Anytime you download a movie from Netflix to your television or turn on an Internet-based radio, you could be alerting people who you don't want or need watching you.
According to the Central Intelligence Agency, the organization says spies won't have to plant bugs in homes, businesses or other places where they want to spy because of coming advances in computer and Internet technology. Specifically, CIA Director David Petraeus, one-time commander of the Iraq and Afghanistan war theaters, says new apps and the rise of "connected" devices means people, essentially, will be bugging their own homes.
The CIA says it is very possible the agency and others will be able to "read" these and other gadgets from outside the places they want to monitor via the Internet and perhaps even with radio waves outside your home.
Nowadays, everything can be controlled by an app - your home security system, a clock radio, remote controls, the lighting in your kitchen. And, according to Wired magazine's online "Danger Zone" blog, it's going to get better - or worse, depending on your point of view. Computer-chip maker ARM recently unveiled low-powered, cheaper chips which can and will be used in virtually everything, including refrigerators, doorbells and ovens.
The resulting flood of app-controlled devices will be able to be easily read and even manipulated and controlled, Petraeus said, adding that the technology will allow agents to spy without having to plant bugs, breaking or entering or engaging in other risky (or illegal?) behavior. Spies, instead, will simply monitor activity through existing apps in use by the subject.
"Transformational is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies," Petraeus said in comments made to a venture capital firm looking at new technologies that could transform previously dumb appliances into an interconnected "Internet of things."
"Particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft. 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," he said, "the latter now going to cloud computing, in many areas greater and greater supercomputing, and, ultimately, heading to quantum computing."
He acknowledged that these devices and the technology to use them to spy "change our notions of secrecy" and triggers a rethink of "our notions of identity and secrecy."
'Mapping' our lives?
Those like Petraeus who are looking at the future say they believe someday such devices will be able to tell what modes of operation they are in at all times, and that they will be able to be mapped as efficiently as Google Maps charts the world right now. All of the devices that could be made into these so-called smart gadgets would become a wealth of information to spies if you are a "person of interest" - or not, critics contend. The advent of so-called smart homes would mean occupants would be continually sending out specific, geolocated information that spies can intercept in real time.
As you might expect, though, such technology has already alarmed privacy advocates. Already groups such as the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) have filed suit against the CIA and other government agencies for allegedly using social media networks to spy on people.
"Social-networking sites are becoming a part of the way we communicate every day and everyone thinks they are sharing information [on the sites] with just their friends," Shane Witnov, a law student who worked on the case in 2009 on behalf of the EFF by the Samuelson Law, Technology, and Public Policy Clinic at the University of California Berkeley School of Law. "Governments are using the sites but not in the way [citizens] expect when they sign up."
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