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40 Privacy Groups Warn That Facial Recognition is Threatening Democracy

We must take action and guard what little privacy remains before it’s too late.

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(TMU) — On Monday, forty organizations signed a letter calling on an independent government watchdog to recommend a ban on U.S. government use of facial recognition technology.

The letter was drafted by the digital privacy advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and signed by organizations including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Color of Change, Fight for the Future, Popular Resistance, and the Consumer Federation of America. The letter calls on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) to “recommend to the President and the Secretary of Homeland Security the suspension of facial recognition systems, pending further review.

The PCLOB was originally created in 2004, as an independent agency that advises the administration on privacy issues. “The Congress specifically found that new surveillance powers ‘calls for an enhanced system of checks and balances to protect the precious liberties that are vital to our way of life and to ensure that the Government uses its powers for the purposes for which the powers were given’,” the letter states.

The organizations challenge the PCLOB to “examine the more significant public concerns about the use of facial recognition in public spaces.” They also call on the board to address concerns that facial recognition software can be used by “authoritarian governments to control minority populations and limit dissent could spread quickly to democratic societies.

The letter from EPIC mentions a recent New York Times investigation of a facial recognition service used by more than 600 law enforcement agencies across the country.  As the Mind Unleashed recently reported, Manhattan-based Clearview AI is collecting data from unsuspecting social media users and the Chicago Police Department (CPD) is using the controversial facial recognition tool to pinpoint the identity of unknown suspects. The Times investigation shows that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are also using the controversial tool.

The MIT Technology Review believes EPIC’s letter is “one of the biggest efforts so far in the fight to stem the use of facial recognition technologies.

And while these 40 organizations call on the PCLOB to make an official recommendation, there are already examples of push back against facial recognition. San Francisco and Somerville, Massachusetts recently became the first local governments to ban the use of facial recognition tools. The European Commission is also considering a ban on facial recognition in public for five years. In June 2019, the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology released a report titled “America Under Watch: Face Surveillance in the United States” which calls for a moratorium on facial recognition technology.

In June 2019, I also noted that “the editorial board of the Guardian also recently spoke out about the privacy threats, calling the technology ‘especially inaccurate and prone to bias.’ The editorial board also noted that a recent test of Amazon’s facial recognition software by the American Civil Liberties Union found that it falsely identified 28 members of Congress as known criminal.

Whether or not the PCLOB or some other government agency chooses to take action on a moratorium on facial recognition, it is imperative that consumers begin educating themselves about the technology and take steps to protect their privacy. While we are limited in how often our faces are scanned in public, we can voluntarily opt-out of facial scanning at airports, grocery stores, and other locations.

We cannot depend on the government to protect our privacy and liberty. We must take action and guard what little privacy remains before it’s too late.

By Derrick Broze | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

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Cop Gave Children Weapons During Exorcism and Told Them To Shoot Demons And Intruders

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A police officer from Florida was recently arrested after he was caught performing a strange exorcism on a child holding a taser, while another child was given a gun and instructed to shoot anyone who entered the home. 37-year-old Christopher Dougherty reportedly told the two children that there were demons in the house. According to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Dougherty was fired from the department on an unrelated matter on the same day of his arrest, but he had worked with the sheriff’s office since 2006.

Someone tripped an alarm at the house where the incident was occurring, which prompted police to arrive on the scene. Once they got there, they saw evidence of child abuse, and decided to enter the home. Upon entering they found a young girl wearing body armor and a Kevlar helmet, lying on the ground with a rifle in a shooting position. There was also a young boy in the house who had a taser. The boy is believed to be the subject of an exorcism. Dougherty was armed with a handgun when police arrived.

The children said that Dougherty was performing an exorcism on the young boy, and told the girl that there were demons in the house, and instructed her to shoot anyone that entered.

Dougherty was detained and taken to a hospital where he was held under the Baker Act, and then arrested after he was released from the hospital a few days later. On the same day as his arrest, he was fired from the sheriff’s office, but the agency insists that his termination was related to “an unsatisfactory performance finding in a separate matter,” and had nothing to do with the exorcism. 

In a statement to Fox News, Orange County Sheriff John Mina said that he was concerned about the officer’s mental health. 

“While this deputy was terminated for a pattern of unsatisfactory performance, these are very serious criminal allegations. As law enforcement officers, we are held to the highest standards of conduct whether on duty or off duty. But we are also concerned about the deputy’s mental health,” Mina said.

It is still not entirely clear what Dougherty’s relationship was with the two children that were in his care.

The 2014 horror film “Deliver Us From Evil” is based on the true-life story of New York City Police Sgt Ralph Sarchie, who was an exorcist in his spare time. Sarchie described himself as a “demonologist” and claimed to have taken part in at least 20 exorcisms, but says that he investigated over 50 paranormal cases. “I’m a demonologist, and I’m going head to head with the devil,” Sarchie once said in an interview.

In 2001, Sarchie co-wrote the book Beware the Night about his experiences as a part-time demon hunter in New York. His book would eventually inspire the horror movie that came later.

Of course, Sarchie’s “demon hunting” activities seem to be a bit more safe and legitimate than whatever was happening inside the home of Christopher Dougherty.

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4th-grader walks to school every day to do classwork because his family can’t afford internet

Elias Marat

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A fourth-grader in Roswell, New Mexico, has been spending his days outside of his closed elementary school to access the building’s WiFi and do his classwork due to his lack of internet access at home.

With the novel coronavirus continuing to interrupt lives everywhere, this kid is proving that the global pandemic isn’t strong enough to disrupt his studies. Like other school districts across the country, students at Roswell Independent School District have had to attend online classes due to the ongoing health emergency.

Jonathon Endecott, who turns 10 next month, has always been an independent kid who enjoys his studies, and especially science. He always used to walk to school and back home when school was in session, and this is one habit that hasn’t been broken even as teachers and students stay at home.

However, like too many homes across the United States, Jonathon’s home lacks internet service. Tragically, Jonathon’s mom, Angel Endecott, lost her two jobs once the pandemic struck. And while she’s been able to return to one of her jobs, she still can’t afford internet service.

So Jonathon has been going back to his closed elementary school for the building’s WiFi connection to continue doing his classwork. And he’s been happy to do it.

“He was like, ‘Yeah, I need to be back on the school property, and I could be like a normal kid again,'” Angel explained. “Him just being outside of the building gives him that, ‘Hey, I’m at school’ feeling even though he’s not around other classmates or teachers.”

With Jonathon’s home lying just across the school’s field, his parents are happy to let him study on campus grounds during the day. “The principal, the secretary and a few teachers, they do come outside to check up on him and see if he needs anything,” Angel said.

Jonathon has also found support from local teachers in the school district, who were deeply touched by the heartbreaking site of Jonathon working outside the school so that he could access an internet connection.

One teacher shared a photo of Jonathon on Facebook after getting permission from his mother. The image was shared widely online, and eventually reached a kind person who offered to pay for Jonathon’s internet service for the next year out of their own pocket.

The teacher who posted the photo to her Facebook has since created a GoFundMe account to help raise funds for other children who lack access to the internet, which is crucial to accessing their classes.

Jonathon remains optimistic despite the challenge of not having home internet access, and is happy that he can still remain connected with his friends and classmates online. He also likes the familiarity of being at his school building, which makes the virtual experience more like being back at school.

He’s also been approaching every day with vigor and excitement, relishing the ability to get a bit of alone time at school, his mom said. Jonathon also plans to continue going back to his school even when the family gets its internet back up and running again. However, the school district will require that he has a parent with him in the future.

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Study: 1,000 Potential Alien Star Systems Could Be Watching Us From Afar

Justin MacLachlan

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Motivated by the “Pale Blue Dot” NASA photo researchers are asking the question, could other planets be looking at us just like we’re looking at them? A study of Earth’s “solar neighborhood” has found that over 1,000 different systems have the perfect angle to view Earth.

The infamous “Pale Blue Dot” photograph was suggested by astronomer Carl Sagan who implored that the Voyager 1 space probe take a picture of Earth from nearly four billion miles away. The new study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, seeks to find out how many different exo-planet systems with alien life could be watching us. Ironically, the research comes from the Cornell’s Carl Sagan Institute.

The studies co-author Lisa Kaltenegger stated their list focuses on main-sequence stars similar to our own sun. These solar systems may contain exoplanets, Earth-like worlds sitting in the habitable zone for life. All of the prospective systems are within 300 million light-years of Earth, close enough to see our world’s chemical traces according to the researchers.

“Let’s reverse the viewpoint to that of other stars and ask from which vantage point other observers could find Earth as a transiting planet,” Kaltenegger, the director of Cornell’s Carl Sagan Institute said in a press release.

“If observers were out there searching, they would be able to see signs of a biosphere in the atmosphere of our Pale Blue Dot… and we can even see some of the brightest of these stars in our night sky without binoculars or telescopes.”

What makes this listing of 1,004 star systems novel and significant is they all sit in Earth’s elliptic orbit or the plane of the planets orbit around our Sun. Exoplanets traveling along this same path would be able to see the Earth according to the researchers.

To foreign observers, Earth would be a transiting planet that passes in front of its sun as the observer looks at distant stars. Theoretically, these exoplanets would be able to see Earth crossing the Sun, which sounds like a marvelous sight.

“Only a very small fraction of planets will just happen to be randomly aligned with our line of sight so we can see them transit,” co-author Joshua Pepper of Lehigh University says. “But all of the thousand stars we identified in our paper in the solar neighborhood could see our Earth transit the sun, calling their attention.”

“If we’re looking for intelligent life in the universe, that could find us and might want to get in touch,” Kaltenegger adds. “We’ve just created the star map of where we should look first.”

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