Facial Recognition Goes to War


Kashmir Hill at the New York Times: “In the weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine and images of the devastation wrought there flooded the news, Hoan Ton-That, the chief executive of the facial recognition company Clearview AI, began thinking about how he could get involved.

He believed his company’s technology could offer clarity in complex situations in the war.

“I remember seeing videos of captured Russian soldiers and Russia claiming they were actors,” Mr. Ton-That said. “I thought if Ukrainians could use Clearview, they could get more information to verify their identities.”

In early March, he reached out to people who might help him contact the Ukrainian government. One of Clearview’s advisory board members, Lee Wolosky, a lawyer who has worked for the Biden administration, was meeting with Ukrainian officials and offered to deliver a message.

Mr. Ton-That drafted a letter explaining that his app “can instantly identify someone just from a photo” and that the police and federal agencies in the United States used it to solve crimes. That feature has brought Clearview scrutiny over concerns about privacy and questions about racism and other biases within artificial-intelligence systems.

The tool, which can identify a suspect caught on surveillance video, could be valuable to a country under attack, Mr. Ton-That wrote. He said the tool could identify people who might be spies, as well as deceased people, by comparing their faces against Clearview’s database of 20 billion faces from the public web, including from “Russian social sites such as VKontakte.”

Mr. Ton-That decided to offer Clearview’s services to Ukraine for free, as reported earlier by Reuters. Now, less than a month later, the New York-based Clearview has created more than 200 accounts for users at five Ukrainian government agencies, which have conducted more than 5,000 searches. Clearview has also translated its app into Ukrainian.

“It’s been an honor to help Ukraine,” said Mr. Ton-That, who provided emails from officials from three agencies in Ukraine, confirming that they had used the tool. It has identified dead soldiers and prisoners of war, as well as travelers in the country, confirming the names on their official IDs. The fear of spies and saboteurs in the country has led to heightened paranoia.

According to one email, Ukraine’s national police obtained two photos of dead Russian soldiers, which have been viewed by The New York Times, on March 21. One dead man had identifying patches on his uniform, but the other did not, so the ministry ran his face through Clearview’s app…(More)”.

The Russian invasion shows how digital technologies have become involved in all aspects of war


Article by Katharina Niemeyer, Dominique Trudel, Heidi J.S. Tworek, Maria Silina and Svitlana Matviyenko: “Since Russia invaded Ukraine, we keep hearing that this war is like no other; because Ukrainians have cellphones and access to social media platforms, the traditional control of information and propaganda cannot work and people are able to see through the fog of war.

As communications scholars and historians, it is important to add nuance to such claims. The question is not so much what is “new” in this war, but rather to understand its specific media dynamics. One important facet of this war is the interplay between old and new media — the many loops that go from Twitter to television to TikTok, and back and forth.

We have moved away from a relatively static communication model, where journalists report on the news within predetermined constraints and formats, to intense fragmentation and even participation. Information about the war becomes content, and users contribute to its circulation by sharing and commenting online…(More)”.

Ukraine shows us the power of the 21st Century Citizen


Essay by Matt Leighninger: “This is a new kind of war, waged by a new kind of citizen.

The failure of the Russian forces to subdue Ukraine quickly has astonished experts, officials, and journalists worldwide. It shouldn’t. The Ukrainian resistance is just the latest example of the new attitudes and abilities of 21st century citizens.

While social media has been getting a lot of attention in this “TikTok War,” the real story is the growing determination and capacity of ordinary people. Around the world, ordinary people are fundamentally different from people of generations past. They have dramatically higher levels of education, far less deference to authority figures, and much greater facility with technology.

These trends have changed citizenship itself. We need to understand this shift so that societies, especially democratic ones, can figure out how to adapt, both in war and peace.

The war in Ukraine is instructive, in at least four ways.

First, citizens now have the ability to make their own media; Ukrainians, under attack, are mass-producing reality TV. Thanks to footage produced by thousands of people and viewed by millions, the war has a constantly unfolding cast of characters. Ukrainian farmers towing Russian vehicles, a soldier moonwalking in a field, people joyriding on a captured Russian tank, and a little girl singing “Let It Go” in a Kiev bomb shelter have become relatable, inspiring figures in the conflict. Seemingly every time Ukrainians have success on the battlefield, they upload videos of burned tanks and downed planes…(More)”.

Russian Asset Tracker


Project by OCCRP: “In the wake of Russia’s brutal assault on Ukraine, governments around the world have imposed sanctions on many of Putin’s enablers. But they have learned to keep their wealth obscured, hiring an army of lawyers to hide it in secretive bank accounts and corporate structures that reach far offshore. Figuring out who owns what, and how much of it, is a tall order even for experienced police investigators.

That’s why we decided to follow the trail, tracking down as many of these assets as possible and compiling them in a database for the public to see and use. We started with a list of names of people who “actively participate in the oppression and corruption of Putin’s regime” drawn up by the Anti-Corruption Foundation, led by opposition leader Alexei Navalny. We’ll be expanding it soon to include other Russians sanctioned for corruption or their support of Putin.

We looked for land, mansions, companies, boats, planes, and anything else of value that could be tied through documentary evidence to Putin’s circle. Some of these assets have been reported before. Some are being revealed here for the first time. Some are still to be discovered: We’ll keep searching for more properties and yachts, adding more names, and updating this database regularly. If you are aware of anything we’ve missed, please let us know by filling out this form.

For now, we’ve uncovered over $17.5 billion in assets, and counting….(More)”.

Can Ukraine’s Experiments in Local Democracy Survive the Invasion?


Joe Mathews at Zocolo: “As I write this, Russian troops reportedly are moving north through the Odesa oblast, or region, toward the river Kodyma, along which sits a town called Balta.

This is not new territory for Balta, which like much of Ukraine has been contested over centuries of wars. But in recent years, Balta has actually broken a lot of new ground, at least when it comes to the practice of citizen-centered democracy. In 2016, Balta adopted participatory budgeting, an innovative process—originated in Brazil—in which citizens rather than officials determine their local budget. Balta also gave its young people their own governing council and a decision-making process to influence local policies.

Democracy, in its essence, is everyday people governing themselves. Such self-government happens most often at the local level, which is why countries tend to get more democratic when they decentralize.

Since the 2014 Maidan revolution, Ukraine has been among the more rapidly decentralizing, and democratizing, countries on Earth….

In a politically divided Ukraine, this devolution of local power had support across the spectrum, for a couple reasons.

The first was positive and driven by economics. Putting more money and power in localities was seen as the best bet for addressing poverty and inequality, and developing Ukraine in a balanced way that would make it a better fit with the rest of Europe, which has strong local governments. Since the 2014 Maidan revolution, Ukraine has been among the more rapidly decentralizing, and democratizing, countries on Earth.

The second reason, however, was defensive: the threat of separatism. In a country the size of Texas, greater local control was seen as the best way to placate localities and regions that might think of leaving—especially Donetsk and Luhansk, two Russian-speaking Ukrainian oblasts where Russia would make incursions (and which Putin would declare “independent” as a pretext for his new invasion).

“The path of decentralization was an asymmetrical response to the aggressor,” said Andriy Parubiy, a former speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, in 2017. “The process of the formation of capable communities was a kind of sewing of the Ukrainian space.”

Many of these newly empowered Ukrainian local governments have seized the opportunity, and not just for economic development. Municipalities have embraced political reforms—adopting ethics codes, making their records and decision-making transparent, establishing citizen-directed processes like participatory budgeting, and adding new guarantees for representation and participation of women, men, and underrepresented groups in local politics.

Just this past December, two Ukrainian cities, Khmelnytskyi and Vinnytsia, finished first and third, respectively, in a global contest for innovation in government transparency. Mariupol, a city in the southeast reportedly under siege by the Russian military, has won international praise for its model of sharing governance power with local organizations….(More)”.

‘Telegram revolution’: App helps drive Belarus protests


Daria Litvinova at AP News: “Every day, like clockwork, to-do lists for those protesting against Belarus’ authoritarian leader appear in the popular Telegram messaging app. They lay out goals, give times and locations of rallies with business-like precision, and offer spirited encouragement.

“Today will be one more important day in the fight for our freedom. Tectonic shifts are happening on all fronts, so it’s important not to slow down,” a message in one of Telegram’s so-called channels read Tuesday. “Morning. Expanding the strike … 11:00. Supporting the Kupala (theater) … 19:00. Gathering at the Independence Square.”

The app has become an indispensable tool in coordinating the unprecedented mass protests that have rocked Belarus since Aug. 9, when election officials announced President Alexander Lukashenko had won a landslide victory to extend his 26-year rule in a vote widely seen as rigged.

Peaceful protesters who poured into the streets of the capital, Minsk, and other cities were met with stun grenades, rubber bullets and beatings from police. The opposition candidate left for Lithuania — under duress, her campaign said — and authorities shut off the internet, leaving Belarusians with almost no access to independent online news outlets or social media and protesters seemingly without a leader.

That’s where Telegram — which often remains available despite internet outages, touts the security of messages shared in the app and has been used in other protest movements — came in. Some of its channels helped scattered rallies to mature into well-coordinated action.

The people who run the channels, which used to offer political news, now post updates, videos and photos of the unfolding turmoil sent in from users, locations of heavy police presence, contacts of human rights activists, and outright calls for new demonstrations — something Belarusian opposition leaders have refrained from doing publicly themselves. Tens of thousands of people all across the country have responded to those calls.

In a matter of days, the channels — NEXTA, NEXTA Live and Belarus of the Brain are the most popular — have become the main method for facilitating the protests, said Franak Viacorka, a Belarusian analyst and non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council….(More)”.

Transparent Lobbying and Democracy


Book by Šárka Laboutková, Vít Šimral and Petr Vymětal: “This book deals with the current, as yet unsolved, problem of transparency of lobbying. In the current theories and prevalent models that deal with lobbying activities, there is no reflection of the degree of transparency of lobbying, mainly due to the unclear distinction between corruption, lobbying in general, and transparent lobbying. This book provides a perspective on transparency in lobbying in a comprehensive and structured manner. It delivers an interdisciplinary approach to the topic and creates a methodology for assessing the transparency of lobbying, its role in the democratization process and a methodology for evaluating the main consequences of transparency. The new approach is applied to assess lobbying regulations in the countries of Central Eastern Europe and shows a method for how lobbying in other regions of the world may also be assessed….(More)”.

Artificial Intelligence and National Security


CRS Report: “Artificial intelligence (AI) is a rapidly growing field of technology with potentially significant implications for national security. As such, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and other nations are developing AI applications for a range of military functions. AI research is underway in the fields of intelligence collection and analysis, logistics, cyber operations, information operations, command and control, and in a variety of semiautonomous and autonomous vehicles.

Already, AI has been incorporated into military operations in Iraq and Syria. Congressional action has the potential to shape the technology’s development further, with budgetary and legislative decisions influencing the growth of military applications as well as the pace of their adoption.

AI technologies present unique challenges for military integration, particularly because the bulk of AI development is happening in the commercial sector. Although AI is not unique in this regard, the defense acquisition process may need to be adapted for acquiring emerging technologies like AI. In addition, many commercial AI applications must undergo significant modification prior to being functional for the military.

A number of cultural issues also challenge AI acquisition, as some commercial AI companies are averse to partnering with DOD due to ethical concerns, and even within the department, there can be resistance to incorporating AI technology into existing weapons systems and processes.

Potential international rivals in the AI market are creating pressure for the United States to compete for innovative military AI applications. China is a leading competitor in this regard, releasing a plan in 2017 to capture the global lead in AI development by 2030. Currently, China is primarily focused on using AI to make faster and more well-informed decisions, as well as on developing a variety of autonomous military vehicles. Russia is also active in military AI development, with a primary focus on robotics.

Although AI has the potential to impart a number of advantages in the military context, it may also introduce distinct challenges. AI technology could, for example, facilitate autonomous operations, lead to more informed military decisionmaking, and increase the speed and scale of military action. However, it may also be unpredictable or vulnerable to unique forms of manipulation. As a result of these factors, analysts hold a broad range of opinions on how influential AI will be in future combat operations. While a small number of analysts believe that the technology will have minimal impact, most believe that AI will have at least an evolutionary—if not revolutionary—effect….(More)”.

Government at a Glance 2019


OECD Report: “Government at a Glance provides reliable, internationally comparative data on government activities and their results in OECD countries. Where possible, it also reports data for Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, the Russian Federation and South Africa. In many public governance areas, it is the only available source of data. It includes input, process, output and outcome indicators as well as contextual information for each country.

The 2019 edition includes input indicators on public finance and employment; while processes include data on institutions, budgeting practices and procedures, human resources management, regulatory government, public procurement and digital government and open data. Outcomes cover core government results (e.g. trust, inequality reduction) and indicators on access, responsiveness, quality and citizen satisfaction for the education, health and justice sectors.

Governance indicators are especially useful for monitoring and benchmarking governments’ progress in their public sector reforms.Each indicator in the publication is presented in a user-friendly format, consisting of graphs and/or charts illustrating variations across countries and over time, brief descriptive analyses highlighting the major findings conveyed by the data, and a methodological section on the definition of the indicator and any limitations in data comparability….(More)”.

Handbook of Research on Politics in the Computer Age


Book edited by Ashu M. G. Solo: “Technology and particularly the Internet have caused many changes in the realm of politics. Aspects of engineering, computer science, mathematics, or natural science can be applied to politics. Politicians and candidates use their own websites and social network profiles to get their message out. Revolutions in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa have started in large part due to social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter. Social networking has also played a role in protests and riots in numerous countries. The mainstream media no longer has a monopoly on political commentary as anybody can set up a blog or post a video online. Now, political activists can network together online.

The Handbook of Research on Politics in the Computer Age is a pivotal reference source that serves to increase the understanding of methods for politics in the computer age, the effectiveness of these methods, and tools for analyzing these methods. The book includes research chapters on different aspects of politics with information technology, engineering, computer science, or math, from 27 researchers at 20 universities and research organizations in Belgium, Brazil, Cape Verde, Egypt, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Portugal, and the United States of America. Highlighting topics such as online campaigning and fake news, the prospective audience includes, but is not limited to, researchers, political and public policy analysts, political scientists, engineers, computer scientists, political campaign managers and staff, politicians and their staff, political operatives, professors, students, and individuals working in the fields of politics, e-politics, e-government, new media and communication studies, and Internet marketing….(More)”.