The nation’s top intelligence officer admitted Tuesday that the government may use information transmitted to the Internet from your washing machine, your thermostat, your television, your refrigerator or your favorite video game against you.
Almost every home appliance and electronic gadget sold today is outfitted with a computer chip, constantly feeding information about their owners back to utilities, manufacturers and other data networks.
James Clapper, director of national intelligence, in his annual assessment of threats given before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday, said the government considers this information fair game against people it suspects of terrorism or other crimes.
The so-called “Internet of things” is providing a bevy of personal information about Americans, many of whom are completely unaware of the dragnet they are tied into.
Smart meters, for instance, measure, in real time, a homeowner’s electricity usage, what appliance or device the usage is coming from, and feed that information to the local utility provider. Many televisions are capable of picking up sound and motion through microphones and motion sensors. Laptop computers have built-in cameras – perfect for spying.
As the Guardian reported, Clapper made clear that the many devices increasingly connected to the Internet are providing ample opportunity for intelligence agencies to spy on targets, and possibly the masses.
“In the future, intelligence services might use the [Internet of things] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials,” Clapper told the Senate panel.
Americans need to be aware of the Web of surveillance being spun all around them, says privacy advocate Patrick Wood, editor of Technocracy News and Trends and author of “Technocracy Rising: The Trojan Horse of Global Transformation.”
“Smart Home” devices that exist in major appliances, thermostats, LED light bulbs and security cameras are all targets for spying, Wood says.
“Smart Grid provides WiFi-enabled connectivity to every smart appliance within your home. Every WiFi router and cable modem is also a gateway into private areas.”
In his book “Technocracy Rising,” Wood posits that the David Rockefeller-founded Trilateral Commission is the leading force for building a new way of governing by scientific data collection on every living being and the regulating of all human activity by unelected “technocrats.” This growing “technocracy,” Wood believes, if not checked will ultimately lead to dictatorship.
He noted that Clapper, as director of national intelligence, is head of all 16 intelligence agencies in the U.S., including the NSA.
“The position was created by President George W. Bush in 2005, and the first appointee to fill the position was Trilateral Commission member John Negroponte. Negroponte architected and re-organized the intelligence community to provide future monitoring for the coming Technocracy.”
The Guardian reported that advances in microchip technology will only increase the security concerns of average consumers in the coming years.
“The so-called Internet of things promises consumers increased convenience – the remotely operated thermostat from Google-owned Nest is a leading example. But as home computing migrates away from the laptop, the tablet and the smartphone, experts warn that the security features on the coming wave of automobiles, dishwashers and alarm systems lag far behind.”
General Motor’s OnStar program, for example, tracks the car’s movement and reports it back to the automaker, which stores it indefinitely. The government could order the company to fork over this information years down the road.
Clapper did not name any specific agency involved in surveillance of home appliances, cars or other devices. But privacy advocates “take as a given” that governments and various private entities will intercept the signals the newly networked devices emit, much as they do with those from cell phones, according to the Guardian report.
Online threats again topped Clapper’s list of “worldwide threats” to the U.S., followed by the evolving threat of low-intensity terrorism. Clapper said violent Sunni Muslims, which he called “violent extremism,” have “more groups, members, and safe havens than at any other point in history.”
FBI ‘going dark?’
Clapper’s comments contradict a major study released last week by Harvard’s Berkman Center. It concluded that the FBI’s recent claim that it is “going dark” – losing the ability to spy on suspects because of encryption – is largely overblown, mainly because federal agencies have so many more avenues for spying. This echoes comments by many surveillance experts, who have made clear that, rather than “going dark,” we are actually in the “golden age of surveillance,” the guardian reported.
Guardian columnist Trevor Timm points out that privacy advocates have known about the potential for the government to exploit the Internet-connected gadgets for years.
Police are “increasingly serving court orders on companies for data they keep that citizens might not even know they are transmitting,” Timm writes. “Police have already been asking Google-owned company Dropcam for footage from cameras inside people’s homes meant to keep an eye on their kids. Fitbit data has already been used in court against defendants multiple times.
“But the potential for these privacy violations has only recently started reaching millions of homes: Samsung sparked controversy last year after announcing a television that would listen to everything said in the room it’s in and in the fine print literally warned people not to talk about sensitive information in front of it.”
Timm provided a list of devices that serve as all-seeing or all-listening, including several television models, Xbox Kinect and Amazon Echo.
Even a new Barbie doll has the ability to spy on you.
“It listens to Barbie owners to respond but also sends what it hears back to the mothership at Mattel,” Timm explains.
New court ruling ominous
The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in a Feb. 8 ruling that police can spy on Americans’ front doors for 10 weeks without a warrant using a camera mounted to a public utility pole.
That’s what happened to Rocky Houston, who lived with his brother on a farm in rural Tennessee. When federal ATF agents suspected that Houston, who had served time for a prior felony, had possession of a firearm, they directed a utility company to install a camera on its utility pole. No warrant was issued.
“This ruling confirms the fears that we voiced in the wake of United States v. Jones—namely, that the arsenal of surveillance technologies now available to law enforcement do not require government officials to engage in a physical trespass of one’s property in order to engage in a search,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute and author of “Battlefield America: The War on the American People.”
“Obviously, the new era of technology, one that was completely unimaginable to the men who drafted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, requires an updated legal code to enshrine the right to privacy,” Whitehead said. “New technologies which enable the radical expansion of police surveillance operations require correspondingly robust legal frameworks in order to maintain the scope of freedom from authoritarian oversight envisioned by the Framers.”