Privacy Fury Over Police Cyber Searches to Trace Beating Victims Who Refuse to Come Forward

Privacy Fury Over Police Cyber Searches to Trace Beating Victims Who Refuse to Come Forward

The normally quiet Upper East Side erupted into a street brawl between white supremacists and anti-fascists. Members of the Proud Boys, a white supremacist group with a violent history, allegedly attacked four Antifa protesters Oct. 12, 2018, during a violent clash near the Metropolitan Republican Club, where the leader of the Proud Boys had just finished giving an address.

The New York Police Department sought 12 suspects for rioting and assault. They had a complete list of all the Proud Boys on the scene because everyone had signed the register at the Metropolitan Club speech. What they lacked was the identity of the four assault victims, all presumed to be Antifa members. Disguised in black anti-surveillance garb during their counter-protest, the victims could not be identified by street camera footage. And the wounded Antifa supporters refused to come forward to press charges.

Eventually, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office used a controversial technique to further trace victims: a reverse location search warrant—also called a geo-fence warrant—which compiles the anonymous digital identity and location data from the cell phones, smart watches, laptops and tablets of all users who were in a given geolocation at a certain time.

While a reverse location search can potentially track individuals through their geolocation at the scene of a crime, privacy advocates say the system fails to differentiate between potential suspects and innocent passersby. New York state Assembly Member Dan Quart introduced a bill earlier this year to ban reverse location search warrants.

“I became very concerned because I believe it violates Fourth Amendment requirements for particularized search,” Quart said. “Reverse location search is the exact opposite. It’s a fishing expedition to get people’s data without actual probable cause. That’s just antithetical to the Fourth Amendment.”

“The digital evidence identifies not people but devices,” said Andrew Quinn, general counsel to the NYPD Sergeants Benevolent Association. “Any investigative technique could be abused, but what prevents abuse is for an independent magistrate to review evidence and issue the warrants.”

The use of reverse location search warrants often remains undisclosed to the public, however, attorneys in the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance testified to using such a warrant during the court trial of several Proud Boys members.

In this particular case, the use of the digital reverse location warrant yielded no evidence used in the trial. Nonetheless, the Manhattan D.A. managed to nail two Proud Boys’ convictions based on video shot during the violent clashes.

Vance’s office declined a request for comment from Zenger News, as did the New York Police Department.

“You may be innocent but you may be able to provide invaluable eyewitness evidence,” said Quinn. “Reverse location search can be an incredibly useful tool in solving a serious crime. Son of Sam was solved because they tracked a parking ticket on his car in the area of one of the crimes.”

Under Quart’s bill, proposed in April, evidence from reverse location search warrants would become inadmissible in any New York court. The bill and a companion bill in the state Senate by Sen. Zellnor Myrie are pending in the New York State Legislature. No vote has yet occurred.

In the era of a burgeoning Black Lives Matter mass protest movement, banning reverse location searches appears timely. If allowed, Quart said, it creates a “double infringement of constitutional rights.” In addition to Fourth Amendment violations, it can “target protesters and accumulate data on thousands of individuals who are peacefully assembled to exercise First Amendment rights.”   

Quart also objects to the lack of transparency. It’s unclear whose data is revealed, and how long the data will linger in official law enforcement files after an individual warrant is closed.

“The goal of the bill was really to create a first of its kind. It will outlaw the practice in New York State, blocking police and prosecutors from using reverse search warrants,” said Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, which helped author the proposed legislation. “I hope it will start a national trend because we will eventually need federal legislation to completely block the practice.”

Cahn said a reverse location search warrant “is an incredibly powerful way to monitor every single person who attends a mosque, a protest or a healthcare facility. It’s chilling and dystopian.”

“Everyone at the protest is visible,” counters Quinn. “Law enforcement is not permitted to go to the protests and take pictures to form a database. Almost all the videos of protestors are taken by the protestors themselves and posted to social media.”

“All people in the range are also having their data collected, even those who had nothing to do with it,” said Jerome Greco of the Legal Aid Society’s Digital Forensics Unit. “The problem is, you’re making innocent people possible suspects. Also, it’s not always accurate.”

In 2020, big tech companies control so much of the public’s personal information—even incidental apps, downloaded free of charge, can access and collect data for the developer to sell to the highest bidder—that constitutional privacy rights in the digital realm have become an issue.

For the past decade, Google has published a biannual report that reveals the number of government requests for user data, without differentiating the types of warrants or locale.

A Google spokesperson said that when a request comes in from a governmental agency or member of law enforcement, it is carefully vetted before any data is released. If Google perceives them as overly broad, requests are refused or challenged.

Unfortunately, much of the pushback comes at the discretion of Google and other tech companies. National communications privacy laws were last challenged in 1986. Back then, the digital world was less complex. Big tech companies played a more limited role in controlling public discourse.

“The problem is technology moves at an incredible pace, and the court system at a glacial pace,” said Greco.

That’s why legislation is so important, advocates say. 

“Dan Quart’s bill strikes the right balance,” said Greco.

(Edited by Emily Crockett and Blake French.)



The post Privacy Fury Over Police Cyber Searches to Trace Beating Victims Who Refuse to Come Forward appeared first on Zenger News.

New York Seeks to Ban Reverse Location Searches

New York Seeks to Ban Reverse Location Searches

The normally quiet Upper East Side erupted into a street brawl between white supremacists and anti-fascists. Members of the Proud Boys, a white supremacist group with a violent history, allegedly attacked four Antifa protesters Oct. 12, 2018, during a violent clash near the Metropolitan Republican Club, where the leader of the Proud Boys had just finished giving an address.

The New York Police Department sought 12 suspects for rioting and assault. They had a complete list of all the Proud Boys on the scene because everyone had signed the register at the Metropolitan Club speech. What they lacked was the identity of the four assault victims, all presumed to be Antifa members. Disguised in black anti-surveillance garb during their counter-protest, the victims could not be identified by street camera footage. And the wounded Antifa supporters refused to come forward to press charges.

Eventually, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office used a controversial technique to further trace victims: a reverse location search warrant—also called a geo-fence warrant—which compiles the anonymous digital identity and location data from the cell phones, smart watches, laptops and tablets of all users who were in a given geolocation at a certain time.

While a reverse location search can potentially track individuals through their geolocation at the scene of a crime, privacy advocates say the system fails to differentiate between potential suspects and innocent passersby. New York state Assembly Member Dan Quart introduced a bill earlier this year to ban reverse location search warrants.

“I became very concerned because I believe it violates Fourth Amendment requirements for particularized search,” Quart said. “Reverse location search is the exact opposite. It’s a fishing expedition to get people’s data without actual probable cause. That’s just antithetical to the Fourth Amendment.”

“The digital evidence identifies not people but devices,” said Andrew Quinn, general counsel to the NYPD Sergeants Benevolent Association. “Any investigative technique could be abused, but what prevents abuse is for an independent magistrate to review evidence and issue the warrants.”

The use of reverse location search warrants often remains undisclosed to the public, however, attorneys in the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance testified to using such a warrant during the court trial of several Proud Boys members.

In this particular case, the use of the digital reverse location warrant yielded no evidence used in the trial. Nonetheless, the Manhattan D.A. managed to nail two Proud Boys’ convictions based on video shot during the violent clashes.

Vance’s office declined a request for comment from Zenger News, as did the New York Police Department.

“You may be innocent but you may be able to provide invaluable eyewitness evidence,” said Quinn. “Reverse location search can be an incredibly useful tool in solving a serious crime. Son of Sam was solved because they tracked a parking ticket on his car in the area of one of the crimes.”

Under Quart’s bill, proposed in April, evidence from reverse location search warrants would become inadmissible in any New York court. The bill and a companion bill in the state Senate by Sen. Zellnor Myrie are pending in the New York State Legislature. No vote has yet occurred.

In the era of a burgeoning Black Lives Matter mass protest movement, banning reverse location searches appears timely. If allowed, Quart said, it creates a “double infringement of constitutional rights.” In addition to Fourth Amendment violations, it can “target protesters and accumulate data on thousands of individuals who are peacefully assembled to exercise First Amendment rights.”   

Quart also objects to the lack of transparency. It’s unclear whose data is revealed, and how long the data will linger in official law enforcement files after an individual warrant is closed.

“The goal of the bill was really to create a first of its kind. It will outlaw the practice in New York State, blocking police and prosecutors from using reverse search warrants,” said Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, which helped author the proposed legislation. “I hope it will start a national trend because we will eventually need federal legislation to completely block the practice.”

Cahn said a reverse location search warrant “is an incredibly powerful way to monitor every single person who attends a mosque, a protest or a healthcare facility. It’s chilling and dystopian.”

“Everyone at the protest is visible,” counters Quinn. “Law enforcement is not permitted to go to the protests and take pictures to form a database. Almost all the videos of protestors are taken by the protestors themselves and posted to social media.”

“All people in the range are also having their data collected, even those who had nothing to do with it,” said Jerome Greco of the Legal Aid Society’s Digital Forensics Unit. “The problem is, you’re making innocent people possible suspects. Also, it’s not always accurate.”

In 2020, big tech companies control so much of the public’s personal information—even incidental apps, downloaded free of charge, can access and collect data for the developer to sell to the highest bidder—that constitutional privacy rights in the digital realm have become an issue.

For the past decade, Google has published a biannual report that reveals the number of government requests for user data, without differentiating the types of warrants or locale.

A Google spokesperson said that when a request comes in from a governmental agency or member of law enforcement, it is carefully vetted before any data is released. If Google perceives them as overly broad, requests are refused or challenged.

Unfortunately, much of the pushback comes at the discretion of Google and other tech companies. National communications privacy laws were last challenged in 1986. Back then, the digital world was less complex. Big tech companies played a more limited role in controlling public discourse.

“The problem is technology moves at an incredible pace, and the court system at a glacial pace,” said Greco.

That’s why legislation is so important, advocates say. 

“Dan Quart’s bill strikes the right balance,” said Greco.

(Edited by Emily Crockett and Blake French.)



The post New York Seeks to Ban Reverse Location Searches appeared first on Zenger News.

Bug Hunters Earn Big Bucks From Apple

Bug Hunters Earn Big Bucks From Apple

NEW DELHI— Two Indian “bug hunters” have discovered bugs in Apple’s programs this month, earning big payouts from the tech giant.

Narendra Bhati, an assistant manager in a technology firm in the western city of Pune, received $16,000 on Aug. 6, and Armaan Pathan, an aviation industry executive, netted $6,000 on Aug. 16.

Multinational tech giants such as Apple are rewarding ethical hackers to find flaws that make their programs misbehave. Bug hunting has become a buzzword in cybersecurity, and various bug bounty platforms such as HackerOne and Bugcrowd work as links between businesses and cybersecurity researchers.

The Apple Security Bounty program launched last year pays up to $1.5 million — the highest in the world. Bhati is the second Indian to receive payment from that program.

“It’s like playing a game for me,” he told Zenger News. “It lets me contribute to cybersecurity.”

He said that he has submitted several other bugs to Apple which are being examined.

Bhati said that he has also discovered bugs for Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon. He has been hunting bugs since 2013 after completing an ethical hacking course from a private institute.

A native of the western state of Gujarat, Pathan has been a part-time bug hunter since 2015. He said he has earned $350,000 by discovering bugs for Facebook, Amazon and Google. Pathan was, in fact, trained by Bhati. A winner in the Singapore government’s bug bounty competition, Pathan was also invited to Facebook Hacker Cup competitions in Miami and Singapore.

Bhati and Pathan represent the growing trend of bug hunting for tech giants among youth in India. It is a booming business globally. HackerOne helped remove 123,000 security vulnerabilities in more than 1,400 customer programs in 2019, earning $62 million for hackers from 150 countries, according to a HackerOne report.

So far this year, HackerOne reports that 170,000 vulnerabilities have been uncovered, earning hackers a record-breaking (for HackerOne) $100 million.

Indian hackers earned $4.9 million through HackerOne in 2019, coming in second only to their U.S. peers. In the past four years, India has emerged as a major player in the segment.

“As a result of their creativity and tenacity, we predict that hackers will have earned $1 billion in bug bounties within five years, protecting companies and governments alike from persistent and ephemeral threats,” CEO Marten Mickos wrote on HackerOne’s website.

HackerOne allows participants to make submissions in Hindi, Telugu, Marathi and Tamil.

The number of ethical hackers from India has increased 83 percent since last year, according to a recent Bugcrowd report. The country is also among the top locales for “cash from hacking,” earning 34 percent of bounty payments around the world.

“This has also helped India anchor its position in the field of cybercrime security research,” the report states.

The report also states that about 54 percent of all hackers surveyed were 24 years old or younger, and 41 percent had entered the bug hunting arena in the past 12 months. Thirteen percent were described as having attention-deficit hyperactive disorder or autism.

One of the first Indians to earn big money from the bug bounty was security researcher Bhavuk Jain. An independent bounty hunter, Jain cracked a bug in Apple last May and took home $100,000.

“A lot of websites and mobiles have a sign-in feature with Google or Facebook,” he said. “Apple had also launched a ‘Sign up for Apple’ feature. I found an issue with the API (application programming interface). Within four hours I knew I could hack into a person’s account on any website or mobile app simply through his e-mail ID.

 

“I have earned about $120,000 during the pandemic,” said Jain. “I am not looking for a job.”

Bug bounty hunters prevented losses to the tune of $8.9 billion last year, according to the Bugcrowd report. Ethical hackers are forecast to prevent cybercrime of more than $55 billion by 2025, the report states.

Multinational companies are investing more and more into this as dependence on digital operations grows.

The work for bug hunters, however,  is difficult and time-consuming, and training is still not well organized. It took Pathan two years to crack the Apple bug.

“Apple is the most difficult security to crack,” said Bhati.

Vishal Panchani, 25, a hacker from Surat, Gujarat, who was ranked No. 9  on the all-time leader board of HackerOne, has already earned $400,000 from bug bounty.

While noting that many young people are lured by the big money opportunities, Panchani said, “they should understand bug bounty hunting is all about passion and dedication.”

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Judy Isacoff.)



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Once Ubiquitous, Computer Ad Blockers on the Decline

Once Ubiquitous, Computer Ad Blockers on the Decline

In what’s likely a boon for publishers, a new survey shows software that blocks ads while you’re using the internet is becoming less popular on desktop computers, according to a new survey of users in the United States and Europe.

Fewer respondents said they used ad blocking software in 2020 compared with four years ago.

The study found 41% of respondents in the U.S. said they used an ad blocker in 2020 compared with 52% in 2016. In the U.K., the use of ad blockers declined by 11% in four years.

The study was conducted by AudienceProject, a Danish technology company that produces marketing and advertising platforms.

“From 2016 to 2020, the share of the online population using ad blockers has decreased across all countries,” AudienceProject’s chief product officer Rune Werliin wrote.
Fewer people using ad blockers could be a boon for publishers, some of whom require visitors to turn off their ad blockers before viewing their websites. But if ad blocker users are migrating from desktop to mobile, it just shifts the problem from once place to another, Marty Krátký-Katz, the CEO of Blockthrough, which helps publishers make money despite users blocking ads.
“If you’re a publisher and 30% of your users are using ad blockers, that means you can’t monetize 30% of your audience,” Krátký-Katz said.

The decline in desktop ad-blocking is happening at a “relatively slow pace,” Krátký-Katz said, while mobile ad blocking is rapidly increasing.

“The battleground of the adblock wars has shifted to mobile,” a Blockthrough report released earlier this year said. “Mobile is driving a rapid expansion in the population of the Internet, and a large portion of these people are starting out with browsers that block ads by default.”

The decrease can mainly be attributed to a decline in desktop computer use, said industry experts.

“Desktop ad blocking usage has definitely hit a bit of a plateau,” said Ben Williams, director of advocacy at Eyeo, which owns the popular Adblock Plus software. “I don’t think it’s because people are using ad blockers less, per se. Rather it’s because people are using desktop less.”

By the end of 2019 at least 527 million people were using mobile browsers that blocked ads by default, a 64% increase from December 2016, the report said. That’s more than twice as many as the 236 million people were blocking ads on desktop, which represents a 16% decline from December 2016, according to the report.

Mobile browsers that block ads by default include UC Browser, Brave, Opera Mini and Adblock Browser. Several others have opt-in adblocking: Safari, Samsung Internet, Microsoft Edge and Firefox.

The AudienceProject study also found that ad blocking was more prominent among men than women. In the U.S., 49% of respondents said they used an ad blocker compared with 33% of women.

Part of the reason for the gender gap may be that tech enthusiasts and gamers, who lean male, tend to use ad blockers more. “Ad block users are still overrepresented by this group,” AudienceProject’s marketing and communications manager Martin Kokholm said in an email.

The survey was conducted online in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland with 14,000 respondents.

(Edited by Matthew Cooper and Allison Elyse Gualtieri.)



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Wheel See You in Court: Uber and Lyft Appeal California Judge

Wheel See You in Court: Uber and Lyft Appeal California Judge

Uber and Lyft said Friday that they will keep operating in California while courts decide if their army of freelance drivers qualify for employee status.

The two popular rideshare companies had threatened to pull their drivers off roads statewide after a San Francisco County Superior Court judge ordered them on August 10 to reclassify their drivers as employees. A state appeals court temporarily halted that ruling on Thursday.

Turning independent drivers into employees would require the companies to provide them with benefits such as paid leave and employer-provided health insurance. Such ‘gig economy’ drivers are contractors with no employee status.

Uber and Lyft claimed it was impossible for them to comply with the San Francisco judge’s orderm which required them to make the change within 10 days.

The two San Francisco-based companies cheered Thursday’s temporary reprieve. “Rideshare is ON,” Lyft said late Thursday on its website. Uber also welcomed the ruling.

The appeals court ruled that the companies can keep operating with drivers classified as independent contractors while the case winds its way through the judicial system. Oral arguments will be presented October 13, and Lyft and Uber could lose, prompting another round of brinksmanship.

Voters could rescue them in the end: A measure on California’s election ballots in November would exempt them from the gig-worker law. Proposition 22 would also overrule any pending litigation.

An Uber self driving car prototype is tested in San Francisco, California on October 7, 2016. (Dllu/Wikimedia on CC 4.0 License)

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the city attorneys of Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco favor forcing the companies to guarantee benefits to their contractors. A law requiring that shift took effect on January 1.

San Diego Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales, who wrote the new law, tweeted: “Uber & Lyft can quit crying now…Shame on them with their scare tactics!” Gonzalez’s main source of support for the law came from labor unions, which see it as a launching pad to organize freelance drivers.

The mayors of San Diego and San Jose, two of the three largest cities in California, had said Wednesday that forcing Uber and Lyft to pull the plug in America’s most populous state would cause “irreparable harm upon hundreds of thousands of residents.”

“[W]e have serious concerns that this Friday, most of California’s nearly one million gig workers will lose their rideshare income when Uber and Lyft shut down their operations in the Golden State,” San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a statement. “This sudden disappearance of jobs and transportation options will only deepen the economic pain felt in our communities during this historic pandemic and recession.”

Faulconer is a Republican. Liccardo is a Democrat.

Uber and Lyft insist they are technology platforms, not transportation companies, placing them outside the reach of Gonzalez’s law. They have warned the alternative to shutting down if they lose in the California Cout of Appeal would be drastically cutting back services and dramatically hiking prices.

(Edited by Matthew Cooper and David Martosko.)



The post Wheel See You in Court: Uber and Lyft Appeal California Judge appeared first on Zenger News.

Wheel See You in Court: Uber and Lyft Appeal California Judge

Wheel See You in Court: Uber and Lyft Appeal California Judge

Uber and Lyft said Friday that they will keep operating in California while courts decide if their army of freelance drivers qualify for employee status.

The two popular rideshare companies had threatened to pull their drivers off roads statewide after a San Francisco County Superior Court judge ordered them on August 10 to reclassify their drivers as employees. A state appeals court temporarily halted that ruling on Thursday.

Turning independent drivers into employees would require the companies to provide them with benefits such as paid leave and employer-provided health insurance. Such ‘gig economy’ drivers are contractors with no employee status.

Uber and Lyft claimed it was impossible for them to comply with the San Francisco judge’s orderm which required them to make the change within 10 days.

The two San Francisco-based companies cheered Thursday’s temporary reprieve. “Rideshare is ON,” Lyft said late Thursday on its website. Uber also welcomed the ruling.

The appeals court ruled that the companies can keep operating with drivers classified as independent contractors while the case winds its way through the judicial system. Oral arguments will be presented October 13, and Lyft and Uber could lose, prompting another round of brinksmanship.

Voters could rescue them in the end: A measure on California’s election ballots in November would exempt them from the gig-worker law. Proposition 22 would also overrule any pending litigation.

An Uber self driving car prototype is tested in San Francisco, California on October 7, 2016. (Dllu/Wikimedia on CC 4.0 License)

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the city attorneys of Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco favor forcing the companies to guarantee benefits to their contractors. A law requiring that shift took effect on January 1.

San Diego Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales, who wrote the new law, tweeted: “Uber & Lyft can quit crying now…Shame on them with their scare tactics!” Gonzalez’s main source of support for the law came from labor unions, which see it as a launching pad to organize freelance drivers.

The mayors of San Diego and San Jose, two of the three largest cities in California, had said Wednesday that forcing Uber and Lyft to pull the plug in America’s most populous state would cause “irreparable harm upon hundreds of thousands of residents.”

“[W]e have serious concerns that this Friday, most of California’s nearly one million gig workers will lose their rideshare income when Uber and Lyft shut down their operations in the Golden State,” San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a statement. “This sudden disappearance of jobs and transportation options will only deepen the economic pain felt in our communities during this historic pandemic and recession.”

Faulconer is a Republican. Liccardo is a Democrat.

Uber and Lyft insist they are technology platforms, not transportation companies, placing them outside the reach of Gonzalez’s law. They have warned the alternative to shutting down if they lose in the California Cout of Appeal would be drastically cutting back services and dramatically hiking prices.

(Edited by Matthew Cooper and David Martosko.)



The post Wheel See You in Court: Uber and Lyft Appeal California Judge appeared first on Zenger News.