The CIA may soon have a new way to spy on Americans. According to a new report from Wired, the intelligence agency will be using the Internet through electronic devices, including TVs and alarm clocks, to pry into our lives:
Earlier this month, Petraeus mused about the emergence of an “Internet of Things” — that is, wired devices — at a summit for In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm. “‘Transformational’ is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies,” Petraeus enthused, “particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft.”
All those new online devices are a treasure trove of data if you’re a “person of interest” to the spy community. Once upon a time, spies had to place a bug in your chandelier to hear your conversation. With the rise of the “smart home,” you’d be sending tagged, geolocated data that a spy agency can intercept in real time when you use the lighting app on your phone to adjust your living room’s ambiance.
“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 said, “the latter now going to cloud computing, in many areas greater and greater supercomputing, and, ultimately, heading to quantum computing.”
Petraeus allowed that these household spy devices “change our notions of secrecy” and prompt a rethink of “our notions of identity and secrecy.” All of which is true — if convenient for a CIA director.
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 PlayStation.
That’s not the only data exploit intriguing Petraeus. He’s interested in creating new online identities for his undercover spies — and sweeping away the “digital footprints” of agents who suddenly need to vanish.
This coupled with news that the United States government has a secret interpretation of the USA PATRIOT Act is a recipe for disaster for our civil liberties. The Fourth Amendment is not ambigious here. The federal government must either have probable cause or obtain a warrant to search Americans.
I don’t kid myself into believing that we wouldn’t be facing down these same civil liberties abuses under a John McCain presidency. But those of you that voted for Barack Obama because you thought he was better than McCain on this issue have to feel a little dumb. If George W. Bush had done this, you would no doubt be in the streets protests, and justifiably so. But there isn’t much in the way of protest with Obama and his administration run roughshod over our civil liberties.