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Asia Pacific Dashboard Digest | Notes from the Asia-Pacific region, 27 Sept. 2019 Related reading: Can biometric data truly be anonymized?

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Dear, privacy pros.

Major data breaches are in the spotlight again.

The personal data of 21 million passengers of Malindo Air and Thai Lion Air, both subsidiaries of Indonesian carrier Lion Air, was exposed in a recent incident. Malindo Air has linked the leakage to unauthorized access by two former employees of an Indian development center belonging to its e-commerce service provider, GoQuo (M) Sdn Bhd. Contrary to earlier reports, Malindo Air stated, “This incident is not related to the security of its data architecture or that of its cloud provider Amazon Web Services.”

In terms of size, the Malindo Air breach rivals the recent massive security leak that purportedly affects more than the entire population of Ecuador (20 million individuals impacted), which recalled the theft of personal data from Bulgaria’s national tax agency in July (5 million individuals were impacted, or almost the entire adult population of the country).

Given this backdrop, it is concerning to read about India’s attempt to build what has been billed as the world’s largest facial-recognition network. According to reports, there are plans to link this system to other databases containing sensitive personal information, including passport data and fingerprints. The potential for creating an Orwellian nightmare (or a giant pot of gold for unscrupulous employees, hackers and other nefarious types) is captured best in the following comment from a Delhi-based lawyer and activist quoted in the article: “We’re the only functional democracy which will set up such as system without any data protection or privacy laws. … It’s like a gold rush for companies seeking large unprotected databases.”

In the meantime, China, whose pervasive public surveillance system appears to have served as inspiration to India, has raced even further ahead in this space. According to this recent report, China has also deployed technology to identify individuals through their gait, as well as flocks of spy birds (robotic drones) for aerial surveillance. Some Chinese states are even using commercial incentives (e.g., free entry to the subway for individuals above the age of 60 who register with the system to allow them to pay for rides with their faces) to encourage higher uptake.

Reading the above reports, along with this article on a 500-megapixel resolution cloud camera system being developed by Chinese scientists, gives us an idea of what the future might look like if nothing is done today. The camera system, which can capture images and videos at five times the resolution of the human eye, would enable its user to capture tens of thousands of faces, say, in a crowded stadium and identifying a particular individual within this crowd almost instantaneously. Truly fascinating technology, if not also somewhat terrifying in its potential implications.

Perhaps the only bright spot among all this news is the fact that the Philippines is the ninth country to participate in the APEC Cross Border Privacy Rules system. With Australia, Taiwan, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Singapore and the U.S. already in the system, it is hoped that the CBPR system will continue to gain traction within the Asia region and beyond.

And on that hopeful note, I will leave you to digest the rest of the articles in this week’s dashboard at your leisure. Have a great weekend ahead!

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