Invasion of the Data Snatchers, Big Data and the Internet of Things Means the Surveillance of Everything

By Catherine Crump and Matthew Harwood. Crump is a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project and a non-residential fellow with the Stanford Center for Internet and Society and an adjunct professor of clinical law at NYU. Her principle focus is representing individuals challenging the lawfulness of government surveillance programs. Follow her on Twitter at @CatherineNCrump. Harwood is senior writer/editor with the ACLU and his work has been published by Al-Jazeera America, Guardian, Guernica, Reason, Salon, Truthout, and the Washington Monthly. Follow him on Twitter at @mharwood31. Cross posted from TomDispatch

Estimates vary, but by 2020 there could be over 30 billion devices connected to the Internet. Once dumb, they will have smartened up thanks to sensors and other technologies embedded in them and, thanks to your machines, your life will quite literally have gone online. 

The implications are revolutionary. Your smart refrigerator will keep an inventory of food items, noting when they go bad. Your smart thermostat will learn your habits and adjust the temperature to your liking. Smart lights will illuminate dangerous parking garages, even as they keep an “eye” out for suspicious activity.

Techno-evangelists have a nice catchphrase for this future utopia of machines and the never-ending stream of information, known as Big Data, it produces: the Internet of Things.  So abstract. So inoffensive. Ultimately, so meaningless.

A future Internet of Things does have the potential to offer real benefits, but the dark side of that seemingly shiny coin is this: companies will increasingly know all there is to know about you.  Most people are already aware that virtually everything a typical person does on the Internet is tracked. In the not-too-distant future, however, real space will be increasingly like cyberspace, thanks to our headlong rush toward that Internet of Things. With the rise of the networked device, what people do in their homes, in their cars, in stores, and within their communities will be monitored and analyzed in ever more intrusive ways by corporations and, by extension, the government.

And one more thing: in cyberspace it is at least theoretically possible to log off.  In your own well-wired home, there will be no “opt out.”

You can almost hear the ominous narrator’s voice from an old “Twilight Zone” episode saying, “Soon the net will close around all of us. There will be no escape.” 

Except it’s no longer science fiction. It’s our barely distant present.

Home Invasion 

“[W]e estimate that only one percent of things that could have an IP address do have an IP address today, so we like to say that ninety-nine percent of the world is still asleep,” Padmasree Warrior, Cisco’s Chief Technology and Strategy Officer, told the Silicon Valley Summit in December. “It’s up to our imaginations to figure out what will happen when the ninety-nine percent wakes up.”

Yes, imagine it. Welcome to a world where everything you do is collected, stored, analyzed, and, more often than not, packaged and sold to strangers — including government agencies.

In January, Google announced its $3.2 billion purchase of Nest, a company that manufactures intelligent smoke detectors and thermostats. The signal couldn’t be clearer. Google believes Nest’s vision of the “conscious home” will prove profitable indeed. And there’s no denying how cool the technology is. Nest’s smoke detector, for instance, can differentiate between burnt toast and true danger. In the wee hours, it will conveniently shine its nightlight as you groggily shuffle to the toilet. It speaks rather than beeps. If there’s a problem, it can contact the fire department.

The fact that these technologies are so cool and potentially useful shouldn’t, however, blind us to their invasiveness as they operate 24/7, silently gathering data on everything we do. Will companies even tell consumers what information they’re gathering? Will consumers have the ability to determine what they’re comfortable with? Will companies sell or share data gathered from your home to third parties? And how will companies protect that data from hackers and other miscreants?

The dangers aren’t theoretical. In November, the British tech blogger Doctorbeet discovered that his new LG Smart TV was snooping on him. Every time he changed the channel, his activity was logged and transmitted unencrypted to LG. Doctorbeet checked the TV’s option screen and found that the setting “collection of watching info” was turned on by default. Being a techie, he turned it off, but it didn’t matter. The information continued to flow to the company anyway.

As more and more household devices — your television, your thermostat, your refrigerator — connect to the Internet, device manufacturers will undoubtedly follow a model of comprehensive data collection and possibly infinite storage. (And don’t count on them offering you an opt-out either.) They have seen the giants of the online world — the Googles, the Facebooks — make money off their users’ personal data and they want a cut of the spoils. Your home will know your secrets, and chances are it will have loose lips.

The result: more and more of what happens behind closed doors will be open to scrutiny by parties you would never invite into your home. After all, the Drug Enforcement Administration already subpoenas utility company records to determine if electricity consumption in specific homes is consistent with a marijuana-growing operation. What will come next? Will eating habits collected by smart fridges be repackaged and sold to healthcare or insurance companies as predictors of obesity or other health problems — and so a reasonable basis for determining premiums? Will smart lights inform drug companies of insomniac owners?

Keep in mind that when such data flows are being scrutinized, you’ll no longer be able to pull down the shades, not when the Peeping Toms of the twenty-first century come packaged in glossy, alluring boxes. Many people will just be doing what Americans have always done — upgrading their appliances.  It may not initially dawn on them that they are also installing surveillance equipment targeted at them. And companies have obvious incentives to obscure this fact as much as possible.

As the “conscious home” becomes a reality, we will all have to make a crucial and conscious decision for ourselves: Will I let this device into my home? Renters may not have that option. And eventually there may only be internet-enabled appliances.

Commercial Stalking

The minute you leave your home, the ability to avoid surveillance technologies masquerading as something else will, if anything, lessen.

Physical sensors connected to the Internet are increasingly everywhere, ready to detect a unique identifier associated with you, usually one generated by your smartphone, then log what you do and leverage the data you generate for insight into your life. For instance, Apple introduced iBeacon last year.  It’s a service based on transmitters that employ Bluetooth technology to track where Apple users are in stores and restaurants. (The company conveniently turned on Bluetooth by default via a software update it delivered to Apple iPhone owners.) Apps that use iBeacon harvest a user’s data, including his or her location, and sometimes can even turn on a device’s microphone to listen in on what’s going on.

Another company, Turnstyle Solutions Inc., has placed sensors around Toronto that surreptitiously record signals emitted by WiFi-enabled devices and can track users’ movements. Turnstyle can tell, for instance, when a person who visited a restaurant goes to a bar or a hotel. When people log-on to WiFi networks Turnstyle has installed at area restaurants or coffee shops and check Facebook, the company can go far beyond location, collecting “names, ages, genders, and social media profiles,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

The rationale for apps that track where you are is that business owners can use the data to tailor the customer experience to your liking. If you’re wandering around the male grooming section of a particular retailer, the store could shoot you a coupon to convince you to purchase that full body trimmer that promises a smooth shave every time. If customers enter Macy’s and zig right more often than left, the store can strategically place what’s popular or on sale in those high-traffic areas. This is basically what’s happening online now, and brick and mortar stores want in so they can compete against the Amazons of the world.

Not so surprisingly, however, such handy technology has already led to discriminatory behavior by retailers. About a year ago, an investigation by the Wall Street Journal found that prices quoted by online retailers like Staples and Home Depot changed based on who the customer was. People who lived in higher-income areas generally received the best deals, which is a form of digital redlining. In the future, count on brick and mortar stores to do the same thing by identifying your phone, picking up data about you, and pricing items according to just how juicy a customer they think you may be.

To be able to do this, retailers need companies that can provide rich data about our lives. That’s where a group of pioneering companies in the new universe of customer surveillance called data aggregators come in. Already a multibillion-dollar industry, aggregators like Acxiom, Experian, and Datalogix buy customer data from wherever they can — banks, travel websites, retailers — and turn it into Big Data. Then they analyze, package, and sell it to third parties. “Our digital reach,” said Scott Howe, CEO of the largest data aggregator, Acxiom, “will soon approach nearly every Internet user in the U.S.”

Last December, the Senate Commerce Committee investigated the business practices of the nine largest data aggregators: what information they collect, how they obtain it, their invasiveness, and who they sell it to. The committee found that these companies collect information ranging from the relatively mundane to the incredibly sensitive, including names and addresses, income levels, and medical histories. They then sell it off without giving serious consideration to what the buyers might do with it.

In the process, you could find yourself categorized as part of a group of “Mid-Life Strugglers: Families” or “Meager Metro Means” or “Oldies but Goodies,” which aggregator InfoUSA described as “gullible” people who “want to believe their luck can change.” Think of it as high-tech commercial profiling of the most exploitative sort. 

The result is the creation of a twenty-first century permanent record of your very own, which you are unlikely to ever be able to see because, as the Senate report warned, the industry operates under “a veil of secrecy” with little or no regulation. “Three of the largest companies — Acxiom, Experian, and Epsilon — to date have been similarly secretive with the committee with respect to their practices, refusing to identify the specific sources of their data or the customers who purchase it.”

Congress’s watchdog, the Government Accountability Office, reviewed U.S. privacy law and found that citizens generally do not have the right to control the scope of information collected about them or limit its use, even when it pertains to their health or their finances. And if the information is incorrect — something you might never find out — there’s no U.S. law that requires data aggregators to correct it.

Paul Ohm, a policy advisor to the Federal Trade Commission, calls these immense troves of personal information “databases of ruin.” He worries that, over time, these databases will include new waves of data — maybe from your conscious home or location information from commercial sensors — and so become ever more consolidated. Soon, he fears, “these databases will grow to connect every individual to at least one closely guarded secret. This might be a secret about a medical condition, family history, or personal preference. It is a secret that, if revealed, would cause more than embarrassment or shame; it would lead to serious, concrete, devastating harm.”

Sooner or later, with smart devices seamlessly using sensors and Big Data provided by data aggregators, it will be possible to pick you out of a crowd and identify you in complex ways in real time. If intelligent surveillance cameras armed with facial recognition technology have access to social media profiles as well as the information stored by data aggregators, a digital dossier of your life could be called up on-demand whenever your face is recognized. Imagine the power retailers and companies will exert over your life if they not only know who you are and where you are, but what your weaknesses are — whether that’s booze, cigarettes, or the appealing mortgage rate with the sketchy small print. Are we looking at a future where the car salesman really does know what he has to do to put us in that car?

Big Data is creating the possibility of a far more entrenched, class-based surveillance society that discriminates using our perceived successes and preys on our weaknesses.

The Great Outdoors

Recently, Newark Liberty International Airport upgraded lighting fixtures at one of its terminals to a more eco-friendly alternative known as LEDs. It turns out, however, that energy efficiency wasn’t the only benefit of the purchase. The fixtures also double as a surveillance system of cameras and sensors that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is using to watch for long lines, identify license plates, and — its officials claim — spot suspicious behavior.

With all the spying going on these days, this may not seem particularly invasive, but don’t worry, the manufacturers of such systems are thinking much bigger. “We see outdoor lighting as the perfect infrastructure to build a brand new network,” said Hugh Martin, CEO of Sensity Systems, a Sunnyvale, California-based company interested in making lighting smart. “We felt what you’d want to use this network for is to gather information about people and the planet.”

Pretty soon, just about anywhere you are, when you look up at that light pole, it is likely to be looking back down at you. Or into your home or car.

Other surveillance technologies are heading for the heavens. Persistent Surveillance Systems has developed a surveillance camera on steroids. When attached to small aircraft, the 192-megapixel cameras record the patterns of the planetary life they fly over for hours at a time. According to the Washington Post, this will give the police and other customers a “time machine” they can simply rewind when they need it. Placed strategically at the highest points of any town or city, these cameras could provide the sort of blanket surveillance that’s hard to avoid. The inventor of the camera, a retired Air Force officer, helped create a similar system for the city of Fallujah, the site of two of the most violent battles of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. It’s just one example of how wartime surveillance technologies are returning home for “civilian use.”

Private surveillance technology is also destroying one of America’s iconic freedoms: the open road. License plate readers are proliferating across America. These devices snap a picture of every passing car. One company, Vigilant Solutions, already holds 1.8 billion license plate records in its data warehouse, known as the National Vehicle Location Service (NVLS). Anyone with access to this information could easily find out where a person has driven simply by connecting the plate to the car owner. And keep in mind that it’s up to the companies gathering them to determine just who can access the information — data of immense interest to private investigators and anyone else curious to track another person’s movements.

Like many businesses that trade in Big Data or construct massive databases, Vigilant is in regular contact with government agencies craving access to its meaty stores of information.

If You Build It, They Will Come

In February, the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) put out a solicitation to obtain access to a private license plate reader database for the purpose of “locating criminal aliens and absconders.” ICE claims that it wants to enhance officer safety by making it easier to arrest suspects away from their homes. When the mainstream media took notice and privacy advocates like the ACLU objected, new Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson pulled the plug on the project.

A big win? Don’t count on it, because police departments already have easy access to commercial license plate repositories. In the past, Vigilant has, for instance, allowed ICE to test its service free of charge. Police often pony up the cash to access such databases. As a quick experiment, go to Vigilant’s NVLS registration page, click on the drop-down menu beside “Agency name,” and scroll down. Trust us, you’ll get bored by the staggering list of police departments before you reach the bottom.

Which brings us to an axiom of our digital age: law enforcement will exploit any database built, if it makes it easier to figure out what the rest of us are up to. Lucky for them, there’s a wealth of data out there and available. Experian, one of the largest data aggregators, told the Senate Commerce Committee that “government agencies” regularly purchase information from them. 

Often, those agencies don’t even have to pay for the privilege of accessing our data. In many cases, such an agency can simply issue its own subpoena (not seen by a judge) and compel companies to turn over our sensitive data. The culprit here is known as the “third party doctrine,” which some courts have aggressively (and wrongly) interpreted to mean that any information disclosed to a third party isn’t really private.

The danger of the rise of Big Data and the Internet of Things is straightforward enough. Whenever data is perpetually generated, collected, and stored, the result is going to be a virtual ATM of user information that government agencies can withdraw from with ease. Last year, for instance, local, state, and federal authorities issued 164,000 subpoenas to Verizon and more than 248,000 subpoenas to AT&T for user information, while issuing nearly 7,500 subpoenas to Google during the first half of 2013.

The Internet of Things means that, soon enough, the authorities will have yet more ways to learn yet more about us.

Big Data, Little Democracy?

Here are two obvious questions for our surveillance future: Who controls the data generated by our devices? Without doing anything except buying and installing them, do we somehow consent to having every piece of data they generate shared with Big Business and sometimes Big Brother? No one should have to isolate themselves from society and technology in the ascetic mold of Henry David Thoreau — or more ominously, Ted Kaczynski — to have some semblance of privacy.

In the future, even going all Jeremiah Johnson might not have the effect intended, since law enforcement could interpret your lack of a solid digital footprint as inherently suspicious. This would be like a police officer growing suspicious of a home just because it was all dark and locked up tight.

When everything is increasingly tracked and viewed through the lens of technological omniscience, what will the effect be on dissent and protest? Will security companies with risk assessment software troll through our data and crunch it to identify people they believe have the propensity to become criminals or troublemakers — and then share that with law enforcement? (Something like it already seems to be happening in Chicago, where police are using computer analytic programs to identify people at a greater risk of violent behavior.)

There’s simply no way to forecast how these immense powers — disproportionately accumulating in the hands of corporations seeking financial advantage and governments craving ever more control — will be used. Chances are Big Data and the Internet of Things will make it harder for us to control our own lives, as we grow increasingly transparent to powerful corporations and government institutions that are becoming more opaque to us.

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    1. Fiver

      Yes. Let’s take the least-served community and give the members what they are owed using a tool you couldn’t possibly deploy on that nation’s elite, instead of some other tools that have long been used and work with but a modicum of political will.

  1. Skeptic

    One question I never see addressed in the Total Surveillance Issue is: how do the 1% and their minions avoid the Surveillance and go about their criminal or other business? Surely, a billionaire does not want to be spied upon like a peon.

    A perfect example is that there must be a Two Tier System for the 1% at airports. I can’t imagine these billionaires and their functionaries going through a TSA shakedown like Blue Collar Joe.
    One other implication of all this is, in a Total Surveillance System, if one is a Billionaire Criminal, how do you go about your daily criminal business? Serious criminals will need some sophisticated tools and techniques to avoid their crimes being recorded and detected.

    So, it would seem to me that in the implementation of Total Surveillance there must be at least Two Tiers if not more to satisfy the Elite and their need for secrecy and privacy.

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      This is a fascinating question and there is probably no simple answer other than to say that privacy, if it exists at all, will be virtual and by degree. By virtual, I mean than data will be there, but it will be ignored and un-accessible. Those at the very top of the power/financial heap will have privacy much the way they do now; for free. If they are exposed, too many others including whole institutions are at risk as well. Surveillance data they can not escape will be ignored and neutered by expensive software packages.

      If they fall out of power or out of money, their protection depends entirely on how corrupt is the overall environment they operated in and what their position was inside it.

      For the rest, they will get the amount of privacy they want and can pay for, but the starting price will be quite high. Otherwise, as noted, they will generate suspicion and find themselves without privacy anyway.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        Also, (and this is just one possible/probable scenario) for those who have to pay for it, privacy will only be good so long as one pays. The minute that stops, privacy will – retroactively – be withdrawn. That’s because data will always be collected, but it will be ignored as long as and by the degree one can afford it.

      2. Ed

        In “1984”, O’Brien could turn off the two-way television monitor in his home, but he explained to Winston Smith that he was only allowed to do this for short periods of time.

    2. Jim Haygood

      Steve Jobs drove a succession of leased vehicles with 6-month temporary license plates, so that he never had a trackable, permanent license plate number.

      As mentioned in the article, license plate readers are one of the most effective means that governments have for tracking the human livestock on their tax farms, since most worker-consumers dutifully title their vehicles in their own name.

      Those who own companies can obtain a layer of anonymity by using company-owned vehicles, phones, houses, etc. which trace back only to a corporate name.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        Indirection will continue to provide some level of privacy for a while, but without other means such as owning the company or paying specifically for privacy, it will be shallow protection in practice, and with the devices being embedded in automobiles will soon be all but moot. As to leasing every six months, that would be cause for considerable amusement especially given the type of company Jobs was a CEO of. The privacy clause of vehicle rental agencies is one of the most open barn doors there is. Without other “incentives”, Job’s identity would be available on the grid before he even get the key in the lock.

    3. fajensen

      The 1% owns the servers and pays for the development of the software, however these people are not sophisticated at all, they are just convinced that things will work differently for them, because things always have. In Sweden, for example, the numerous digital(!) speed cameras are not always switched on: If someone important gets photographed with the wrong person – the king with a tranny, et cetera – the police can just pretend that those pictures were never taken.

      Now, If all that can be known about a person is stored in implicitly trusted “Central Computer”, the (few) people with access and understanding can become anyone or anything – or they can make something out of nothing. We should start hacking some of the sensors and see where it goes.

    4. Keenan


      The real elites don’t ever mix with the hoi polloi at airports or deal with TSA. They are chauffeured to the general aviation terminal to board their private Gulfstream jets.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        This indirection does not guarantee their privacy. It used to, but that is no longer the case. Even now they are subject to almost as much scrutiny as the average person by virtue of the sophistication and reach of modern technology and by storage capacity and by the cheapness of processing time and the power of distributed computation. Moreover, in the near future, this capacity will increase exponentially and cost will decrease in the same manner. There will be absolutely no guarantee of absolute privacy. It will be for sale in units like butter or anything else. This is not something anyone (realistically) can or is willing to change at this point. Any laws that are made, probably in inverse proportion to privacy sounding names used to refer to them, will in effect expose us to more data collection rather than less.

        If the very rich have any degree of privacy – and they do- it is increasingly by convention and agreement not to collect data selectively or to collect but ignore it with an increasing emphasis on the latter. Corruption breeds more corruption so the PTB always have the tendency to imagine they can get special exemption which means in reality that no one, or at least almost no one, does in an absolute sense. But it will mean that the 1% knows everything about us and that we know considerably less about them. Corruption, complexity, and bad luck will see to it that we are not completely in the dark.

        1. Brooklin Bridge

          There are agencies even for the hoi polloi that promise certain kinds of data protection, such as protection (alerts) from identity theft. The same agencies and ones like them already go much further for those who have the big bucks. A growth industry.

          1. Keenan

            Quite so. If profits for publicity and promotion are diminishing, then the termites will make privacy a rent generating product. Keeping secrets safe for a price used to be called blackmail.

  2. Ulysses

    We live in a fishbowl that is being watched over by people who are not our friends. It won’t be long before a significant number of folks begin a necessary process of mental compartmentalization– whereby they present an ever-more conformist façade to the Panopticon while dreaming ever-more revolutionary dreams deep within.
    An underground railroad of free-thinkers, helping each other along their respective journeys, will be built, because not everyone can be bullied into quiet submission forever!

  3. Luciano Moffatt

    Sometimes I dream of an Utopian society where everything we do is recorded and publicly available (that is the thing that current efforts it is lacking, reciprocity, they want to know everything about you and they do not for us to know anything about them).
    I think that would be a livable place. You might think that the complete lack of privacy is something impossible to stand, however that it is not true, since the fact that you looked up to somebodies record it is itself recorded, so you will think twice before doing it. In a way we all have such an experience: riding a bus or an elevator. You can look at other people but the people know that you are looking too.

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      Given the way humans are, the world you describe would be a nightmare, though granted a more equally distributed nightmare than the one we have now. People need privacy.

      1. Luciano Moffatt

        Actually, you would have privacy in the sense that, in this nightmare you have to actively look for what other people is doing and that action would be recorded as well. So, it is likely that in such a society it would be considered rude to watch what other people are doing without some very good reason to do it. So it would be highly unlikely that someone would bother to do that. And, my hypothesis is that such behavior would arise as a stable equilibrium.
        I find it an interesting though experiment. As long as, the data collection is symmetric and publicly available (and that the act of looking into the data is itself recorded), you might still have privacy.
        I think that the people that would be really hurt by lacking privacy are the really powerful.

        1. Ed

          If I understand the argument, its that privacy will be guaranteed by social convention instead of the lack of data. Its sort of like countries today being able to fight nuclear wars but they don’t. Lets hope this happens.

        2. Brooklin Bridge

          Under the Constitution, privacy is a right; something you grant or withhold to/from others. You would reduce it to a social convention, something others withhold from or grant to you, as Ed says, by self interest much the way countries -hopefully- don’t blow up the earth until -regrettably- they do blow it up, except that privacy is not like a Nuclear bomb and given human nature the convention would quickly be subverted to the advantage of the few just as it is now. The only difference is that by making it a social convention, you would have effectively reduced its intrinsic value to basically nothing whereas in point of fact it is a human necessity much like water or food.

          At least now what they are doing is illegal and indicative of massive corruption by any (non commercially motivated) stretch of the Constitution or the Bill Of Rights.

        3. Brooklin Bridge

          You have a point. Along with Banger, I agree that this would in theory be a reasonable way of living with each other. Perhaps I should say in a spiritual world. In this secular one, I just don’t see it.

    2. Banger

      Theoretically, I agree with you. The notion of privacy is a relatively recent one that resulted from the increase power of the state and its ability to keep track of things and hire police forces. Thus moral indiscretions that were simply gossiped about became a matter for the police as standards of conduct, like clothing standards became impossibly heavy during the 19th century. Secrecy and secret lives gradually became normal–secrecy allowed life to continue in some sane way despite the strictures that have only recently been lifted.

      Having said that, the problem with what you say is that the elites can and do avoid observation and accountability. I certainly can live in a world where everyone knows everything about me that can be recorded as long as we live in a liberal social and legal milieu–but I don’t like the idea that there is a class of people who can live secret lives because they control the levers of power.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        The notion of privacy is as old as most religions (see comment below) and almost certainly older. For instance the notion that we have fallen from the light and are not yet redeemed to stand naked in it. Or, it’s a psychological and sociological necessity that goes way back in time. Monkeys keep secrets.

      2. Garrett Pace

        An early example of privacy. Genesis 3:

        9 And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?

        10 And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.

        “A History of Private Life” edited by Aries and Duby, is tough sledding in parts, but overall very instructive in describing the historical boundaries between private and public life. (Particularly Vol I.)

  4. Brooklin Bridge

    One of the ways this is going to be introduced into our homes with or without our permission is by building codes. In the name of energy efficiency, for instance, codes will soon be enacted that require our furnaces and air conditioners and hot water heaters and thermostats and smoke alarms and electric outlets and toggle switches and lights and energy efficient windows and so on to be connected to “the grid” if it is available. This will probably result in some ACLU suit that goes all the way up to the Supreme Joke (for decorative effect) and if you imagine they are going to come down on the side of citizen’s rights to privacy, do I have a great deal on a famous bridge for you (pay no attention to the spelling – it is that bridge). So these devices will have hidden cameras and microphones and the fact that they are hidden are for your protection. It will be a federal offense to tamper with or obstruct them. Once established that it’s perfectly legal to collect any and all data as a means of “protecting” our energy resources (or whatever that joke comes up with), It will be amusing to see the “We value your privacy” sheets that come with these devices. They are already like a barn door bolted wide open giving the vendor iron clad rights to virtually all your data including the most intimate.

    1. Jim Haygood

      Quite right. A spreading convention in the tax hells of the northeast is a CCO — a Certificate of Continuing Occupancy. Before you can transfer property title to a purchaser, a municipal inspector comes in to snoop through your dwelling, retroactively charge you for any unpermitted work, and make various technical demands.

      In my state, owners are obliged to pay $90 for a smoke alarm inspection, which is about three times what a smoke detector costs in the first place. The separate CCO inspection costs $175, and retroactive upgrades (e.g., adding ball valves to isolate the water meter for the convenience of the municipal water company) can cost hundreds or thousands more.

      Code requirements are ever-escalating. The already-existing principle is that you are obliged to pay for being monitored and mandated, just as the families of Chinese convicts are obliged to pay for the execution bullet.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        just as the families of Chinese convicts are obliged to pay for the execution bullet.

        Great example. I heard (back in the early seventies) that if you defaulted on a mafia loan, they would send “Guido” out to break your leg or some such, and then you would receive a bill for services rendered in the mail.

        You are spot on about ever expanding building codes. I think the general authoritarian atmosphere is making them ever bolder in the rights they claim over your dwelling (and privacy) and ability to show up at any time with the thinnest of excuses. As always, they have very compelling reasons; ‘for the safety of your home’ and so on. Of course, the real reasons are rent extraction and data (another form of power/rent extraction).

        We may end up being quite jealous of the compassion China shows its citizens in allowing them such a cheap way out as the bullet.

      2. Keenan

        At a recent local gov’t meeting, I heard the chief of the community’s volunteer fire dept addressing the municipal council reps, complaining that his force occasionally finds homes “cluttered” which he claimed impedes their fire fighting capabilities. I half expected him to propose inspecting individual residences for his convenience using some sort of occupancy safety canard.

        1. Brooklin Bridge

          Exactly! It all seems so reasonable to the one proposing it. And it’s like a ratchet. It goes in one direction. Once it’s out of the bag, it’s just about impossible to put back in. But humans need privacy to operate both as individuals and as groups. It will be one more thing that contributes to societal collapse.

  5. jfleni

    RE:”Surveillance of Everything”

    There’s no doubt that these warnings are needed. But they come with a large helping of HYPE!

    Exxample 1: The Frige snooping on the lettuce and oranges! These yuppies and their companies are looking for El Dorado: They must ultimately make a pile of fast bucks. Think as I might, I don’t see how here!

    Example 2: License Plate Readers. These work by taking an infra-red flash photo of number plates, from a police car or other location. Despite tampering laws, they are easy to defeat and confuse – just illuminate the license plate with an infra-red LED at the cost of a nickel, for example.

    They are usually not reliable enough to read plates for charging tolls, radio equipment is used for that, so any surveillance has quite limited accuracy and reliability.

    Example 3: WiFi everywhere will get ‘yah. WiFi is notoriously both insecure and unreliable with very limited range, despite the image of the coffee-shop yuppie with his laptop/WiFi.

    My local cable company charges extra for WiFi, which is an extra complication and maybe impediment to a solid connection. The Internet works very well without it.

    Despite initial enthusiasm, all of these snooper techniques have serious failure modes, which could easily make them un-economic or useless for their intended purpose.

  6. Brooklin Bridge

    Brilliant. Put an infrared light on your plate. Perhaps also a sign on your windshield that says, “Please don’t monitor me until I get out of the bank and dispose of this bulky canvas bag”.

    If you think what is publicly known is the extent of the monitoring, or that the technology you describe is current state of the art, you are sadly mistaken. At this point it is almost impossible to “hype” the extent of data collection that is currently taking place, and besides, if you read the article, it’s talking about what you can expect in the near future.

    1. jfleni

      Brooklin Bridge: A search for “license Plate Reader defeat” returns hundreds of items, ranging from jammers, coatings, sprays, covers, etc.,etc. The odds are heavily stacked in favor of American tinkerer ingenuity.

      Toll booth cameras for catching fare-beaters are very high quality with excellent lighting available. There’s no comparison with an IR snap taken from a (possibly moving) police car.

  7. Peter Pan

    “Example 2: License Plate Readers….They are usually not reliable enough to read plates for charging tolls, radio equipment is used for that, so any surveillance has quite limited accuracy and reliability.”

    Washington state relies on license plate readers for charging tolls (by mail) and issuing citations for misuse of HOV lanes or non-payment of tolls (also by mail). So beware of what may be coming to your community.

  8. Garrett Pace

    Luke 12

    2 For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.

    3 Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      It is quite interesting that most religions, when talking about human souls encased in imperfect bodies on this imperfect earth (and not in the next realm as in your quote), make provision for a certain private space visible only between the individual and his/her maker as a reasonable necessity brought about, among other things, by human frailty. There are some things, such as a personal mantra or knowledge that could hurt others, one is not supposed to mention to anyone.

    2. Fiver

      Funny. I take that to mean God knows your mind, so don’t even think about whatever crime ‘x’ it was you were thinking to pull – sort of replacing God’s strictures with Big Brother’s, except Big Brother makes everyone a believer.

  9. Banger

    As far as i can see TINA to the world of Big Data unless we take extraordinary measures to spoof the system and that too will and can be detected.

  10. kevinearick

    Bobby, Shining Cities & Ricky

    What you are looking at is a whole lot of single people, most in civil marriage to the end of RE inflation, fed with income from make-work jobs, playing make-believe parents, false authority, as cops, teachers, social workers, and on and on. There is no shortage of blame to go around, ad infinitum with technology leverage, all searching for a financial equation to justify their behavior. Doesn’t Kissinger just take the cake, ‘working’ for America, betting against it in China, supporting a new currency in Russia?

    China is not the future. Look at how many billions of live have been wasted there, only to feed a Global City that cannot be sustained, replicating its policies like a virus, consuming commodities with dead inventory to the end of RE inflation and human deflation. If you take a moment to reflect on actuarial reality, the only way to reach a sustainable equilibrium on earth, to avoid booms, busts and wars, is to expand into space, and there is plenty of universe to explore.

    Unfortunately, when Bobby was assassinated, America died, and was replaced by yet another petty moron empire, of people talking about people, cutting each other’s throats with words, all hoping to form the next national majority to exploit the world’s minorities. Like it or not, under the empire assumption of a closed, win-lose, game system assumption, those capable of rearing children is always the minority.

    The majority, singles, always find themselves in a catch-22. The future depends upon children, but they are incapable of rearing them. In the long run, single people are dependent upon married people, but must replace them with government in the short run, to commandeer their equal rights. That’s Family Law, a catch-22 of catch-22s, from which the majority exempts itself, because it is ‘normal.” Socialism, communism or capitalism makes no difference; it always ends in tyranny and war, when make-believe accounting meets actuarial reality.

    Once again, we have reached the point where the promise ponzi of manifest destiny religionism is collapsing, and the national majorities promoting them can only turn on each other. If you are young, we have done you the courtesy of placing the system on a course of self-destruction. You might want to get out of the way, and get on with your life.

    Unless you were around and sentient when Bobby was shot, for saying that America was great before it became a great military power, because of the diversity of its ideas, there is no meaningful way to explain how far America has fallen, back into the tired old divide and conquer paradigm of arbitrary differences, exasperated by the moron politicians elected accordingly. Diversity is not about the color of your skin, despite the vernacular of public, private and non-profit corporations imprisoned by the groupthink.

    The young techies in San Francisco are not responsible for the illicit relationship between legacy real estate and government, but they know that their apps are being employed by that relationship to roll out Homeland Security. And they know that their resulting six figure salaries and seven figure hole-in-the-wall houses are suffocating real communities for hundreds of miles around their Global City, all infected them with RE inflation, imprisoned by minimum wage tourism, and occupied by public works.

    Collect all the gold you like, begin public education at birth with ‘birthing’ nurses, and occupy any media you want. The outcome is always the same. Jerry Brown and the rest of the critters occupying the Lost Coast can ‘think’ what they like, but their technology is attacking itself, faster and faster, in a virtual world, with no memory. Ricky was something else, all together.

    If a job requires certification from a peer pressure authority instead of merit, it’s not work; it’s extortion.

    1. 1 Kings

      Let’s not assume that ‘young techies’ don’t know exactly what’s going on, and in fact are living the Ayn Rand dream of ‘I am great, you are not’, so, um, therefore, suck it.

    2. Fiver

      Interesting comment all around, but I wonder, do you mean by “attacking itself” a specific property of the technology not shared with other technologies, or in the more broad political sense that certain factions within this total system complex are attempting to destroy its value for significant other factions? To my mind we are headed into the wall at about Warp 8 if we maintain our speed and trajectory – but the wizards apparently believe they can build tech-God to save the day. What a colossal waste of money.

  11. curlydan

    At some point, there needs to be a legislative “wall” established to at least corral some data. That is, my dishwasher company cannot send or use my dishwasher data for any purpose other dishwashing unless I specify that it is allowed.

    There are attempts to do something similar in the tax preparation industry (IRS’s 7216 regulations), and to this point, they seem to work OK. But the cynic in me knows it’s hard and at this point impossible to stand in the way of the corporate juggernauts that want to make the Internet of Things happen.

  12. Dr Duh

    Why no mention of electronic medical records?

    If Nixon was willing to go to the trouble of sending physical plumbers to steal Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s notes, what makes you think your health records aren’t already in a secret database? Not being looked at by a human of course, just in case.

    Coincidentally HIPAA has a built in exemption for specific “administrative requests” and a general exemption for “federal officials authorized to conduct intelligence, counter-intelligence, and other national security activities under the National Security Act” which pretty much boils down to carte blanch.

    If you care about quality and privacy, you’ll find a dinosaur, an actual MD instead of an NP, one who keeps paper charts and takes cash.

  13. Ottawan

    It seems to me that vital technical enterprises across the world face some pretty nasty obstacles to effective overhaul of their systems and maintenance of effective, au courant technique according to their specific needs. Most of the kind of problems I’m thinking of relate to HR. Is the impressive funding and low oversight of these entities sufficient to overcome such problems?

    Or are these dumb questions?

    any ideas?

  14. JTFaraday

    “In the process, you could find yourself categorized as… “Oldies but Goodies,” which aggregator InfoUSA described as “gullible” people who “want to believe their luck can change.””

    Well, you never know. Stranger things have happened.

  15. allcoppedout

    I’m clunky only enough to only watch television on a 20 minute delay to miss the increasingly vile adverts and promos. Big data is clearly in the wrong hands, but it is also true we aren’t using it to change for the better and come up with less excluding and less criminal economics and accounting.

  16. different clue

    Why should I have a smart house? I’m smart enough for me and my house both. Perhaps various local and regional code authorities could be prevented from demanding digitized houses and furniture and appliances and lights and etc by hostile local and regional pubics.
    Some people might well solar powerize their houses and run some separate parallel key appliances off their own solar power. They can make you HAVE a smart fridge, but can they make you USE it? Would they outlaw dumb beer fridges?

    1. Fiver

      Good questions. I’m guessing the point is any device, and for that matter, lots of things that are not, could have a very cheap little brain doing something you can’t stop it from doing – oh, and the general notion of a Police State as backdrop.

    2. Brooklin Bridge

      Fiver is exactly right. The devices can be ridiculously small and embedded in most anything from a child’s toy to a toaster, to a cheap mirror. In some cases you will know you are “connected”, but that is not at all required by the technology. Furthermore, it is most often not the state who operates these things, it’s private companies (kind of like communist cells). The government could legislate laws for privacy but will it? Given the profit potential and our corrupt government, that is unlikely much the way it’s unlikely that water will flow uphill, but even if they did, would they enforce them? Ha, ha,ha,ha,ha,ha. So, no matter what you do, you will be monitored in every increasing ways.

      1. different clue

        I wonder if the right kind of little supermagnets or frequency guns or whatever could fry all these little chips. I wonder if creative makers will start working on that.

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