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Protecting Personal Data, From Digital Footprints To Digital Face-Mapping

Gerry Bloome
Municipalities are weighing the pros and cons of using facial recognition software in police departments.

On today’s program: A look at Pittsburgh’s primary elections; scientists seek a cure for a disease endangering Pennsylvania’s bat populations; online privacy on display through the Carnegie libraries; and the controversies and constitutionality of facial recognition technology.

Your election day primary primer
(00:00 – 9:27)

It’s primary election day across Pennsylvania. In Pittsburgh, offices on the ballot include seats on city and county councils, the district attorney's office, plus the Pittsburgh Public Schools board of education. 90.5 WESA’s Ariel Worthy and Sarah Schneider report some incumbents could be up against their stiffest competition in years, and several others opted not to run for re-election.

Credit Reid Frazier / Allegheny Front
Allegheny Front
A cave bat with white nose syndrome. The disease surfaced in Pennsylvania 2008 and began killing bats in 2009.

Bats  and bug control – threatened by disease
(10:40 – 17:48)

Three species of Pennsylvania bats – the tricolored, the Northern long-eared and the little brown – have been moved to the statewide endangered list because of an invasive fungus that causes white-nose syndrome. Reid Frazier of The Allegheny Front and StateImpact Pennsylvania reports there's a glimmer of hope: scientists and researchers are hoping to help by limiting how it spreads.

Measure your digital footprint with the Carnegie Library 
(17:49 – 28:50)

Take a photo, leave a comment, use an app and the stuff left behind is a trail of data known as a digital footprint. The Glass Room, a new traveling exhibit at the Carnegie Library in East Liberty, explores issues related to personal data, privacy and online security. Tess Wilson, a LYNCS outreach librarian, says the library system is in an ideal position to fight for those values in the community. The interactive exhibit, which opened earlier this month, shows users how to best control their personal data. The library will also hold a free workshop examining terms of service agreements this Wednesday evening at the East Liberty location.

How far is too far for facial recognition technology?
(28:51 – 38:51)

Critics say that facial recognition software has the potential to turn any public space into a surveilled space à la "1984." Last week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors banned police from using the technology altogether because of privacy concerns. David Harris, law professor at the University of Pittsburgh and WESA's legal analyst, says that while the technology poses potential dangers like false matches due to  racial and gender biases, it's also been successful in missing persons and sex trafficking cases. Harris argues the technology may not strictly violate Fourth Amendment protections of reasonable search and seizure. 

90.5 WESA's Julia Zenkevich and Julia Maruca contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
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