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Surveillance firm slashes staff after losing Facebook, Twitter data

Enlargereader comments 16 Share this story Business isn't good at a Chicago tech company that was outed last month for its practice of buying social media data and re-selling it to police. Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union revealed that Geofeedia had been given special access to data by Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in order to build software products for police that the ACLU called "surveillance tools." Facebook and Instagram took action to limit Geofeedia's access in September, and Twitter cut the company off after reviewing the ACLU report. Losing access to those social media data feeds seems to have had a big impact on Geofeedia's business.

A Geofeedia spokesperson today told the Chicago Tribune that it laid off 31 employees out of about 60 total. In an e-mailed statement to the newspaper, Geofeedia CEO Phil Harris said his company wasn’t "created to impact civil liberties,” but after the debate spurred by the ACLU report, they're changing the company's direction. The company declined to say if it lost customers following the ACLU report.
It claimed more than 500 customers, including police agencies in Chicago, Denver, Seattle, and Baltimore.

Denver police paid $30,000 for a one-year subscription.
In a funding request, a Denver police lieutenant said the service would be used to monitor large public events, like Denver's annual marijuana rally and Martin Luther King Day march. The ACLU uncovered e-mail exchanges between police departments and Geofeedia.

Discussions included how Baltimore used Geofeedia to "stay one step ahead of the rioters" after unrest following the death of Freddie Gray.

Geofeedia reps touted their product as one that "covered Ferguson/Mike Brown nationally with great success." Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties policy director of the ACLU of California, said the police use of Geofeedia amounted to "discriminatory surveillance."

FBI chief Comey: “We have never had absolute privacy”

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Imagesreader comments 52 Share this story SAN FRANCISCO—FBI Director James Comey has some phones—650 of them, to be exact—that he'd really, really like to take a look at. Right now, the FBI can't read the data on those phones, because it's encrypted.

For Comey, that's a problem.
In remarks to the American Bar Association on Friday, he made it clear this is an issue he intends to bring up before Congress next year. While nothing other than the election will get politicians' attention during the next few months, Comey told the audience that he intends to gather data about how the problem of encryption, which he calls "going dark," is affecting his agents' work.

Then, he'll present the findings to Congress. "I love encryption," he said. "I love it.
It not only protects me personally, it protects the FBI from theft, and stalking, and threatening. It is a great thing for all of us.
I also love public safety, and being able to solve terrorism cases and child pornography cases. We can have an informed conversation as a democracy about what to do about it.

A democracy should not drift to a place." Checks and balances Comey began the talk with an anecdote about his desk. Right by the spot where there's usually a small pile of requests for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, he keeps a much older piece of paperwork related to surveillance.
It's the application for a wiretap, sent to the US Attorney General in the 1960s, asking to wiretap Martin Luther King Jr on the grounds that his movement had a "communist influence." "It's without date limitation, place limitation, and without any kind of oversight," said Comey. "It's a single page sent to the Attorney General.

And then they were off, bugging and wiretapping King without limitation. I keep it on my desk as a reminder of the dangers of becoming unconstrained, of losing the checks and balances that are at the heart of the framers' design." "It's a pain in the neck to get permission to wiretap or bug someone in the United States, and that's a great thing," he continued.

The problem is that even when a search warrant is acquired, they increasingly see devices that 'are not susceptible to being unlocked, even by the manufacturer.'" Comey said in the first 10 months of the last fiscal year, FBI examiners received about 10,000 devices from various law enforcement agencies where authorities asked for help to open them. "Above 650, we could not open," Comey said. "They're a brick to us.

Those are cases unmade, evidence unfound." What to do about it? That's not for the FBI to say, he said. "Our job is to tell you, there is a problem." He continued: We have never had absolute privacy in this country. Cars, safe deposit boxes, our apartments, our houses, even the contents of our minds—any one of us, in appropriate circumstances, can be compelled to say what we saw. We have never lived with large swaths of our life off limits, where judicial authority is ineffective.

That is something we need to talk about.
I don't think the FBI should tell people what to do.
I don't think tech companies should tell people what to do.

The American people need to decide. As for the iPhone case that brought this issue to national attention, Comey said he's glad it's over. "Litigation is not the place to solve the problem," he said. "The San Bernardino litigation was necessary, because we had to get into that phone, but in my view counterproductive. It was hard to have a complex conversation." 500 vs. 3,000,000 After Comey left the gathering, the moderator invited Marc Rotenberg, head of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), onto the stage to offer a counterpoint. Rotenberg acknowledged that locked-up phones are a problem. "The number he used today was 650," Rotenberg said. "In his Fordham speech, it was 500, but OK. Let's assume there are several hundred phones from criminal investigations they can't get into—that's a problem." But, Rotenberg added, 3.1 million cell phones were stolen in the US in 2013 with huge amounts of personal information on them. "I will concede Mr.

Comey has a problem with his 500 phones, but he should be concerned that consumers have a problem with their 3 million phones that would be subject to misuse [without strong encryption]." It was the epidemic of stolen cell phones, and criminals' increasing access to vast amounts of data, that spurred law enforcement to ask phone companies and phone manufacturers for more secure devices, Rotenberg said. Finally, he took issue with Comey's view that there's no concept of "absolute privacy" in the US. "Doctrinally, that's not true," he said. "The 5th Amendment [right to avoid testifying against oneself] is a form of absolute protection. [Attorney-client] privilege is a form."

To mitigate poverty, Y Combinator set to launch minimum income plan

Jaegar MooreOAKLAND, Calif.—Earlier this month, Y Combinator, the famed Silicon Valley incubator dropped a bombshell: it had selected this city to be the home of its new "Basic Income" pilot project, to start later this year. The idea is pretty simple.

Give some people a small amount of money per month, no strings attached, for a year, and see what happens. With any luck, people will use it to lift themselves out of poverty. In this case, as Matt Krisiloff of Y Combinator Research (YCR) told Ars, that means spending about $1.5 million over the course of a year to study the distribution of "$1,500 or $2,000" per month to "30 to 50" people.

There will also be a similar-sized control group that gets nothing.

The project is set to start before the end of 2016. The notion of guaranteed minimum income has been kicking around globally for centuries, especially among 20th century thinkers (Martin Luther King, Jr. famously advocated for it).

But it’s only recently that extensive trials have begun in various places, including Canada, the Netherlands, Finland, and now in Oakland. (Another organization, called Give Directly, operates a similar program in Kenya.) Tapped to run the project is Elizabeth Rhodes, an academic who recently arrived in Oakland.
She says the project’s goal is "to empower people and give people the freedom to be able to meet their basic needs." But the details have yet to be fully worked out, and a lot of questions remain. How exactly will people be chosen? Will they come from a truly random sample of Oakland’s population? Will high-income people be automatically excluded? By what mechanism will people be notified? How will the money actually be transferred? Most of all, will it actually work? If Y Combinator's Basic Income project is successful, it would expand over the next five years to hundreds of citizens and perhaps include people beyond Oakland.

And it would make the Bay Area’s venture capitalist class feel good about helping the poor. "Overall the idea is to take money we make from YC [and], rather than all of the partners cashing out... putting it into research," Krisiloff told Ars. "I think that there’s a culture at YC that just making money isn’t that interesting. [YC president Sam Altman] really likes to talk about how the overarching mission of YC is to create the most innovative thing. Money is a vector for change, but money in and of itself isn’t that interesting." Wait and see? It’s obviously difficult to lift people out of poverty.

According to the White House, as of 2012 (decades after President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty"), approximately 15 percent of Americans (or 49.7 million people, including 13.4 million children) live below the poverty line. Worse still, "only about half of low-income Americans make it out of the lowest income distribution quintile over a 20-year period." (As the old saying goes: "It’s expensive to be poor.") Here in Oakland, for all of its gentrification and new shiny downtown restaurants and cocktail bars, just under 20 percent of the population (specifically, 18.7 percent, or 71,599 people, as of 2010) live in poverty.

And yet, it has also become the fourth-most expensive rental market in the country, thanks to spillover from nearby San Francisco. Like many American cities, Oakland is divided along economic and racial lines, which also manifest themselves as large differences in access to quality education, public health, fresh produce, and more.

As Mayor Libby Schaaf herself put it in her October 2015 State of the City address: "It’s hard for us to celebrate the overall health of Oakland knowing that two people can live just one mile apart and be nearly twice as likely to be unemployed—and live 15 years less." As soon as YC announced its Basic Income plan, it got lots of support from the municipal government. Mayor Libby Schaaf instantly said on Twitter that she was "excited" that Oakland had been chosen. Public records show that Rep.

Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), loves it, too. However, some groups, including Causa Justa :: Just Cause, are skeptical that Y Combinator—an institution worlds away from the needs of working-class Oaklanders—is capable of managing such a project. Still, YC's Oakland project is in its very early and experimental stages. "Because the main goal of this pilot is to gather data, it’s a useful to run it in a socio-economically diverse city like Oakland," Matt Zwolinksi, a philosophy professor at the University of San Diego, told Ars. "That way we can see what differences there are in the responses of the wealthy and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, skilled and unskilled laborers, and so on.

And we can tweak future studies or the final public policy in light of that information."