” Strange new off-white boxes popping up in downtown Seattle use wi-fi networks that can record the last 1,000 locations of a person using their cellphone’s MAC address, but the Department of Homeland Security – which funded the network to the tune of $2.7 million dollars – has refused to address the nightmare privacy implications of a system that could lead to the permanent tracking of an entire city’s population.
A report by The Stranger, a weekly Seattle newspaper, exposes how 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 we asked about, only that it wouldn’t—at least until certain people in power say it can. That’s the equivalent of a “trust us” and a handshake.”
Be sure to read the whole post and don’t miss this one that is linked above and forms the basis for Mr Watson’s article from The Stranger :
” How accurately can it geo-locate and track the movements of your phone, laptop, or any other wireless device by its MAC address (its “media access control address”—nothing to do with Macintosh—which is analogous to a device’s thumbprint)? Can the network send that information to a database, allowing the SPD to reconstruct who was where at any given time, on any given day, without a warrant? Can the network see you now?
The SPD declined to answer more than a dozen questions from The Stranger, including whether the network is operational, who has access to its data, what it might be used for, and whether the SPD has used it (or intends to use it) to geo-locate people’s devices via their MAC addresses or other identifiers.
Second, and more importantly, this mesh network is part of a whole new arsenal of surveillance technologies that are moving faster than the laws that govern them are being written. As Stephanie K. Pell (former counsel to the House Judiciary Committee) and Christopher Soghoian (senior policy analyst at the ACLU) wrote in a 2012 essay for the Berkeley Technology Law Journal:
The use of location information by law enforcement agencies is common and becoming more so as technological improvements enable collection of more accurate and precise location data. The legal mystery surrounding the proper law enforcement access standard for prospective location data remains unsolved. This mystery, along with conflicting rulings over the appropriate law enforcement access standards for both prospective and historical location data, has created a messy, inconsistent legal landscape where even judges in the same district may require law enforcement to meet different standards to compel location data.
In other words, law enforcement has new tools—powerful tools. We didn’t ask for them, but they’re here. And nobody knows the rules for how they should be used.”
Rule number one in the worlds of science , technology , politics and liberty should always be :
“Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.”