Loss of Privacy

Keeping you informed on recent losses to privacy and civil rights worldwide.

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The United Nations currently coordinates international postal services through the Universal Postal Union, but it feels that the speed of deliveries could be increased with the use of RFID.

Unlike private delivery services such as FedEx, regular postal delivery is not operated by a single organization. Consumers buy stamps in one country that have to get a piece of mail into another country and through the domestic mail system there to a particular destination. The UPU sets quality-of-service rules for how long that should take, as well as standard origination and termination fees for countries to settle the cost of getting the mail where it’s going.

So far, the UPU has monitored letter delivery by sending special test letters. Independent analysts record the departure and arrival of these test letters, but at the gateway offices where letters leave and enter countries, postal workers themselves record the time. That leaves the process open to manipulation, said Akio Mayiji, quality of service coordinator at the UPU.

The RFID system instead will use tags hidden inside envelopes, which will be read automatically as they pass through RFID portals at the international gateway offices. Reva Systems’ TAP (Tag Acquisition Processor) servers will collect the letters’ unique tracking numbers and pass them on to be correlated into delivery reports. The UPU wants countries to pay each other based on the quality of service their letters receive, and more detailed measurement will help it do so, Miyaji said.

RFID is already used to monitor mail in some developed countries, but the systems they have deployed use “semi-active” tags that cost US$20 each. A relatively new global standard for RFID, called Gen2, allowed the UPU to introduce passive-tag systems that cost far less: Each tag only costs about US$0.30, and the UPU considers them disposable. The lower cost should make RFID accessible to all of the UPU’s 191 member countries. The scope of quality testing can also be expanded, so tens of thousands of test letters are moving through the system at any time.

21 countries will be testing the new tags, including India, South Korea, Switzerland and Togo.  Countries with the older RFID tags will also be participating.  These include Mexico, Norway, and Saudi Arabia.

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While not completely related to issues of privacy, this video is still pretty cool.

A new model Mercedes S600 flat out on the Autobahn in Germany with Night Vision Camera on. Watch for the “Cruise Control: 250kmh” message!

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Victor Hunt has an interesting set of lights.  Released last year, it’s a set of three surveillance cameras that are actually lights you can use in your home.  Designed by Per Emanuelsson and Basitian Bischoff, the lights costs €1750 ($2,478.36).


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PrimeSense is the new winner for the best new product vote idea at CableLabs’ Innovation Showcase.  Their tech allows them to detect how many people are watching TV at any given time.

…the vendor’s tech lets digital devices see a 3-D view of the world. In other words, that cable set-top box will know whether 3 people are sitting on the sofa watching TV and how many are adults vs children. It all happens via a chip that resides in a camera that plugs into the STB. The images look more like something from thermal imaging.

Do we really need television and video services knowing this information?  This technology only services the television and video industries, not the consumer.  It will, undoubtedly, be touted as a resource for determining just how popular a show is.  That way, the television producers can have a more accurate count of how many people really like a show.  However, it will, eventually, be turned into a profit making machine.

Your family will sit down to watch the pay-per-view movie you just ordered.  Suddenly, the television screen will inform you that you have only purchases one pay-per-view ticket to watch the movie, but there are five people sitting in your living room.  Pay for the additional four people or no movie.

If you have a DVR, much of your data is already tracked.  It timestamps when you fast forward or rewind, how often a task is performed, and how often you flipped channels.  PrimeSense is adding another layer of detail about you by being able to see exactly who is doing the flipping and who’s fast forwarding through the commercials.

PrimeSense is marketing their technology for benign uses, such as motion control for exercise or changing the channel on a TV without a remote.  However, it is the future use of spying on customers that has people worried, especially when their cable providers are very interested in the technology.

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