[MONSTER] Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology

Category: Privacy

“There’s a monster on the loose! It’s got our heads into a noose! And it just sits there, watching…" (Steppenwolf, “Monster/Suicide/America,” 1969) The U. S. Department of Homeland Security is pursuing a monstrous vision: a unified data warehouse of everything known, suspected, or merely speculated about every person in the “land of the free,” citizen or non-citizen. They call it HART, but you're not going to love it…

What is HART?

DHS calls this Big Brother plan HART: Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology. HART is under the aegis of the National Security Agency (NSA). In the NSA’s view of things, we are all “persons of interest” because we all have some sort of connection to a foreigner who is within the NSA’s lawful purview, however tenuous or flat-out incorrect that connection may actually be. Therefor, the NSA claims authority to collect all the data it can about us, and that is an appalling amount of data.

To make matters worse, DHS plans to tie all of its data together using one of the least reliable forms of identity authentication: face recognition biometric data.

Recently, I wrote, “Facebook is the nosiest neighbor that everyone in the world has ever had.” That won’t be true for more than five more years if the NSA is permitted to pursue HART. All that Facebook knows about you will become just a subset of the more than 900 structured databases the NSA maintains already. (This figure doesn’t count the mountains of unstructured field notes, video and audio recordings, etc., that NSA maintains.)

HART: The DHS/NSA citizen database

Given Facebook’s recent efforts to get users to accept face recognition, it would not surprise me to learn that the NSA is already contracting with the social network to not only gather facial biometric data but also to normalize its collection in the public’s mind. And it’s not just Mark Zuckerberg who is suspected of selling out his fellow humans.

Amazon is making no secret of its face recognition tech, ominously named “Rekognition.” (Seriously, what genius thought it wise to use a “k” that connotes fascism?) Rekognition can try to identify anything, from a waterfall to a space shuttle. It has applications in Amazon’s order-picking operation. A face is just another digital object to an artificial intelligence, but attempting to identify people is fraught with peril.

Purportedly a tool to build trust and safety between customers and delivery drivers, Rekognition is being used by local law enforcement agencies to “identify” suspects right now, despite well-documented inaccuracies. Law enforcement subscribers to the “suspect ID” application of Rekognition can upload a facial image to the Rekognition app and it will return potential identifications of the person. (You know, like on the CSI television show, but without the cool sound effects.) Each “match” comes with a percentage purporting to be the probability of the match’s accuracy; all very scientific-looking, and all likely snake oil.

Baked-In Bias?

Like all face recognition tech, Rekognition falsely identifies persons of color more often than light-skinned subjects; in fact, the darker the skin the more likely a false positive becomes. This illegal racial bias has civil liberties groups chewing the draperies; they rightly want the use of face recognition by government agents stopped.

Incidentally, this Rekognition app with so much potential for abuse resides on Amazon Web Services, which has been implicated in most large data breaches during the past several years. Sleep well, citizen.

Google has an entire division of staff with security clearances devoted to working on projects with national, state, and local government intelligence agencies. More than 4,000 of Google’s 88,000 employees signed an internal petition demanding the company get out of the Defense industry. Dozens of Google employees actually resigned their jobs in protest of what they say is the company’s descent into “the business of war,” profiting from AI projects such as a Pentagon project intended to make killing by drones more tactically and fiscally effective. Google has announced that it will not seek to renew that contract after this year, and will not pursue Pentagon business in the future.

But what top-secret R&D Google’s spook works may or may not be doing for the NSA is something the company and its employees cannot comment upon. Perhaps an Edward Snowden lurks within their ranks, and will enlighten the rest of us.

Big Brother's Little Helpers

It is dead certain that all three tech giants are in bed with government spies; the money involved in such work is too rich for publicly traded corporations to pass up. Amazon Web Services won a $600 million contract in 2013 to provide a secured cloud-based place where the CIA can exchange information with its counterpart agencies in other countries.

DHS’ HART will have multi-billion dollar budgets during its development and provide a steady revenue torrent for the foreseeable future. Amazon, Google, and Facebook will vie for their pieces of that yummy pie, no matter how much they really, really wish they could protect your privacy (or at least your shattered delusion of it). Hey, it’s just business; don’t take it personally!

Airlines and airport operators are at the mercy of the federal government which controls national airspace and interstate commerce. What the TSA wants, it generally gets with the cooperation of these stakeholders, however grudgingly it is given. HART will require physical areas where travelers’ faces can be scanned, and the scanning will have to be incorporated into the boarding process. Already, pilot programs are underway to identify such areas and create procedures that yield usable biometric data without disrupting travel too much.

It’s not just international air travelers who will get their faces scanned. Customs and
Border Patrol (CBP) agents collect video and still images of everyone they encounter, whether or not the persons are subjects of immigration or other investigations. HART’s roadmap includes data collected from local police agencies including every “citizen encounter” an officer records with notebook or body camera.

If you visit The Money Museum in Denver’s Federal Reserve Bank, your photo ID will be scanned; this totally unnecessary shakedown has been in place for many years, and will surely become one of the “other sources” of fodder for HART. (Avoid that boring museum, by the way, it’s terrible.)

There are cameras everywhere these days. HART’s hope is to recruit all of them to be the eyes and ears of the monster that “just sits there, watching.” One incentive for local law enforcement to cooperate with HART consists of end-runs around several laws and Constitutional principles.

DHS proposes to exempt from the federal Privacy Act all data that HART collects from “external agencies” such as local police departments. That means the biometric and biographical data that local cops collect about you - including any unsubstantiated speculations they may make about you - would not be made available to you as the Privacy Act requires of federal agencies. Nor would you have the right to request corrections or amendments to your records held by HART. You would not even be entitled to know if HART has anything about you.

Then DHS wants to let every law enforcement agency tap into HART and all the data it holds. It’s easy to see how local LEOs could get excited about such a deal, and gladly participate in it. Remember, because of the Privacy Act exemption you don’t even have the right to know your local cops are watching you through the eyes of the federal data monster they helped to create.

Is It Getting Cold In Here?

HART will certainly have a chilling effect upon the exercise of First Amendment rights, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation and every other civil liberties advocacy group. It will deter people from associating with certain other people who are perceived as “persons of interest to the government,” mainly non-white and foreign people. It may even stop you from liking the Facebook page of your favorite band or anything else.

The all-seeing eyes of HART are a precursor of a nightmarish “social credit” system like the one China’s government began to build in 2012 and plans to complete by 2020. Using comprehensive data on each citizen collected exactly as HART plans to do, China’s government assigns to each of its 1.4 billion citizens a social credit score that supposedly reflects his/her “trustworthiness;” not just how far the government can trust him or her, but how far every sector of society should trust him or her!

The Chinese government’s social credit system plan arose from the commercial credit scoring system developed by China’s answer to Amazon.com, Alibaba.com. Alibaba’s credit scoring system is called Sesame Credit, and it works much like the credit scoring agencies here in the USA. But the government is using Sesame Credit to reward its friends and punish its enemies.

Membership in an “illegal organization,” as defined by the government, can lower your Sesame Credit score. So can engaging in socially undesirable behavior; rabid fans of K-pop bands who mob airport landing gates when their heroes come to town will see their Sesame Credit scores drop. Data about non-commercial activities is being used to manipulate commercial reputations, with very real and sometimes harsh results.

Housing, educational, and career opportunities can be affected by social credit scores. Freedom to travel can be restricted because a citizen is associated with the wrong people or organizations. There has been talk of barring people from restaurants and other public accommodations based upon their social credit scores.

I wish I could say, “That will never happen here” after reading about HART. But I can’t get that 50 year-old Steppenwolf song out of my mind. Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[MONSTER] Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology"

(See all 28 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

11 Jun 2018

Bob, One of your best articles. Too many simply don't know or don't want to believe. And on the day we lost Net Neutrality.
@ Tom Jerbic I wouldn't give any president credit. Bush started it, and our privacy has decreased with each following president.

Posted by:

Kenneth Heikkila
11 Jun 2018

Fred, Fred, Fred, your naivete is so cute! You forget history when it doesn't suit your world view. The history of the labor movement specifically as well as more recent history of Native American rights have demonstrated the government has shown very little restraint in attacking it's citizens that don't fall into line and your pathetic guns are not going to save you.

Posted by:

11 Jun 2018

Simple part of the answer: stop doing "business" with Google, Amazon and Facebook. For years it has been obvious that these corporations are using data collected to target people for ads and other annoyances. There are many other search engines, and the local brick and mortar stores would be pleased to have the business not going to Amazon, and who could not use several hours a day wasted on Facebook?

Posted by:

11 Jun 2018

Mr. Rankin, Thank you for the heads up on hart!
I am so glad that I am part of the "Steppenwolf" generation that only has a 76.71-year life span.
I will fight such breaches in our freedom and our privacy for the next few decades I have remaining. Yet, I cannot help but feel sorry for the later generations that will not even remember the heroic actions of Snowden.
In the meantime, I will continue to:
*Wear a baseball cap in public
*Don't use credit cards
*Don't ask for FICA scores
*Not renew my passport
*Take no flights
*Not get a voter registration card
*Not own a smartphone
*Ignore social media
*Don't do business with the likes of Amazon and Google
Try as I might; obfuscation is most difficult, if not impossible.
The Borg Collective - motto "Resistance is futile; you shall be assimilated" - be damned!

Oh (expletive deleted)

Posted by:

lou z
11 Jun 2018

"Person of Interest", a CBS TV series that aired from Sept 2011 thru June 2016, was supposedly a "science fiction" crime drama. Guess again. For those of you that have not seen it, I suggest you rent/buy the DVDs', watch them thru to their end, and you will have a better understanding of what HART is all about.
To Tom J., thank you for the first truth I've heard today.

Posted by:

11 Jun 2018

Two comments:
I can guarantee that at some point HART will be hacked. This amount of information in one site will be irresistible to criminals.

Once facial recognition is proven to have flaws, everyone will be chipped or have some type of ID imprinted or implanted in their bodies. See Revelation for prediction of the "mark of the beast" without which nobody will be able to complete any transactions.

Posted by:

11 Jun 2018

Wasn't this Mr. Orwells concept, 1984, that many years ago?

Posted by:

11 Jun 2018

What a kettle of fish. But, the approach ought not to come as any great surprise. I think we're going to have to completely re-think our definition of "privacy", and what it means in a high tech (and getting more high tech each day) society here and abroad. "The quiet past is inadequate for the stormy present. As our case is new, we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves". A. Lincoln Geez. I wish I had come up with that, but it kinda says what must happen. It was always possible to spy on someone, or probe their inner most secrets.
Always. Now, it just take a shorter period of time to do the same thing. We have to learn to live more comfortably with a fast paced tech world. Indeed, we must disenthrall ourselves. :-)

Posted by:

11 Jun 2018

This disturbs me. What also disturbs me is the lack of critical thinking that a significant part the population possesses. A cross section of the population have commented here and I see some comments that show this lacking.

I miss typed population earlier, corrected it, but maybe I should have left it as "poopulation".

Posted by:

11 Jun 2018

Bob, do you feel better with this rant off your chest? Supposition is not evidence.

Posted by:

David Hakala
12 Jun 2018

miger, click through to the EFF's bulletin and you'll find all of Bob's "supposition" comes from DHS' own presentation on its HART proposal.

Posted by:

12 Jun 2018

I feel compelled to ask the following: Why did the United States fight fascism and communism around the world? With the development of this level of surveillance, the "land of the free and the home of the brave" has become the land of the enslaved and the home of the fearful!

Posted by:

13 Jun 2018

yeah, well... how many terrorists who have struck been on a "watch list"? Big Brother dropped the ball on them.

Posted by:

15 Jun 2018

Thank Goodness our government is looking out for America. Finally they will be able to identify and confine all perpetrators, something sorely needed in a nation invaded by border jumpers and criminals, especially out here in California.

Posted by:

16 Jun 2018

I have mixed feelings about this. First and foremost, I am grateful to Bob for telling us about this. But the mixed feelings come from feeling good about the fact that the government is using technology to identify bad guys before they can do harm. But on the other hand, I am gravely concerned that this much personal data in one place will surely be used in the future in unconstitutional ways solely for the benefit of an individual politician or political party. So that's both a zero and a ten on my own personal Richter Scale.

Bob, periodic updates Please!

Posted by:

16 Jun 2018

*Ok, keep it short*
If you don't want it to be used, don't upload, post or even email it over the internet!
*They will never learn*

It's not that difficult once you reach adolescence! But it's up to us to teach the simpleminded what not to do with this tech.

Having said that, means the problem is our own and we are to blame, we can't win!!

Thanks Bob, there should be more articles on this!! (We the people need to know the dangers!)

Posted by:

18 Jun 2018

This has been going on for a long, long time. It's only now that there is such a thing as "deep machine learning", that's it's come to this awful eventuality.

PS: who is president (figurehead only-- manipulated by the ones who hold the real purse-strings) wouldn't have made ANY difference. The blame lies at the feet of the American people-- who have allowed their greediest and most dishonest to become their leaders.

Posted by:

18 Jun 2018

WOW!!! Once again, a "duel-edge sword" for the government and We The People!!!

I do like that the government wants to have complete surveillance on the criminals or terrorists. I hate that it must go that far and into private citizens lives to search for these criminals and terrorists!

I also believe that there are way too many people in the US that have forgotten about 9-11-2001. This is completely dangerous and relatively stupid to forget. Terrorists attacks are still occuring around the world and we have been "lucky" that it hasn't happened in the US, again.

As for Net Neutrality, that in itself is a complete oxymoron. It is impossible to have the Internet completely free, if Net Neutrality is imposed, there goes Freedom. Freedom does have it's "let down" and keeps us open for multiple issues that none of us, really like. . .But, that is what Freedom is all about. . .Freedom.

So, what is it that we really want? Freedom or Controlled means to access the Internet? I know that I want Freedom and that will probably entail HART. Of that, I am not happy, but we can protest, since that is one of our rights, correct?

Posted by:

04 Jan 2019

Bob you are a lighthouse in the middle of a fogbank. Holy #!@$ just read the nazi Trumpistas right on this board and you can see how much danger we're already in. At this point, the upcoming century is looking a whole lot worse than the 20th. damn straight it's gonna be the Holocaust all over again.

Posted by:

04 Jan 2019

FIRST: this is not a 'flame', nor do I mean any one any harm - just trying to clear up a few issues at that ugly intersection of Data, Information, and Politics. Personally I am a "Decline to State" because no one is ALWAYS right (or left [smile]).

ID: "Why did the United States fight fascism and communism around the world?"

MmeMoxie: "Terrorists attacks are still occuring around the world . . ."

Well, here I go and put my neck into the noose yet again! ID: I honestly don't believe that 'The School of the Americas' had a class on 'How to Build A Democracy' in their curriculum -- anywhere. Do you?

AND I almost suspect that in 'Newspeak' when they read "We The People of [insert country] in Order to form a more perfect Union,. . ." read 'We The People" as "We The Oligarchs of [insert country]. . .". It is honestly difficult for me to find ANYTHING good that came from the School of the Americas, especially 'Democracy'.

MmeMoxie: I kinda hate to bring this up - but when you look at capital sales of arms and munitions you will find that the United States of America probably fills your definition of 'Terrorist State' more than I suspect you realize, some call us the 'Greatest Terrorist State in the World'. Depending upon how 'greatest' is defined, I could agree.

We even (still) sell 'persistent' land mines and cluster bombs to other nations (illegal under international law, but we are not abiding by that Treaty because 1) we like landmines, and 2) selling them is not illegal) to use against both their 'enemies' and against their own population - the USA does this with that knowledge.

We also aid others in perpetuating governments so brutal that they make other terrorist nations pale in comparison - the only difference is that we only sell the weapons and toys (with training) and we only HELP, we generally (_generally_) do not openly participate. (cite: Human Rights Watch, Med Sans (who run hospitals and clinics where US made munitions parts are found after Red Cross and exempt facilities have been destroyed by air or land forces), OxFam, and Amnesty International, among other international groups. The information -- from numbers to costs is not difficult to find on-line'.

I trembled when I read about the UTAH DATA CENTER (UDC) which is run by the NSA - and which already contains virtually every overseas call made from 2003 forward, until it could store every cell phone call made in nearly any country, starting with the USA. Then it started storing those - along with EVERY credit card purchase you have ever made when that technology was developed, any bank transaction you have made, and, soon -- when the program is completed, every parking ticket you have received (read: any contact with an LEA you have ever had). And, of course, it goes without saying every web site you have EVER visited (well your IP number, and that can be tied to you by cross referencing your IP with....say every e-mail or memo you have ever sent or received.

Well let me quote WIKI - "The data center is alleged to be able to process "all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Internet searches, as well as all types of personal data trails — parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital 'pocket litter'." In response to claims that the data center would be used to illegally monitor email of U.S. citizens, in April 2013 an NSA spokesperson said, "Many unfounded allegations have been made about the planned activities of the Utah Data Center, ... one of the biggest misconceptions about NSA is that we are unlawfully listening in on, or reading emails of, U.S. citizens. (ed: of course it's a 'misconception' and our government would not lie to us, or to We The People...etc.).

(Let me quickly insert here the fact that, yeah, I'm a vet, and that yeah, I was FRONT LINE FMF Corpsman (IDC) with the US Marine Corps and walked the DMZ [and sometimes a tad north of that -- and don't call myself a 'vet' very often -- and don't consider a 'vet' someone who just sat behind a desk in Vietnam: so 'whiny-tree-hugging hippie' is not a counter argument, though I may be a VERY WELL armed, whiny-tree-hugging hippie and don't consider myself overly paranoid).

OK, NOW hold THAT previous thought about the UDC in your mind, now reach over and overlay ALL that 'Data' with HART. Still holding THAT combined image in your mind and allow ANY cop in ANY county complete access to that data inside their vehicle during a vehicle stop, or when a facial recognition program flags you, and I think you might BEGIN to understand how truly terrifying the marriage of the UDC+HEART+Local Cop can be.

Not to mention how dangerous to YOU (and me) any Acronym COMPLETE access to that 'Data' can become. Let's all hope that it isn't Lt. Col. Sam Flagg (from M*A*S*H), or Senator Joseph McCarthy our 'Honorable Gentleman from Wisconsin' who is looking at UDC data through the lens of HEART.

I think you can see why Bob MIGHT be bothered by HART when things like the UDC is such old news, we hardly ever think of it anymore - yet it grows larger by the split second.

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