The NSA is collecting millions of faces – our faces – from the Web

Understand why politicians from Obama to Bloomberg to McCain hate what Snowden reveals

The National Security Agency is harvesting huge numbers of images of people from communications that it intercepts through its global surveillance operations for use in sophisticated facial recognition programs, according to top-secret documents.

The spy agency’s reliance on facial recognition technology has grown significantly over the last four years as the agency has turned to new software to exploit the flood of images included in emails, text messages, social media, videoconferences and other communications, the N.S.A. documents reveal. Agency officials believe that technological advances could revolutionize the way that the N.S.A. finds intelligence targets around the world, the documents show. The agency’s ambitions for this highly sensitive ability and the scale of its effort have not previously been disclosed.

The agency intercepts “millions of images per day” — including about 55,000 “facial recognition quality images” — which translate into “tremendous untapped potential,” according to 2011 documents obtained from the former agency contractor Edward J. Snowden. While once focused on written and oral communications, the N.S.A. now considers facial images, fingerprints and other identifiers just as important to its mission of tracking suspected terrorists and other intelligence targets, the documents show…

“Just as important” means the NSA still considers keeping an eye on all of us as mission critical.

It is not clear how many people around the world, and how many Americans, might have been caught up in the effort. Neither federal privacy laws nor the nation’s surveillance laws provide specific protections for facial images. Given the N.S.A.’s foreign intelligence mission, much of the imagery would involve people overseas whose data was scooped up through cable taps, Internet hubs and satellite transmissions.

Because the agency considers images a form of communications content, the N.S.A. would be required to get court approval for imagery of Americans collected through its surveillance programs, just as it must to read their emails or eavesdrop on their phone conversations, according to an N.S.A. spokeswoman…

Sophistry designed to protect governmental pimps who want rubber stamp approval for data mining the world.

The F.B.I. is developing what it calls its “next generation identification” project to combine its automated fingerprint identification system with facial imagery and other biometric data…The State Department has what several outside experts say could be the largest facial imagery database in the federal government, storing hundreds of millions of photographs of American passport holders and foreign visa applicants. And the Department of Homeland Security is funding pilot projects at police departments around the country to match suspects against faces in a crowd.

The N.S.A., though, is unique in its ability to match images with huge troves of private communications.

RTFA for examples of everything from individual tales of criminal penetration of privacy – through hints here and there of the abuse of technology for political ends. All liberally slathered with copouts from Congress and the usual rationales about Homeland security.

There is nothing here that dictators haven’t hungered for in the history of tyranny. Ours is the generation that awarded the freedom to spy on absolutely everyone in the Land of the Free – to the politicians in charge.

Thanks, Mike

Google’s truly self-driving cars haven’t a steering wheel or pedals

Google’s been hacking regular cars to make them drive themselves for a while now, but at the Code Conference…Sergey Brin showed off the next step: an entirely new self-driving car designed from the ground up. The project looks something like a smaller Smart car, and it lacks any human control whatsoever: no steering wheel, no pedals, no gearshift. It doesn’t even have mirrors. It’s just two seats and a window, and you simply call it to come get you, sit down, and let it drive you to your destination. This is my dream.

“We actually designed these with some safety features that haven’t been seen,” said Brin. “There’s about two feet of foam on the front, and the windshield is made of glass, but it’s a plastic glass.” Brin said Google used automotive suppliers and car parts, but those parts have been customized. “We plan to go up to about one or two hundred of these, they’re prototypes,” he said. “There’s no reason they couldn’t go 100 miles an hour or faster once you can prove that they can do that safely.” Brin said the car can be made “far safer” than human-driven cars, and that the current programming is “more defensive” than the average human driver: it waits to go on green, and it uses lasers to monitor the complete 360-degree field around itself.

“I’m certainly not advocating that we get rid of all cars that do not drive themselves,” said Brin, although he wants some of his safety features to hit the mass market. “We worked with partners to build these prototypes, and we’ll work with partners to build these.” The cars will hit the road before the end of the year with safety drivers who can control the car with a joystick, but don’t get too excited. “I think these being broadly available will take several years,” said Brin.

I did feel like I was on a Disney ride,” said Recode’s Kara Swisher, who took a ride in the prototype. “I wanted a drink. I wanted to drink while texting.”

I love this as much as I still love Morgans or Ferraris or Teslas. The definition of a perfect automobile is one that does exactly what it is designed to do. Doing it well, efficiently, while being attractive in its own way.

Like my wife’s La Fiesta.

Thanks, Mike…Thanks, Gracie…everyone wants one of these

Lyme disease bacteria older than the human race found locked in amber

The findings were made by researchers from Oregon State University, who studied 15-20 million-year-old amber from the Dominican Republic that offer the oldest fossil evidence ever found of Borrelia, a type of spirochete-like bacteria that to this day causes Lyme disease…

In a related study, published in Cretaceous Research, OSU scientists announced the first fossil record of Rickettsial-like cells, a bacteria that can cause various types of spotted fever. Those fossils from Myanmar were found in ticks about 100 million years old.

As summer arrives and millions of people head for the outdoors, it’s worth considering that these tick-borne diseases may be far more common than has been historically appreciated, and they’ve been around for a long, long time…

“Ticks and the bacteria they carry are very opportunistic,” said George Poinar, Jr., a professor emeritus in the Department of Integrative Biology of the OSU College of Science, and one of the world’s leading experts on plant and animal life forms found preserved in amber. “They are very efficient at maintaining populations of microbes in their tissues, and can infect mammals, birds, reptiles and other animals.

“In the United States, Europe and Asia, ticks are a more important insect vector of disease than mosquitos,” Poinar said. “They can carry bacteria that cause a wide range of diseases, affect many different animal species, and often are not even understood or recognized by doctors.

“It’s likely that many ailments in human history for which doctors had no explanation have been caused by tick-borne disease…”

Bacteria are an ancient group that date back about 3.6 billion years, almost as old as the planet itself. As soft-bodied organisms they are rarely preserved in the fossil record, but an exception is amber, which begins as a free-flowing tree sap that traps and preserves material in exquisite detail as it slowly turns into a semi-precious mineral.

A series of four ticks from Dominican amber were analyzed in this study, revealing a large population of spirochete-like cells that most closely resemble those of the present-day Borrelia species. In a separate report, Poinar found cells that resemble Rickettsia bacteria, the cause of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and related illnesses. This is the oldest fossil evidence of ticks associated with such bacteria.

I have to wonder how many times over the course of a day – when a science news items like this one may creep into the public consciousness and confront the 40% who think their bible is law writ large and truthful – do they step back and say a little prayer for their Jehovah to smite us hip and thigh for heresy. Or are they sufficiently confident in their ignorance to wipe away any potential thought of reading further? Joining the search for knowledge and understanding of life that guides scientists into every corner of existence – to me – is profoundly fulfilling.