<eng>CAQ: Big Brother Goes High-Tech

The Anarchives (tao@lglobal.com)
Tue, 26 Mar 1996 18:10:56 +0000 (GMT)

/** covertaction: 40.0 **/
** Topic: Big Brother Goes High-Tech **
** Written 12:05 PM Mar 5, 1996 by caq in cdp:covertaction **
by David Banisar

Subtler and more far-reaching means of invading privacy have
become available to the government. Discovery and invention have
made it possible for the government, by means far more effective than
stretching upon the rack, to obtain disclosure in court of what is
whispered in the closet. -US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis,

Today, Justice Brandeis would be appalled by new surveillance
technologies that go far beyond anything he could imagine. Rapid
technological advances, in conjunction with the end of the Cold War
and the demand for greater bureaucratic efficiency, are promoting a
seamless web of surveillance from cradle to grave, from bankbook to
bedroom. New technologies developed by the defense industry are
spreading into law enforcement, civilian agencies, and private
companies. At the same time, outdated laws and regulations are failing
to check an expanding pattern of abuses.

In Justice Brandeis' time and up to the 1960s, surveillance was mostly
tedious manual and clerical labor. Tracing people's activities required
physically following them from place to place at close range,
interviewing those they came in contact with, typing up the
information, and storing it in file cabinets with little possibility for
cross-referencing. Only governments willing to go to extremes were
able to conduct widespread surveillance. Electronic surveillance was
similarly a one-on-one proposition; the East German secret police, for
example, employed 500,000 secret informers, 10,000 just to eavesdrop
on and transcribe its citizens' conversations. *2

The development of powerful computers able to centrally store and
process large amounts of information revolutionized surveillance. In
addition to the millions of tax dollars spent developing law
enforcement applications, *3 the federal government used the new
computer systems to increase the efficiency and reach of its

At the same time, the private sector was exploring the profit-making
possibilities. Companies offering telephone, credit card, banking, and
other consumer services began using massive computer systems not
only to increase efficiency, but to apply to credit, marketing, and other

Now, information on almost every person in the developed world is
computerized in several hundred databases collected, analyzed, and
disseminated by governments and corporations. And increasingly,
these computers are linked up and sharing their cyber-gossip. Using
high speed networks with advanced intelligence and single
identification numbers such as the Social Security number, computers
can create instant, comprehensive dossiers on millions of people
without the need for a centralized computer system. New
developments in genetic and medical research and care, advanced
transportation systems, and financial transfers have dramatically
increased the quantity of detail available. A body of national and
international laws and agreements facilitates the transfer of
information across state and national borders and frequently prevents
local and national communities from regulating against invasions of
privacy. A pending bill, S. 1360, would allow credit information
bureaus such as Equifax to compile giant databases of medical records
without notifying patients, and would further restrict states from
passing laws to protect privacy.

Intelligence, defense, and law enforcement agencies have a long
history of stretching and breaking those legal constraints enacted to
protect civil liberties.4 And with the end of the Cold War, defense and
intelligence agencies are seeking new missions to justify their budgets
and are transferring technologies to civilian applications. The CIA and
National Security Agency, for example, are emphasizing economic
espionage and stressing cooperation with law enforcement agencies
on issues such as terrorism, drug trafficking, and money laundering.
In 1993, the Departments of Defense (DoD) and Justice (DoJ) signed
a memorandum of understanding for Operations Other Than War and
Law Enforcement to facilitate joint development and sharing of

The government is also using grants to influence the direction of
research and development (R&D). While many federal grants have
been dried up by budget cuts, generous funding still flows to
encourage public-private sector cooperation in computer technology.
The National Laboratories, such as Rome, Ames, Sandia, and Los
Alamos, have active R&D partnerships with the FBI; the National
Institute of Justice is providing grants and support to transfer this
technology to local and state police agencies. The DoD's Advanced
Research Projects Agency (ARPA) has provided tens of millions of
dollars to private companies through its Technology Reinvestment
Project to help develop civilian applications for military surveillance

To counteract reductions in military contracts which began in the
1980s, computer and electronics companies are expanding into new
markets at home and abroad with equipment originally
developed for the military. *5 Companies such as E-Systems,
Electronic Data Systems (founded by Ross Perot), and Texas
Instruments are selling advanced computer and surveillance equipment
to state and local governments that use them for law enforcement,
border control, and administering state programs such as welfare. The
companies are also pushing their products to numerous Third World
countries with dismal human rights records. Not surprisingly,
repressive regimes in Thailand, China, and Turkey are using the
US-made equipment to crush political dissent. *6

The authoritarian impulse is not the only motive for the expansion of
information technology. The simple need for increased bureaucratic
efficiency necessitated by shrinking budgets for social spending
is a force behind much of the push for improved identification and
monitoring of individuals. Fingerprints, ID cards, data matching, and
other privacy-invasive schemes were originally tried on populations
with little political power, such as welfare recipients, immigrants,
criminals, and members of the military, and then applied up the
socioeconomic ladder. Once in place, the policies are difficult to
remove and inevitably expand into more general use. Corporations are
also quick to adapt these technologies for commercial use to target
consumers, to manipulate markets, and to select, monitor, and control

The technologies fit roughly into three broad categories: surveillance,
identification, and networking. Frequently used together as with
biometrics and ID cards, or video cameras and face recognition
they facilitate the mass and routine surveillance of large segments of
the population without the need for warrants and formal
investigations. What the East German secret police could only dream
of is rapidly becoming reality in the free world.

In a computerized and networked world, a universal unique person
identifier allows easy retrieval and consolidation of data. Pressure for
a single identifier ostensibly to facilitate information sharing for
administrative purposes is increasing and several schemes currently
in place are sliding toward a mandatory system of universal

*Identification numbers. In the US, the Social Security Number
(SSN) was developed in 1938 to identify workers eligible for
government retirement benefits. In 1961, the IRS began using it as a
tax identification number and slowly other agencies followed. Since
banks and other non-governmental entities can legally turn away
customers who refuse to supply a SSN, its use in the private sector is
virtually taken for granted in everything from medical insurance to
telephone to credit applications. Several bills pending in Congress
would create new national databases rooted to the SSN for all eligible
job holders and for welfare and immigration purposes.

*Identification cards. Once a system of universal identification is
established, it is a short step to requiring people to have and carry ID
cards. The history of ID cards is long and ignoble. The Roman Empire
used tiles called tesserae to identify slaves, soldiers, and citizens over
2,000 years ago. The most notorious modern example the South
African passbook, which helped regulate apartheid contained
relatively little information compared with today's cards. In addition
to name, address, and identification numbers, the modern incarnation
of the tesserae can include photograph, fingerprints and magnetic
strips or microchips to automate entering the data into reading devices.

In a process that privacy advocates call function creep, cards
originally designed for a single-use are being expanded to link
multiple databases. In Thailand, Control Data Systems set up a
universal ID card to track all citizens. *7 (See p. 11.)

Smart cards, widely used in Europe, have an embedded microchip
that can hold several pages of information. Even more advanced
optical technology, which can store hundreds of pages of data on a
chip, is currently used in the US. Columbia/HCA Healthcare
Corporation recently announced that it was providing 50,000 Florida
residents with cards that could hold medical records, including X-rays.

Multifunction cards are the next step. Utah is one of several states
considering a single smart card for such diverse services as motor
vehicle registration and libraries. Other federal government proposals
for reinventing government call for a single card for welfare
benefits, food stamps, and other federal government functions. Florida
and Maryland have already experimented with the concept.

And the cards are getting smarter all the time. Active badges,
already in use in numerous high-tech companies, transmit their
location and, of course, that of the wearer.

*Biometrics. If a corporation or government goes to all this expense
and trouble, it needs ways of definitively identifying individuals and
making sure they are not confused with one another. Biometrics
verification through unique physical characteristics began in the
late 19th century with fingerprinting. Recently, automated systems
which electronically scan and digitalize fingerprints have taken the
technology beyond its traditional role in criminal investigations. The
FBI has spent several hundred million dollars over the last few years
creating an Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS).
Because of the improvements in access, fingerprints are now used for
more applications at the state level as well. California and New York
require all welfare beneficiaries to be fingerprinted. Even after a New
York survey revealed that little fraud was actually detected by the
massive fingerprinting effort, *8 the state expanded its program to
include all members of the recipient's family. And, as in so many other
cases, the technology is moving from the margins of society into the
mainstream. California is now requiring thumbprints on drivers'
licenses; several banks in the Southwest are fingerprinting
non-customers who wish to cash checks; and a proposed California
referendum would require all newborns to be fingerprinted and issued
an official ID card.

A particularly steep incline on the slippery slope to universal tracking
is greased with DNA. The complex molecular structure that holds a
genetic code unique to each individual is present in even the smallest
sample of hair, tissue, or bodily fluids. Many states are now
empowered to take DNA samples from all convicted felons. The FBI
has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the technology
and infrastructure to create a computer network to link the state
databases to create a de facto central registry.

But the largest single DNA database is being proposed by the
Department of Defense, which plans to create a registry of all current
and former military and reserve soldiers. Ostensibly designed to
identify bodies, the registry would hold four million samples by 2001
and eventually be expanded to handle 18 million. Claiming that
destroying the samples when the person left the service would be
impractical, the DoD proposes storing the DNA for 75 years. Two
soldiers have filed suit to prevent the collection of their genetic
information, arguing that it is an invasion of privacy and that there are
no restrictions on how the DNA can be used. *9

Somewhat less physically intrusive is a system based on hand
geometry, which measures the length and distances between fingers.
The US, Netherlands, Canada, and Germany have started a pilot
program in which international travelers will be issued a smart card
that records the unique hand measurements. Each time travelers pass
through customs, they present the card and place their hand in a reader
that verifies their identity and links into numerous databases. The
member countries have signed an international agreement facilitating
information sharing and agreeing to eventually require all international
travelers to use the cards. Marketed by Control Data Systems and
Canon, it already has 50,000 participants.

In all of these methods of verification, the targeted individual is
usually aware of being checked and is often required to cooperate. To
facilitate covert identification, much research is currently being
conducted into facial recognition and facial thermography. Facial
recognition is based on measuring facial curves from several angles,
digitalizing the information, and doing a computer comparison with
existing images in a database or on an ID card. *10 NeuroMetric, a
Florida manufacturer, claims that its system can scan 20 faces a
second, and by 1997 will be able to scan and compare images against
a database of 50 million faces in seconds. The Immigration and
Naturalization Service is spending millions in a pilot program using
video cameras and computer databases to identify known illegal and
criminal aliens, terrorists, drug traffickers and other persons of special
interest to the US Government at airports, checkpoints and other
ports-of-entry. *11 A.C. Neilson, the large market rating company,
recently patented a system using facial recognition for covertly
identifying shoppers to track their buying habits around a particular

Facial thermography measures the characteristic heat patterns emitted
by each face. Mikos Corporation claims that its Facial Access Control
by Elemental Shapes (FACES) system can identify individuals
regardless of temperature, facial hair, and even surgery, by measuring
65,000 temperature points with an accuracy level surpassing
fingerprints. It estimates that by 1999, with a price tag of only $1,000,
the devices could be used in automated teller machines, point-of-sale
terminals, welfare agencies, and computer networks.13 One serious
drawback, they admit, is that alcohol consumption radically changes
the thermograms.

Unless the quality of information keeps pace with the quantity,
though, the old computer motto garbage in, garbage out rules. Not
surprisingly, then, the commercial and governmental forces that have
pushed for improved identification technologies are also supporting
ways to refine information-gathering techniques. New technologies
have enhanced the ability to see through walls, overhear
conversations, and track movement. At the same time, dataveillance
following people through their computerized record trail has
become part of daily life.

*Advanced microphones. The FBI's and ARPA's Rapid Prototyping
Facility at the Virginia Quantico Research Laboratory is producing
microminiature electronics systems unique surveillance
equipment customized for each separate investigation. They hope for
a 24-hour turnaround for specifically designed devices, including a
microphone on a chip. The FBI has already developed a solid-state
briefcase-size electronically steerable microphone array prototype,
that can discreetly monitor conversations across open areas. On the
state and local level, jurisdictions such as Washington, D.C., and
Redwood City, California, are considering microphone systems first
developed to detect submarines. Placed around the city, they would
hear gunshots and call in the location to police headquarters. *14

*Closed Circuit Television Cameras (CCTC). Technical
developments have increased the capabilities and lowered the cost of
video cameras, making them a regular feature in stores and public
areas. In the UK, dozens of cities have centrally controlled,
comprehensive citywide CCTC systems that can track individuals
wherever they go, even if they enter buildings. Effective even in
extreme low light, the cameras can read a cigarette pack 100 yards
away. Baltimore recently announced plans to put 200 cameras in the
city center. The FBI has miniaturized CCTC units it can put in a
lamp, clock radio, briefcase, duffel bag, purse, picture frame, utility
pole, coin telephone, book and other [objects] and then control
remotely to pan/tilt, zoom and focus.

*Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR). Originally developed for use
in fighter planes and helicopters to locate enemy aircraft, FLIR can
detect a temperature differential as small as .18 degrees centigrade.
Texas Instruments and others are marketing hand-held and
automobile- and helicopter-mounted models that can essentially look
through walls to determine activities inside buildings. *15 Law
enforcement agents are pointing them at neighborhoods to detect
higher temperatures in houses where artificial lights are used to grow
marijuana. They are also using FLIR to track people and cars on the
Mexican border and search for missing people and fugitives.

*Massive millimeter wave detectors. Developed by Militech
Corporation, these detectors use a form of radar to scan beneath
clothing. By monitoring the millimeter wave portion of the
electromagnetic spectrum emitted by the human body, the system can
detect items such as guns and drugs from a range of 12 feet or more.
It can also look through building walls and detect activity. Militech
received a $2 million grant from ARPA's Technology Reinvestment
Project to fund development of working systems for local police. *16

*Van Eck Monitoring. Every computer emits low levels of
electromagnetic radiation from the monitor, processor, and attached
devices. Although experts disagree whether the actual range is a only
a few yards or up to a mile, these signals can be remotely recreated on
another computer. Aided by a transmitting device to enhance the
signals, the FBI reportedly used Van Eck Monitoring to extract
information from spy Aldrich Ames' computer and relay it for

*Intelligent Transportation Systems. ITS refers to a number of traffic
management technologies, including crash-avoidance systems,
automated toll collection, satellite-based position location, and
traffic-based toll pricing. *17 To facilitate these services, the system
tracks the movements of all people using public or private
transportation. As currently proposed by TRW, a leading developer of
the technologies involved, the data collected on travel will be available
for both law enforcement and private uses such as direct marketing.
Automated toll collection is already in operation in several states,
including New York, Florida, and California. Tracking systems for
counterintelligence purposes are also already in place in New York
City, where the FBI has set up a permanent real time physical
tracking system. 18 On a commercial level, insurers are pushing car
owners to install the Lojack, which is supposed to help retrieve
stolen cars by sending out location signals once the system is remotely
activated. Since cellular phones transmit location information to the
home system to determine call routing, they can also be used for
automated tracking of the caller's movements. In 1993, fugitive
Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar was pinpointed through his
cellular phone. Currently there is an effort to develop a 911 system for
cellular systems that would give location information for every
cellular phone.

*Digital Cash. Potentially, digital cash will create one of the most
comprehensive systems for the collection of information on
individuals. Using computer software and smart cards to replace
physical cash, consumers can spend virtual money for small
transactions such as reading an electronic newspaper online, making
phone calls from pay phones, paying electronic tolls, buying groceries,
as well as for any transaction currently done through credit cards.
Since most of the systems under development (such as the one by
Mondex in Canada and the UK), retain information on each
transaction, they create an unprecedented amount of information on
individual preferences and spending habits. Another system, Digicash,
which provides for anonymous online transactions, is offered by the
Mark Twain Bank in St. Louis. Federal intelligence and law
enforcement agencies have been fighting anonymous digital cash on
the grounds that it could be used for money laundering.

Once information is gathered and linked using the unique identifiers
and networks, it can then be analyzed using artificial intelligence and
eventually disseminated. Databases supplemented by artificial
intelligence systems can scan through the vast quantities of
information and detect patterns and relationships.

*Databases. The government maintains hundreds of databases with
information on individuals. One of the largest, the FBI's National
Crime Information Center (NCIC), contains over 24 million records
and connects over 500,000 users in 19,000 federal, state and local
agencies. Over the past several years, NCIC has grown to include
juvenile records, and in 1994 it incorporated records of suspected
gang members and terrorists. Every year, over a million NCIC records
are accessed for criminal investigations and civil background checks.
A 1993 General Accounting Office report found that there was
virtually no computer security or control on the system and that abuses
regularly occurred.19

Seeking to further expand access to NCIC, FBI Director Freeh is
lobbying the FCC for radio broadcast spectrums to provide mobile
access to a national system connecting federal, state, and local
officials. Motorola Corporation is already offering wireless access to
the NCIC database, bar code scanning of drivers' licenses, and
cameras for instant transmission of pictures.

At the same time, the private sector has been increasing its capabilities
at an even greater rate. Using purchase records, surveys, credit
reports, department of motor vehicle and medical records, and
numerous other files, direct marketing companies are gobbling up
information about individuals to create comprehensive records for
targeted selling. Donnelly Marketing claims to maintain records on 86
million households and 125 million individuals. Many of these
databases are also being used by the federal government. The FBI,
DEA, and IRS have all secretly purchased direct marketing lists to add
to their databases for investigations. To hide its purchase, the DEA
even went to the trouble of having the Tennessee Valley Authority
buy it the lists.20

*Artificial Intelligence. The more comprehensive and interconnected
systems use artificial intelligence (AI) to detect patterns and
relationships. There are several types of AI used for law enforcement,
including link-analysis, which can explore relationships between
different pieces of information; *21 neural networks, which attempt
to emulate the human brain to make inferences about information; *22
and expert systems, which process data based on rules entered into the
computer by experts. One of the largest users of intelligent systems is
the Treasury Department, to help it detect money laundering and drug
trafficking. The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a
database of databases, links hundreds of government databases,
including ones containing suspicious transaction reports, DEA files,
and commercial information. After applying an expert-based system
to analyze information and assign scores rating each transaction,
FinCEN then uses link-analysis.23 The FBI is also using AI to track
organized crime, drug enforcement, and counterterrorism through its
multi-domain expert system (MDES) which also links associates,
phone calls, and relationships of suspects.24

>From the 1928 Olmstead decision, when the Supreme Court ruled that
wiretapping was not a search under the Fourth Amendment, through
recent decisions on computer databases, the legal response to new
surveillance technologies has been mixed. In 1968, the Court
overruled Olmstead and decided that the Constitution protects
people, not places. The decision established that technologies that
breach a reasonable expectation of privacy violate the Fourth
Amendment and therefore require a court order based on probable
cause. *25 Unfortunately, the Court often finds, unreasonably in
many cases, that individuals do not have an expectation of privacy for
their bank records, phone numbers, and other personal information
held by third parties.

In at least one case, the courts have shown an inclination to protect
privacy from the new technologies. They split on the use of the
heat-detecting Forward Looking Infrared, with several federal circuit
courts ruling that FLIR does not violate the Fourth Amendment
because the energy that is released and detected is waste heat. *26
The most recent decision in the 10th Circuit, however, questions the
legality of using both FLIR and other new surveillance technologies.
In a marijuana growing case in which it threw out evidence obtained
through thermal images of a house, the Court noted that

"the Defendants need not have anticipated and guarded against every
investigative tool in the government's arsenal. To hold otherwise
would leave the privacy of the home at the mercy of the government's
ability to exploit technological advances: the government could
always argue that an individual's failure (or inability) to ward off the
incursions of the latest scientific innovation forfeits the protection of
the Fourth Amendment. ... [T]he government would allow the privacy
of the home to hinge upon the outcome of a technological race of
measure/counter-measure between the average citizen and the
government a race, we expect, that the people will surely lose.27"

Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Tribe notes that the Supreme Court
usually fails to protect constitutional rights when dealing with new
technologies.28 He says that in decisions, such as the 1928 Olmstead
case, the Court was implausibly reading the Constitution's text as
though it represented a deliberate decision not to extend protection to
threats that 18th-century thinkers simply had not foreseen. In more
recent cases, Tribe noted, court decisions have reflected a failure of
technological foresight and imagination, rather than a deliberate value
choice. They imply that the framers of the Constitution deliberately
ignored future technological changes and their implications for
privacy. Some civil libertarians are hopeful that the courts will base
future analysis of surveillance technologies on this 10th Circuit
decision and not give free rein to the government agencies and
corporations that have persistently overstepped the boundaries of
individual privacy. Others, assessing the direction and composition of
the Supreme Court, see few prospects of shielding their privacy from
the ever more sophisticated and intrusive lens of Big Brother. n

by Simon Davies
The Western world gave a collective cheer when pro-democracy
demonstrators occupied Beijing's Tiananmen Square. China, after all,
is the regime we love to hate. Receiving less coverage was the
systematic witch hunt that followed. The Chinese authorities tortured
and interrogated thousands of citizens in an attempt to ferret out the
subversives. But even if their comrades had resisted the terrors of the
secret police, the hapless students stood little chance of anonymity.
Mounted throughout Tiananmen Square were UK-manufactured
surveillance cameras. The images they recorded were repeatedly
broadcast over Chinese television and used to identify and locate
almost all of the targeted protesters.

The Beijing tragedy is just one example of Western surveillance
technology supporting military and totalitarian regimes. According to
a report by Privacy International, Western companies linked to the
international arms industry are investing big money in Big Brother.
More than 70 percent of the hundreds of firms manufacturing and
exporting surveillance technology named in a Privacy International
report also export arms, chemical weapons, or military hardware. The
biggest sources are the UK and the US, followed by France, Israel, the
Netherlands, and Germany.

Some companies tapped into the repression trade early on. US-based
IBM and British computer firm ICL (International Computers
Limited) provided the technological infrastructure for the South
African automated passbook system, upon which much of the
functioning of the apartheid regime depended. In the late 1970s,
Security Systems International supplied security technology to Idi
Amin's brutal regime in Uganda. In the 1980s, Israeli-based Tadiram
(recently purchased by US-based Electronic Data Systems, founded
by Ross Perot) developed and exported the technology for the
computerized death list used by Guatemalan intelligence. PK
Electronics provided the Chinese authorities with bugging equipment
and telephone tapping devices.

Much of the technology these companies export is crucial to
maintaining the infrastructure of repression. In such non-democratic
countries as Nigeria, China, Rwanda, Zambia, and Indonesia, it tracks
the activities of dissidents, human rights activists, journalists, student
leaders, minorities, trade union leaders, and political opponents. It is
also used to monitor larger sectors of the population, cheaply and
efficiently capturing, analyzing, and transmitting the financial
transactions, communications activity, and geographic movements of
millions of people. This sophisticated computer-based technology
vastly increases the power of authorities and puts mechanisms of
political control within their easy reach.

The notorious human rights abuses in Indonesia particularly those
affecting East Timor would not be possible without the strategic
and technological support of Western companies. Suppliers of
surveillance and targeting technology to the Indonesian police and
military include Morpho Systems (France), De la Rue Printak (UK),
EEV Night Vision (UK), ICL (UK), Marconi Radar and Control
Systems (UK), Pyser (UK), Siemens Plessey Defence Systems (UK),
Rockwell International Corporation (US), and SWS Security (US).

The Thailand Central Population Database and ID card system,
developed by US-based Control Data Systems, involves sophisticated
intelligence that has been used by the Thai military for political
control. (Similar ID card and smart card systems have been marketed
to more than two dozen developing countries.) The government-issued
ID card features electronic fingerprint and facial imaging, and is
linked to an electronic database covering the entire population. The
database spans most government agencies and is controlled by the
powerful military/police-dominated Interior Ministry.

After extensive discussions with Thai authorities, Control Data
designed a system which accesses a staggering variety of databases,
including: Central Population Database, National Election System,
Political Party Database, Political Member Database, Voter Listing,
Electronic Minority Group Registration System, Electronic
Fingerprint Identification System, Electronic Face Identification
System, Population and House Report System, National Tax
Collection System, Village Information System, Secret Information
System, Public Opinion System, Criminal Investigation System,
National Security System, Social Security System, Passport Control
System, Driver Control System, Gun Registration System, Family
Registration System, Alien Control System, and Immigration Control

The Smithsonian Institution was so impressed that it gave the Thai
government its and Computerworld's joint annual award for
innovative use of technology which the Thai Ministry of the
Interior was then able to wave in the face of critics.

The abuses in Thailand are being replicated and improved on in both
the First and Third Worlds. According to Privacy International, the
unregulated development and export of these technologies create
grave and unnecessary threats to developing countries.

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