All Surveillance stories

Edward Snowden tells "Axios on HBO" what he gave up to become a whistleblower

Former National Security Agency subcontractor Edward Snowden told "Axios on HBO" that "it was a difficult thing to come forward" and release top-secret documents about U.S. intelligence agencies' surveillance of American citizens to journalists in 2013.

Why it matters: The U.S. government does not considered Snowden a whistleblower because he did not raise his concerns through the legal process that had been established. As a result, he has lived in exile in Russia for more than six years.

China touts dubious emotion recognition tech

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

China touted emotion recognition systems as a means of crime prevention at its 2019 Public Security Expo, Financial Times reports (subscription), although experts say the tech doesn't work as advertised.

Reality check: "The science on emotion recognition is pretty bogus," ACLU senior policy analyst Jay Stanley tells Axios. A July study found that it is not possible to confidently assign emotional states to facial expressions "regardless of context, person, and culture" — "as much of current technology tries to do."

Automating humans with AI

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Most jobs are still out of reach of robots, which lack the dexterity required on an assembly line or the social grace needed on a customer service call. But in some cases, the humans doing this work are themselves being automated as if they were machines.

What's happening: Even the most vigilant supervisor can only watch over a few workers at one time. But now, increasingly cheap AI systems can monitor every employee in a store, at a call center or on a factory floor, flagging their failures in real time and learning from their triumphs to optimize an entire workforce.

U.S. sues Edward Snowden for profits from new memoir

Photo: Barton Gellman/Getty Images

The United States filed a lawsuit Tuesday against former CIA employee and NSA contractor Edward Snowden alleging his memoir violates non-disclosure disagreements.

  • The lawsuit argues Snowden did not allow the agencies to review his book before publication, as had been required by a signed agreement. While the lawsuit will not attempt to stop publication of Snowden's book book, Permanent Record, it does seek to recover all proceeds earned by Snowden because of the violation.
Sep 12, 2019 - Technology

Spyware's human rights dilemma

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

An announcement this week by a major spyware vendor that it aims to embrace human rights is forcing the industry, governments and civil society groups to consider whether the concepts of "human rights" and "spyware" can ever be reconciled.

The big picture: Government-grade spyware has always been abused. In June, David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, determined that commercial spyware had become so vast a problem that the world needs a moratorium on it, for companies and governments to figure out how to protect human rights.

Deep Dive: The end of anonymity

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Until now, the vast majority of information collected about us has remained untouched — there was just too much to make sense of it all.

What's happening: Artificial intelligence allows data that might once have gone unnoticed to now be detected, analyzed and logged in real time. It's already started supercharging surveillance at work, in schools and in cities.

Sep 7, 2019 - Technology

How surveillance changes behavior

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Data: SurveyMonkey online poll of 3,454 employed adults, Aug. 20–25, with a margin of error of ±2.5 points. Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The point of surveillance is to track and influence people's behavior — in the political sphere, at school, in the subway or in the workplace. Just how new technologies affect someone's behavior and thinking at work depends on each individual, what they are doing and the goals of those who are surveilling.

The big picture: Experts predict AI-fueled mass surveillance will alter people’s behavior. But exactly how it will change our thinking isn’t well understood.

Sep 5, 2019 - Technology

A new window onto China's Uighur spying

A screen showing images of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Xinjiang where a pervasive security apparatus has subdued the ethnic unrest, June 2019. Photo: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

Those websites we reported on last week that target iPhone users with malware appear to have been part of China's long-running effort to monitor its Uighur population.

The big picture: The security vulnerabilities that mobile malware takes advantage of are scarce and expensive, and countries are loath to risk burning their tools by widely exposing them.

Aug 21, 2019 - Technology

Web browsers unite against reported Kazakhstani surveillance

A Kazakhstani resident waves a flag at a 2016 auto rally. Photo: Patrick Baz via AFP/Getty Images

Google, Mozilla and Apple are taking a coordinated action to prevent the Kazakhstani government from using bulk surveillance on citizen web browsing.

The big picture: Web browsers use a system known as certificates to verify and encrypt communications with websites. Kazakhstan is reportedly forcing residents to circumvent that system by using a national certificate rather than the trusted certificates browsers normally use.

Jul 31, 2019 - Technology

Baltimore wrestles with aerial surveillance

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

With a surge of violent crime plaguing the streets of Baltimore, some residents whose lives have been upended by murder are pushing for a drastic measure: citywide surveillance.

Why it matters: Americans have historically valued privacy over security and generally reject the idea of being monitored by anyone, especially law enforcement.

  • But record-setting homicide rates in Baltimore — not to mention national attention on the city's problems following President Trump's recent Twitter insults — may test that mindset.