If you’re worried about the capability of government to conduct surveillance of citizens engaged in political assembly and protest, or even just personal activity, then you should be aware the technological capability of government surveillance is about to expand exponentially.
The US Air Force’s Research Lab (yes, it has its own lab) has recently signed a contract to test new software of a company called SignalFrame, a Washington DC wireless tech company. The company’s new software is able to access smartphones, and from your phone jump off to access any other wireless or bluetooth device in the near vicinity. To quote from the article today in the Wall St. Journal, the smartphone is used “as a window onto usage of hundreds of millions of computers,s routers, fitness trackers, modern automobiles and other networked devices, known collectively as the ‘Internet of Things’.”
Your smartphone in effect becomes a government listening device that detects and accesses all nearby wireless or bluetooth devices, or anything that has a MAC address for that matter. How ‘near’ is nearby is not revealed by the company, or the Air Force, both of which refused to comment on the Wall St. Journal story. But with the expansion of 5G wireless, it should be assumed it’s more than just a couple steps from your smartphone.
One can imagine some scary scenarios with this capability in the hands of government snoops:
Not only would the government know your geographical location via the GPS signal to your cellphone. They’d know what you are doing. And with whom.
A political gathering would allow them to see all the owners of other cellphones in the vicinity of a protest or demonstration. How many are gathering at a particular street or location. The direction they might be heading. Or whether there’s an organization meeting in a hall or room and who (with a cellphone as well) might be attending.
If you’re driving on a winding coastal or mountain road, it would know, and could possibly access, your car’s various electronic systems to turn them off. It might access your car’s circuit board that governs your power steering when you’re driving in an area of winding roads. Or it might be able to just shut down your car’s electrical system and remotely lock all your doors. The police no longer have to engage in highway chases until capture.
The new tech would allow the government to access the data on your fitbit device while you’re jogging. Or worse, maybe even interfere with the signal on your heart pacemaker device.
The technology might be used to access your smartphone, and from there to turn on your home Alexa device to listen in and record conversations without you ever knowing. Or to listen in on your zoom conferencing on your laptop. Or maybe even worse, to shut down or bypass the safety features on your home furnace equipment. Or turn off your home security system.
And with 5G wireless broadband, the tracking might be extended well beyond the range of a bluetooth device. Add 5G broadband wireless to SignalFrame’s technology, and then wed that to the capability of machine learning and artificial intelligence, and you get instant processing of a massive amount of data on any targeted person or gathering!
This problem of government surveillance on free citizen activity is not new. It took a giant leap after 9-11 with the Patriot Act and acquisition of phone data by Homeland Security and other government agencies. It was supposed to have stopped. But it hasn’t. The snoops have continued to ignore Congressional resolutions and court decisions on privacy invasion of citizens. The latest Air Force lab testing is likely just a recent ‘tip of the iceberg’ revelation. And if the Air Force is doing it, be assured so are the Army, Navy, the NSA, CIA, FBI and all the other government snoops.
Certainly this kind of technology would be used not only by the US government. If the USA has it, you can bet other governments do too–especially China, Russia, Israel, and probably some of the Europeans as well.
Unlike in 2001, in 2020 SignalFrame’s technology takes government surveillance to a new level–given the ubiquity of smartphones, Internet of Things (IOT) devices, digital circuit board dependent autos, and all the many household devices now with MAC wireless access addresses. And now, unlike circa 2001 and the passage of the Patriot Act (and its continuation in annual NDAA legislation), we have AI, machine learning, neural nets everywhere, and massive government data processing power.
In short, Technology is becoming a growing tool and power in the hands of governments, to use to thwart democratic and constitutional rights–as well as to detect, apprehend, and ‘deal with’ those who protest and oppose those governments.
The coming decade in the USA will be not only increasingly difficult economically, increasingly unstable politically, but will prove to be a period in which technology is increasingly threatening basic civil rights as well as the very foundations of Democracy itself.
Jack Rasmus is author of ’
The Scourge of Neoliberalism: US Economic Policy from Reagan to Trump,
Clarity Press, January 2020. He blogs at jackrasmus.com and hosts the weekly radio show, Alternative Visions on the Progressive Radio Network on Fridays at 2pm est. His twitter handle is @drjackrasmus.