These White Boxes Could Track Your Every Move

  • About
  • Export
  • Add to
In fall 2013, Seattle, WA, residents noticed mysterious white
boxes installed on street corners throughout downtown Seattle.
Their interest only grew when curious WiFi networks with the names
of those street corners began to pop up on their mobile phones as
available networks to connect to. The boxes and WiFi turned out to
be a wireless mesh network set up by the city for emergency
personnel to communicate in case of a disaster."Ultimately it's designed to keep our community safe, to help
out with criminal investigations and just to be a part of effective
government," says Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, a public information officer
with the Seattle Police Department (SPD). The network was paid for
with a $2.7 million port security grant from the Department of
Homeland Security (DHS).But privacy advocates say the network may be capable of much
more than its intended use, including tracking the location of
Seattle residents. After the story broke in
The Stranger newspaper, it was met with so much
concern from the public that the SPD turned off the mesh network in
November 2013 and promised to develop protocols for its use."Protocols would give the Seattle police the opportunity to show
how they are going to use surveillance technology to protect people
and show how they are going to protect their privacy," says
Brian Robick, senior
policy strategist at the American
Civil Liberties Union of Washington.But, with focus turned finding a new police chief, the city has
gone nine months without a finalized privacy policy for the
network. Robick says that the policy is important because—although
the SPD says its intention is not to track users and Aruba Networks, the
company that manufactured the network, told Reason TV that the
product bought by Seattle is not designed to track users—things
could change in the future with a new police chief or software
updates."The city council has asked that every single time you add
something or change something that the police disclose it, and
we're still waiting for them to disclose what they are going to do
with the base line, but without that we have no assurances of what
they are going to add onto the network to change it to do other
things," says Robick.Although it's hard to predict what a city might do with newly
acquired technology, the city's 2012
Request for Proposal shows diagrams that would have given the
Washington State Fusion
Center a direct connection to the mesh network. The Washington
State Fusion Center tries to stop major crimes and terrorist acts
by collecting and analyzing massive amounts of data submitted by
local law enforcement agencies like the SPD and federal agencies
like DHS and the FBI."That has been a surprising bit of information to some of the
folks we have spoken with in the city and the police department
when we bring it up," says Robick who points out that he doesn't
think it's their intention to have that connection anymore."But I do think that it's interesting that when cities are
campaigning for grants that they build in additional information
sharing and, in a way, barter the people's privacy in order to get
the funds to put up these systems."Written and produced by Paul Detrick. Camera by Alex Manning and
Detrick. Music by
Ergo Phizmiz and
Podington Bear.About 6:12 minutes.Subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube channel to receive
automatic notification when new videos go live and scroll down for
HD, Flash, MP4, and MP3 versions.
Video provided by Reason TV
Producer : Reason TV