With a growing number of ‘smart gadgets,’ spying on homes may start to become much easier. In fact, CIA Chief David Petraeus admitted that Americans were effectively bugging themselves and making it easy for spy agencies to peek in on their lives.
More and more personal and household devices are connecting to the internet, from your television to your car navigation systems to your light switches. CIA Director David Petraeus cannot wait to spy on you through them.
Speaking at a summit for In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm, Petraeus noted that new devices that link ‘dumb’ home appliances such as refrigerators, ovens and lighting systems to the Internet could “change our notion of secrecy.”
“‘Transformational’ is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies, particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft,” Petraeus noted.
“Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters — all connected to the next-generation Internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing,” Petraeus explained. “The latter now going to cloud computing, in many areas greater and greater supercomputing, and, ultimately, heading to quantum computing.”
The CIA has a lot of legal restrictions against spying on American citizens. But collecting ambient geolocation data from devices is a grayer area, especially after the 2008 carve-outs to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Hardware manufacturers, it turns out, store a trove of geolocation data; and some legislators have grown alarmed at how easy it is for the government to track you through your phone or Play Station.
Back in April of 2011 software hackers Peter Warden and Alasdair Allen discovered an unencrypted file inside Apple’s iOS4 software, storing a long list of locations accompanied with time stamps. The file is labeled “consolidated.db.” Your iPhone or 3G-equipped iPad has been secretly recording your locations.
“Ever since iOS 4 arrived, your device has been storing a long list of locations and time stamps,” Warden and Allen wrote. “We’re not sure why Apple is gathering this data, but it’s clearly intentional, as the database is being restored across backups, and even device migrations.”
Also back in 2011 German politician and privacy advocate Malte Spitz sued his phone carrier Deutsche Telekom to get every piece of information it had about him. The carrier delivered to him a gigantic file containing 35,000 data points of his location for six months. Later, a German publication plotted Spitz’s data onto an interactive map.
Petraeus is interested in creating new online identities for his undercover spies – and sweeping away the “digital footprints” of agents who suddenly need to vanish.
“Proud parents document the arrival and growth of their future CIA officer in all forms of social media that the world can access for decades to come,” Petraeus observed. “Moreover, we have to figure out how to create the digital footprint for new identities for some officers.”
In the meantime, the biggest microchip company in the world, ARM, presented new processors that can be implanted into nearly any household appliance and connect it to the Internet so that the appliance could be remotely controlled in tandem with other applications. The company described the concept as the “Internet of things.”
And the National Security Agency is already building a gigantic supercomputer to process this gigantic amount of information. It’s a $2 billion Utah-based facility that can process yottabytes (a quadrillion gigabytes) of data, according to the Gizmondo technology blog. It will be the centerpiece for the Global Information Grid and is set to go live in September 2013.
These latest announcements paint a somewhat Orwellian picture of the future, with TV’s spying on their viewers and beds recording the dreams of those sleeping in them. Perhaps this data would then be sent to the Utah supercomputer, which would assess the person’s pros and cons. And what if the computer uses statistics to decipher the likelihood that that person will commit a crime? A score could land you in jail – for a crime that had not yet happened.
But even now we see how people are being arrested for posting online or clicking the wrong button in the privacy of their own home.