Entries Tagged "tracking"

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No Warrant Required for GPS Tracking

At least, according to a Wisconsin appeals court ruling:

As the law currently stands, the court said police can mount GPS on cars to track people without violating their constitutional rights — even if the drivers aren’t suspects.

Officers do not need to get warrants beforehand because GPS tracking does not involve a search or a seizure, Judge Paul Lundsten wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel based in Madison.

That means “police are seemingly free to secretly track anyone’s public movements with a GPS device,” he wrote.

The court wants the legislature to fix it:

However, the District 4 Court of Appeals said it was “more than a little troubled” by that conclusion and asked Wisconsin lawmakers to regulate GPS use to protect against abuse by police and private individuals.

I think the odds of that happening are approximately zero.

Posted on May 15, 2009 at 6:30 AMView Comments

Privacy in the Age of Persistence

Note: This isn’t the first time I have written about this topic, and it surely won’t be the last. I think I did a particularly good job summarizing the issues this time, which is why I am reprinting it.

Welcome to the future, where everything about you is saved. A future where your actions are recorded, your movements are tracked, and your conversations are no longer ephemeral. A future brought to you not by some 1984-like dystopia, but by the natural tendencies of computers to produce data.

Data is the pollution of the information age. It’s a natural byproduct of every computer-mediated interaction. It stays around forever, unless it’s disposed of. It is valuable when reused, but it must be done carefully. Otherwise, its after effects are toxic.

And just as 100 years ago people ignored pollution in our rush to build the Industrial Age, today we’re ignoring data in our rush to build the Information Age.

Increasingly, you leave a trail of digital footprints throughout your day. Once you walked into a bookstore and bought a book with cash. Now you visit Amazon, and all of your browsing and purchases are recorded. You used to buy a train ticket with coins; now your electronic fare card is tied to your bank account. Your store affinity cards give you discounts; merchants use the data on them to reveal detailed purchasing patterns.

Data about you is collected when you make a phone call, send an e-mail message, use a credit card, or visit a website. A national ID card will only exacerbate this.

More computerized systems are watching you. Cameras are ubiquitous in some cities, and eventually face recognition technology will be able to identify individuals. Automatic license plate scanners track vehicles in parking lots and cities. Color printers, digital cameras, and some photocopy machines have embedded identification codes. Aerial surveillance is used by cities to find building permit violators and by marketers to learn about home and garden size.

As RFID chips become more common, they’ll be tracked, too. Already you can be followed by your cell phone, even if you never make a call. This is wholesale surveillance; not “follow that car,” but “follow every car.”

Computers are mediating conversation as well. Face-to-face conversations are ephemeral. Years ago, telephone companies might have known who you called and how long you talked, but not what you said. Today you chat in e-mail, by text message, and on social networking sites. You blog and you Twitter. These conversations – with family, friends, and colleagues – can be recorded and stored.

It used to be too expensive to save this data, but computer memory is now cheaper. Computer processing power is cheaper, too; more data is cross-indexed and correlated, and then used for secondary purposes. What was once ephemeral is now permanent.

Who collects and uses this data depends on local laws. In the US, corporations collect, then buy and sell, much of this information for marketing purposes. In Europe, governments collect more of it than corporations. On both continents, law enforcement wants access to as much of it as possible for both investigation and data mining.

Regardless of country, more organizations are collecting, storing, and sharing more of it.

More is coming. Keyboard logging programs and devices can already record everything you type; recording everything you say on your cell phone is only a few years away.

A “life recorder” you can clip to your lapel that’ll record everything you see and hear isn’t far behind. It’ll be sold as a security device, so that no one can attack you without being recorded. When that happens, will not wearing a life recorder be used as evidence that someone is up to no good, just as prosecutors today use the fact that someone left his cell phone at home as evidence that he didn’t want to be tracked?

You’re living in a unique time in history: the technology is here, but it’s not yet seamless. Identification checks are common, but you still have to show your ID. Soon it’ll happen automatically, either by remotely querying a chip in your wallets or by recognizing your face on camera.

And all those cameras, now visible, will shrink to the point where you won’t even see them. Ephemeral conversation will all but disappear, and you’ll think it normal. Already your children live much more of their lives in public than you do. Your future has no privacy, not because of some police-state governmental tendencies or corporate malfeasance, but because computers naturally produce data.

Cardinal Richelieu famously said: “If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged.” When all your words and actions can be saved for later examination, different rules have to apply.

Society works precisely because conversation is ephemeral; because people forget, and because people don’t have to justify every word they utter.

Conversation is not the same thing as correspondence. Words uttered in haste over morning coffee, whether spoken in a coffee shop or thumbed on a BlackBerry, are not official correspondence. A data pattern indicating “terrorist tendencies” is no substitute for a real investigation. Being constantly scrutinized undermines our social norms; furthermore, it’s creepy. Privacy isn’t just about having something to hide; it’s a basic right that has enormous value to democracy, liberty, and our humanity.

We’re not going to stop the march of technology, just as we cannot un-invent the automobile or the coal furnace. We spent the industrial age relying on fossil fuels that polluted our air and transformed our climate. Now we are working to address the consequences. (While still using said fossil fuels, of course.) This time around, maybe we can be a little more proactive.

Just as we look back at the beginning of the previous century and shake our heads at how people could ignore the pollution they caused, future generations will look back at us – living in the early decades of the information age – and judge our solutions to the proliferation of data.

We must, all of us together, start discussing this major societal change and what it means. And we must work out a way to create a future that our grandchildren will be proud of.

This essay originally appeared on the BBC.com website.

Posted on February 27, 2009 at 6:13 AMView Comments

Government Can Determine Location of Cell Phones without Telco Help

Interesting:

Triggerfish, also known as cell-site simulators or digital analyzers, are nothing new: the technology was used in the 1990s to hunt down renowned hacker Kevin Mitnick. By posing as a cell tower, triggerfish trick nearby cell phones into transmitting their serial numbers, phone numbers, and other data to law enforcement. Most previous descriptions of the technology, however, suggested that because of range limitations, triggerfish were only useful for zeroing in on a phone's precise location once cooperative cell providers had given a general location.

This summer, however, the American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation sued the Justice Department, seeking documents related to the FBI's cell-phone tracking practices. Since August, they've received a stream of documents—the most recent batch on November 6—that were posted on the Internet last week. In a post on the progressive blog Daily Kos, ACLU spokesperson Rachel Myers drew attention to language in several of those documents implying that triggerfish have broader application than previously believed.

Posted on November 26, 2008 at 6:06 AMView Comments

Secret Military Technology

On 60 Minutes, in an interview with Scott Pelley, reporter Bob Woodward claimed that the U.S. military has a new secret technique that’s so revolutionary, it’s on par with the tank and the airplane:

Woodward: This is very sensitive and very top secret, but there are secret operational capabilities that have been developed by the military to locate, target, and kill leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq, insurgent leaders, renegade militia leaders, that is one of the true breakthroughs.

Pelley: What are we talking about here? Some kind of surveillance, some kind of targeted way of taking out just the people that you’re looking for, the leadership of the enemy?

[…]

Woodward: It is the stuff of which military novels are written.

Pelley: Do you mean to say that this special capability is such an advance in military technique and technology that it reminds you of the advent of the tank and the airplane?

Woodward: Yeah.

It’s here, 7 minutes and 55 seconds in.

Anyone have any ideas?

EDITED TO ADD (9/11): One idea:

I’m going to make a wager about what I think Woodward is talking about, and I’ll be curious to see what Danger Room readers have to say. I believe he is talking about the much ballyhooed (in defense geek circles) "Tagging, Tracking and Locating" program; here’s a briefing on it from Special Operations Command. These are newfangled technologies designed to track people from long distances, without the targeted people realizing they are being tracked. That can theoretically include thermal signatures, or some sort of "taggant" placed on a person. Think Will Smith in Enemy of the State. Well, not so many cameras, maybe.

Posted on September 10, 2008 at 11:35 AMView Comments

BT, Phorm, and Me

Over the past year I have gotten many requests, both public and private, to comment on the BT and Phorm incident.

I was not involved with BT and Phorm, then or now. Everything I know about Phorm and BT’s relationship with Phorm came from the same news articles you read. I have not gotten involved as an employee of BT. But anything I say is — by definition — said by a BT executive. That’s not good.

So I’m sorry that I can’t write about Phorm. But — honestly — lots of others have been giving their views on the issue.

Posted on September 8, 2008 at 6:23 AMView Comments

Tracking People with their Mobile Phones

Not that we didn’t think it was possible:

The surveillance mechanism works by monitoring the signals produced by mobile handsets and then locating the phone by triangulation ­ measuring the phone’s distance from three receivers.

[….]

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) expressed cautious approval of the technology, which does not identify the owner of the phone but rather the handset’s IMEI code — a unique number given to every device so that the network can recognise it.

But an ICO spokesman said, “we would be very worried if this technology was used in connection with other systems that contain personal information, if the intention was to provide more detailed profiles about identifiable individuals and their shopping habits.”

Only the phone network can match a handset’s IMEI number to the personal details of a customer.

Path Intelligence, the Portsmouth-based company which developed the technology, said its equipment was just a tool for market research. “There’s absolutely no way we can link the information we gather back to the individual,” a spokeswoman said. “There’s nothing personal in the data.”

Liberty, the campaign group, said that although the data do not meet the legal definition of ‘personal information’, it “had the potential” to identify particular individuals’ shopping habits by referencing information held by the phone networks.

Seems to me that the point of sale is a pretty obvious place to match the location of an anonymous person with an identity.

EDITED TO ADD (6/13): More info.

Posted on May 27, 2008 at 12:57 PMView Comments

Cell Phone Spying

A handy guide:

A service called World Tracker lets you use data from cell phone towers and GPS systems to pinpoint anyone’s exact whereabouts, any time — as long as they’ve got their phone on them.

All you have to do is log on to the web site and enter the target phone number. The site sends a single text message to the phone that requires one response for confirmation. Once the response is sent, you are locked in to their location and can track them step-by-step. The response is only required the first time the phone is contacted, so you can imagine how easily it could be handled without the phone’s owner even knowing.

Once connected, the service shows you the exact location of the phone by the minute, conveniently pinpointed on a Google Map. So far, the service is only available in the UK, but the company has indicated plans to expand its service to other countries soon.

[…]

Dozens of programs are available that’ll turn any cell phone into a high-tech, long-range listening device. And the scariest part? They run virtually undetectable to the average eye.

Take, for example, Flexispy. The service promises to let you “catch cheating wives or cheating husbands” and even “bug meeting rooms.” Its tools use a phone’s microphone to let you hear essentially any conversations within earshot. Once the program is installed, all you have to do is dial a number to tap into the phone’s mic and hear everything going on. The phone won’t even ring, and its owner will have no idea you are virtually there at his side.

Posted on May 9, 2008 at 6:27 AM

Tracking Vehicles through Tire Pressure Monitors

Just another example of our surveillance future:

Each wheel of the vehicle transmits a unique ID, easily readable using off-the-shelf receiver. Although the transmitter’s power is very low, the signal is still readable from a fair distance using a good directional antenna.

Remember the paper that discussed how Bluetooth radios in cell phones can be used to track their owners? The problem with TPMS is incomparably bigger, because the lifespan of a typical cell phone is around 2 years and you can turn the Bluetooth radio off in most of them. On the contrary, TPMS cannot be turned off. It comes with a built-in battery that lasts 7 to 10 years, and the battery-less TPMS sensors are ready to hit the market in 2010. It does not matter how long you own the vehicle ­ transportation authorities keep up-to-date information about vehicle ownership.

Posted on April 10, 2008 at 6:29 AMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.