Dems Call For Moratorium On Federal Agencies Spying On Your Face
There's literally no regulation of facial recognition and biometric technology right now.
Facial recognition technology is starting to become a part of our daily lives. Many of us even use it to unlock our phones without thinking twice about it. It's certainly more convenient than constantly having to enter a PIN. But it's also something that governments around the world are now using to spy on citizens, "identify" criminal suspects, track people who participate in protests, and do a lot of other things that many of us would not be entirely comfortable with. In China, facial recognition and biometric technology are used as part of the nation's developing public and private "social credit" systems that rank citizens and punish or reward them based on whether or not the government (or businesses) approve of their activities, purchasing habits, and speech.
We're certainly not there yet, but our government and law enforcement agencies (and businesses) have been using these technologies and other AI- and algorithm-based technologies in ways we don't know about and would not be comfortable with if we did. Not to be all "the food was bad and in such small portions" about things, but on top of being an incredible invasion of our privacy, these technologies are also highly inaccurate.
This week, a group of Democrats in the House and Senate announced the reintroduction of the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act,which would restrict government and law enforcement use of technology we know to be racist, inaccurate, and creepy as hell.
This bill was introduced in the Senate by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and in the house by Representatives Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Rashida Tlaib (MI-12), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Cori Bush (MO-01), Greg Casar (TX-35), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Barbara Lee (CA-12), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), and Jan Schakowsky (IL-09).
Government use of facial recognition and biometric technology has exploded over the past few years. It's been used by police to identify criminal suspects, which is not great given that these programs are still not very good at differentiating Black and Asian people from one another. It has led to false identification and people being accused of crimes they did not commit, and so far there is almost no regulation of the technology, no rules about when it can be used, how it can be used, how well it has to work in order to be used, or anything else.
The sponsors of the bill are asking that a moratorium be put on the use of this technology by federal entities like the FBI and the DOJ so that we don't all have to live in the terrifying surveillance state authors of dystopian fiction have warned about for over a century.
“The year is 2023, but we are living through 1984. The continued proliferation of surveillance tools like facial recognition technologies in our society is deeply disturbing,” said Senator Markey in a press release.“Biometric data collection poses serious risks of privacy invasion and discrimination, and Americans know they should not have to forgo personal privacy for safety. As we work to make our country more equitable, we cannot ignore the technologies that stand in the way of progress and perpetuate injustice.”
If there is one overused (and often incorrectly used) literary analogy, it is "This is just like 1984." But in this case, yes. This is just like 1984. This isn't "Oh no, people are judging me for the terrible things I say, guess I'm guilty of wrongthink!" — it is actually "Big Brother is watching."
“Facial recognition technology is not only invasive, inaccurate, and unregulated but it has also been weaponized by law enforcement against Black and Brown people across this country. That’s why I have long called on government to halt the deployment of facial recognition technology, and it’s why we need to immediately take additional steps to evaluate its effectiveness,” said Representative Jayapal. “This legislation will not only preserve civil liberties but aggressively fight back against injustice by stopping federal entities from irresponsibly using facial recognition and biometric surveillance tools.”
It's also necessary to point out that anti-abortion states are currently using technology, including data from Facebook and Google, to track down and prosecute those who have abortions. Imagine what they could do with this kind of technology.
According to Senator Ed Markey's office, the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act would:
- Place a prohibition on the use of facial recognition technology by federal entities, which can only be lifted with an act of Congress;
- Place a prohibition on the use of other biometric technologies, including voice recognition, gate recognition, and recognition of other immutable physical characteristics, by federal entities, which can only be lifted with an act of Congress;
- Condition federal grant funding to state and local entities, including law enforcement, on those entities enacting their own moratoria on the use of facial recognition and biometric technology;
- Prohibit the use of federal dollars for biometric surveillance systems;
- Prohibit the use of information collected via biometric technology in violation of the Act in any judicial proceedings;
- Provide a private right of action for individuals whose biometric data is used in violation of the Act and allow for enforcement by state Attorneys General; and
- Allow states and localities to enact their own laws regarding the use of facial recognition and biometric technologies.
“These technologies have the potential to enable undetectable, persistent, and suspicionless surveillance on an unprecedented scale,” ACLU attorneys wrote in a 2019 lawsuit against the Justice Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the FBI. “Such surveillance would permit the government to pervasively track people’s movements and associations in ways that threaten core constitutional values."
While those introducing this legislation are certainly on the progressive side of the Democratic Party (which may get some people's hackles up), regulation and oversight of this technology actually has pretty widespread and bipartisan support throughout Congress. That's not too surprising, as people generally don't want to live like this, regardless of their political orientation.
For further information on this technology. its pitfalls and its tendency towards racism, check out the Netflix documentary Coded Bias.
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With 300 Lawyers Watching Closely, Elon Musk Apologizes For Mocking Disabled Worker
Elon never read Vonnegut's 'The Gospel from Outer Space'.
Elon Musk loves trolling. Even more, Elon Musk loves giving absolute shit to the lazy do-nothings whom he laid off from Twitter because they were dead weight who weren't willing to be hardcore. So when a laid-off Twitter employee in Iceland took to Twitter to confirm whether he'd been laid off or not (he'd been locked out of his company work systems with no explanation), Musk lit into him, publicly accusing him of malingering and maybe faking a disability, and mocking the guy for obviously trying to win sympathy and a bigger payout.
Oh dear. It turned out not to be some random codemonkey. The shitcanned worker, former Twitter senior director Haraldur Thorleifsson (known as Halli), replied with the details of his disability (he has muscular dystrophy and severe mobility limitations), and pointed out that he'd joined Twitter after the company's previous management purchased his entire company, the digital branding company Ueno, in 2021.
Thorleifsson is also kind of a big deal in Iceland, as CNN reports. He
has been recognized by the United Nations and the president of Iceland for spearheading a charitable effort to build 1,000 wheelchair ramps around Reykjavik to increase the city’s accessibility.
When his company was acquired by Twitter, he chose to take the payment as wages, so he'd be taxed at a higher rate, as a way of "paying it forward" to Iceland's social safety net.
Musk may have eventually been tapped on the shoulder by some expensive attorneys to inform him that berating a laid off employee and accusing him of faking his severe disability wasn't a great look from an employment law perspective. Late Tuesday, Musk finally apologized to Thorleifsson and insisted it was all a big misunderstanding, and golly, maybe he'd like to keep working at Twitter? No harm, no foul, please don't sue my pants off.
Thorleifsson's initial request wasn't particularly mean; he simply wanted some clarification:
Dear @elonmusk [waving hand emoji]
9 days ago the access to my work computer was cut, along with about 200 other Twitter employees.
However your head of HR is not able to confirm if I am an employee or not. You've not answered my emails.
Maybe if enough people retweet you'll answer me here?
Musk's first reply was skeptical right from the start, asking Thorleifsson to detail the work he's been doing and scoffing at the projects Thorleifsson said he'd worked on. Musk topped that off with a video clip from Office Space to mock the very idea that Thorleifsson did anything worthwhile at all, haha!
God, why do these losers think they deserve anything from the Great Man?
Thorleifsson replied that well, sure, "you have every right to lay me off," but a lotta guys woulda actually told people that had happened. He noted in a follow-up tweet that he'd received an email confirming he was no longer employed, and asking if he could please be paid his severance.
Musk, replying to someone else's summary of the conversation, got snotty:
The reality is that this guy (who is independently wealthy) did no actual work, claimed as his excuse that he had a disability that prevented him from typing, yet was simultaneously tweeting up a storm. Can’t say I have a lot of respect for that.
But was he fired? No, you can’t be fired if you weren’t working in the first place!
Thorleifsson ever so politely posted a long thread Tuesday with plenty of context on his disability and his work history. Quote-tweeting Musk's accusation that maybe he wasn't really that disabled, Thorleifsson wrote,
Hi again @elonmusk
I hope you are well.
I’m fine too. I’m thankful for your interest in my health.
But since you mentioned it, I wanted to give you more info.
I have muscular dystrophy. It has many effects on my body.
Let me tell you what they are:
He went on, in sufficient detail to make clear that he has a good life but that he also is very definitely disabled, and now needs help to even get in and out of bed or to use the toilet. He also outlined his business success, noting that
We worked for more or less every big tech company.
We grew fast and made money. I think that's what you are referring to when you say independently wealthy?
That I independently made my money, as opposed to say, inherited an emerald mine.
He noted that when he sold his company to Twitter, he accepted an offer that was lower than might have been wise, because "like you I made a bet on Twitter having a lot more potential than it has had." He also added,
I joined at a time when the company was growing fast. You kind of did the opposite.
There was a lot going on. The company had a fair amount of issues, but then again, most bigger companies do.
Or even small companies, like Twitter today.
This is where I would like to offer Mr. Thorleifsson a job at Wonkette, although it would be a big drop-off in income.
He went on to detail his time at Twitter, and how he kept working on everything his manager asked for, although HR never quite explained what his job description in the rapidly shrinking company was. He saved the coup de grace for the thread's last few tweets:
And now finally to my fingers, which I know you have great concern for. Thank you for that btw.
I'll tell you what I told them. I'm not able to do manual work (which in this case means typing or using a mouse) for extended periods of time without my hands starting to cramp.
I can however write for an hour or two at a time.
This wasn't a problem in Twitter 1.0 since I was a senior director and my job was mostly to help teams move forward, give them strategic and tactical guidance.
But as I told HR (I'm assuming that's the confidential health information you are sharing) I can't work as a hands on designer for the reasons outlined above.
I'm typing this on my phone btw. It's easier for because I only need to use one finger. https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1633253950198624257
Gosh, we wonder which finger he's giving Elon there.
He closed by asking again whether he would be paid what he's owed, adding "I think you can afford it?"
As a postscript, Thorleifsson offered one more thought, referring to reports that Musk has become so paranoid that he is always accompanied by at least two bodyguards when he's at Twitter HQ, including when he goes to the restroom:
Oh! I forgot to mention that I read you can't go to the toilet on your own either @elonmusk
I'm sorry to hear about that. I know the feeling.
The only difference is I can't do it because of a physical disability and you're afraid someone you hurt will attack you while you poop.
And then, nothing for hours.
Musk eventually tweeted, late Tuesday, to say he was very very sorry and that he'd had a video call with Thorleifsson to clear everything up and everything's fine now. Musk was just dealing with some inaccurate information — surely a first in the history of Twitter — and now everything's fine. How are you?
Based on your comment, I just did a videocall with Halli to figure out what’s real vs what I was told. It’s a long story.
Better to talk to people than communicate via tweet.
BETTER TO TALK TO PEOPLE THAN TO COMMUNICATE VIA TWEET.
Ladies, gentlemen, nonbinaries, and sentient AI's, we present Elon Musk's eventual epitaph, on a future headstone that will be guarded so that no one may piss on it.
Musk followed that with,
I would like to apologize to Halli for my misunderstanding of his situation. It was based on things I was told that were untrue or, in some cases, true, but not meaningful.
He is considering remaining at Twitter.
The news reports we've seen note that Thorleifsson hasn't said what his own plans are. But on Twitter, he announced today that he's releasing a music album. We get the feeling he may be done with Twitter anyway.
Please keep Wonkette typing at you with any fingers that may be relevant to the topic. We love you!
Elon Musk's Twitter An Awesome Dumpster Fire Of Suck
It's like he doesn't know what the hell he's doing.
Hey, Twitter flamed out again sometime Monday. First, any links you clicked sent you to the Phantom Zone. Then, all gifs and images went black. Wha’ happened? Well, fortunately, Twitter CEO and brain genius Elon Musk is on the case.
Musk whined, “This platform is so brittle (sigh).” This is corporate titan-speak for really selling your product. “Will be fixed shortly.” See, Twitter World is just closed for an unspecified period to clean and repair. The Musk out front should’ve told you.
Some users who attempted to load Twitter.com or TweetDeck, a service that allows users to organize their Twitter feed into lists, were met with an error message: “your current API plan does not include access to this endpoint.” Other users were able to access the site (although it appeared to load slowly), but they were met with the same error message when clicking on links.
Outage tracker site DownDetector showed more than 8,000 Twitter outage reports around noon on Monday. For users who were able to access the platform, “Twitter API” was trending as people tweeted about the issues.
Twitter’s official account, the one not run by a braying ass, said, “We made an internal change that had some unintended consequences. We’re working on this now and will share an update when it’s fixed.”
Wired writer Aidan Moher explained, “Twitter uses a service to capture analytics data for outbound links (using the t.co domain), and that service lost API access (presumably due to the new system that charges companies API access), so now outbound links aren't working.”
APIs are software tools third-party developers use to access data from applications and make new services. Last month, Musk, desperate for cash, announced that his $44-billion personal blog would “no longer support free access to the Twitter API.” This did not result in mountains of moolah but instead fucked his site up good.
He further whined Monday afternoon, shortly after smarter people had resolved the issue, “A small API change had massive ramifications. The code stack is extremely brittle for no good reason. Will ultimately need a complete rewrite.” Brilliant move blaming the people who fixed Musk’s mess. That will ensure retention.
\u201cElon\u2019s explanation seems to be deflecting from the actual cause.\n\nIt appears Musk just didn\u2019t understand the dependencies in his tech stack and inadvertently ordered the shutting off of Twitter\u2019s internal access to their own API when trying to cut access to free external users.\u201d— Ahmed Baba (@Ahmed Baba) 1678129030
Independent columnist Ahmed Baba said, "It appears Musk just didn’t understand the dependencies in his tech stack and inadvertently ordered the shutting off of Twitter’s internal access to their own API when trying to cut access to free external users."
We don't need to the world's greatest detective to deduce that Elon Musk is an idiot. He's like one of those "Star Trek" admirals or commodores who thought they could command the Enterprise better than James T. Kirk.
This was the second Twitter goof-up in less than a week and the third in under a month. Some examples of Musk's masterful professionalism:
Last Wednesday, some Twitter users who opened up their “for you” timeline were greeted with a blank screen and a message saying, “welcome to your timeline,” encouraging them to follow other users to get tweets to show up even if they already followed various accounts. Other users were met with a “Welcome to Twitter!” message as if they had just joined the platform.
Three weeks ago, Twitter users encountered various issues with the platform, including the inability to tweet, send direct messages or follow new accounts.
But, on the upside, there's more Nazis on the site!
Republicans have claimed, without evidence, that "wokeness" has compromised military readiness while celebrating all that wonderful "free speech" Musk has brought to Twitter, which the anti-woke crusader is running into the ground.
Follow Stephen Robinson on Twitter if it still exists.
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Republicans Choo Choo Choose To Ignore Rail Safety
No, it's the children who are wrong.
Republicans have spent the latter half of February having hissy fits about how Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg personally destroyed the town of East Palestine, Ohio, by completely ignoring the February 3 derailment of a train carrying hazardous chemicals. In mere reality, federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Transportation Safety Board arrived at the crash site the next morning and got to work, and Biden spoke to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine immediately after the crash and chemical spill to offer any federal aid DeWine asked for. DeWine says yes, the federal response has been very good, too.
But that hasn't stopped the Right from insisting Biden should have immediately shown up in person so Fox News could call him senile and probably make fun of his shoes, too. The crazier segments of wingnutland are certain that Biden completely ignored East Palestine because he hates white people and won't lift a finger to help them. No credit for sending EPA Administrator Michael Regan to the site, either, because nobody had been screaming for his head, and Regan's visit got in the way of the narrative that the administration wasn't DOING ANYTHING. (As we say, it's been doing plenty.)
So no one should be surprised at all by Politico's report that "on Tuesday, some GOP lawmakers urged their colleagues not to rush out laws putting new strictures on freight rail." After all, this isn't a time for action, it's a time for blaming Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg for inaction.
Perhaps We Could Improve Railroad Safety Somewhat?
Why Is Joe Biden Doing WAR To Poor East Palestine, Ohio?
Secretary Mayor Pete Not Having Any Of Marco Rubio's Sh*t
Woke NTSB Says 'Overheated Wheel Bearing' Derailed Train, Doesn't Even Call Secretary Mayor Pete Gay
As we noted last week, Buttigieg actually has put forward a package of reforms to improve rail safety; some of the measures can be enacted by the Department of Transportation, but others, like increasing fines on rail companies for safety violations or requiring modernized braking systems and tank car designs, would need to be passed by Congress. Buttigieg's proposals have been met in rightwing media with calls for him to wear more manly shoes.
A few Republicans have come out in favor of legislation to improve rail safety. Notably, Sen. JD Vance (R-Yes, really, that guy!) has joined with his Ohio Democratic colleague Sherrod Brown to introduce a bipartisan rail safety bill that would genuinely improve safety. It even has a nice prosaic title, "Railway Safety Act of 2023," instead of a cutesy acronym. The bill would require railroads to inform state officials of hazardous materials being transported through their states, to limit the total weight and length of trains, and to have a minimum of two crew members on all trains. In addition, the bill would require more rigorous inspections of tracks and train cars.
It would also set national standards for the placement of trackside sensors that can identify overheating wheel bearings and other problems. The NTSB's preliminary investigation found that such detectors notified the train crew in Ohio that a bearing was dangerously hot, and the crew started slowing the train, but the warning didn't come in time to prevent the derailment. The Associated Press explains that the Brown-Vance bill
would set nationwide requirements for installing, maintaining and placing the devices — designed to automatically detect wheel bearing and other mechanical issues — and mandate that they scan trains carrying hazardous materials every 10 miles (16 kilometers). The last two detectors the East Palestine train passed were 19 miles apart. No federal requirements exist now for wayside detectors, though the sensors are widespread in the freight rail industry. Currently, railroads are left to decide where to place those detectors and what temperatures should trigger action when an overheating bearing is detected.
The Brown-Vance bill is co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. John Fetterman and Robert Casey Jr., both of Pennsylvania — the derailment was right next to the Ohio/Pennsylvania state line — but also two Republicans, Marco Rubio of Florida and Josh Hawley of Missouri. Whether the bill will eventually get the 60 votes it would need in the Senate remains to be seen, though, and as that Politico story makes clear, a number of top Republicans in both houses see no need to do much of anything at the moment. Why not wait until we have more information?
Remember, children, Republicans also think we still need to get a better understanding of global warming before we cut back on using fossil fuels.
Some goopers, Politico says, would be fine with holding off on safety legislation until the NTSB completes its investigation of the derailment, which could take about 18 months. Hmmm ... start a railroad safety bill in September 2024? They should check to see if anything else might be on their schedules at that time.
Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas), who chairs the House subcommittee that oversees railroads, explained to Politico that "A lot of people have a lot of ideas right now," and pointed out that the NTSB has so far prepared a preliminary report on the derailment. "There’ll be more information coming."
One of DOT’s requests for Congress is an increase in the maximum penalties to railroads for safety violations — an idea Nehls dismissed, instead praising the industry’s safety record.
“The rail industry has a very high success rate of moving hazardous material — to the point of 99-percent-plus,” Nehls said. “Let’s not have more burdensome regulations and all this other stuff.”
Another Republican on the railroads subcommittee, Rick Crawford of Arkansas, agreed that it's absolutely necessary to do nothing about train safety until the NTSB findings are in. Better to hear from the experts "before we start speculating on what legislative fixes might be offered, if it’s necessary, and if so what would they be." He added that any legislation would be "probably a little premature at this point."
And once the experts do weigh in, they can be dismissed as out of touch bureaucrats who've never had to meet a payroll.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Rep. Sam Graves (R-Missouri) is also wary of putting any legislation on a fast track, possibly because only dirty socialists want high-speed rail. Politico notes that
Graves told Fox News Digital on Feb. 16 that he wants to “fully understand the facts involved” before considering legislation, noting that the NTSB is still investigating. Then, he said, “Congress can consider what steps may be necessary.”
We don't know yet whether Republicans can be dragged kicking and screaming to actually pass rail safety legislation this year. So far, most still seem to prefer accusing the administration of not doing enough over doing anything themselves. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn't offered any thoughts on possible legislation, but he did take the chance Monday to accuse Buttigieg of seeming "more interested in pursuing press coverage for woke initiatives and climate nonsense than in attending to the basic elements of his day job."
Stupid woke climate and also the reform proposals McConnell didn't mention. Buttigieg, ever the gentleman, replied Tuesday that he'd welcome McConnell's help, since Mitch knows all about getting the job done:
"The freight rail industry has wielded a lot of power here in Washington,” he said on CNN. “I would love to see Leader McConnell join us in standing up to them."
Heck, Mitch wouldn't even have do anything woke or pledge allegiance to Mother Gaia for that.
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