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EU to build largest linked facial recognition system

European lawmakers have agreed to include policing plans for building the largest facial recognition system in existence. This would be a system designed to share millions of photos within each EU member state.

Data sharing between police across Europe’s borders has long been prevalent, whether it be DNA information or fingerprints. This update links international photo databases to improve the detection with the investigation of criminal and terrorist offenses. According to Wired, this new initiative equals facial recognition on an unprecedented scale, with the inclusion of tens of millions of photos of people’s faces.

The proposal, known as Prüm II, will form part of the EU Police Cooperation Code to enhance cooperation and streamline data exchange between police and Europol, the EU criminal information hub. Apart from facial images, other categories of data that authorities may end up requesting include vehicle registration data, police records, and DNA profiles.

The plan is to provide a central router that links European police forces so that they can request and exchange any data they require to carry out an investigation. For instance, if authorities in France have a CCTV photo of a criminal suspect, they can compare the image to a database of facial images of known criminals in Italy. If there is a match, a human operator passes the information to the French authorities. Officials also insist that the use of the proposed system will only be permitted in genuine criminal investigations and will not involve members of the general population.

Facial recognition is a controversial topic due to ethical concerns and the high potential for error and misidentifying suspects. Unsurprisingly, the proposal has been met with skepticism. In an official document responding to the proposal, European data protection supervisor Wojciech Wiewiórowski mentions the need for additional safeguards to protect the rights of individuals being investigated and to ensure that the facial database is only used for serious crimes. 

Speaking to Wired, Ella Jakubowska, a policy adviser at the civil rights NGO European Digital Rights, said:

“When you are applying facial recognition to footage or images retrospectively, sometimes the harms can be even greater, because of the capacity to look back at, say, a protest from three years ago, or to see who I met five years ago, because I’m now a political opponent.”

EU officials have emphasized that Prum II will match retrospective facial images on request, but the system won’t search live cameras in public spaces to identify people in real-time.

In other news

  • North Korea behind crypto theft. Notorious cyber criminals that make up the Lazarus Group and the APT 38, based in North Korea, have been at it again. After their previous $34 million heist from Crypto.com back in January, their latest theft adds to a booty of more than $1 billion in stolen cryptocurrency. Gizmodo reports a record-breaking $625 million in Ethereum crypto coin (comprised of 173,600 ether, and  25.5 million USDC stablecoin, linked to the US dollar) was stolen from the Ronin Network. This time, the cyber actors exploited a vulnerability in the popular Axie Infinity game, where players buy and sell cartoon character NFTs to make crypto income on the blockchain. Ronin Network is expected to build a bridge soon to shore up the game’s security. According to the FBI, the motive behind the hacker activity is to fund the heavily sanctioned DPRK regime, and its leader Kim Jong Un.
  • Musk seeks to buy Twitter. It’s difficult to know what to expect next from Elon Musk, or for that matter, how to feel about it. Until now the billionaire and CEO of Tesla and Spacelink has just used Twitter to voice his somewhat erratic ideas. But now, according to the AP, he’s made an offer of $43 billion to buy the social media platform outright. At the start of this month, The Verge reports Musk bought 9.1% of Twitter, making him the largest shareholder, but he didn’t accept a seat on the board that would have limited him to a 15% ownership share. The board is apparently opposed to his offer, as some view Musk’s actions as another one of his outlandish publicity stunts. Though he is a self-proclaimed “free-speech absolutist”, Musk is known for blocking users that disagree with him.    
  • Boris Johnson possible spyware target. According to The Guardian, a recent report from Citizen Lab (from the University of Toronto) says that spyware attacks may have been launched on the prime minister’s office in 2020 and 2021. These were from the same Pegasus spyware originating from the Israeli NSO group that caused a furor last year, when it was found that the spyware was able to access mobile devices and listen in to calls and track messages. The recently discovered attacks on the UK government were linked to operators in the United Arab Emirates, India, Cyprus, and Jordan. It is also possible that other UK government departments, including the Foreign Office, were targeted over the same period.      
  • Therapy to reverse hearing loss. Frequency Therapies, an MIT-based biotech company, has found a way to return hearing within the human ear through the use of a new therapy. MIT News reports that the company is using programmed progenitor cells to produce the hair cells that make hearing possible. The company has seen promising results in three separate clinical trials, and co-founder Jeff Karp speculates that hearing loss treatment may be something similar to LASIK eye surgery in the not-too-distant future. It’s nice to know that there are some news stories that can make us feel good about the future!    

Tip of the week

The dark web is a semi-hidden part of the Internet used for both helpful and harmful activities. People go to the dark web for different reasons, from concealing their secret files to using privacy-protected social media sites. Cybercriminals spend a lot of time there too. Unfortunately, the intimate details of millions of people float around the dark web, waiting for criminals who know where to look. So it’s a good idea to check and see if your data has been exposed. 

Traditional search engines do not index the dark web, but there are ways that you can search to see if your data is lingering in the shadows. Dark web search engines exist, but can also be risky if you click through to the wrong kind of website. Fortunately, dark web scanner services have been developed to identify and scour websites known to buy, sell, and share stolen data. Most services have a free option, and some have monitoring options to help you keep a close watch over time.  

If your info does turn up on the dark web, these steps from UC Santa Cruz can help you respond accordingly. 

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