Strange off-white boxes began popping up in downtown Seattle which use wi-fi networks that can record the last 1,000 locations of a person using their cellphone’s MAC address.
The Department of Homeland Security funded the “Mesh Network” to the tune of $2.7 million dollars, illegally ignores the privacy implications of a system that could lead to the permanent tracking of an entire city’s population.
The boxes, which are attached to utility poles and include vertical antennae, can track cellphones even if they are not connected to the system’s wi-fi network.
Aruba, the company that provided the boxes to the Seattle Police Department brags in its technical literature about how the boxes can keep track of “rogue” or “unassociated” devices – in other words, your cellphone – even if you have refused to let the system access your device’s wi-fi component.
The user’s guide for one of Aruba’s recent software products states: “The wireless network has a wealth of information about unassociated and associated devices.” That software includes a “location engine that calculates associated and unassociated device location every 30 seconds by default”
The last 1,000 historical locations are stored for each MAC address. When reporters, Matt Fikse-Verkerk and Brendan Kiley asked the Seattle Police Department and the Department of Homeland Security to explain what the boxes were for, the DHS refused to comment and Seattle Police detective Monty Moss would only state that the department “is not comfortable answering policy questions when we do not yet have a policy.”
Detective Moss also added that the Mesh Network would not be used for “surveillance purposes” without City Council’s approval and the appropriate court authorization.
Note that he didn’t say the mesh network couldn’t be used for the surveillance functions they asked about, only that it wouldn’t at least until certain people in power say it can. That’s the equivalent of “trust us” and a handshake.
The justification for the Mesh Network is that it will allow police, firefighters and other first responders to communicate as well as stream surveillance video on a private uncluttered network during an emergency.
However, the system is, “adept at seeing all the devices that move through their coverage area and visually mapping the locations of those devices in real time for the system administrators’ convenience.”
The SPD has also indicated that it plans “citywide deployment” of the network, opening the door for mass unfettered surveillance of Seattle’s 634,000 residents.
Seattle council member Bruce Harrell justified the mesh network being used for surveillance purposes by making reference to the Boston bombings, “While I understand that a lot of people have concerns about the government having access to this information, when we have large public gatherings like the situation like in Boston and something bad happens, the first thing we want to know is how are we using technology to capture that information,”
Harrell told KIRO-TV. “We are being told that such measures will help police ‘solve more crime'”. We are being told that such measures will “keep people safe”.
But what about our privacy? Doesn’t that count for something? What about the Fourth Amendment? Are our most cherished liberties and freedoms going to be thrown into the trash just because we live “in a more dangerous world?” asks Michael Snyder.
As we have highlighted, this is just one of several examples of Big Brother spying apparatus being installed on the streets with barely a whimper of protest in comparison to the outrage that was prompted by the revelations of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Hi-tech street lights called Intellistreets that are linked via a ubiquitous wi-fi network and can record conversations are now popping up in major cities across the United States.
According to the company behind them, Intellistreets lighting systems can analyze voices, act as surveillance cameras and make loudspeaker security announcements. They also have the capability to track people who wear RFID tags.
The fact that the lights are all linked back to a central data hub via a wi-fi network also mean they have the same capability to track people via their cellphone’s MAC address.
A separate network of sensors installed in at least 70 major U.S. cities called ShotSpotter, ostensibly designed to alert authorities to gunshot locations, also have the ability to record street conversations using microphones, according to a 2012 New York Times article.
This led the ACLU to warn that the technology could represent a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment if misused. When these technologies are combined with the fact that virtually every new consumer item can be linked to the internet (and therefore tracked and wiretapped), this represents a surveillance grid that makes NSA wiretapping of phone calls and emails look antiquated in comparison.
UPDATE FROM A SUBSCRIBER:
The Seattle police chief has turned off the surveillance system, pending a reassessment of the program which includes public input. This occurred due to public outcry over privacy concerns. As a resident of the Seattle area, I share the concern of many fellow Seattleites over the stealthy manner in which the system was installed.