Autumn magazine launch: Facial recogniton presents perils for privacy


Tech journalist Geoff White (Photo: Sean Gallagher / Index on Censorship)

“Put your hand up if you’re concerned at the moment about facial recognition”, Geoff White, investigative technology journalist, told the audience at the launch of the latest issue of Index on Censorship magazine. “Keep your hands up if you own a smartphone”, was White’s next instruction to the majority of the audience. “Good news. You’re already using facial recognition!”

The autumn issue of the magazine, on the theme of borders, investigates how border forces around the world are increasingly clamping down on the free movement of ideas. The worrying and growing trend of travellers’ social media accounts being checked as they enter a country was a particular focus of the magazine. Contributors questioned whether people would begin to self-censor their online presence for fear of their views being held against them at airport security. This could pose particular dangers to LGBT travellers travelling through countries with repressive laws.  

The launch was part of the Science Museum’s September’s late event, which takes place monthly. The theme of the night was Top Secret, and Index on Censorship shared the venue with talks about cracking codes and personal security. White was joined on stage by Jacob Wilkin, a penetration tester. Their talk was introduced by Rachael Jolley, editor of Index on Censorship magazine. 

White highlighted the issues around the increasingly widespread use of facial recognition technology: the data that can be attached to the image of a face. Different stashes of data, bank and tax records for example, each have a unique number attached to them. He said: “But to really have power in this new world of data you need to get all the stashes together.” This requires one number that unites them all. “And guess what, we’ve had it along. It’s literally written on your face.” Facial recognition technology reduces an image of a face to a set of numbers and letters.  

This comes into play at the world’s borders. International airports, including LAX and Gatwick Airport are employing facial recognition technology. The Transport Security Administration in the US have scanned 19,000,000 people to detect imposters. They detected 100. Is it worth collecting the data of so many to catch so few?

White said: “Think about the number of stashes of data that your face connects to. Your Facebook profile, your LinkedIn profile, your Twitter profile, your driver’s license, your passport, and increasingly every cctv camera you walk past.” Britain is second only to China for proliferation of CCTV cameras.   

Network penetration specialist Jacob Wilkin (Photo: Sean Gallagher / Index on Censorship)

Wilkin demonstrated how easily computer programmes can find these social media accounts with minimal information. Wilkin describes himself as “a hacker for the good guys”, testing for flaws in the security of corporations and banks. He has created a facial recognition programme called Social Mapper.

Social Mapper correlates people’s social media profiles based on an image and a name that is fed into it. Days before the launch, Jodie Ginsburg, CEO of Index on Censorship, volunteered a photo of herself to Wilkin to run through his programme. Her Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook profiles promptly appeared on the wall behind Wilkin. “This took two minutes” he said. “If you run this over multiple days with multiple machines, you can collect all the Linkedin data for a whole organisation.”

“What are the border implications of this?” Wilkin asked. He has spoken at an event for US Department of Homeland Security, who are looking at “scraping social media profiles as people come into the country. They want to find links to drugs, smuggling, terrorism.” 

Catching people who pose a threat to the safety of others is doubtless a good thing. But should it come at the price of the violation of the privacy of the general public? Social media provides platforms where people are free to air political views, and exhibit aspects of their lives, including sexual orientation. When crossing borders into countries where freedom of expression is limited and dissenters are punished, will knowing that this information is being instantaneously collected impact on how people use their right to freedom of expression online?      [/vc_column_text][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1569514532933-51b65a69-4c09-0″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Index magazine launch: “We have reached peak indifference to surveillance”

Words: Mariam Ameri
Videos: Kieran Etoria-King

The current issue of Index on Censorship magazine looks at the issue of anonymity and the pros and cons of masking identities. At the magazine’s launch at the offices of VPN provider Hide My Ass, Index readers and contributors gathered to listen to writer Cory Doctorow and tech journalist Geoff White lay out the importance of online privacy and protecting personal data.

Experienced hackers can attain such data in seconds as White, technology producer at Channel 4 News, demonstrated.

No one in the audience will “look at [their] phone in the same way again,” he added.

Doctorow debriefed the audience on the stifling practices which we adhere to every day.


The latest issue of Index magazine is available for free on Sage until 23 November. In it, former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson writes on the damage done when her cover was blown; journalist John Lloyd looks at how terrorist attacks have affected surveillance needs worldwide; Caroline Lees looks at how local journalists and fixers can be endangered, or even killed, when they are revealed to be working with foreign news companies; and more.

You can order your copy of the latest issue here, or take out a digital subscription via Exact Editions. Copies are also available at the BFI, the Serpentine Gallery, MagCulture, (London), News from Nowhere (Liverpool), Home (Manchester), Calton Books (Glasgow) and on Amazon. Each magazine sale helps Index on Censorship continue its fight for free expression worldwide.

25 Oct: Does anonymity need defending? Index magazine launch


Autumn 2016 magazine cover

Autumn 2016 magazine cover

Join Index on Censorship to celebrate the launch of our latest magazine exploring anonymity through a range of in-depth features, interviews and illustrations from around the world. The special report looks at the pros and cons of masking identities from the perspective of a variety of players, from online trolls to intelligence agencies, whistleblowers, activists, artists, journalists, bloggers and fixers.

We’ll hear from writer, blogger and activist Cory Doctorow on the importance of defending anonymity and take an interactive phone-hacking journey into The Secret Life of Your Mobile Phone with tech journalist Geoff White. The launch will be held at the home of the suitably secretive VPN providers Hide My Ass!

There will be also complimentary drinks.

When: Tuesday 25 October 6:30pm – 8:30pm
Where: Hide My Ass!, AVG Technologies UK, 110 High Holborn, London, WC1V 6JS (map)
TicketsThis event is fully booked. 

Order your high-quality print copy of our anonymity special here, or take out a digital subscription from anywhere in the world via Exact Editions (just £18* for the year). Each magazine sale helps Index on Censorship fight for free expression worldwide.

*Will be charged at local exchange rate outside the UK.

Copies are also available at the BFI, the Serpentine Gallery, MagCulture, (London), News from Nowhere (Liverpool), Home (Manchester), Carlton Books (Glasgow) and on Amazon. Each magazine sale helps Index on Censorship continue its fight for free expression worldwide.

Read more about this issue of the magazine here.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”1″ element_width=”12″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1478627753205-821a5180-df34-10″ taxonomies=”7112, 662″][/vc_column][/vc_row]