September 25, 2009

Oligarch's yacht uses laser defenses against passive optical spying

Billionaire Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich is known for the measures he takes to protect his privacy. Like Michael Dell, the interiors of his homes and vehicles aren't photographed.

The Times reports that Abramovich's 170 meter yacht M/Y Eclipse, currently undergoing shakedown cruises, has been fitted with a state-of-the-art optics countermeasure system:

Infrared lasers detect the electronic light sensors in nearby cameras, known as charge-coupled devices. When the system detects such a device, it fires a focused beam of light at the camera, disrupting its ability to record a digital image.

Although this report says a digital camera's CCDs are detected, it seems likely that this is instead an active optics detector. An optics detector works by emitting a brief laser pulse and then waiting for any glint from reflected optics. In this case, the system then targets a laser on the hostile lenses, flooding them with light and rendering the viewing optics ineffective.

If this system indeed detects optics and not just camera CCDs, then all optics would be flared with laser light, including binoculars, telescopes, and film cameras lacking digital Charged-Coupled Devices.

Wired speculates on the legality of this system under British law:

UK photo magazine Amateur Photographer asked a London lawyer about the legalities of destroying photos from afar. Here’s what he said: "intermeddling with goods belonging to someone else, or altering their condition, is a trespass to goods and will entitle the photographer to claim compensation without having to prove loss."

Defense against optical surveillance isn't the Russian businessman's only concern: M/Y Eclipse is also fitted with armor plate, bullet-resistant glass and a missile defense system.

August 21, 2009

Facebook Privacy Guide

Erudite tech site Ars Technica has published a short reference to Facebook privacy features:
Many users are aware that Facebook has numerous privacy controls, for example, but even the most experienced Facebook users often don't know just how much they can control who sees what. For instance, did you know that you can specify exactly who can see your status updates, down to different groups of friends (not just "friends" versus "everyone")? What about controlling which groups of people can even find you in a Facebook search to begin with?

April 21, 2009

Data mine online profiles with one keypress

Glenn Jones' Identify Firefox browser plugin uses Google's Social Graph API to correlate identities between social networking and media-sharing sites. Says ReadWriteWeb:
Jones's tool is a Firefox plug-in you can evoke from any web page that has links tagged rel="me". Just click the control key and the "i" key to get a pop-up offering information put together from all around the web about the person the page is associated with. It works on Twitter profile pages, LinkedIn pages, blogs with good markup and other profile pages.

The data that gets displayed can be frightening if you've exposed more information about yourself than you'd like on a rel="me" linked page.

Explicit is the potential for data mining personally identifiable information online:
The tool is clearly very useful as a way to learn more about people whose usernames you come across online.

April 18, 2009

You may be a Canadian citizen. Then again, you may not...

The WSJ reports that an amendment to Canada's Citzenship Act automatically restores nationality to many children of Canadian citizens forced to renounce it or born outside the country, and to their children's children:
Eligible individuals automatically become Canadian citizens. But they don't get proof of that citizenship unless they apply for it, meaning other countries -- including those that allow people to be citizens of only one nation -- won't be alerted, according to the immigration office spokeswoman. Those people also may renounce their citizenship rights, she said.

The citizenship bonanza is the byproduct of a decades-long struggle by a motley group of people who claim they were unfairly denied or lost their Canadian nationality. Canadian families who crossed the border in 1947 to 1977 to have their babies in a U.S. hospital found those children weren't recognized as Canadians unless the families registered them with the government. Some foreign brides of Canadian World War II servicemen lost their citizenship if they stayed out of the country for a decade or more.

Then there are the Canadian Mennonites who moved to Mexico in the 1920s to the 1960s. When their children and grandchildren returned to Canada, many found their nationality unclear.

Some such cases languished in litigation for years. Others surfaced in 2007, when new U.S. rules requiring passports for travel between Canada and the U.S. uncovered significant numbers of people who thought they were Canadian, but weren't.