The New York Times

The New York Times 20 Dec 2019

You're Being Watched Right Now


The surveillance state is the stuff of dystopian novels and futuristic thrillers. Or, as revealed in the Video Op-Ed above, it's here now. With ad trackers on our phones, facial recognition cameras on our streets and N.S.A. agents listening in on our phone calls, Big Brother is watching.

Throughout 2019, The New York Times Opinion department's Privacy Project has been trying to make the conversation about privacy a little less boring, a little less complicated and a lot more real.

We keep hearing, "I've got nothing to hide" or "I can't actually do anything about it." But when the government fails to protect your privacy, it's up to you to set your limits.

It's time to decide: Are you really O.K. with being watched?

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Without additional funding, war-torn Yemen will be left to fight the Covid-19 pandemic with a collapsed health system, warned today the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Epidemiologists estimate that the virus could spread faster, more widely and with deadlier consequences in some of the world's most vulnerable populations than in many other countries.

Speaking to a virtual press conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Jens Larke, spokesperson for the OCHA said that "Yemen is really on the brink right now. The situation is extremely alarming, they are talking about that the health system has in effect collapsed. They are talking about having to turn people away because they do not have enough oxygen. They do not have enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), that the numbers that are officially reported are important parts, as I said, we are working on the assumption that there is widespread communal transmission going on".

With only half of Yemen's health facilities fully functioning, funding for the country's aid operation is crucial with up to USD 2 billion required until the end of the year. The UN and Saudi Arabia will co-host a virtual pledging event on 2 June to support fund raising.

"We are heading towards a fiscal cliff", said OCHA's spokesperson. "If we do not get the money coming in, the programs that are keeping people alive and are very much essential to fight back against Covid will have to close. And then, the world will have to witness what happens in a country without a functioning health system battling Covid 19 and I do not think that one will see that".

More than 30 key UN programmes risk closing in the coming weeks due to a funding lack. Covid Rapid Response Teams are funded only for the next six weeks.

According to the World Healths Organisation's latest figures, Yemen has 184 cases of the disease and 30 deaths.

However, "the actual incidence is almost certainly much higher", stated Jens Laerke. "Tests remain in short supply, aid agencies in Yemen are operating on the basis that community transmission is taking place across the country, and only half of the health facilities are fully functioning. Yemen's health system needs significant assistance to counter the threat of Covid-19. Humanitarian aid agencies are scaling up outreach, prevention and case management. "

Some 125 metric tons of supplies have arrived, while over 6,600 metric tons of tests, personal protective equipment and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) supplies are in the pipeline.

However, oxygen and personal protective equipment are more urgently needed. Preserving large-scale existing aid programmes in health, water and sanitation, nutrition and other sectors also offers an essential defense against infection for millions of people.

On Tursday (21 May), a UN flight arrived in Yemen's capital Aden with more international staff on board.

Laerke said that "colleagues both in and out of the country are working together to deliver critical programs, this includes some international staff working remotely as well as international staff remain in Yemen and Yemeni national staff. Yemeni national staff remain the large majority of aid workers in Yemen".

The war in Yemen has been ongoing since 2014 when Houthis took control of Yemen's north and captured the capital Sanaa, forcing the UN-recognized government there to flee to southern city of Aden. Since 2015, a Saudi-led coalition of mostly Arab countries has been battling the Houthi rebels to reinstate the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi creating the world's worst humanitarian crisis and leaving millions suffering from food and medical shortages.
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Not all OPEC nations are rich and can weather a storm like the coronavirus pandemic with oil prices also sliding into negative territory, however briefly.

OPEC cartel leader Saudi Arabia is cutting subsidies and raising taxes but it also has massive foreign currency reserves that can see it through the crisis.

But that is not the case for the likes of Oman and Bahrain, which have slashed budgets, though they could get help from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Our focus is those resource-rich nations that have had to turn to the International Monetary Fund and those that have not, as oil prices hover just north of $30 a barrel.

Algeria - The North African nation has seen its debt soar to 45 percent of GDP from just 26 percent in 2017. It had based this year's austerity budget on oil prices of $50 a barrel.

Angola - In 2018, Africa's second-biggest oil producer received a $3.7bn loan from the IMF and could be banging on its doors again. It relies on the sale of crude for 65 percent of its tax revenue.

Ecuador - Creditors have given the country a debt payment holiday. But it could still default on its $17bn debt. It also received an IMF loan of more than $600m.

And then there is Africa's biggest oil producer, Nigeria, which last month received approval for a $3.4bn emergency IMF loan. The country is dependent on oil for 90 percent of its export earnings. With crude prices cratering, it has little room to service debt.

Kola Karim, chief executive of the Shoreline Group, which has holdings in a number of Nigerian oil ventures, shares his thoughts with Al Jazeera.

Lithium vs Oil

This is the stuff of science fiction.

Wuhan University has developed a plasma thruster, a type of propulsion engine, that could potentially power the planes of tomorrow, and bring emissions-free flying a step closer.

The pandemic has reduced global consumption of oil by about a third - with grounded jet airlines guzzling at least 5 million barrels of oil daily.

The coronavirus may just be the push green energy needs. It should come as no surprise that decline in fossil fuel usage has led to a fall of 8 percent in global carbon dioxide emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.

Andy Leyland, head of strategic advisory at Benchmark Minerals, discusses whether lithium, the stuff that powers much of our electric cars, can emerge as a winner from this crisis.

Saudi Arabia's 'sports washing'

Newcastle United could be in the hands of new owners very soon.

But the buyer comes with a lot of baggage. Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund will own 80 percent of the English Premier League club.

Saudi Arabia's human rights record, the killing of journalist Jamal Khassoggi and the country's alleged theft of Middle Eastern Premier League rights could derail the $375m deal.

Amnesty has accused Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman of using the glamour and prestige of the Premier League to cover up actions that are deeply immoral.

Simon Chadwick, director at the Centre for the Eurasian Sport Industry, comments on Saudi Arabia's "sports washing".

… show captions ↓
We've published a lot of stories
in the last year about privacy.
Like, a lot.
And almost every time we do, we
hear a version of the same thing.
"It amazes me how often I hear from people,
I have nothing to hide.
I have nothing to fear from people spying on me."
"I think I'm a law-abiding citizen,
so I'm not so worried about it.
Send what you've got, Big Brother."
In a yearlong series, we've shown you
how your privacy is being invaded
at an industrial scale.
"You are followed 24/7, 365 days a year."
"Everything you do is being watched."
I mean, even we're doing it to you right now.
Despite that, you haven't gone through the settings
on your phone, have you?
You probably don't use a VPN, and I
know you don't read the terms and conditions
before clicking Accept.
But while you're busy not thinking about it,
your private information is being raided, traded
and used against you in terrifying ways.
"I was shocked.
We should be very scared."
So ask yourself this:
How much of your private information
are you really comfortable giving away?
"Let me look on the internet.
They'll know I'm searching for it."
In this video, we're going to test your privacy comfort
Seriously, where is your red line?
"They know a lot more about you
than you may even know about yourself."
Because there's a lot more at stake
than you think, and time is running out
to do anything about it.
"So you think you have nothing to hide?
You ain't seen nothing yet."
"Wow, I didn't even think about that."
"Open up Budweiser and pour yourself
the most inviting glass of beer you've ever tasted."
For a long time, advertising was an art of guesswork.
The madmen could only hope that you were thirsty.
But now, they can tell exactly how you're feeling.
To show you what I mean, I want
to tell you about a little experiment we did.
He's our guinea pig.
His name is Farhad Manjoo.
"I'm an opinion columnist at The New York Times
and I write about technology."
And at the start of the year, he volunteered.
"Well, I was asked to volunteer
to have all of my information tracked
and then, you know, publish all that in the newspaper."
Using a special browser, we were
able to see what websites Farhad visited.
But more importantly, what those websites
could see about him.
"So I started the day on Google and did a search.
And nine trackers were downloaded onto my computer."
Yes, trackers.
These are tiny text files or even just a pixel sometimes.
"Trackers do what it sounds like they do.
They track you.
They can get my I.P. address or the device I'm using
or the screen size.
They were able to determine my location very precisely.
Next, I went to HuffPo, and I was swarmed.
The trackers kind of multiplied.
There were dozens and dozens."
Every site Farhad visited, the trackers followed him.
"Washington Post, Google, Vanity Fair."
By the way, you know all of this
is happening to you right now, don't you?
as you're watching this video?
You're just not supposed to know about it.
"And they're just — the trackers are
just kind of, you know, on my heels
as I go around the web."
O.K., so different companies know the model of your phone.
Big deal.
Well, it gets worse.
With all of your private data, the trackers send it away to
"Mostly advertising companies."
So there's this gigantic digital marketplace
where your personal information is auctioned off
to advertisers.
Your data's like one of these tuna,
except instead of humans arguing over you,
it's algorithms.
It all happens in a split second, every time
you load a web page.
"The fact that parts of me are being bought and sold
in this marketplace is very creepy."
The companies say this data is all
scattered into many little pieces
and so it stays anonymous.
But in buying and selling to each other,
the companies can assemble those pieces
and begin to build complete profiles of you.
"They can have kind of almost direct access
to your subconscious."
And that's where this gets kind of dark.
Where companies once had to hope you were in the mood
to buy, now they can use your data to predict your mood
and take advantage of it.
Would you be O.K. if a company could
tell you were depressed because of the food
you just ordered?
Or if your health insurance provider
could raise your premiums because it knew you skipped
too many days at the gym?
What about if your ride-share app
was monitoring your phone's battery?
There's nothing stopping them from using that information
to jack up prices when you're low on juice
and most desperate for a ride.
The companies have all of this information about you,
and legally.
I mean, you agreed to it in those terms and conditions
you didn't read.
It's nothing short of mind control.
"I often wonder when I'm using a site like Facebook,
whether the thoughts I'm having
are independent thoughts.
Like, was it my idea to go to this place for a vacation,
or was it Facebook's idea?"
If being tracked by a beer company
doesn't cross the line for you,
let's see how you feel when we take it up a level.
"Police departments use modern science
to protect you, such as teletype, photography."
The technology the police are using these days,
well, it's gotten a bit more sophisticated than this.
This next story starts in Bryant Park, Midtown New
York, on a Tuesday lunchtime.
"That day was a typical late winter day."
Well, not that typical.
Our New York Times Opinion reporters
were busy collecting footage from the public webcams
in the park.
We ran it through facial recognition software,
and that software, it scans nearly 3,000
faces in the footage and matched them
against a collection of publicly available images.
And it didn't take long to find a match.
"That is me."
For this guy.
"I'm Dr. Richard Madonna.
I'm a professor at the SUNY College of Optometry.
I had an email and a voice mail from The New York Times.
What it said was, were you in Bryant Park last Tuesday
at 1 o'clock?
So I went to my calendar, and sure enough, it
said, 1 o'clock, Bryant Park Grill."
In case you're wondering, all of this is legal,
and the software cost us less than $100 on Amazon.
"That was a little spooky."
Now anyone can collect the biometric information
of members of the public and dig into their lives.
"There was a picture of the side
of my head taken from above.
Clearly, it was enough to identify with my website
picture, which was actually taken probably
six or seven years ago."
Now, maybe this is news to you,
but law enforcement agencies figured this out
20 years ago.
Today, they've got access to photographs
of tens of millions of Americans.
Images they run against descriptions of suspects
thousands of times a year.
Researchers have told us there's
a 50-50 chance your face is in that database.
So what happens when someone who looks a bit like you
commits a crime?
Does it bother you that the photo from your driver's
license puts you in an infinite police lineup?
Do public spaces feel the same
when you know you can't escape surveillance?
Now, obviously, this technology comes
with potential benefits, like catching criminals.
But never before have law enforcement agencies
had powers like this.
And right now, there's no legislation
that puts a limit on it.
So have we reached your comfort level yet?
Maybe you are O.K. with companies manipulating
your emotions and your face being in a police database.
But let's try taking this up just one more level.
This guy knew what it was like to live
under constant surveillance.
For more than a decade, F.B.I. agents
dug into his private life,
wiretapped his home and his hotel rooms.
Except, of course, Martin Luther King Jr.
was no criminal.
He was just advocating for civil rights.
The government didn't like that,
so they went looking for information to discredit him.
"Governments have always been looking at people.
That's not something that's new."
This is Kara Swisher, by the way.
"I'm a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times
and I'm a longtime technology journalist.
Anytime the government can overreach
in terms of surveilling citizenry,
they have done in the history of the world."
And the last time?
It wasn't that long ago.
"New details on that whistle-blower who
leaked top-secret documents —"
"Uncovering a massive government surveillance
program of phone records and internet use —"
"When you call Grandma in Nebraska, the N.S.A. knows."
"You know, a lot of people were
surprised that the government was surveilling its citizens
so extensively.
I wasn't.
What I think was surprising about what this stuff that
Edward Snowden revealed was how extensive
the government's surveillance
The government had spent a whole decade
reading the metadata on your emails, your texts
and your phone calls.
"There's an expression: Why rob a bank?
Well, that's where the money is.
There's never been a time in history
when more information about you
was available because of information you willingly
give up."
And this hasn't stopped, by the way.
The Patriot Act, which contains all these powers,
was quietly renewed again at the end of 2019.
"Can you imagine today, the ability
to track Martin Luther King just if he had a
cellphone, just if he appeared at a hotel,
just if he moved through the world?"
Just imagine today's surveillance technology
in the hands of J. Edgar Hoover's F.B.I.
They could have identified protesters, published
their names and intimidated them, all to keep them
from marching in the streets.
And as crazy as it seems, America might still
look a lot more like this.
This is why your privacy matters.
Surveillance is a means of control and suppression.
"Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies
of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes
of California."
So how do you feel now?
Did any of that cross a line for you?
I hope so.
But do you know what?
Your personal comfort level isn't actually
the most important thing here.
This goes way beyond just you or me.
Together as a society, we need to draw a line in the sand.
Otherwise companies, law enforcement
and the government will keep pushing past it.
"You know, in reality, there is no line.
There is very little kind of legal limit,
and we don't have a lot of moral or ethical boundaries
about this stuff."
"There's actually no right to privacy in the U.S.
Constitution, even though people in this country
do think they have one."
Bills are already making their way
through Congress, but it's hard to imagine
we'll get real privacy protections when
tech companies spend tens of millions
lobbying our government.
"How are we striking this balance between the need
to keep the American people safe
and our concerns about privacy?
Because there are some trade-offs involved."
People in power want you to believe that your privacy is
something you have to compromise in order
to be safe, but it's not impossible to have
both at the same time.
So how about this?
We demand lawmakers pass a Privacy Bill of Rights,
a document that enshrines our right
to choose what information is public and what remains ours.
First, it should declare that privacy
is essential to democracy and liberty.
Next, it must give you, me and everyone
the ability to discover who is using our data and how.
And finally, it must declare that our privacy is not
something that can be traded in exchange for free access
to a social media app or a phone.
If you and I don't stand up for our rights to privacy
now, we will find ourselves sleepwalking
into mass surveillance.
And even if you do have nothing to hide,
that affects you, too.
"Everybody has secrets."
"Even if everything you do is perfectly legal
and on the up and up and you don't have anything to hide,
when you know you're being watched,
I think you subconsciously change your behavior,
and it has this kind of chilling effect."
That's what's really at stake here, our freedom
to speak and act and think how we want.
A society of surveillance is just one step away
from a society of submission.

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