For Americans, it’s almost a sacred thought to think that a person’s home “is their castle,” is their place of refuge and privacy where they can take time away from the world to rest and be alone. This is why Edward Snowden’s admissions of NSA spying of cell phone usage, internet usage, and phone calls is so troubling. It invades our lives in our most private place.
But this new admission takes it to a whole new level:
“James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, was more direct in testimony submitted to the Senate on Tuesday as part of an assessment of threats facing the United States.
“’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 said.” (hat tip to here for the source)
The head of the National Security Agency (NSA), Adm Michael Rogers, was more vague about the issue by saying that the time has come to make home devices “more defensible” (hey, at least he warned us. It’s a step in the right direction.).
What does this mean? The threat these people are referring to has to do with the new technology that is becoming available to run your home so as remotely adjustable thermostats (meaning that you could log into your thermostat from work and adjust the temperature because you would be home earlier than expected, for example). Of course, there are other devices to be included on this list of potentially compromised devices to threaten your privacy.
“Connected household devices are a potential treasure trove to intelligence agencies seeking unobtrusive ways to listen and watch a target, according to a study that Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society released last week. The study found that the signals explosion represented by the internet of things would overwhelm any privacy benefits by users of commercial encryption – even as Clapper in his testimony again alleged that the growth of encryption was having a “negative effect on intelligence gathering”.
“The report’s authors cited a 2001 case in which the FBI had sought to compel a company that makes emergency communications hardware for automobiles – similar by description to OnStar, though the company was not named – to assist agents in Nevada in listening in on conversations in a client’s car.”
Keep in mind, this is not speculation on our part; this is reality. Read that last paragraph again: in 2001 the FBI were already trying to spy on you using the technology that you use that is connected to the web or cell phones.
“While Samsung took a bunch of heat, a wide array of devices now act as all-seeing or all-listening devices, including other television models, Xbox Kinect, Amazon Echo and GM’s OnStar program that tracks car owners’ driving patterns. Even a new Barbie 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.”
I’m not sure that there is an easy solution to this problem in our highly connected society. One solution is to go completely off-grid or, at least, refuse to use the internet, telephones, or cell phones. This seems impractical just for everyday life here in the United States, but, certainly, being aware of the dangers and taking practical precautions seems prudent. Use encryption for your data whenever possible, and look for ways to monitor what data is shared and available from your devices without encryption. I, for one, have no plans to buy that Samsung smart television. Ever.
How do you think that we should combat this privacy threat? Sound off below.