality of their deportation mission,” said Just Futures Law attorney Dinesh McCoy, who worked on the FOIA request. “There’s no indication, based on the huge number of searches conducted, nor from the records that we’ve seen, that ICE uses LexisNexis technology in a confined way to target ‘serious’ criminal activity. We know thousands of ICE employees are empowered to use this tech, and we know that officers are given significant discretion to make investigative and strategy decisions about how they locate immigrants.”

Though ICE arrests have fallen under the Biden administration, experts say they remain concerned by Accurint’s use and potential to snare people who’ve committed no crime beyond fleeing their home country. “We’re seeing a continuation of harmful surveillance practices under this administration,” McCoy wrote via email. “We need real opposition to the constant expansion of ICE’s power and infrastructure, but by providing the agency with invasive tools like Accurint, the Biden Administration is just strengthening ICE’s institutional position for the future.” The marked decline in post-Trump ICE arrests presents an odd context for the massive scale of ICE’s searches: During roughly the same period tracked by the LexisNexis logs, ERO made 72,000 arrests after conducting over three times as many individual searches.

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agent preparing to arrest alleged immigration violators at Fresh Mark, Salem, June 19, 2018. Image courtesy ICE ICE / U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

A Homeland Security Investigations special agent prepares to arrest alleged immigration violators at Fresh Mark meat processing plant in Salem, Ohio, on June 19, 2018.

Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Over 630,000 of the searches and reports were run by Homeland Security Investigations, an ICE division tasked with investigating an expansive array of “threats,” from human trafficking and terrorism to “scams” and identity theft. But along with HSI’s broad mandate have come allegations of dragnet spy tactics and indiscriminate policing. In a letter to Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari in March, Sen. Ron Wyden wrote that he’d learned HSI had “abused” its federal authority and “was operating an indiscriminate and bulk surveillance program that swept up millions of financial records about Americans.”

HSI also regularly assists with ERO’s mass detention and deportation operations, including a 2018 workplace raid in Tennessee that separated children from their parents and left hundreds of students too afraid to return to school. In a March article for Just Security, Mary Pat Dwyer of the Brennan Center wrote that HSI “often uses its transnational crime mission to investigate immigrants of color who are not suspected of criminal activity,” including investigations into naturalized citizens “looking for inconsistencies in their documents or old deportation orders as grounds to strip them of citizenship.”

The logs provide a greater understanding of how ICE is making use of LexisNexis Risk Solutions, which provides a varied suite of search tools to navigate the company’s voluminous store of government records and commercial data. The overwhelming majority of the searches, over 700,000 in total, were conducted using Accurint’s “Advanced Person Search,” which lets users enter fragments of data they might have on an individual — a relative, a former job, a nickname — and match it against a pool of millions of identities. Over 200,000 other searches were run against Accurint’s database of phone provider records, more than 63,000 vehicle record searches, and nearly 10,000 different queries hunting for social media profiles. The logs also show nearly 6,000 searches for Accurint’s index of jail booking activity, an ICE tactic recently reported by The Guardian as an explicit means of skirting “sanctuary city” laws that block local police from sharing such information with immigration agencies. With LexisNexis access, it is now trivial for an agency to essentially buy its way around such restrictions.

Neither ICE nor LexisNexis responded to a request for comment.

Used in concert, these searches grant ICE, an agency already charged with brutal and indiscriminate tactics against some of American society’s most vulnerable members, with an immense technological advantage when seeking its targets. It’s difficult to overstate the enormity of LexisNexis’s databases, and equally difficult to imagine avoiding being absorbed into them. Financial records, property records, past jobs, former marriages, phone subscriptions, cable TV bills, car registrations — critics of LexisNexis’s government work note that it’s near impossible to exist today without leaving behind traces that are quickly vacuumed up into the company’s colossal trove of public and proprietary data points, continuously indexed and rendered instantly searchable. Put in the hands of agencies like ICE, the mountains of digital paperwork one accumulates during ordinary civic and consumer lives can be easily turned against us. A 2021 report by the Washington Post found that ICE had previously tapped a database of utility records while searching for immigration offenses, leaving those who fear detention or deportation with a grim choice between the basic amenities of modern life and the perpetual risk of data broker-enabled arrest.

Despite the vastness of LexisNexis’s data and the advertised sophistication of the tools it provides law enforcement to comb through that data, the company itself quietly warns that it may be providing inaccurate information, the consequences of which could upend a life or entire family. “Due to the nature of the origin of public record information, the public records and commercially available data sources used in reports may contain errors. Source data is sometimes reported or entered inaccurately, processed poorly or incorrectly, and is generally not free from defect,” reads a small warning at the bottom of a marketing page for Accurint Virtual Crime Center, a tool used heavily by ICE according to the search logs. “Before relying on any data, it should be independently verified.”

It’s not just those individuals in ICE’s crosshairs who need to fear being implicated by a LexisNexis search. Accurint promotional and training materials make frequent mention of the software’s ability to not only locate people via the records they leave in their wake, but also trace real-life social networks, potentially drawing friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers under federal scrutiny. An Accurint training manual marked “Confidential and Proprietary” but publicly accessible via a LexisNexis website shows how users can obtain “information about a subject’s relatives, neighbors, and associates,” including “possible relative phones” two degrees removed from the target. The fact that a single search can yield results about multiple people or entire families suggests that the number of people subjected to LexisNexis-based surveillance could be far more than the already large 1.2 million figure might indicate. “We’re seeing that ICE is running a system of mass surveillance,” said Cinthya Rodriguez, a national organizer with the immigrant rights group Mijente. “What we’re really talking about is possibly upwards of three times that 1.2 million, perhaps upwards of 3 million searches happening in that period of time. … What we’re saying is, perhaps 1 percent of the U.S. population was under ICE surveillance.”

That something as mundane as having heat or running water at home could draw the attention of the federal deportation machine, and that this machine could then turn its sights on one’s personal support network, has left immigrant communities in a state of perpetual fear, said Rodriguez. “Immigrants are forced to face impossible choices about what kind of services they need and the information they have to turn over in order to access those services, everything ranging from their electric bills to buying a car, to information about their children’s schools,” Rodriguez explained in an interview. “Everything we touch can have serious implications for building out ICE’s digital dragnet.”

The post ICE Searched LexisNexis Database Over 1 Million Times in Just Seven Months appeared first on The Intercept.

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