Friday, December 28, 2012

The FBI Treated Occupy Like a Terrorist Group

The FBI Treated Occupy Like a Terrorist Group

Now that it's been over a year since the Occupy movement swept across the country, FOIA requests are being fulfilled, revealing uncomfortable details about how authorities viewed the protestors. One such request by the Partnership for Civil Justice came through this weekend, and the 112 heavily redacted pages reveal that theFBI approached the Occupy Wall Street protests as "criminal activity" -- which is not terribly surprising -- and investigated the groups as perpetrators of "domestic terrorism" -- which is fairly unsettling. More specifically, the Feds enlisted its own as well as local terrorism task forces in nine different cities across the country to investigate Occupy. In Memphis, the group was lumped together with Anonymous and theAryan Nation in discussing the threat of "domestic terrorism." White supremacists and 99 Percenters aren't really two groups that we think about hand-in-hand but whatever.
This isn't the first time that a FOIA request has shown the FBI to have engaged in some suspicious activity around the Occupy movement. In September, a FOIA request from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) showed extensive surveillance of the movement's prominent players, leading ACLU attorney Linda Lye to ask, "Why does a political protest amount to a national security threat?" The FBI denied the surveillance accusations by saying that its investigation did not  include "unnecessary intrusions into the lives of law-abiding people" and that its prohibited from investigating Americans "solely for the purpose of monitoring activities protected by the First Amendment or the lawful exercise of other rights." Of course, if you classify the actions as "domestic terrorism," other rules apply.
That in mind, we still don't really have any idea how far the FBI went in chasing the Occupiers. At the time of this latest disclosure over two-thirds of the bureau's records on the movement have been made public. As the Partnership for Civil Justice said in a press release, this latest batch of documents is only "the tip of the iceberg."

Friday, December 14, 2012

Augmented Reality Game Gets Player Busted: The First Of Many?

Augmented Reality Game Gets Player Busted: The First Of Many?

Cormac Foster December 11th, 2012
Augmented Reality Game Gets Player Busted: The First Of Many?
Ingress, the Alternate/Augmented Reality (AR) game from Google's Niantic Labs, is a major evolution of mobile gaming. Apparently, it's also a good way to get arrested.
According to a post on Reddit (I know, I know – but stay with me on this), an Ingress player in Ohio was detained by police for his in-game actions. Specifically, he was "hacking a portal" near a police station. His phone had technical difficulties, which led him to linger by the portal/police station for a bit, catching the eye of local law enforcement and leading to the detention.
After the original post, other Ingress players responded with similar stories. One aroused suspicions by wandering around an empty parking lot at night. Another, trying to hack a portal next to an air traffic control station, had to run from the local sheriff. A third was called in for questioning after hacking a portal outside of a "high-traffic drug area."

It's In The Game

As Dan Rowinski mentioned in his earlier post, there's plenty of "creep" factor built into the game. In fact, much likegeocaching (Ingress' non-digital ancestor), lurking in strange and hard-to-get-to places at odd hours is kind of the point.
Getting detained (as many Redditors pointed out, the poster wasn't technically arrested) probably adds to the intrigue, and certainly gives a player a certain amount of street cred. It could also call into question the boundary between the First Amendment and public safety.

Legal, But Risky

All of Ingress' portals are on public land. There's no law against walking past a police station, post office or airport. There are, however, very legitimate safety concerns held by the people charged with protecting those facilities and keeping an eye out for potential risks.
As one law enforcement professional joked, "I hope they don't put one of those in front of the White House." In fact, there are apparently abunch of portals in front of the White House, embassies and other sites that could be high-interest targets for vandalism or worse.
At least Ingress doesn't require players to dig up or bury physical objects, a phenomenon that has caused some high-profile problems in the geocaching community. Still, as similar games take off (and they will), we're going to see more friction between gamers and law enforcement, particularly in full AR environments that use cameras. In addition to trespassing and loitering violations, there's greatly increased potential for distraction, perhaps leading gamers to injure themselves or others. It's all the danger of texting - plus headphones - with the added possibility of being labeled a terrorist by overzealous cops.

The Future

By all accounts, Niantic labs has been responsible about these issues. The game doesn't encourage trespassing or dangerous behavior, like using your phone in a car. Other developers may not feel the same sense of duty, or their goals may encourage "creative" players to take unnecessary risks.
If enough negligence, trespassing, and public nuisance suits (and maybe some claims of police harassment) hit the courts, we'll eventually wind up with legislation governing the balance between gameplay and public safety. We might see an increase of no-device buffer zones around sensitive areas, or certain games limiting accounts to only users of age to accept legal responsibility for their actions. There could even be outright bans on AR games in certain areas.
Until then, it's up to game developers to police themselves and players to stay smart. One dumb move could lead to a ton of regulation that could really spoil everyone's fun.

Monday, December 3, 2012

US military developing multi-focus augmented reality contact lenses

US military developing multi-focus augmented reality contact lenses

Innovega's near- and far-focusing contact lens

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Proving that biological limitations are only a problem for other people, the US Department of Defense and Innovega have begun work on a system, called iOptik, that gives humans the ability to focus on the near foreground and distant background at the same time.
The plan is that soldiers will be able to use these contact lenses to focus on a head-up display (HUD) projected on a pair of spectacles, while retaining wide-angle vision of the background. Current systems require the user to divert all of their attention to the HUD, thus reducing their field of view immensely — which is obviously a bit dangerous if you’re in the middle of a fire fight.
To do this, Innovega has developed a contact lens that has two different focusing lenses. One lens focuses foreground light into the middle of your pupil, while the other lens focuses the background onto the edge of your pupil. This way, two focused images arrive at your retina — and presumably, if the DoD is pushing ahead, your brain has no problem processing these two images. There’s a video embedded below that demonstrates this dual-focus functionality, and then another video of the CTO chatting at CES 2012.
A rendering of the iOptik systemThe other half of the iOptik system is a HUD, which seems to be projected onto a pair of glasses using some kind of pico projector. There isn’t much information available about this portion of the project, though. It’s also worth noting that the contact lens, as far as I can tell, isn’t actually very novel. Bifocal contact lenses — the analog of bifocal eyeglasses — have existed for a while, and they do roughly the same thing.
Beyond military applications, Innovega says that it hopes to make iOptik available to consumers in 2014. Just last week Google confirmed the existence of its augmented reality Google Glasses — and for all we know, something very similar to this contact lens is being used. Without the ability to near- and far-focus at the same time, HUDs will be incredibly dangerous in an urban setting — just imagine trying to cross the road or ride your bike while everything more than an inch away from you is a big blur.
Innovega also points out on its website that, if you use two contact lenses, you could create a huge, virtual 3D display right in front of your eyes.

BART Board Approves Authoritarian Cell Shutdown

BART Board Approves Authoritarian Cell Shutdown Policy, confirms intention to suppress speech during protest.
BART Board confirmed this morning a policy of shutting down Cellphone Networks to quell dissent. BART was the first agency in the United States to use Chinese Communist, Iranian Theocratic and Mubarak style suppression of free speech to quell protest. As the US Secretary of State has strongly condemned Iran and Egypt for similar communication network shutdowns,  Chinese officials were quick to state their pleasure that US officials were beginning to recognize the value of suppression of free speech in quelling of dissent. However now that the ink has dried on official policies confirming the intention suppress free speech, The US Corporate news media seem to have taken a different tact, pretending that BART Board of Directors has made amends, and is in fact limiting cellphone shutdowns to rare occurrences.
BART limits cellphone service blackouts‎ , San Jose Mercury News
Feds Pressured BART to Strengthen Cell Phone Policy by Zusha Elinson, the Bay Citizen

The Corporate News reported that BART has strictly limited Cellphone Shut Down to three extremely rare categories. The first two examples cover categories that in my opinion do not require clarification, Terrorist Explosives, and Terrorist Hostage Taking. This shouldn’t have required board action, and is indicative that the General Manager is incompetent, as a company memo should have been sent months ago confirming and clarifying that shutting down cell nets to thwart terrorist strikes is an imperative. The third category is a successful or apparently successful protest. 
“Illustrative examples of “Extraordinary Circumstances” include, but are not limited to, strong evidence of the use of cellphones to: (i) [terrorism!] (ii) [Moar Terrorism] … (iii) To facilitate plans to … Substantially Disrupt Public Transit Services [*protest].” ~page 68, BART Board Meeting Agenda Packet, [square brackets are for my paraphrasing of deleted sections] [*My Clarification Note, as legalese typically says the worst things in just a few words.]
Updates according to the Bay Citizen the ACLU was involved in writing the Cell Phone Policy..