The Dangers of COVID-19 Surveillance Proposals to the Future of Protest

Many of the new surveillance powers now sought by the government to address the COVID-19 crisis would harm our First Amendment rights for years to come. People will be chilled and deterred from speaking out, protesting in public places, and associating with like-minded advocates if they fear scrutiny from cameras, drones, face recognition, thermal imaging, and location trackers. It is all too easy for governments to redeploy the infrastructure of surveillance from pandemic containment to political spying. It won't be easy to get the government to suspend its newly acquired tech and surveillance powers.

When this wave of the public health emergency is over and it becomes safe for most people to leave their homes, they may find a world with even more political debate than when they left it. A likely global recession, a new election season, and re-energized social movements will provide an overwhelming incentive for record numbers of people to speak out, to demonstrate in public places, and to demand concessions of their governments. The pent-up urge to take to the streets may bring mass protests like we have not seen in years. And what impact would new surveillance tools, adopted in the name of public health, have on this new era of marches, demonstrations, and strikes?

The collection and sharing of phone location data that was sold and deployed in order to trace the spread of the virus could be used by a reigning administration to crack down on dissent. The government and vendors have yet to make a convincing argument for how this measure would contribute to the public health effort. Indeed, they cannot, because GPS data and cell site location information are not sufficiently granular to show whether two people were close enough together to transmit the virus (six feet). But this data is sufficiently precise to show whether a person attended a protest in a park, picketed in front of a factory, or traveled at night to the block where a dissident lives.

Many other technologies that should never be deployed to prevent the spread of the virus would also harm free speech. Vendors are seeking to sell face recognition cameras to the government to alert authorities if someone in mandatory quarantine went grocery shopping. They could just as easily be used to identify picketers opposing government initiatives or journalists meeting with confidential sources. For example, the infamous face surveillance company, Clearview AI, is in talks with the government to create a system that would use face recognition in public places to identify unknown people who may have been infected by a known carrier. This proposal would create a massive surveillance infrastructure, linked to billions of social media images, that could allow the government to readily identify people in public spaces, including protesters, by scanning footage of them against images found online. Likewise, thermal imagining cameras in public places will not be an effective means of finding people with a fever, given the high error rate when calculating a person’s temperature at a distance. But police might be able to use such cameras to find protesters that have fled on foot from police engaged in excessive force against peaceful gatherings.

The U.S. government is not known for its inclination to give back surveillance powers seized during extraordinary moments. Once used in acute circumstances, a tool stays in the toolbox until it is taken away.  The government did not relinquish the power to tear gas protesters after the National Guard was called in to break up the Bonus Marchers assembled in the capitol during the Great Depression. Only after decades of clandestine use did the American people learn about the ways the FBI misused the threat of Communism to justify the wholesale harassment, surveillance, and sabotage of civil rights leaders and anti-war protesters. The revelation of these activities resulted in Sen. Frank Church’s investigations into U.S. surveillance in the mid-1970s, the type of forceful oversight of intelligence agencies we need more of today. And the massive surveillance apparatus created by the PATRIOT Act after 9/11 remains mostly intact and operational even after revelations of its overreach, law-breaking, and large-scale data collection on U.S. persons.

Even more proportionate technologies could be converted to less benign purposes than COVID-19 containment. Bluetooth-based proximity tracking apps are being used to trace the distance between two peoples' phones in an attempt to follow potential transmission of the virus. Done with privacy as a priority, these apps may be able to conceal the identities of people who come into contact with each other. Done wrong, these apps could be used to crack down on political expression. If police know that Alice was at a protest planning meeting, and police learn from the proximity app that Alice was near Bob that day, then police could infer that Bob was also at the meeting. Some versions of these apps also collect identifiers or geolocations, which could further be used to identify and track participants in protest planning meetings.

Done without collecting identifying information and minimizing storage, measures like aggregate geolocation tracking might assist public health response and be difficult to weaponize against protestors. But done with deliberate intention to survey demonstrations, aggregate location data might be disaggregated, merged with other data, and used to identify individual people. For example, police could single out individual protestors in a public plaza, track them to their respective homes and workplaces once the demonstration is over, and thereby identify them.

Free speech and political participation are chilled when governments put protests, protestors, activists, and organizers under surveillance. Studies have found that when people are aware of surveillance, they’re less likely to engage in political speech or debate the important issues of the day. The First Amendment also protects the right of association for purposes of collective expression. This right is threatened if people are worried that they will be put under surveillance for joining or meeting with specific people or groups. Suddenly a person’s movements, correspondence, or personal relationships are scrutinized by strangers within the government. At a moment when our society is desperate to find innovative solutions to daunting political problems, we should loudly condemn any surveillance efforts which might chill our ability to freely discuss and associate about pressing issues.

EFF has clear guidelines for how we evaluate whether a piece of surveillance technology, proposed as a tool of public health: Would it work? Is it too invasive? Are their sufficient safeguards? One of the biggest concerns is that new powers introduced at this current moment will long outstay their necessity, experience mission creep, and by overtly redeployed for other purposes. Now, more than ever, we must stay vigilant about any new surveillance powers, technologies, and public-private relationships.

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Linkdump: December 2019

Touch Screen UI for navigation system for the USS John S. McCain

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An introduction to ventilators

This article was written by César Garcia, researcher at La Hora Maker.

SARS-CoV-2 virus has been spreading around the world since December 2019. The virus causes a coronavirus disease 2019, also known as COVID-19. This respiratory illness can cause a severe acute respiratory syndrome. Critical patients often require a ventilator during their stay at Intensive Care Units, thus the demand for ventilators has skyrocketed, with traditional manufacturers not able to keep up. Because of this, teams around the world are looking for alternatives and are creating ventilators using Arduino! 

In this new series on ventilators on the Arduino blog, we will explore these devices more detail. We will focus on the steps needed to test a ventilator. Also, on the different technologies available to move the air in a precise way. We will highlight what clinical variables do doctors need. And we will interview some of the teams working on these devices. Let’s start with a brief overview of ventilators using Arduino as a control system!

At the beginning of the crisis, most people started looking for open source ventilators. There were several models available but one of the most popular was MIT Low-Cost Ventilator. This model uses an Ambu, also known as Bag Valve Mask (BVM). These bags are used by paramedics on emergencies. They press the bag to insufflate air into the patient. Given they have to press it by hand, it gets a very tiresome movement after a few minutes. MIT Low-Cost Ventilator automates this movement, saving doctors or nurses of this manual task. Even though, the paper describing the ventilator is quite useful and complete, this model did not pass any clinical trials. It was released on 2010 and nobody took development further until this year.

One of the first teams to launch a new project was the Reesistencia Team. This virtual team, based on Asturias and the Canary Islands in Spain, started working together after meeting in a Telegram group. The team consists of a doctor and several engineers, working to create a DIY open source ventilator, based on Arduino. This model is based around a Jackson Rees bag instead of an Ambu bag. This should allow the device to operate longer than the ones based on emergency bags. This team is active on Twitter, were you can find some of their initial designs.

Latest version from Reesistencia Team 24

This spark of maker ingenuity inspired several other teams to launch their own versions and prototypes in Spain. The OxyGEN team embraced rapid prototyping, starting with a machine made of scraped wood up to an industrial machine. SEAT, the Spanish car company, has produced five hundred of these devices so far. 

Initial prototypes of OxyGEN ventilador from

MIT E-Vent team has recovered the original MIT ventilator and evolved the concept further. They have done already several tests on animals to evaluate the new version. The AmboVent team from Israel has shared another BVM ventilator based on Arduino Nano, and they have provided very complete documentation.

Given the current pace of development it is very hard to document all the processes and steps involved. One of our favorites in this regard is University of Florida Health Open Source Ventilator. They have shared all design documents on their repository along with short videos. They even provide a live stream showing the stress tests for their ventilator!

Next week, we will explore the steps involved in creating a ventilator from scratch. This will help us discover common milestones and give us better tools to evaluate current designs.

Warning: Ventilators are complex machines mean to be operated by trained doctors. They need oxygen and compressed air supplies to operate. Patients are fully dependant on these machines to survive, so they need to run flawlessly. Please, explore this topic with caution and check documentation about previous trials before trying to replicate some of these projects. Not all of them have passed all required clinical trials and validations!

If you’d like to know more about ventilators, check the “Combating COVID-19 Conference” videos.

Arduino staff and Arduino community are strongly committed to support projects aimed at fighting and lessening the impact of COVID-19. Arduino products are essential for both R&D and manufacturing purposes related to the global response to Covid-19, in building digital medical devices and manufacturing processes for medical equipment and PPE. However, all prototypes and projects aimed to fight COVID-19 using Arduino open-source electronics and digital fabrication do not create any liability to Arduino (company, community and Arduino staff members). Neither Arduino nor Arduino board, staff members and community will be responsible in any form and to any extent for losses or damages of whatever nature (direct, indirect, consequential, or other) which may arise related to Arduino prototypes, Arduino electronic equipment for critical medical devices, research operations, forum and blog discussions and in general Covid-19 Arduino-based pilot and non pilot projects, independently of the Arduino control on progress or involvement in the research, development, manufacturing and in general implementation phases.

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High-voltage FLASH programming on ATTINY85

ATTINY85 High-Voltage Flash programmer @

The Atmel ATTINY85 is a great chip (cheap, easy to use, supported in the Arduino IDE). Unfortunately it only has 5 IO pins, which limits its usability. There are guides on using a High-Voltage Programmer (HVP) to change the Reset pin into an IO pin. However, that prevents you from programming the Flash (Program Memory) until you re-enable the Reset pin.
Thankfully the Flash can be programmed with an HVP, but the commands and protocol are different. My USBtinyISP simply cannot be modified to be an HVP. Using an Arduino as ISP (In-Service Programmer) on an ATTINY85 is fairly simple but doesn’t work if the Reset pin is disabled.

More details at Project files available on GitHub.

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Special offer for magazine readers

You don’t need me to tell you about the unprecedented situation that the world is facing at the moment. We’re all in the same boat, so I won’t say anything about it other than I hope you stay safe and take care of yourself and your loved ones.

The other thing I will say is that every year, Raspberry Pi Press produces thousands of pages of exciting, entertaining, and often educational content for lovers of computing, technology, games, and photography.

In times of difficulty, it’s not uncommon for people to find solace in their hobbies. The problem you’ll find yourself with is that it’s almost impossible to buy a magazine at the moment, at least in the UK: most of the shops that sell them are closed (and even most of their online stores are too).

We’re a proactive bunch, so we’ve done something about that:

From today, you can subscribe to The MagPi, HackSpace magazine, Custom PC, or Digital SLR Photography at a cost of three issues for £10 in the UK – and we’re giving you a little extra too.

We like to think we produce some of the best-quality magazines on the market today (and you only have to ask our mums if you want a second opinion). In fact, we’d go as far as to say our magazines are exactly the right mix of words and pictures for making the most of all the extra home-time you and your loved ones are having.

Take your pick for three issues at £10 and get a free book worth £10!

If you take us up on this offer, we’ll send the magazines direct to your door in the UK, with free postage. And we’re also adding a gift to thank you for signing up: on top of your magazines, you’ll get to choose a book that’s worth £10 in itself.

In taking up this offer, you’ll get some terrific reading material, and we’ll deliver it all straight to you — no waiting around. You’ll also be actively supporting our print magazines and the charitable work of the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

I hope that among our magazines, you’ll find something that’s of interest to you or, even better yet, something that sparks a new interest. Enjoy your reading!

The post Special offer for magazine readers appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

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Windell and Lenore on the podcast

Hilton's Aeolid

Elecia and Chris of invited us to come back on the show for episode 317: WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY DISINTEGRATED?. We also had the added enticement of a low tide adventure after recording.

Lenore had been on the show back in 2014 for episode 40: MWAHAHA SESSION, and Windell was on the following year when The Annotated Build It Yourself Science Laboratory was published for episode 124: PLEASE DON’T LIGHT YOURSELF ON FIRE.

We enjoyed the conversation immensely. We wandered from talking about our kits, to plotter art, to PCB art, even to seaweed. The tide pooling afterwards was wonderful as well!

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EFF, Other Nonprofits, and California’s Attorney General Tell ICANN To Stop The Private Equity Takeover of .ORG

ICANN, the organization at the top of the Internet’s domain name system, may be close to deciding whether the takeover of the .ORG domain registry by a private equity firm can go forward. EFF, along with the Domain Name Rights Coalition, NTEN, Access Now, and others, wrote to ICANN this week urging them to stop the sale.

The world’s nonprofits are busy fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why ICANN needs to fight for them. Now is not the time to allow nonprofits’ home on the Internet to be sold to private investors who could squeeze them for cash or silence their voices for private gain. We’ve asked ICANN to halt the transfer of .ORG, and to begin an open bidding process to select a new steward for the domain.

Just today, the Attorney General of California (where ICANN is incorporated) wrote to ICANN urging it to reject the transfer, voicing the same concerns that EFF and others have raised. The Attorney General of Pennsylvania is still also investigating the deal and could step in to modify or block the sale regardless of what ICANN decides. Access Now and Packet Clearinghouse also wrote letters echoing this call.

Ethos Capital, a private equity firm founded less than a year ago, announced in November that it planned to buy Public Interest Registry (PIR), the nonprofit that runs the .ORG top-level domain, from its current owner, the Internet Society, for $1.135 billion. This happened just as ICANN and PIR agreed to remove price caps on .ORG registrations, allowing the cost of a .ORG domain name to rise. Ethos, which was created by domain industry insiders, including a former ICANN CEO, would be able to increase the price of .ORG domains. It could also engage in censorship-for-profit, taking away nonprofit organizations’ domain names and causing those organizations to disappear from the Internet at the request of powerful corporations or governments. This is especially worrisome, because .ORG is home to millions of nonprofit organizations and international NGOs.

Not surprisingly, the public outcry has been enormous. Over 800 nonprofit organizations, from global charities to local museums, have joined 25,000+ individuals on a petition to stop the sale. Internet luminaries, five members of the U.S. Congress, the government of France, the Attorney General of California, and many of the Internet Society’s own chapters have written to ICANN to express their concerns.

Originally due in January, ICANN’s review of the deal has been extended four times. The ICANN Board is meeting today to talk about the sale. ICANN has asked probing questions about the deal, but Ethos and PIR have not been forthcoming with answers. In particular, they have refused to reveal the names of the owners and directors who will control PIR if the deal goes through, or how their investors might extract cash from PIR, potentially leaving it unable to maintain the .ORG registry in a reliable way.

Instead, Ethos has conducted a vast public relations campaign, including Internet advertising, lobbyists, and several webinars, to focus the public’s attention on their promise to limit price increases, and their plan to create a “stewardship council” that they claim will protect free speech.

EFF’s letter asks ICANN to focus on the questionable finances of the deal, and Ethos’s steady resistance to answering questions about it:

PIR [has] not provided the names of the directors and officers who would control PIR, an explanation of how PIR will service the $360 million debt that Ethos plans to burden it with, nor information on how PIR will distribute capital to Ethos’s investors. This reluctance to provide relevant information should itself justify ICANN’s rejection of the change of control. If PIR and Ethos have resisted giving ICANN a complete picture of their financial and structural plans (even on a confidential basis) during ICANN’s review, how can the NGO community expect that PIR will be candid and transparent in the years to come?

We also pointed out the suspicious organizational structure that Ethos plans to create:

Ethos plans to place PIR within a tangled web of Delaware shell companies: Ethos Purpose GP, Purpose Domains Feeder I, Purpose Domains Direct, and Purpose Domains Holdings, in addition to Ethos Capital itself. This Byzantine structure, along with Ethos’s refusal to disclose the directors, officers, partnership agreements, or the allocation of control, suggests a concerted effort to hide the real parties who will control the .ORG domain post-transaction and insulate them from any real oversight by registrants and the multistakeholder community.

As for Ethos’s “stewardship council” proposal, we explained to ICANN that it’s a hollow promise. The council would have only one mechanism for responding to censorship-for-profit: a veto on “PIR policies proposed by PIR concerning appropriate limitations and safeguards regarding censorship of free expression.” But as we explained to ICANN, that power is so narrow as to be useless. An Ethos-owned PIR would get to determine which “policies” fall within the council’s review, and council could only act if PIR formally changes one of those policies. Since PIR’s existing “anti-abuse policy” already allows the registry to make websites go dark on the flimsiest of reasons, and without due process, if they choose to do that, the stewardship council could not stop PIR from selling censorship.

Even in the narrow circumstances where the stewardship council could act, a veto by the council would require a two-thirds supermajority. That means any three of the seven members could allow PIR and Ethos to do whatever they want with nonprofits’ freedom of expression. And because PIR would always have a veto over the appointment and re-appointment of new members, it will always be easy for them to get those three votes.

In short, the “stewardship council” proposal is toothless, and won’t stop Ethos from doing what it wants to do with nonprofits’ home on the Internet.

If ICANN doesn’t act to stop the sale, the fight will not be over. Because PIR is a nonprofit organization incorporated in Pennsylvania, the Attorney General of that state has the power to go to court to stop it becoming a for-profit company. But if ICANN doesn’t take responsibility, the world will take note. ICANN is independent of any government, and it only has authority over the domain name system for as long as Internet users trust it. Many already see ICANN as being too deferential to the domain registry and registrar companies it’s supposed to oversee. If ICANN proves powerless to stop a private equity takeover of the infrastructure of the public interest Internet, many people will wonder—why does ICANN exist?

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From Design to Distribution: The Amazing Story of the IC3D Budmen Face Shield

How the 3D design for a face shield was developed in the Syracuse area, modified and tested in Columbus Ohio in collaboration with a local VA hospital and then made its way to the NIH 3D Print Exchange where it was approved for clinical use.

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The post From Design to Distribution: The Amazing Story of the IC3D Budmen Face Shield appeared first on Make: DIY Projects and Ideas for Makers.

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Greg’s Harp is an Arduino-powered robotic string instrument

Frank Piesik recently designed a robotic three-stringed instrument for his friend, Gregor, that features a unique sound and mechanical arrangement. Notes are selected by an array of 12 servos — four for each string — which pull down using a loop mechanism. 

The aptly named Greg’s Harp is played by a solenoid-driven “KickUp” device that hits it from below and a small motor that continuously swipes with a “tape-propeller.” A coil assembly is also implemented to give the notes the ability to keep ringing for as long as needed (infinite sustain).

Everything is controlled by pair of Arduino Nano boards, which allow for the large number of outputs needed here, along with a Teensy 3.2 for audio processing and MIDI capabilities. You can see and hear this amazing project in the video below and more info is available in Piesik’s blog post.

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Sharing Our Common Culture in Uncommon Times

We are in an unprecedented time. People are being told to stay home as much as possible. Some of us are lucky enough to have jobs that can be done remotely, schools are closed and kids are home, and healthcare, grocery, or other essential workers are looking for respite where they can safely find it. All of which means that, for now, for many of us, the Internet is not only our town square, but also our school, art gallery, museum, and library.

Users around the U.S.—from individual creators to libraries to educators to community organizers—are rising to the challenge this presents by going online to share information, music, books, and art. High-profile examples include LeVar Burton telling stories to children and adults alike and the cast of Hamilton reuniting via a YouTube show. Musicians of all levels of fame are performing through a wide range of services and apps. Teachers are taking on the tremendous task of educating online, rapidly finding, developing and sharing resources so that their students don’t have to lose their place while they shelter in place. In response to the temporary closure of libraries around the US and abroad, the Internet Archive has created a National Emergency Library (NEL) that gives members of the public digital access to 1.5 million books, without charge. Universities, private companies, and nonprofits are pledging to make their intellectual property available free of charge as needed to fight the COVID pandemic and minimize its impacts.

But with more and more people relying on the Internet to form and maintain community, more and more people are also finding themselves on the pointy end of a number of legal swords. Copyright, in particular, has become a potential threat. For example, celebrity doctor Dr. Drew tried to use bogus copyright claims to shut down a video compilation of his incorrect advice about the coronavirus. Burton said copyright worries had limited his reading choices. Others are getting caught in automated filtering machines, like the man who used Facebook Live to stream video of himself playing the violin, or the teacher trying to do a webcast for her Pre-K class while her husband was watching Wrestlemania in the background.  The Author’s Guild and others are up in arms about the NEL, insisting it will destroy authors’ livelihoods.

Fair use has a posse at EFF. If you are the target of an unfair infringement allegation, contact and we’ll see if the posse can help.

Those challenges are predictable, but it’s heartening to see so many rallying in favor of sharing our common culture. When LeVar Burton expressed concern about copyright liability, authors such as Neil Gaiman and our own Cory Doctorow stepped up to grant permission. The International Federation of Library Associations has drafted an open letter to the World Intellectual Property Organization calling on WIPO and its members to do their part to facilitate public interest uses of work, and for rightsholders to do the same, and more than 312 organizations have signed on in less than a week.

As for the NEL, the New Yorker called it a “gift to readers,” and more than 300 individuals and institutions have endorsed the project. The Internet Archive has put out a detailed response to its critics, explaining how the project works, why it is legally protected, and how authors can opt out if they wish.  It’s important to emphasize that the NEL only lends books for two weeks, after which the copy automatically disappears off of the user’s device. Moreover, the NEL does not offer new releases, as the collection excludes titles published within the last five years, and authors or publishers can request that a title be removed. And as Jonathan Band notes, there is no mechanism for the Internet Archive, or any other library, to license emergency access to many of the books in the collection. Finally, while the Archive does not closely log reader habits—showing a laudable and necessary respect for reader privacy – the information the Archive can share suggests that the NEL is not significantly affecting ebook licensing. Most books are only “opened” for less than 30 minutes, which suggests readers are using the NEL to browse and/or they are not interested in the PDF copy the Archive lends, which is significantly less reader-friendly than what you might see on your Kindle. The Archive also notes that 90% of the books that are borrowed were published a decade or more ago.

Fair Use Has a Posse

Many of these disputes over sharing culture are being played out in the court of public opinion for now, but users should know that there are strong legal protections as well. For example, our friends at American University have put together an outstanding primer for teachers on copyright and online learning. As they explain, the fair use doctrine protects many online learning practices, including reading aloud. Library adviser Kyle Courtney also has a great explainer on libraries, fair use, and exigent circumstances.

In a nutshell, the fair use doctrine allows you to use a copyrighted work without permission in a variety of circumstances. It is how we safeguard creativity and free speech in a world where copyright gives exclusive control of some kinds of expression to the copyright holder. To decide where a use is fair, courts consider the second user’s purpose (Is it new and different from that of the original creator? Is it commercial or for-profit?); the nature of the original work (Was it factual or fictional? Published or unpublished?); how much of the original work was used (Was it more than necessary to accomplish the second user’s purpose?); and market harm (Would the second use harm a likely or actual licensing market for the original work?). A court will weigh these four factors in light of copyright’s fundamental purpose of fostering creativity and innovation, and, in many cases, the public interest. This last bit is particularly important now. COVID-19 has created, almost by definition, a new and powerful public interest purpose that must be considered in any fair use analysis.

People are doing things right now that they instinctively know are right, are helping people, are giving light, or are simply things they would be able to do in the physical world. In many cases, their instinct is correct, but they don’t know they have legal protections. And even when those people have rights and defenses, they may not know how to use them, or have the resources to do it. Fortunately, fair use has a posse at EFF. If you are the target of an unfair infringement allegation, contact and we’ll see if the posse can help.

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