Are You Ready for Airport Iris Scanners?

Volume II, Issue XVIII

Hello again everyone, and happy spring! It’s warm and hopeful in NYC right now, two words I haven't used together in some time now.

Before we get started today I just wanted to remind everyone that I’ve got a new podcast out called The Future is Ow. The podcast discusses many of the same topics addressed here in a fun, conversational format with my good pal Jonah Inserra. If you’re interested please consider giving us a listen and a subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Sound Cloud. Thank y’all.

With that out the way, let’s get into it!

The Weekly Run-Down

✈️ 1: UAE Rolls Out Iris Scanners at Airports ✈️

The United Arab Emirates has started rolling out iris scanners to authenticate airline passengers’ identities during air travel.

  • The new surveillance system impacts 122 “smart gates” at Dubai International Airport. 

  • The move adds a layer of convenience by removing the need for a boarding pass or human contact at check-in but comes with a steep surveillance price tag. 

How it works: Passengers peep into a kiosk at check-in where a machine scans their eyeball. 

  • The scanner links the passenger’s biometrics data with their boarding pass and other flight information, allowing them to pass through security, immigration, and even reportedly enter Emirates Lounges without any supporting documentation.

  • Those iris scanners are linked up to the UAE’s national facial recogniton database, which includes troves of personal information on individuals 

Though the US has yet to employ widespread iris scanners, facial recognition has quietly crept into airports across the country. 

  • Since 2019, American Airlines, Delta, British Airways, and JetBlue have all experimented with facial recognition to speed up check-ins, and in some instances, used face scans to replace boarding passes.

  • In total, at least 27 US airports use facial recognition authenticators in some capacity. Nearly all of these cases are opt-out.

The allure of convenience: In both the UAE and the US, passengers have shown a willingness to sacrifice privacy for the promise of marginal efficiency.

  • Airlines, police, and biometric authenticator advocates argue the use of the technology increases security, reduces long lines, and helpfully limits human-to-human contact during a pandemic. 

  • Users are willing to sacrifice high levels of autonomy in the name of security and perceived convenience. 

  • A 2019  pew poll found that 59% of Americans found facial recognition use by law enforcement in the name of security as acceptable.

  • Separately,  A 2019 Experian survey found that 70% of global consumers were willing to share more personal data if that sharing came with perceived benefits.



2: 🇲🇾 Malaysian Publication Fined Nearly $124,000 for User Comments … But the Real Reason Was State Retaliation 🇲🇾

A Malaysian news outlet was forced to pay a fine over the contents of five user comments on one of its articles. Reporter’s from the site claim the comments are being used as a scapegoat to target its adversarial reporting critical of the government. 

News site Malaysiakini was found guilty of contempt of court and had to pay equivalent to about $124,000 USD.

  • The fine revolved around five comments from users on the site, which the government claims illegally insulted Malaysia’s judiciary. 

  • Malaysiakini had removed the comments from the site but not before government officials saw them. 

  • In its ruling, the Malaysian judges ruled Malaysiakini failed to properly vet the comments.

Malaysiakini and human rights organizations claim the real purpose of the fines was to intimate the site and stop them from publishing content critical of the government. 

  • Amnesty International released a statement calling the fines a “grave setback” for the country. 

  • Separately, a spokesperson for the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur spoke out against the ruling. 

The Malaysian ruling highlights the importance of platform protecting policies like Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in the United States. 

  • On a very basic level, Section 230 protects newspapers and other publishers from being punished this very way.

  • At the same time, legislators and activists have called for revisions or outright reversals of Section 230 in the US, arguing its liability protections allow Facebook and other platforms to facilitate misinformation and hate speech without bearing any of the burdens. 

  • Newly elected President Joe Biden has signaled a willingness to revoke 230, but members of his government remain divided

Richard Paddock, The New York Times 


3: Myanmar Shuts Down Wireless Internet Amid Violent Coup 

The Myanmar military worked alongside the nation's internet providers to shut down wireless broadband last week. 

  • Providers said the shutdown request came at the behest of the Ministry of Transport and Communications who demanded, “all wireless broadband data services be temporarily suspended.” 

  • The shutdown order comes after weeks of regional crackdowns on internet and social media amid continued protests to the country’s military coup. 

  • With the most recent shutdown, internet access in the country is limited to individuals with fiber optic cable connections (a minority) and even that is being purposely throttled down to a trickle. 

Myanmar has been engulfed in violence since the military seized control of the country on February 1. 

  • The military took control following an election where former leader Aung San Suu Kyi won in a landslide. Officially, the country is under a year-long state of emergency.

  • Hundreds of people have died in clashes between the military and pro-democracy protests since the initial coup. 

  • Thousands have faced arrest San Suu Kyi and members of her National League for Democracy (NLD).

Internet shutdowns have become essential tools used by dictators and authoritarians around the world to supplement physical violence. 

  • Parts of Myanmar's shutdown far precede the coup, with regions populated by the ethnic minority Rohingya Muslims facing shutdowns dating back to 2019. 

  • Many of the online repression tolls being used by the current military junta were in fact put in place by the country’s democratically elected government, an uncomfortable reality highlighting the long-term risks posed by the passage of online repression tools regardless of the regime. 

Lily Hay Newman, Wired 


Share The State of Surveillance


4. DARPA wants Intel and Microsoft to Usher in The Next Era of Rncryption

Intel is partnering with Microsft to work on the next stage of encryption for the US military.

  • In recent years, encryption has evolved from a niche, expensive luxury reserved to the military and select institutions to a standard demand by consumers all around the world. 

  • WhatsApp, which has over 1 billion users worldwide, has helped lead this charge to normalize the encryption. 

  • Yet, while WhatsApp and other messaging services can encrypt messages at both ends of delivery, tech companies have largely failed to solve the problem of encrypting communications while they are in transit between recipients. 

  • That means a security agent could still “intercept” your WhatsApp or Telegram message and read its contents before they are encrypted. 

Intel and Microsoft are vying to solve this problem through hardware and software to develop homomorphic encryption.

  • Homomorphic encryption not only encrypts communications while they are moving between recipients but it goes a step further and offers the ability to perform calculations on data without decrypting it. Basically, it would be the strongest encryption available currently.

  • So, naturally, the US military, (specifically the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)) wants it. 

  • IBM is also reportedly working on homomorphic encryption but isn’t part of the military partnership. 

This type of encryption technology might eventually trickle down to everyday people … but not anytime soon. 


Here’s What Else is New

🇷🇺 Apple caves to Russian government pressure to show users government-approved apps during iPhone set up 🇷🇺

  • The move is part of a recently implemented 2018 Russian security law.

  • Though Android phones are reportedly required to come with the apps preinstalled, Apple appears to have been able to work out an agreement with the government where users can opt-out of installing the apps. 

🎖️ A US military unit responsible for drone strikes is buying up location data from everyday apps 🎖️

🇮🇳 India is reportedly trying to develop its own internet 🇮🇳

  • In doing so it would follow the lead of China, Russia, and others in detaching from the global open web.

🤖 Drone maker Skydio is reportedly working with over 20 different police agencies in the US 🤖

🔒Whistleblowers at an Arizona prison claim faulty algorithms are keeping hundreds of inmates behind bars longer than their actual sentence 🔒


That’s it for now. As always, please feel free to reach out to me at thestateofsurveillance@gmail.com or Mack.degeurin@gmail.com

Have a nice weekend y’all.

Loading more posts…