Civil Rights & Constitutional Law


Google ranks petition for more oversight of China search engine plan, cite firm's 'don't be evil' clause

The Japan Times

SAN FRANCISCO – Google's plan to launch a censored search engine in China requires more "transparency, oversight and accountability," hundreds of employees at the Alphabet Inc. unit said in an internal petition seen by Reuters on Thursday. Hoping to gain approval from the Chinese government to provide a mobile search service, the company plans to block some websites and search terms, Reuters reported this month, citing two people familiar with the matter. Disclosure of the secretive effort has disturbed some Google employees and human rights advocacy organizations. They are concerned that by agreeing to censorship demands, Google would validate China's prohibitions on free expression and violate the "don't be evil" clause in the company's code of conduct. After employees petitioned this year, Google announced it would not renew a project to help the U.S. military develop artificial intelligence technology for drones.


Bowing to censorship, Google plans to launch search app in lucrative Chinese market, ending long boycott: sources

The Japan Times

SAN FRANCISCO/HONG KONG/BEIJING – Google is preparing a version of its search engine for China that blocks results Beijing considers sensitive, according to people familiar with the situation. The initiative is code-named Dragonfly and is one of several options the company is pursuing for returning to China, the people said, while noting the timing is still up in the air. They asked not to be identified discussing private plans. The move would mark an abrupt about-face by the Alphabet Inc. unit and a win for China's communist government, which suppresses free speech online. Google co-founder Sergey Brin, whose parents brought him to the U.S. to escape communist Russia, led a dramatic exit from mainland China in 2010 after the company refused to self-censor search content.


Google plans a censored search app for China, Intercept says

The Japan Times

HONG KONG – Alphabet Inc.'s Google is preparing to launch a censored version of its search engine for China that will block results Beijing considers sensitive, The Intercept reported. Google's been working on a project code-named Dragonfly since the spring of 2017 and demonstrated a sanitized version of its search app to Chinese officials, the news outlet reported, citing company documents and unidentified people familiar with the matter. A final version of the app could be launched within six to nine months, it said. "We provide a number of mobile apps in China, such as Google Translate and Files Go, help Chinese developers, and have made significant investments in Chinese companies like JD.com. But we don't comment on speculation about future plans," Google said in an emailed statement.


Microsoft urges government to take lead in managing facial recognition technology

The Japan Times

SEATTLE – Microsoft, which has come under fire for a U.S. government contract that was said to involve facial recognition software, said it will more carefully consider contracts in this area and urged lawmakers to regulate the use of such artificial intelligence to prevent abuse. The company, one of the key makers of software capable of recognizing individual faces, said it will take steps to make those systems less prone to bias, develop new public principles to govern the technology and move more deliberately to sell its software and expertise in the area. While Microsoft noted that the tech industry bears responsibility for its products, the company argued that government action is also needed. "The only effective way to manage the use of technology by a government is for the government proactively to manage this use itself," Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said Friday in a blog post. "And if there are concerns about how a technology will be deployed more broadly across society, the only way to regulate this broad use is for the government to do so.


Kanagawa police to launch AI-based predictive policing system before Olympics

The Japan Times

YOKOHAMA – The Kanagawa Prefectural Police plan to become the first in the nation to introduce predictive policing, a method of anticipating crimes and accidents using artificial intelligence, sources said Sunday.


New iPhone brings face recognition --and fears -- to the masses

The Japan Times

WASHINGTON – Apple will let you unlock the iPhone X with your face -- a move likely to bring facial recognition to the masses, along with concerns over how the technology may be used for nefarious purposes. Apple's newest device, set to go on sale on Friday, is designed to be unlocked with a facial scan with a number of privacy safeguards -- as the data will only be stored on the phone and not in any databases. Unlocking one's phone with a face scan may offer added convenience and security for iPhone users, according to Apple, which claims its "neural engine" for FaceID cannot be tricked by a photo or hacker. While other devices have offered facial recognition, Apple is the first to pack the technology allowing for a three-dimensional scan into a hand-held phone. But despite Apple's safeguards, privacy activists fear the widespread use of facial recognition would "normalize" the technology and open the door to broader use by law enforcement, marketers or others of a largely unregulated tool.


Japan's foreign residents sound off in unprecedented survey on discrimination

The Japan Times

Rent application denials, Japanese-only recruitment and racist taunts are among the most rampant forms of discrimination faced by foreign residents in Japan, according to the results of the country's first nationwide survey on the issue, released Friday. The unprecedented survey of 18,500 expats of varying nationalities at the end of last year paints a comprehensive picture of deeply rooted discrimination in Japan as the nation struggles to acclimate to a recent surge in foreign residents and braces for an even greater surge in tourists in the lead-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It also represents the latest in a series of fledgling steps taken by Japan to curb racism, following last year's first-ever video analysis by the Justice Ministry of anti-Korea demonstrations and the enactment of a law to eradicate hate speech. In carrying out the survey, the Justice Ministry commissioned the Center for Human Rights Education and Training, a public foundation, to mail questionnaires to non-Japanese residents in 37 municipalities nationwide. Of the 18,500, 4,252 men and women, or 23.0 percent, provided valid responses.


U.N. votes for Japan co-drafted resolution slamming North Korea for diverting dire food funds to arms programs

The Japan Times

UNITED NATIONS – U.N. member states on Tuesday condemned widespread human rights violations in North Korea and expressed concerns that funds needed to ease the dire humanitarian crisis are spent on Pyongyang's missile and nuclear arms programs. A resolution drafted by Japan and the European Union was adopted by a consensus vote in the General Assembly's committee on humanitarian affairs. Following the vote, diplomats from China, Pyongyang's ally, Russia, Syria, Iran and Cuba took the floor to state they were disassociating themselves from the outcome. The full General Assembly is expected to vote on the measure next month. North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests this year and test-fired a series of missiles, even as 18 million North Koreans out of a total population of 25 million are facing food shortages, Japan's ambassador said.


U.S. police used Facebook, Twitter data to track protesters: ACLU

The Japan Times

SAN FRANCISCO – U.S. police departments used location data and other user information from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to track protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, according to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday. Facebook, which also owns Instagram, and Twitter shut off the data access of Geofeedia, the Chicago-based data vendor that provided data to police, in response to the ACLU findings. The report comes amid growing concerns among consumers and regulators about how online data is being used and how closely tech companies are cooperating with the government on surveillance. "These special data deals were allowing the police to sneak in through a side door and use these powerful platforms to track protesters," said Nicole Ozer, the ACLU's technology and civil liberties policy director. The ACLU report found that as recently as July, Geofeedia touted its social media monitoring product as a tool to monitor protests.


Weaponized robot used by Dallas police opens ethical debate

The Japan Times

DALLAS/HOUSTON/LOS ANGELES/WASHINGTON – When Dallas police improvised a bomb-carrying robot to kill a sniper, they also kicked off an ethical debate about technology's use as a crime-fighting weapon. In what appears to be an unprecedented tactic, police rigged a bomb-disposal robot to kill an armed suspect in the fatal shootings of five officers in Dallas. While there doesn't appear to be any hard data on the subject, security experts and law enforcement officials said they couldn't recall another time when police deployed a robot with lethal intent. The strategy opens a new chapter in the escalating use of remote-controlled and semi-autonomous devices to fight crime and protect lives. It also raises new questions over when it's appropriate to dispatch a robot to kill dangerous suspects instead of continuing to negotiate their surrender.