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Seattle’s Spy Boxes: “They Are for Your Safety.”

Posted on November 14, 2013

If you’re walking around downtown Seattle, look up: You’ll see off-white boxes, each one about a foot tall with vertical antennae, attached to utility poles. If you’re walking around downtown while looking at a smartphone, you will probably see at least one—and more likely two or three—Wi-Fi networks named after intersections: “4th&Seneca,” “4th&Union,” “4th&University,” and so on. That is how you can see the Seattle Police Department’s new wireless mesh network, bought from a California-based company called Aruba Networks, whose clients include the Department of Defense, school districts in Canada, oil-mining interests in China, and telecommunications companies in Saudi Arabia.

The question is: How well can this mesh network see you?

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.

Seattle Police detective Monty Moss, one of the leaders of the mesh-network project—one part of a $2.7 million effort, paid for by the Department of Homeland Security—wrote in an e-mail that the department “is not comfortable answering policy questions when we do not yet have a policy.” But, Detective Moss added, the SPD “is actively collaborating with the mayor’s office, city council, law department, and the ACLU on a use policy.” The ACLU, at least, begs to differ: “Actively collaborating” is not how they would put it. Jamela Debelak, technology and liberty director of the Seattle office, says the ACLU submitted policy-use suggestions months ago and has been waiting for a response.

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.

(For the rest of the story, click the link)

Continue Reading on www.thestranger.com

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7 thoughts on “Seattle’s Spy Boxes: “They Are for Your Safety.”

  1. WOW!!! Speak of a late "1984" episode. Took a while, but it seems to be here. Deliver me from going to Seattle.

  2. EHeassler_USN Ret. says:

    It took until 2013, but we've finally reached 1984. We should be frightened of our governments. They are becoming all powerful and are all being connected to the even more powerful federal government which is being controlled by a narcissistic fascist. It doesn't bode well for we the people.

  3. They installed these things without knowing what they would be used for?? NOT. Betcha NSA has access already. Needs approval from council and court authorization? That means the courts and the council are packed with libs. Bet me?

  4. So…. how long before someone figures out how to spoof MAC Addresses?

    One "technical fix" deserves another I say.

  5. Seattle? Rife with libbie leftist hippies? Yer joshin' me, right?

  6. ah, you're lookin too high up the technology pole. I've thought for years, one of the first bits of activity that will need to be accomplished when things go flying apart is to disable ALL those spy, recording, access, track, measure, devices. Watch now as you drive down the freeway… video cams, some boxes wiht antennae, mounted on poles, strange-looking devices, sort of like a camera but with no discernable lens on the business end, aimed toward traffic, overhead scanner boxes of some sort…. now these things. All of them would be rather susceptible to about 150 grains of metal traveling at a a high rate of speed. Take them all out, disable their network of surveillance. With chaos ruling for a season, the money, parts, and manpower to restore it all would be a long time coming.

    Or, figure out some high-powered device to transmit a burst of electromagnetic energy to fry these things…… sort of like a microwave oven's microwave geneerator. I put a credit card with an RFID embeded into my nuker, turned it on low power (a variable power, not burst type) for firteen seconds….. it exploded the RFID itself and cooked the antenna right through the plastic face of the card. Heh heh heh.. no more RFID in MY card. Mag stripe still works……..

  7. Tionico DARPA made a drone that can fire off 6 or more EMP bursts capable of disabling all the electronics in a 20 story concrete building with one burst for each building so it is possible.