Halloween costume ideas for Canadian digital rights activists

by: Obert Madondo |  | Published Oct 30, 2016, by The Canadian Progressive

Anonymous at Scientology in Los Angeles. Photo: Vincent Diamante / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Anonymous at Scientology in Los Angeles. Photo: Vincent Diamante / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

You’re a Canadian digital rights activists and are struggling to pick the right Halloween costume? Dave Maass, an investigative researcher with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has got you covered. He suggests five excellence ideas: facial recognition paint, stingray, privacy badger, patent troll, and certbot.

Maass is “a muckraker/noisemaker on EFF’s activism team, covering issues related to police surveillance, free speech, transparency, and government accountability”. Here’s why he advises you to wear facial recognition paint:

Just this week we learned that facial recognition is far more prevalent among local and federal law enforcement than we though, with at least 26 states using this biometric technology. Of those, 16 states grant the FBI access to their DMV databases. Many large cities have proposed using facial recognition on live camera feeds.

To draw attention to this emerging threat to privacy, you can use your face painting skills to recreate the digitization algorithms on your own mug based on public records we and others have obtained from law enforcement agencies.

Read the full report on EFF.

The EFF’s Privacy Badger is one stubbon browser extension and blocker of creepy third party online trackers.

Canada and facial recognition technology

Do Canadian law enforcement agencies possess and use facial recognition technologies? The best answer is: Canadian policing agencies often use of technologies originating from or widely used in the U.S.

A recent report by the Center for Privacy & Technology at the Georgetown University law school found that 117 million Americans are now caprured in law enforcement agencies’ facial recognition databases. According the the report, “16 states let the FBI use face recognition technology to compare the faces of suspected criminals to their driver’s license and ID photos, creating a virtual line-up of their state residents.”

A letter of complaint sent to the Justice Department by a coalition of 52 organizations argued that the invasive surveillance technology disproportionately target communities of colour.

Canada and the Stingray

Stingray technology has been a major concern among Canadian rights defenders in recent years.

One known manufacturer of Stingrays is Harris Corporation, a defense contractor and information technology services provider based in Florida.

Stingrays are high-tech spying devices that steal cellphone data by “faking it”. Back in 2013, the EFF reported that, “A Stingray acts as a fake cell phone tower and locks onto all devices in a certain area to find a cell phone’s location, or perhaps even intercept phone calls and texts.”

Imaging the device mimicking the tower of a major Canadian telecom company like Bell, and then surreptitiously capturing calls, text messages, emails and other data from your mobile device. Remotely.

For years, Canadian policing agencies successfully kept their use of Stingrays a secret. In a recent post, British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) Policy Director Micheal Vonn lamented the fact that “not only has it taken years to get the most basic and partial of information” on the subject of Stingrays, “but we are still largely dependent on the good will of the police to use these devices responsibly because protection from illegitimate or abusive use is next to nil.”

Then the controversy surrounding the use of Stingray surveillance devices by the Vancouver Police Department provided rare insight into the spying capabilities and militarization of Canadian law enforcement agencies. The VPD rebuffed numerous freedom of information requests from BCCLA and other civil rights groups. The VPD “would neither confirm nor deny” the existence and use of Stingrays.

According to Vonn: “Law enforcement’s refusal to confirm or deny that they even have information about “Stingrays” is preventing us from having meaningful legal and policy engagement about an issue that involves the constitutional rights of vast numbers of people. Calls for accountability on the use of these devices have met an official response that so far looks an awful lot like sticking their fingers in their ears and yelling ‘La, la, la we can’t hear you.'”

Halloween is an opportunity to tell Canadian policing agencies that you’re aware of their possession and widespread use of invasive mass surveillance technologies. A Guy Fawkes mask would do too.

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Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive. Follow him on Twitter: @Obiemad

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Obert Madondo

Publisher and editor
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based independent journalist and progressive political blogger. He's the publisher and editor of The Canadian Progressive.