This just in: FOX News is stunned that smartphone cameras can be used to record the police.

Help me out here, the year is still 2018, right? I only ask because apparently the folks at FOX & Friends First are very alarmed by the fact that smartphones have cameras on them. Cameras that can record video clips. Cameras that can record video clips of police officers. Almost like, *GASP!*, BODY CAMERAS!

DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNNNN!!!!!

To be fair, they’re freaking out over a shortcut some dude came up with for the iPhone that makes recording an encounter with the police very easy by simply saying  “Hey Siri, I’m being pulled over.” 

Here’s why this is stupid: First, cell phones have had cameras capable of recording video since at least 2005, though video recording capabilities wouldn’t become commonplace until a few years later. The original iPhone, for example, had a 2MP camera and couldn’t record video. Still, it’s easily been doable for over a decade now. 

Second, being able to start recording a video with a voice command has been a thing since at least 2014. With my Pixel 2 in my shirt pocket all I need to say is “OK Google, record a video,” and it will launch the camera app in video mode and start recording immediately. In most of my shirt pockets the phone is just tall enough to peak over the top of the pocket. This makes it trivally easy to start a recording without making it obvious that I’m doing so. At least so long as the target is out of earshot as I have to issue the command and the phone acknowledges that it’s launching the app. Once I stop recording my phone is set to immediately back it up to my Google Photos account. The one drawback to this is that if it’s been awhile since you unlocked the phone then you may need to unlock it before it’ll start the app, but with the fingerprint reader that’s pretty easy to do.

Third, this isn’t something that can only be done on the newest iPhones as the report above suggests. It’ll work on any iPhone running iOS 12 and the Shortcuts app. It’s not even the only shortcut that’ll do this. The I Got Pulled Over shortcut is also available. 

The big innovation here is that the Police shortcut pauses music you may be playing, turns down the brightness on the iPhone, turns on “do not disturb” mode, starts recording with the front facing camera and sends out a text message to a friend letting them know where you are and that you’re recording a police encounter. Guess what? There have been apps that will do similar things for quite some time now.

On Android there’s Legal Equalizer which will text a contact of your choice, record the encounter and upload it to cloud storage, advise you of your rights and what to say, and even help find a lawyer.

Also, there is the Mobile Justice app developed in association with the ACLU which has been around since 2012. There are multiple versions of this app as each is specific to a state (here is the link for Mobile Justice: Michigan on Android and here’s the iPhone version). This app is more for activists as in addition to recording video and uploading straight to the local chapter of the ACLU, it has the ability to let you know when someone else is involved in a police encounter nearby so you can act as a witness.

That’s just two examples of dozens of apps. The point being that this isn’t anything new. So why is FOX acting like this is some shocking new affront to the police? Well, it turns out that lots of news organizations are reporting on it because the shortcut has shot up to become the third most popular one available at the moment. Business Insider did an article on it where they even show you how to make the shortcut yourself, USA Today wrote about it, Car and Driver got in on it, etc. and so on. The difference here is that FOX & Friends First decided to play it off as something bad because it’s FOX News: Propaganda Arm of the GOP since 1996.

Man literally betrayed by his own heart.

Modern technology is amazing, but every day we’re hearing about cases where someone’s electronic device ends up tying them to the crimes they’ve committed. Usually it’s cellphone location data or photos that busts someone for a crime, but in this case police arrested Ross Compton for arson because his story didn’t line up with data from his electronic heart monitor:

Middletown man’s electronic heart monitor leads to his arrest – WLWT5

Middletown police said Compton told them that he was able to pack his suitcases and throw them out his bedroom window after he broke out the glass with a walking stick.

According to court documents obtained by WLWT, a cardiologist told police that those actions were “highly improbable” because of Compton’s medical condition.

Police sought to prove that by collecting electronic data stored in Compton’s electronic heart device. They wanted to know Compton’s heart rate, pacer demand and cardiac rhythms before, during and after the fire.

Police told WLWT on Friday that it was an excellent investigative tool, and the information that was retrieved didn’t match Compton’s story.

“It was one of the key pieces of evidence that allowed us to charge him,” Lt. Jimmy Cunningham said.

It’s believed this is the first time data from an electronic heart monitor has been used in this manner. Of course, it helps that the arson inspectors say the fire was started with gasoline at multiple points around the outside of the house and it was on the clothes Compton was wearing at the time, but this is the icing on the cake.

I’m always amused by the criminals who don’t think to leave their cellphones at home when undertaking a planned crime because that’s going to be the first thing the police are going to check. Turning it off is another option, but that looks suspicious if it’s only off during the time the crime takes place. Especially if it’s during the day when you’d have it turned on.

Having a heart monitor, however, is not something you could (or probably would want to) turn off. I suppose you could start the fire and then go through the motions of what you are going to claim to have done so that the data links up, but given that it’s physically demanding you’d be putting yourself at risk of heart failure while in the middle of a burning building which doesn’t seem too smart either. Probably want to change your clothes after handling the gas too.

I dunno, seems like the smart thing to do is not to do this in the first place.

Today’s I’m-Feeling-Old Moment: Kids react to a Walkman.

I should really stop following TheFineBros‘ YouTube channel. All it ever does is remind me how old and decrepit I’ve become.

Kids these days don’t know how good they got it with their “em-pee-three” doohickeys and their smartass phones. Why in MY day we had to get up to change the damned channel on the TV and we had only three major networks and a couple of minor UHF channels to choose from!

And now here is today’s “feeling old” moment.

I’ve already shared this one on Google+ so if you’ve already seen it there I apologize for the repetition, but I know my mother would get a kick out of this so I’m sharing it here too.

I’m old enough now that snot nosed kids can make me feel old pretty easily. Especially when it comes to stuff I grew up with. Stuff like dealing with a rotary phone:

Even though touch tone phones were introduced well before I was born, it took awhile before they were ubiquitous. Growing up we mostly had touch tone phones in the house, but we had a couple of the old rotary ones around too. I don’t recall when I learned how to use one though I’m sure I had to be taught. These days I don’t even have a landline anymore. It’s just an added expense that doesn’t make much sense when I carry my cellphone with me everywhere. That doesn’t stop this video from making me feel really old.

Public Alerts on my Google Maps? YES PLEASE!

This could prove to be mindbogglingly useful for a lot of people. Not the least of them myself. #seb #Google #Neato #Technology

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Google adding Public Alerts to Maps, keeps you in the loop in times of worry
You can’t deny that Google often hands out marvelous tools for the masses to utilize (yes, some can be a miss), and today the King of Search is launching a fresh virtual apparatus as part of its Crisis Response project. Dubbed “Public Alerts,” the feature is accessible from within Google Maps, keeping you in the loop during times of high alert. Your search query will trigger things like weather relevant to your area, public safety and earthquake alerts — all of which are provided by the NOAA…

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RAM: You’ve come a long way, baby!

My gaming desktop at home has 8 Gigabytes of RAM. If I had to use these 4KB modules instead of the two 4 GB sticks I have in my system it would take 2,097,152 of them to do it. Hell, the SDHC memory card — a single card the size of a postage stamp — that I put into my new digital camera is 8 Gigabytes of room and that’s not even the most spacious such card available. SDXC cards can range from 32GB to 2 Terabytes of storage for your camera/phone/MP3 player. #seb #computing #history #technology #RAM

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This Giant Chunk of Metal Is 4 Kilobytes of Memory [Past Perfect]

What’s this gent holding? A toaster? Farm equipment? Part of an engine? Wreckage from a destroyed tank? Nope—that’s 4KB of ol’ fashioned IBM memory. That’s enough to hold 12% of my Facebook profile picture!
Editor-in-Chief of CNET Reviews Lindsey Turrentine discovered the rugged computer antique in her grandfather’s barn. Not a bad catch! Turrentine pointed out the wonderful irony that the image itself is 692 KB—meaning she’d only need to find 172 more of these memory modules and a tractor tr…

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The autonomous cars are coming and will be a problem until laws are changed

There’s going to be some nasty legal fights before the laws are modified/created to deal with cars that drive themselves, but in the long run I think it’ll be worth it. #seb #automobiles #technology #laws

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How Do You Police Cars That Drive Themselves? [Cars]
Google is already testing its autonomous cars on the roads of California, and plenty of other manufacturers are starting to muscle in on the act, too. But when they hit the roads, how do you go about policing a city full of self-driven cars?
The New York Times reports that that very question is causing lawyers and government officials to break out in a cold sweat. It’s not just working out how the police could pull such a car over, either. How well would those cars interact with normal ones? …

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Own an iPhone or iPad? It’s been tracking everywhere you go for the past year.

Pic of output from iPhone Tracker app.

A sample of the output. The bigger the dot the more times you've been recorded as being there.

Here’s something you probably didn’t know about your iPhone/iPad: It appears to be keeping a record of everyplace you’ve ever been both the device itself and on your computer if you use iTunes to back up your phone. The folks over at AresTechnica.com have the details:

Researchers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden revealed their findings on Wednesday ahead of their presentation at the Where 2.0 conference taking place in San Francisco. The two discovered that the iPhone or 3G iPad—anything with 3G data access, so no iPod touch—are logging location data to a file called consolidated.db with latitude and longitude coodinates and a timestamp. The data collection appears to be associated with the launch of iOS 4 last June, meaning that many users (us at Ars included) have nearly a year’s worth of stalking data collected.

In order to drive the point home, the two developed an open source application called iPhone Tracker that lets anyone with access to your computer see where you’ve been.

Now some of you might be thinking this isn’t anything new as these products have long had GPS features that will tell you where you are and they often notify you that they’re doing so when you use them. Yeah, but this is slightly different. This tracking isn’t being done using the GPS, but by triangulating your position relative to cell phone towers:

Users don’t get to decide whether their locations are tracked via cell towers or not—unlike GPS, there is no setting that lets users turn it off, there’s no explicit consent every time it happens, and there’s no way to block the logging. (Nitpickers will point out that you do give your consent to iTunes when you download and install iOS 4, but this is not treated the same way as the consent given to the iPhone every time an app wants to use GPS.) So, whether or not you’re using GPS, if you’re using your iPhone as a cell phone, you are being tracked and logged constantly without your knowledge.

The only way to avoid this tracking is to turn off the cellphone part of the device. Now the problem here isn’t so much that your devices are tracking your every move, but that you’re not being told about it. The good news is that, as near as the researchers can determine, this data is not being sent back to Apple or any other third party. The bad news is that it’s not at all difficult to get access to which means that if you lose your phone or your computer is compromised then anyone with the iPhone Tracker app can call up everywhere you’ve ever been with it. You can bet your ass that law enforcement absolutely loves this “feature” so if you’ve ever been anywhere you don’t want someone to know about, well, hope you didn’t have an iPhone with you.

Of course, this only really matters if you give a shit about people knowing your comings and goings. Something which more and more people seem to have stopped worrying about. In fact, the folks at Gawker are reporting that this discovery has spawned a hot new trend:

When it comes to technology today, there is barely any distance between outrageous privacy violation and cool new feature. When news broke yesterday that Apple has been secretly spying on iPhone users, many people immediately broadcasted the illicit data to everyone.

[…] Holy crap, Apple has been secretly logging our every move for months? Let’s… broadcast it to everyone on the internet! Many techies are now showing off their iSpy maps: “I find myself fascinated staring at this automatically generated record of where I’ve been,” wrote tech blogger Alexis Madrigal. Tumblr and Twitter arefull of them. “I don’t get out of West LA enough,” user aboycommemoi observed.

For its part, Apple hasn’t said shit about this discovery, but there is some indication that this may not have been an intentional breach of user trust. More likely it’s a bug or an oversight in the program. The folks at Gizmodo explain:

As Gruber’s been informed, consolidated.db—the tin-foil-hat-inducing log in question—is a cache for location data. (As Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan’s FAQ about their project implies.) What’s supposed to happen with the cache is that the “historical data should be getting culled but isn’t”—because of said bug or oversight. In Gruber’s words:

I.e. someone wrote the code to cache location data but never wrote code to cull non-recent entries from the cache, so that a database that’s meant to serve as a cache of your recent location data is instead a persistent log of your location history. I’d wager this gets fixed in the next iOS update.

So how freaked out should you be? If you don’t own an iPhone or iPad then this isn’t really an issue for you. If you do then it depends on how much you give a shit if someone could potentially get hold of that data. The chances that you’ll be hacked and have it stolen for some nefarious, but unknown purpose is probably minimal. However that data is something that could potentially be used against you by law enforcement if they should happen to have reason to acquire it.

Given the recent hoopla here in Michigan where the State Police have been accused of extracting data from cell phones during routine traffic stops, that may be something to consider. (Note, the MSP put out a response to the ACLU’s assertions saying that they do not collect cell phone data during routine traffic stops and only do so with a court issued warrant.) And while you may say that you’ve nothing to hide from the police, it’s not like there aren’t cases where circumstantial and coincidental evidence got an innocent person convicted.

Just the same, forewarned is forearmed and it’s better to know what is being collected about you — intentionally or not — than not know.

Kevin Costner’s water cleaning machine works well enough for BP.

So here’s a bit of good news in the morass of bad news coming out of the BP Oil Disaster in the Gulf. Turns out that BP did test Kevin Costner’s machine that separates oil from water and it appears to work:

BP says Kevin Costner’s water cleaning machine can ‘make a real difference’ | NewsWatch: Energy | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle.

BP’s COO of Exploration and Production, Doug Suttles, said that within the first few hours of testing the machine, the company decided to order 32 of them.

“We tested it in some of the toughest environments we could find and actually what it’s done — it’s quite robust,” Suttle said. “This is real technology with real science behind it and it’s passed all of those tests.”

Suttles said BP has committed to building four deepwater systems. Two of the systems will be barges that have machines on them and two of the systems will be a new design using 280-foot offshore supply vessels.

In total, the systems BP is rigging up will have a processing capacity of 128,000 barrels a day.

“That’s a substantial amount of capacity and can make a real difference to our spill response efforts,” Suttles said.

There’s already a lot of damage done, but better late than never in getting something like this out there where they can prove themselves in a real-world worst-case situation. If they end up helping to any decent degree then they should be made a mandatory part of every oil company’s oil spill response plan.

Which shouldn’t be too difficult considering that they all had the exact same photocopy of the piss-poor BP response plan anyway.

The security chip in that fancy new U.S. Passport? It’s made in Thailand.

The U.S. Government has been pushing what they consider a better passport since August 2007. It contains a contactless smart card in the back cover that contains the same data about you as what is printed in the passport itself. The idea is that this is supposed to make passport forgery impossible for the evil-doers of the world. The official website lists off several potential attacks which the cards are supposedly protected against including skimming, eavesdropping, tracking, and cloning.

Which all sounds really good except that since the cards were introduced a number of hackers and researches have demonstrated that almost of the protections in place can be successfully attacked and compromised with very minimal resources. The Wikipedia entry for biometric passports has the details and links about the attacks if you’re interested. It doesn’t help that not all of the security measures are mandated with things such as Active Authentication and Extended Access Control being optional.

In short, cloning data on a passport is not difficult at all nor is burning it to a blank passport, something that was done back in 2006 before they were even being issued regularly. More difficult is modifying the data as there is a cryptographic hash used to verify the data, but that relies on the scanner reading the passport making use of it (not all do).

You’d think, given all of the above, that the government would at least take steps to make sure the chips aren’t compromised before they’re ever issued. Perhaps, say, ensuring that they’re produced in a highly secure facility someplace within the United States?

Don’t be silly. The chips are currently being made in Thailand and have been for years:

Security of U.S. Passports Called Into Question – ABC News

The U.S. government agency that prints passports has for years failed to resolve persistent concerns about the security risks involved in outsourcing production to foreign factories, a joint investigation by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity has found.

“On a number of levels this is extremely troubling,” said Clark Kent Ervin, a former inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security . “Something like that ought to be produced only in the United States, under only the most rigorous security standards.” A report on the outsourcing of U.S. passports to high-risk countries can be seen on World News with Diane Sawyer tonight.

Despite repeated assurances they would move production to the U.S., a key government contractor has continued to assemble an electronic component of the nation’s new, more sophisticated passport in Thailand.

The factory is near the same Bangkok suburb where a notorious terrorist extremist was captured in 2003. There have been bursts of violence in the industrial city, Ayutthaya, as recently as last month.

Both the inspector general at the Government Printing Office and the agency’s own security chief have warned specifically against producing the computer chip assembly in the Thai facility. One internal report obtained by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity warned of a “potential long term risk to the [U.S. government’s] interests.”

All this bullshit talk by the Powers That Be about making things More Secure™ and not only are the chips being used easily cloned for a couple hundred bucks, but the factory that’s producing them is in an unstable area of a foreign country where terrorists are known to operate. The reason this is such a concern is because the U.S. Government, in its infinite wisdom, has made owning one of their fancy e-passports a shortcut past some of the more stringent security procedures  — one official describes it as an EZ-pass — that would otherwise apply to people entering the United States.

Oh, but that’s not the best part. No, the cherry-on-top that I just know you’re going to love is the fact that there is absolutely nothing in place to make sure blanks don’t fall into bad guy’s hands:

GPO’s inspector general has warned that the agency lacks even the most basic security plan for ensuring that blank e-Passports — and their highly sought technologies – aren’t stolen by terrorists, foreign spies, counterfeiters and other bad actors as they wind through an unwieldy manufacturing process that spans the globe and includes 60 different suppliers.

This disturbs Rep. John D. Dingell, D.-Mich., who wrote letters to the agency two years ago raising questions about passport production.

“Regrettably, since then, our fears have been realized because the inspector general and other people in charge of security at the government printing office have pointed out that the security is not there,” Dingell told ABC News. “There is no real assurance that the e-passports are safe or secure or are not in danger of being counterfeited or corrupted or used for some nefarious purposes by terrorists or others.”

Feel safer yet? Oh, and there are stolen blanks out there from several different countries including a big heist of U.K. blanks in 2008.

Supposedly, most of the production of the chip has already been moved out of Thailand and officials are pledging to have the last bits moved out by the end of July. Also, as far as anyone is aware, no one has successfully made a forgery of a biometric passport using cloned data and a stolen blank chip. Given the number of vulnerabilities that have already been demonstrated it’s probably only a matter of time before someone figures out how to clone and modify a passport that’ll pass as real.

Sadly, all of the concerns and problems with this system were known by the U.S. back in 2004 having been raised by numerous security and privacy experts. Rather than take the time to address the issues raised they decided to just ignore them instead and pressure everyone else to adopt our flawed standard. That is, after all, the American way.