“The millions of eggs that we women begin with are cleanly destroyed through an innate cell program called apoptosis. The eggs do not simply die—they commit suicide. Their membranes ruffle up like petticoats whipped by the wind and they break into pieces, thence to be absorbed bit by bit into the hearts of neighboring cells. By graciously if melodramatically getting out of the way, the sacrificial eggs leave their sisters plenty of hatching room. I love the word apoptosis, the onomatopoeia of it: a-POP-tosis. The eggs pop apart like poked soap bubbles, a brief flash of taut, refracted light and then, ka-ping! And while my girl grew toward completion inside me, her fresh little eggs popped by the tens of thousands each day. By the time she was born, I thought, her eggs will be the rarest cells in her body.”—woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier (via aeloquence)
IF YOUR face and name are anywhere on the web, you may be recognised whenever you walk the streets—not just by cops but by any geek with a computer. That seems to be the conclusion from some new research on the limits of privacy.
For suspected miscreants, and people chasing them, face-recognition technology is old hat. Brazil, preparing for the soccer World Cup in 2014, is already trying out pairs of glasses with mini-cameras attached; policemen wearing them could snap images of faces, easy to compare with databases of criminals. More authoritarian states love such methods: photos are taken at checkpoints, and images checked against recent participants in protests.
But could such technology soon be used by anyone at all, to identify random passers-by and unearth personal details about them? A study which is to be unveiled on August 4th at Black Hat, a security conference in Las Vegas, suggests that day is close. Its authors, Alessandro Acquisti, Ralph Gross and Fred Stutzman, all at America’s Carnegie Mellon University, ran several experiments that show how three converging technologies are undermining privacy. One is face-recognition software itself, which has improved a lot. The researchers also used “cloud computing” services, which provide lots of cheap processing power. And they went to social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, where most users post real names and photos of themselves.
Just this week, after waging a legal battle for more than half a decade, Bunny Greenhouse won. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers settled with Greenhouse for $970,000, representing full restitution for lost wages, compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees.
Her “offense” was to challenge a no-bid, $7 billion+ contract to KBR. It was weeks before the expected invasion of Iraq, in 2003, and Bush military planners predicted Saddam Hussein would blow up Iraqi oilfields, as happened with the U.S. invasion in 1991. The project, dubbed “Restore Iraqi Oil,” or RIO, was created so that oilfield fires would be extinguished. KBR was owned then by Halliburton, whose CEO until 2000 was none other than then-Vice President Dick Cheney. KBR was the only company invited to bid.
Bunny Greenhouse told her superiors that the process was illegal. She was overridden. She said the decision to grant the contract to KBR came from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, run by VP Cheney’s close friend, Donald Rumsfeld.
As Bunny Greenhouse told a congressional committee, “I can unequivocally state that the abuse related to contracts awarded to KBR represents the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career.”
The oilfields were not set ablaze. Nevertheless, KBR was allowed to retool its $7 billion no-bid contract, to provide gasoline and other logistical support to the occupation forces. The contract was so-called cost-plus, which means KBR was not on the hook to provide services at a set price. Rather, it could charge its cost, plus a fixed percentage as profit. The more KBR charged, the more profit it made.
As the chief procurement officer, Greenhouse’s signature was required on all contracts valued at more than $10 million. Soon after testifying about the egregious RIO contract, she was demoted, stripped of her top-secret clearance and began receiving the lowest performance ratings. Before blowing the whistle, she had received the highest ratings. Ultimately, she left work, facing an unbearably hostile workplace.
After years of litigation, attorney Michael Kohn, president of the National Whistleblowers Center, brought the case to a settlement. He said: “Bunny Greenhouse risked her job and career when she objected to the gross waste of federal taxpayer dollars and illegal contracting practices at the Army Corps of Engineers. She had the courage to stand alone and challenge powerful special interests. She exposed a corrupt contracting environment where casual and clubby contracting practices were the norm. Her courage led to sweeping legal reforms that will forever halt the gross abuse she had the courage to expose.”
Heard about this BS on CIUT. I’m glad she won, but she should never have been fired in the first place.