Very few of us commit serious crimes. The most you’re likely to be guilty of is parking in the wrong spot or going to fast and getting a ticket. In the knowledge of this and given the constant news updates suggesting the threats we face, from overseas governments developing nuclear capabilities to domestic terrorism events, we tend to support the police in being given access to the technology they need to identify and detain the nefarious.
Under this guise, however, the authorities are progressing faster than most of us realize.
How ‘The Authorities’ Are Spying On Us In New Ways
Here are just a few of the recent news articles which have outlined the never ending inventiveness of the police and law enforcement institutions which watch us around the world.
- The US government want to crack your phone: It will come as no surprise to you whatsoever that your phone is the depository of the most information about you. It’s many sensors track your location, speed, daily movements, internet searches, social media interactions, the pictures you take and many, many other things besides. Connect that device to a cellular network with a phone plan and you might as well have given the police your diary. With such a trove available, it is little wonder that Law Enforcement officials want Apple to open the kimono and give them access to the currently encrypted contents. So far (as far as we know), Apple have refused the request. Project Stingray, however, reveals a more draconian view of how smartphone technology can be used by the authorities. UK authorities established their own network of cell towers and used it to track citizens they suspected, interestingly, without a warrant.
- One police suspect picked out from 50,000 people in a single day: In China, where individual rights are often ignored by the state, police officers are now often issued with sunglasses, connected through WiFi to the internet. By engaging with the public at ‘choke points’ deliberately chosen because they force people together, these glasses can be used to identify individuals the police want to interrogate. In one recent example, Artificial Intelligence reviewed over 50,000 faces in a single day at a train station to arrest a Chinese ‘person of interest.’
- An individual arrested when his fingerprint was taken from an image sent over WhatsApp: Again, in the UK, seemingly a hotbed of monitoring, the police used an image taken of a drug dealer’s hand to run a fingerprint comparison. The dealer was photographed holding a handful of illicit drugs which police used to track him down and arrest him.
- Internet connected toys are spying on children:Finally, in perhaps the most concerning example, online toys can been cracked by criminals to spy on Children. Digital games are a relatively new feature of kid’s worlds. As with driverless cars and internet connected homes, these nascent technologies are often designed and rolled out quickly, to take advantage of the opportunity. Testing, especially security testing can be an after thought for this sort of device. Hackers take advantage of the opportunity and exploit limited (often absent) security facilities to obtain personal information. Webcams can provide images and speakers can listen in. In itself, this may be theoretically disturbing rather than practically upsetting. The major feature of internet connected toys might be that they highlight the spiraling array of connected devices and need to seriously consider the threats posed by each, before they are rolled out across our lives.
Bringing it all together
Were there surprises in that list for you? Were you aware of each and every one of these surveillance capabilities. Given the inventiveness of even the things we know, listed above, it’s hard to imagine that there are capabilities, within governments, that go beyond these surveillance use cases.
It’s possible to extrapolate this sort of news to imagine a future with little to no crime. There is no point in committing an offense if you know your digital fingerprints will be all over it ‘somehow’ (perhaps in ways you find hard to imagine.)
It’s time to critically reassess the need that authorities have to our data and for each of us to seriously consider the ramifications, if these examples of ‘progress’ concern you.