ARE YOU REALLY BEING “WATCHED”?
Of course! Traffic intersection, red light cameras and ATM machine cams. Infrared cams. Department stores, gas station and bank surveillance systems. Nannycams. Your kids interactive toys listening over the Internet. RFID tags in products, chips in your credit cards, your passport, your driver’s license. Fingerprint scans from job applications, security checks, passports, international travel and the like. Geotags in your transmitted photos and Tweets. Google Earth and GPS. OnStar, tracking even unsubscribed customers, and Palintir, Placemaker and DACs throughout the country following you on the road and everywhere else.
The FBI’s NextGeneration database (“NGI,” a/k/a the “largest biometric database in the world”) with some 410 million individual records including fingerprints, facial recognition, iris scans and palm prints), which recognizes not only fingerprints and mug shots, but also passport, driver’s license, other state-generated photos, as well as other searchable photos (like Facebook posts) through advanced facial-recognition technology that claims to have a 92% accuracy rate in less than 1.2 seconds (although some claim up to a 20% false positive rate), BEWARE threat scoring software that assigns a green, yellow or red threat level to each individual at any address, as well as emotions analytics, iris scans, palm prints, DNA, voice-print recordings, biometrics, gait measurement, even an individual’s tattoos and body scars. When the NGI is used with Future Attribute Screening Technology (“FAST”), which is a another device used for scanning human physiology via a hidden sensor array (monitoring things like respiration, pheromones, electrodermal activity and cardiovascular signatures) it can be an accurate predictor of possible terrorist and criminal activity before it takes place, says the FBI. It can also be used to scan a person and, if it finds an RFID device or cell phone, it will copy whatever readily information it can find. Don’t worry, if the information isn’t needed today, it can be stored for future reference, all to develop a personal digital profile of your ongoing activities. And other, less direct ways of using “harvested” travel information, such as the DEA/FBI monitoring all airline and train reservations, profiling those paying with cash, and stopping them at the gates, then searching for even more cash. Even if it’s legitimate (say, you’ve got it to purchase a car) you’ll take years to get it back.
Apple recording data on its own. Your “smart” TV using ACR to track what you’re watching (and maybe saying) and send the data to others. Data both legally mined and illegally stolen over the Internet. Identity theft. Twitter, using Method52 software to scan all tweets to determine if language usage is a joke or endearment or abusive and threatening. Carnivore & Echelon monitoring all sorts of communications. PROMIS, working to find correlation between people, organizations and places by accessing proprietary databases from banks, credit card companies, e-mail providers, phone companies and utilities, all to develop a personal “relationship tree” which outlines a person’s every move. (For example, if a person suddenly uses much more electricity, it may be a signal that they’re growing pot or cooking meth. Or, if the usage suddenly drops, they may be running, so run a check of travel possibilities, like airline tickets.) MORIS. Trailblazer. Simulators like the FBI’s Stingray or Dirtboxes tracking cell phone signals by masquerading as cell phone towers to listen to your calls. TSA’s SPOT, which screens travelers for microexpressions of malcontent. Starchase GPS bullets. Gunshot identifiers like ShotSpotter. Ferret, Rhyolite and Keyhole satellites. Your smart TV and laptop’s internet cameras. DARPA’s Total Information Awareness Initiative and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity.
The use of Watson AI computers and trilaterization to track citizens’ movements and sift through tons of collected Big Data, including facial recognition from public and private (i.e. social networking) sources. The NSA’s PRISM looking over your shoulder through your ISPs and tapping your Verizon phone and MUSCULAR (with the UK’s GCHQ and others in the “5 Eyes Club”) collecting your data from Google and Yahoo accounts. Palantir Technologies, used by the FBI to quickly assemble dossiers on American citizens. That, in addition to legally collecting your credit card charges, travel itinerary, political contributions and God knows what else. Unmanned police surveillance drones with facial recognition technology like the Qube from AeroVironment. American Science and Engineering’s Z Backscatter vans, black box trucks that prowl the country, peering into vehicles to identify both people and objects and “protect democracy”. The FBI’s “roving bug” that can use your mobile phone’s microphone to eavesdrop on conversations (so long as the battery is in it; they can even make it look like it’s turned off, but it’s not). Shotspotter, listening for gunshots and informing the local police. The FBI looking through your laptop webcam without even turning on the indicator light, using programs like Blackshades. Streetlamps that can record conversations (based on those successfully used in the UK and the Netherlands), like those LED-based Intellistreets lamps made by Illuminating Concepts installed in Las Vegas, Branson and Chicago that have Wi-Fi connectivity and audio and video recorders. Mystery cell phone towers stealing conversations and other data. Law enforcement cameras that can read license plates on moving cars to check registration, insurance & theft.
The Range-R from L-3 Communications and similar devices developed for use in Iraq that can see inside buildings to locate and track persons inside based not on infra-red (ruled illegal in 2001 by the Supreme Court) but on radar (also arguably illegal as well). Snooping by the CIA, CSS, FBI, DHS, NSA, IAO, DoJ, FCC, Homeland Security and Pentagon Cybercom Command, to name just a handful of the alphabet agencies. Not to mention private eyes in civil, divorce and child support cases, using apps like StealthGenie to secretly monitor cell phone calls. And, of course, legitimate law enforcement in criminal proceedings. Don’t forget devices like those from Cellebrite, which can pull all data (including deleted files) from cell and smart phones for use by law enforcement in building a case (if you consent, sometimes without). And AIRPrint, that can rapidly collect and identify fingerprints from as far as 20 feet away. NSA’s use of SpeechPro (VoiceGrid Nation, developed by the Russians), which can store and match voice recording in some 70 countries to scan and identify voices on intercepted phone calls in seconds. Just as DHS can scan you from as far as 164 feet away, through your clothing, to detect various substances. It may also be that U.S. submarines like the USS Annapolis (and others), along with underwater drones extending the antenna’s reach, which is used to intercept and manipulate communications traffic on weak or unencrypted networks, particularly underseas Russian cables are also spying on users within the U.S.
If you work for the Federal government, the Specter360 keystroke logger follows you at many federal agencies. And if your child is in school, programs like Eyelock, BlinkSpot and Iris ID scan palms and irises so students can pay for lunches, but also accumulate lots of other (shared) data. Programs like Turnitin and Plagtracker which scan your school essays to sniff out plagiarism. And all this is in addition to the “consensual bugging” you expressly agree to through FaceBook (which can track you even after you’re logged off using its automatic facial recognition software like DeepFace and pose and gesture recognition software like PIPER), Blippy, Foursquare, Footpath and their ilk. Twitter and Instagram give out your location all the time. Even your “smart” electric meter is constantly broadcasting. Also, your Smart TV, thermostat or toilet. Probably almost everything in the IoT will end up reporting to some data overlord. And don’t forget your cell phone’s search, voice search and Siri (and other digital assistant) features and geo-location (“GPS”) services, in addition to its search history, even if you think you deleted it, ‘cause you didn’t (at least permanently).
“Sanctioned spying” is also evolving. We’re moving from the days when laser microphones could listen to conversations, even through glass windows. Now, MIT researchers are developing “passive” techniques, using regular (silent) video shot in natural light to listen to sounds. Objects like plastic bags, foam cups, tinfoil and house plants can provide audio from subtle surface vibrations. It won’t be soon until your houseplant is “spying” on you.
Sounds a lot like the 1998 Will Smith movie “Enemy of the State,” doesn’t it”? Government surveillance of citizens is all encompassing, like the “Eye of Sauron” in the Lord of the Rings novels, an overwhelming and all-observing presence from above. And before that, George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel “1984” which predicted a world where “Big Brother is Watching You” through Telescreens (think Facebook, cameras, drones), Newspeak (think text-talk like “OMG”, “LOL”), Memory Holes (shredders & hard drive erasure), The Endless War (against terrorism) and other ironic parallels. Like Winston Smith, the protagonist in 1984 who learns to love Big Brother after undergoing “behavior modification,” we’re slowly learning to give up our Constitutional rights and live without them (see the Privacy and Laws sections of this site).
But we’ve gotta consent, right? Nope. For example, did you know that since the 1970s our government has stored the DNA of every baby born in the U.S. and has routinely screened them for panels of genetic diseases, without parental consent (Don’t believe me, click HERE). Really. And the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision (Maryland v. King) allowing police to routinely swab suspects for DNA, just like fingerprints. Or the FBI’s HGI facial recognition system which includes photos from non-criminals through employment and other civilian databases. There are no coincidences, just well laid, slowly encroaching, government plans. Reads like an “X Files” episode, right?
Aside from the U.K., which has over 25% of the surveillance cameras on the planet, the U.S. has more cameras per citizen than anywhere, about 30 million. (Lately, we’re catching up.) In the air via cameras and drones (see below), on computers, in public and private spaces. Moreover, computers (including the NSA’s) now store and compare those photographs and videos of people to identify them (including your photos on Facebook) through facial recognition programs, their microexpressions and their actions which can be legitimately useful for spotting terrorists, identifying and locating lost children or monitoring natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods or forest fires, inspecting bridges for cracking or deterioration, assisting farmers by determining where to selectively water crops or apply fertilizer or chemicals or perhaps locating missing Alzheimer’s patients or track fleeing criminal suspects. Check out Google’s Goggles. Conversely, they invade citizens’ privacy as they drive, work and shop, just because they can. The newer programs use AI algorithms which attempt to predict behavior in groups or by individuals (such as impending prison riots, behavior of potential shoplifters, a hospital patient about to fall out of bed, or a possible terrorist attack (see LINK). The key word here is “attempt,” but at best it’s said that they’re 85% accurate. For more, see LAWS.
Then there are the drones, like the Scout surveillance drone (see right) or the Cupid, which can deliver an 80,000 volt taser jolt which will stop a human in its tracks. These military drones are being increasingly enlisted for civilian use. [In March, 2016, the Pentagon admitted that military spy drones had been sent on non-military missions some 20 times in the past ten years,
but always “in compliance with the law”.] Or drones armed with “Snoopy” software that can hack smart phones across an extended area through their Wi-Fi to steal personal data, maybe to identify those participating in a crowd like a protest. Now, DJI’s improved drones can now follow subjects by identifying and tracking a specific person based solely on appearance (as opposed to their cell phone signal). Positive civilian uses for drones are discussed immediately above: While it still takes operators to run them, it’s made it possible to scan huge areas (like farms and disasters) efficiently and go to places (under bridges, over collapses caused by earthquakes) that humans may be incapable of reaching. Spraying for the Zika virus or delivering firefighting chemicals in remote areas, too. Truly a “double-edged sword” that must be regulated. The FAA has predicted that by 2020 there will be more than 7 million drones flying over the U.S.
“Scout” surveillance drone proposed by Alameda County, CA - temporarily dropped due to public protest; but these camera-equipped “quadrocopters” are also useful for surveying disasters and coordinating rescues; some newer drones can even detect if people are armed
Again, life is beginning to emulate movies (think Tom Cruise in “Minority Report” ). Like the “pre-crime” cameras from BRS Labs, installed at 12 hubs, have 288 cameras, each capable of scanning 150 citizens at once, which are programmed to predict “suspicious behavior” that might be potential criminal or terrorist activity.
Finally, there’s the Internet of Things (“IoT”), which can use NILM technology to monitor when you move about your house, as well as other privacy invasions that can be conducted through appliances, medical devices and the like, effectively turning your home into a fish tank, completely transparent to marketers and police as well as criminals. And, of course, the Federal government can always appropriate this data as well, just like they do already with Facebook photos and credit card receipts.
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As far back as 2000, Scott McNealy, head of Sun Microsystems famously said “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.” Mark Zuckerberg echoed that sentiment when he recently stated that “privacy is no longer a social norm”. And, in a response to a lawsuit against it, Google reiterated in a 2013 court filing that there users of g-mail should have no reasonable expectation of confidentiality or privacy.
There’s no need to be paranoid, but it doesn’t hurt to be aware. As Joseph Heller said - “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you”!
See also: Privacy, Privacy Laws, Whistle Blowers, Hackers, Opinion, NSA and Digital Forensics (for law enforcement tools)
[This page started as a six-line tongue-in-cheek reference in 2009. It’s amazing how it’s grown and how educated the public has become since then...]