Philippines verifying photos of China military aircraft on disputed reef

Construction is shown on Mischief Reef, in the Spratly Islands, in this June 19, 2017 satellite image released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). (Reuters file photo)
Updated 19 April 2018
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Philippines verifying photos of China military aircraft on disputed reef

  • China claims almost the entire South China Sea, host to islands claimed separately by Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam
  • China and Southeast Asian countries started negotiations in Vietnam last month on a code of conduct in the South China Sea

MANILA: The Philippines may lodge a protest with China against the reported presence of two military aircraft on a Chinese-built island in the South China Sea, the top Philippine diplomat said, amid concern that China is militarizing the waterway.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer published pictures on Wednesday that it said showed two military transport aircraft on the tarmac of Mischief Reef, which the Philippines claims.
The reef is the closest of the artificial islands that China has developed to the Philippines, and within its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
The newspaper said the photos were taken in January this year. Reuters could not verify the authenticity or date of the pictures.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told reporters the defense and military establishments had been asked to confirm the presence of the aircraft, after which the Philippines could ask China to explain it.
“Filing a protest is one of the diplomatic actions being considered, pending a confirmation from the defense department,” Cayetano said, adding the Philippines has proposed claimants reverse defense enhancements in the Spratly islands.
“Many claimants are putting embankments, radar, and other defensive mechanisms, the challenge now is how to stop it and roll it back,” he added.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a strategic waterway where about $3 trillion worth of sea-borne goods pass every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have conflicting claims in the sea.
The Inquirer showed what it said were surveillance photos obtained from an unnamed source, showing what appeared to be two Xian Y-7 transport planes.
The military declined to comment and China’s embassy in Manila did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
China’s Defense Ministry also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cayetano said claimants were talking to each other as well as “non-regional players” to resolve disputes and avoid a regional arms race.
China and Southeast Asian countries started negotiations in Vietnam last month on a code of conduct in the South China Sea, starting with “less sensitive and less controversial” issues, he said.
Cayetano said they had identified common issues before discussing contentious provisions, such as whether the code would be legally binding and include sanctions against offenders.
He said there was no time frame for conclusion and adoption of the code.
The drafting of the code has been met with widespread skepticism, with some experts convinced China’s uncharacteristic support for it is aimed at placating Southeast Asian states while buying time to completes its military installations in the sea. 


Amazon urged not to sell facial recognition tool to police

Updated 23 May 2018
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Amazon urged not to sell facial recognition tool to police

  • Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom
  • Amazon's technology isn't that different from what face recognition companies are already selling to law enforcement agencies

SEATTLE: Amazon’s decision to market a powerful face recognition tool to police is alarming privacy advocates, who say the tech giant’s reach could vastly accelerate a dystopian future in which camera-equipped officers can identify and track people in real time, whether they’re involved in crimes or not.
It’s not clear how many law enforcement agencies have purchased the tool, called Rekognition, since its launch in late 2016 or since its update last fall, when Amazon added capabilities that allow it to identify people in videos and follow their movements almost instantly.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon has used it to quickly compare unidentified suspects in surveillance images to a database of more than 300,000 booking photos from the county jail — a common use of such technology around the country — while the Orlando Police Department in Florida is testing whether it can be used to single out persons-of-interest in public spaces and alert officers to their presence.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other privacy advocates on Tuesday asked Amazon to stop marketing Rekognition to government agencies, saying they could use the technology to “easily build a system to automate the identification and tracking of anyone.”
That could have potentially dire consequences for minorities who are already arrested at disproportionate rates, immigrants who may be in the country illegally or political protesters, they said.
“People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government,” the groups wrote in a letter to Amazon on Tuesday. “Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom.”
In an emailed statement, Amazon Web Services stressed that it requires all of its customers to comply with the law and to be responsible in the use of its products.
The statement said some agencies have used the program to find abducted people, and amusement parks have used it to find lost children. British broadcaster Sky News used Rekognition to help viewers identify celebrities at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle last weekend.
Amazon’s technology isn’t that different from what face recognition companies are already selling to law enforcement agencies. But its vast reach and its interest in recruiting more police departments — at extremely low cost — are troubling, said Clare Garvie, an associate at the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University Law Center.
“This raises very real questions about the ability to remain anonymous in public spaces,” Garvie said.
While police might be able to videotape public demonstrations, face recognition is not merely an extension of photography but a biometric measurement — more akin to police walking through a demonstration and demanding identification from everyone there, she said.
Some police departments, including Seattle, have policies that bar the use of real-time facial recognition in body camera videos.
Amazon released Rekognition in late 2016, and the sheriff’s office in Washington County, west of Portland, became one of its first law enforcement agency customers.
A year later, deputies were using it about 20 times a day — for example, to identify burglary suspects in store surveillance footage. Last month, the agency adopted policies governing its use, noting that officers in the field can use real-time face recognition to identify suspects who are unwilling or unable to provide their own ID, or if someone’s life is in danger.
“We are not mass-collecting. We are not putting a camera out on a street corner,” said Deputy Jeff Talbot, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office. “We want our local community to be aware of what we’re doing, how we’re using it to solve crimes — what it is and, just as importantly, what it is not.”
It cost the sheriff’s office just $400 to load 305,000 booking photos — which are already public records — into the system and $6 a month in fees to continue the service, according to an email obtained by the ACLU under a public records request.
Last year, the Orlando, Florida, Police Department announced it would begin a pilot program relying on Amazon’s technology to “use existing city resources to provide real-time detection and notification of persons-of-interest, further increasing public safety.”
Orlando has a network of public safety cameras, and in a presentation posted to YouTube this month , Ranju Das, who leads Amazon Rekognition, said the company would receive feeds from the cameras, search them against photos of people being sought by law enforcement and notify police of any hits.
“It’s about recognizing people, it’s about tracking people, and then it’s about doing this in real time, so that the law enforcement officers ... can be then alerted in real time to events that are happening,” he said.
The Orlando Police Department said in an email that it “is not using the technology in an investigative capacity or in any public spaces at this time.”
The testing has been limited to eight city-owned cameras and a handful of officers who volunteered to have their images used to see if the technology works, Sgt. Eduardo Bernal wrote in an email Tuesday.
“As this is a pilot and not being actively used by OPD as a surveillance tool, there is no policy or procedure regarding its use as it is not deployed in that manner,” Bernal wrote.
The privacy advocates’ letter to Amazon followed public records requests from ACLU chapters in California, Oregon and Florida. More than two dozen organizations signed it, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Human Rights Watch.