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Archive for May 31st, 2008

Billboards that look back

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

Stephanie Clifford, New York Times
May 31, 2008

In advertising these days, the brass ring goes to those who can measure everything – how many people see a particular advertisement, when they see it, who they are. All of that is easy on the Internet, and getting easier in television and print.

Billboards are a different story. For the most part, they are still a relic of old-world media, and the best guesses about viewership numbers come from foot traffic counts or highway reports, neither of which guarantees that the people passing by were really looking at the billboard, or that they were the ones sought out.

Now, some entrepreneurs have introduced technology to solve that problem. They are equipping billboards with tiny cameras that gather details about passers-by – their gender, approximate age and how long they looked at the billboard. These details are transmitted to a central database.

Behind the technology are small start-ups that say they are not storing actual images of the passers-by, so privacy should not be a concern. The cameras, they say, use software to determine that a person is standing in front of a billboard, then analyze facial features (like cheekbone height and the distance between the nose and the chin) to judge the person’s gender and age. So far the companies are not using race as a parameter, but they say that they can and will soon.

And the issue gets thornier: the companies that make these systems, like Quividi and TruMedia Technologies, say that with a slight technological addition, they could easily store pictures of people who look at their cameras.

The companies say they do not plan to do this, but Mr. Tien said he thought their intentions were beside the point. The companies are not currently storing video images, but they could if compelled by something like a court order, he said.

For now, “there’s nothing you could go back to and look at,” said George E. Murphy, the chief executive of TruMedia who was previously a marketing executive at DaimlerChrysler. “All it needs to do is look at the audience, process what it sees and convert that to digital fields that we upload to our servers.”

TruMedia’s technology is an offshoot of surveillance work for the Israeli government. The company, whose slogan is “Every Face Counts,” is testing the cameras in about 30 locations nationwide. One TruMedia client is Adspace Networks, which runs a network of digital screens in shopping malls and is testing the system at malls in Chesterfield, Mo., Winston-Salem, N.C., and Monroeville, Pa. Adspace’s screens show a mix of content, like the top retail deals at the mall that day, and advertisements for DVDs, movies or consumer products.

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Terror case begins to emit ripe aroma

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

Thomas Walkom, The Toronto Star
May 31, 2008 04:30 AM

Two years ago, this country received a rude shock. On June 2, 2006, the Star reported that police had arrested 17 young Toronto-area Muslim-Canadian males (an 18th would be picked up a few weeks later) on charges of terrorism.

The allegations that dribbled out over the next few weeks were sensational.

Some reports said that the group had planned to attack Parliament and behead Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Others talked of a plot to blow up CBC — or maybe the Canadian Security Intelligence Service — headquarters in Toronto. There were lurid accounts of a jihadist training camp near Orillia.

Police said that some of the accused had tried to purchase enough fertilizer to make three Oklahoma City-style bombs.

In the media, security experts said the arrests proved that Canada was not immune to terrorism, while diversity experts wrung their hands and asked what the country had done wrong.

It was widely assumed that the Toronto 18 were all guilty of plotting heinous crimes.

Two years later, matters are much less clear. The Crown has, in effect, dropped all charges against seven of the 18 — including a man convicted in the original gun-smuggling case that helped bring the group to police attention. The trial of the one remaining minor still charged with an offence is just getting underway.

What has been allowed to emerge from various court hearings (the case is subject to a sweeping publication ban) suggests that whatever was going on may not have been as spectacular as had been first suggested.

The training camp appears to have been a sorry affair in which the alleged jihadists spent most of their time complaining and trekking to a local doughnut shop.

The threats against politicians seem to be based, in part, on a brief, desultory conversation during a 10-hour car ride during which some of the accused debated among themselves just who exactly the Prime Minister was.

Much of the case seems to rest on the testimony of two RCMP moles, one of whom was later criminally charged in an unrelated matter, both of whom received hefty payments for their work.

Full Story | See Also: Crown presents evidence in Toronto terror suspect trial | Tanks, Face-Scanning Cameras Part of ‘Discreet’ 2010 Games Security | Anti-terror cops probed Ottawa punk band for Cartoon, Political Speech | Rumsfeld to Pentagon Media Analysts: America Needs another Attack | Canada’s anti-terror law unconstitutional, defence says | Toronto’s Terrorism Case: For the Families, Fear and Bewilderment | Terror trial proceedings troubling | Alleged Toronto terror plot included two police agents | Canadian ‘Terror Plot’ Begins To Unravel | Police arrest terrorist suspects in Toronto

Crown presents evidence in Toronto terror suspect trial

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

CBC News
Friday, May 30, 2008

Crown prosecutors began presenting evidence Friday in the trial of one of 11 suspects charged in the alleged Toronto bomb plot.

While the trial opened in Brampton, Ont., in March, Friday was the first day the Crown presented evidence in the case.

The 20-year-old on trial is accused of being part of a homegrown terror cell – one of 18 men and teenagers arrested two years ago during dramatic raids around Toronto. He was charged as a youth and cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Since the initial arrests, the Crown has dropped or stayed charges against seven of them.

The first witness called by the Crown was a member of the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team. RCMP Cpl. John Mecher testified about evidence police seized during the investigation, dubbed “Project Osage,” that led to the massive sweep.

Mecher, who is in charge of securing and tracking evidence in the case, told Ontario Superior Court that investigators recovered spent shell casings and a bullet-riddled tree trunk at or near an alleged extremist training camp north of Toronto.

Police seized other items from the home of one of the adult suspects, included a bomb-making manual, a video showing a small explosive being detonated by cellphone and a collection of cellphones and circuit boards, the court heard.

Other evidence presented included a Crazy Carpet-type toboggan, which prosecutors allege was part of an obstacle course used at a training camp.

Full Story | See Also: | Tanks, Face-Scanning Cameras Part of ‘Discreet’ 2010 Games Security | Anti-terror cops probed Ottawa punk band for Cartoon, Political Speech | Rumsfeld to Pentagon Media Analysts: America Needs another Attack | Canada’s anti-terror law unconstitutional, defence says | Toronto’s Terrorism Case: For the Families, Fear and Bewilderment | Terror trial proceedings troubling | Alleged Toronto terror plot included two police agents | Canadian ‘Terror Plot’ Begins To Unravel | Police arrest terrorist suspects in Toronto

Facebook ‘violates privacy laws’

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

By Maggie Shiels, BBC News
May 31, 2008

Facebook says it plans to “set the record straight”

A Canadian privacy group has filed a complaint against the social networking site Facebook accusing it of violating privacy laws.

The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic has listed 22 separate breaches of privacy law in its country.

Clinic Director Phillipa Lawson told the BBC that, with over 7 million users in Canada, “Facebook needs to be held publicly accountable”.

Facebook rejects the charge, claiming some of the highest standards around.

The basis of the complaint, filed with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, states that Facebook collects sensitive information about its users and shares it without their permission.

It goes on to say that the company does not alert users about how that information is being used and does not adequately destroy user data after accounts are closed.

The 35-page action was lodged after students at the clinic analysed the company’s policies and practices as part of a course this past winter and identified specific practices that appear to violate the Canadian Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (Pipeda).

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Municipalities Join Miller in Calling for Final Citizen Disarmament

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

Donovan Vincent, Toronto Star
May 30, 2008 04:30 AM

Mayors of Montreal, Halifax say they support Miller’s proposal for national ban on handguns

Quebec City—Two big-city mayors have gotten behind Mayor David Miller’s push for a national handgun ban.

Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay has sent Miller a letter of support for the ban, and Mayor Peter Kelly of Halifax — who attended the Big City Mayors caucus meeting here yesterday along with Miller and several other Canadian mayors — is also onside.

Miller has launched an online anti-handgun petition on the City of Toronto website and is broadcasting his message on YouTube.

“We’ve had some drive-by shootings,” Kelly said in an interview, adding that a “groundswell” of support is growing for Miller’s proposed ban. Kelly said the Atlantic mayors conference also recently passed a resolution calling for a ban.

Montreal City Councillor Claude Dauphin said Tremblay sent Miller a letter last week indicating support.

The letter reflects on Montreal’s history of mass shootings and says, “We’re 110 per cent in support of Mayor Miller’s initiative,” Dauphin said, referring to the September 2006 shooting at Dawson College in which a young student was slain by a gunman, and the 1989 massacre at Ecole Polytechnique, where a gunman killed 14 women.

Right now the only people legally entitled to own handguns in Canada are police and security officers, target shooters, collectors and Olympic-style athletes.

Miller wants to see what the federal Liberals proposed in the 2005-06 election campaign — a tightening of loopholes so handguns would be banned for collectors, too.

“The facts are very clear, no matter what the gun lobby says — and they are extremely well-organized in this country and fight very aggressively,” Miller said. “But between 30 and 40 per cent of the handguns used in crimes in Toronto come from local owners.

“They’re stolen from them. That’s a huge public safety issue.”

He referred to the seizure by Toronto police yesterday of 125 rifles and handguns from a collector who was charged with storing them unsafely.

“The man had a permit for (125) guns. Think of the public safety threat if one of the criminal gangs found out (the man had them). If they got there before police, all of those guns would have been on the streets and eventually used in crimes,” Miller said.

But Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, also here for the big-city mayors meeting — part of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) annual conference — voiced some trepidation about the proposed ban.

“You can ban handguns, but that won’t eliminate guns. People who want to get them will get them,” she said.

Meanwhile, a report that says local municipalities are “subsidizing” federal police enforcement at a cost of more than $500 million a year was released today by the FCM.

The report says that, increasingly, local police have taken on areas traditionally under federal jurisdiction — such as border patrol, cyber crimes, drugs and terrorism — but aren’t being compensated fairly.

The report suggests Ottawa should cover about 10 per cent of the budgets of local police forces. For Toronto, that would amount to about $84 million.

Full Story | See Also: Pistol Pendant Causes Airport Holdup | Youth Worker Subjected to Warrantless Raid on Secret Evidence | Miller wants shooting ranges shut down