Access Now


Watermarking generative AI: what, how, why (and why not)

In the age of generative AI, the line between what is fake and what is real is increasingly blurry. Just last week, an AI-generated image of the famous Tiananmen Square "tank man" stand-off reportedly topped the real thing in Google search results — a jarring sign of how easy it is to create alternative facts and history. Policymakers are looking to watermarking as a potential solution for authenticating digital content, but this approach raises complex technical and human rights questions. In our latest discussion paper, Access Now Chief Technologist Gustaf Björksten explains how AI watermarking works, and how it can potentially impact human rights. Read more via Access Now

Your face is not a barcode

180+ civil society orgs and experts tell governments: stop facial recognition surveillance

From mass surveillance of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters, to tracking emotions and "suspicious behaviors" in Europe, to wrongly identifying and arresting Black people in the U.S., the use of AI-based facial recognition and other kinds of biometric surveillance is eviscerating our basic rights and freedoms in public spaces. That's the message nearly 200 NGOs and digital rights experts sent this week in a new coalition statement demanding that governments stop using these systems and take all measures possible — such as ceasing pilot programs, and passing strong new laws — to prevent AI from turning everyone into "walking barcodes." Read more via EDRi

Will the E.U. listen?

It wasn't that long ago that we were applauding the European Parliament for listening to civil society and adopting a position on the E.U. AI Act that would ban most forms of live biometric mass surveillance. Now that trilogue negotiations are underway, we've warned lawmakers against introducing dangerous loopholes, and joined our civil society partners in demanding that the E.U. regulate police technology. Unfortunately, new leaks suggest the legislation could nevertheless end up toothless, giving AI developers the power to exempt themselves from all obligations under the law. Read this X thread by Access Now's Daniel Leufer to learn why this is really bad news for our rights. Read more via Access Now

Signal's Meredith Whittaker: AI is fundamentally "a surveillance technology"

Whittaker — president of the nonprofit Signal Foundation and a leading voice calling for an end to facial recognition in public spaces — is warning that AI systems are not only used for mass surveillance, they depend on it to function. "[AI] requires the surveillance business model; it’s an exacerbation of what we’ve seen since the late ’90s and the development of surveillance advertising," she said at the recent TechCrunch Disrupt summit. "AI is a way, I think, to entrench and expand the surveillance business model. The Venn diagram is a circle.” Read more via TechCrunch

The spyware whodunnit

Is a European state behind the Meduza hack?

It's been two weeks since we published our joint investigation with the Citizen Lab revealing that Galina Timchenko, the co-founder of Meduza, a leading Russian independent media organization based in Latvia, was hacked using Israeli firm NSO Group's notorious Pegasus spyware. It's still not clear who was behind the attack. But given the circumstances, it's possible that Latvia, Germany, or another European state is responsible. "I’m not saying Europe is already descending into totalitarianism, but these are totalitarian methods," warns Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld, who has been pushing for strict spyware regulations. “If it is true that the Latvian government or other European states did this, then there is no way to find out. There is no remedy, and no oversight." Read more via The Guardian

To protect journalists, ban spyware

No one is safe without strong regulations restricting the use of spyware. But journalists who speak truth to power are especially vulnerable to attack. Next week, the European Parliament is expected to vote on the European Media Freedom Act, which could prohibit the use of spyware against journalists and their sources in the E.U. We join our civil society partners in supporting a full ban with no carve-outs or exceptions — a small but important step toward countering the global scourge of commercial spyware. Read more via Liberties

Dragging spyware out of the dark

Spyware on trial: justice for Saudi activist Loujain AlHathloul

Even as regulators remain slow to act against spyware abuse, civil society continues to push for accountability and redress. As we prepared this newsletter, Access Now and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights jointly submitted an amicus brief calling on the District Court in Oregon, U.S., to hold Emirati spyware outfit DarkMatter accountable for illegally hacking prominent Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain AlHathloul. The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed the lawsuit in 2021, but DarkMatter is now moving to have the case dismissed, claiming the court has no jurisdiction. We disagree. “A ruling in favor of hacked activist AlHathloul will serve as a beacon of hope for those who have suffered from the merciless use of spyware technologies for far too long, and send a clear message to the purveyors of these dangerous technologies: your time is running out,” says Access Now's Marwa Fatafta. Read more via Access Now

To keep people safe, #KeepItOn

Libya’s internet shutdown won't hide government failures

In the aftermath of devastating floods in Libya, victims in the city of Derna were cut off from emergency assistance, in a major communications blackout that compounded people’s suffering. Media reports indicate the shutdown took place during large protests demanding answers about why the dams burst. "This year alone, we have witnessed the harmful consequences of losing access to the internet and other online services during times of crises in Turkey and Iraq," says Access Now's Kassem Mnejja. "After any crisis, access to online platforms and services becomes more important than ever, serving as a lifeline for people searching for their loved ones or checking on their families." Read more via Access Now

Yet another devastating internet blackout in Manipur

For months on end, a government-ordered internet shutdown in Manipur, India shrouded horrifying violence, including murders, rapes, and arson. Services were recently briefly restored, only for authorities to order another blackout, scheduled to last until October 1. This will only put more people in danger. Please join us in once again calling on authorities to restore access and #KeepItOn. Read more via Access Now

Is this the internet we want?

Where to find us at IGF 2023, October 8-12

This year's Internet Governance Forum, taking place in Kyoto, Japan, explores the theme: "The internet we want – empowering all people." We'll be there, leading and participating in sessions on internet shutdowns, AI, encryption, digital identity, and more. Check out the details and follow the conversation online. Read more via Access Now

Opportunities and other highlights

SURVEY: RightsCon wants to hear from you!

Did you participate in RightsCon Costa Rica this past June? If so, you can still share your feedback on our first-ever hybrid summit. By taking this survey by September 30, you can help shape the future of RightsCon to better serve the entire digital rights community. As always, if you prefer to share feedback in a different way or have questions, you can reach the team via [email protected]. Learn more via Access Now

OPPORTUNITY: Human Rights Watch is hiring a Director of Technology and Human Rights

Our friends at HRW are seeking an experienced, flexible, highly collaborative, and forward-thinking leader to direct their Technology and Human Rights division. Check out the details and apply. Read more via HRW

NEXT WEEK: Freedom on the Net 2023 – the repressive power of artificial intelligence

On October 4, Freedom House will launch its annual report tracking digital rights around the world. This year, the research focuses on how advances in AI are increasing the scale, speed, and efficiency of digital repression, reshaping an internet already under serious threat. Learn more and register for the launch event. Read more via Freedom House