Surrounded by surveillance: Is everything spying on you?

Depending upon who you listen to, GPS tracking shouldn't be your only concern when you are out and about on the streets. The ACLU hammered license plate scanners as 'logging our every move,' a different investigative report concluded your car is spying on you, and some even claim the street lights are out to get you.


The ACLU reported on the "widespread tracking of citizen's movements" via the use of automated license plate readers (ALPRs). "It has now become clear that this technology, if we do not limit its use, will represent a significant step toward the creation of a surveillance society in the United States." The ACLU does, of course, regard GPS tracking without a warrant as intrusive on privacy, but license plate reader "technology is rapidly approaching the point where it could be used to reconstruct the entire movements of any individual vehicle." Some might call that paranoid, but the ACLU said of such accusations, that it is always "amazed by the speed and consistency with which our worst fears for these kinds of technologies turn into reality."

Extremely smart street lamps, IntelliStreets system, are another tech coming under heavy fire as many of its critics claim it's Big Brother tracking your every move. ABC7News reported, "In each lighting fixture or each lighting pole, there is processor very much like an iPhone. And it takes inputs and outputs and talks back and forth. And the poles actually talk to each other." That's not all because when you step "into view of the street light, there is a camera that spots you... it can even take your picture. The system is also capable of recording conversations making critics cry invasion of privacy."

After lighting contractor Illuminating Concepts took a great deal of heat over its IntelliStreets system, it responded with Big Brother or Big Idea? "Those crying foul over our Intellistreets lighting, security and information system seem to have two consistent qualities: they know little if nothing about the overwhelming merits of our potentially life-saving technology; and, everything they ever learned they learned from the 'Big Brother' movies." The company said the grant money came from the Department of Energy, not DHS, since the IntelliStreets are energy efficient. "In its fullest form, Intellistreets also includes the collection and reporting of information immediately and completely so that first responders (police, fire and EMS) can react very quickly in moments of danger for an individual or an entire community; and, in other cases, pedestrian and vehicular traffic can be safely routed away from danger in an orderly manner." That's why the company "proudly reached out" to Homeland Security to "share our technology."

Yet the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) has long warned about the dangers lurking in digital signage, "ads with eyes"  as it continues to grow smarter and more interactive. The World Privacy Forum  [PDF] warned that "digital signage systems fitted with sensors, cameras and facial recognition systems for the delivery of targeted advertising risk creating a 'one-way-mirror society'."

There's electronic data everywhere, touching nearly every aspect of life, and digital evidence may be the star witness in a criminal case. MSNBC was talking about when it comes to your car collecting evidence via a vehicle's "event data recorder" which is like a "black box" on a plane and then witnessing against you. Yet others say "that e-evidence might just as easily create an unshakable alibi."

We've looked at war texting, an SMS attack to steal a car, at how the Nissan Leaf secretly leaks your location and your speed to websites, and there are cars with an IP address, like the Chevrolet Volt, which could potentially be vulnerable to client side attacks. SNOsoft Research delved into hacking your car for fun or profit, which pointed out it's not really that difficult to program a car to kill a driver. So you see? It's all how you view things and perhaps your paranoia level.

Is danger lurking around every street corner? Well in Japan, the land of trippy tech, where every kind of vending machine you can think of has probably been invented, vending machines can remember your birthday and much more. There's good and bad components to all technology; even those folks who dislike facial recognition technology can see it's being used at ATMs to stop fraud.

To some it's creepy, to some it's cool, but for right now I'm more concerned about continued reports of governments tainting software and deploying it to a 'hundred thousand' targets for easy eavesdropping. In Sniffing for the State, Spiegel Online reported on targeted surveillance measures such as a Gamma FinFisher spyware application that was using iTunes fake software updates to infect targets with State Trojans which could then eavesdrop on Skype conversations before Skype software could encrypt them. After confirming that attackers could spoof the updates, Apple issued an update to utilize HTTPS and stop man-in-the-middle attackers from offering software that appears to originate from Apple.

Are we surrounded by surveillance and everything is spying on us? You decide, but that Thanksgiving turkey probably won't be so have a great Thanksgiving! 

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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