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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and police have the capability to monitor our every move, and can do just that in at least one American city by taking advantage of citizens’ smartphone Wi-Fi capacity.
It’s a technology that can be used anywhere in American that people use Wi-Fi.
In Seattle, Washington, a wireless mesh network project designed by Aruba Networks is reportedly able to track and store the last 1,000 places an individual has visited. The mesh network equipment in Seattle was purchased with nearly $3 million from a DHS-funded grant.
The network can track movement via common electronic devices, such as smartphones, laptops and tablets. All such devices possess a unique “media access control” or MAC address. The surveillance network is linked via wireless access points mounted on utility poles – there are currently 160 such portals in Seattle.
The technology is easily understood if you have a smartphone and use Wi-Fi. When walking down the street, your smartphone is constantly searching and finding Wi-Fi signals – at a Starbucks, at a McDonald’s, at private residence. The Seattle network takes advantage of this technology and can track and store the location of every smartphone, laptop and tablet – even if the person does not log in.
Police deactivated the system after an uproar from citizens and privacy groups, but the hardware is still hanging throughout the city – and could come back to life if approved by the city council.
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Seattle City Councilman Bruce Harrell defending the system and told KIRO-TV:
While I understand that a lot of people have concerns about the government having access to this information, when we have large public gatherings like the situation like in Boston and something bad happens, the first thing we want to know is how are we using technology to capture that information.
Local police detective Monty Moss, one of the leaders of the mesh network project, said he is “not comfortable” answering policy questions related to the surveillance tracking devices because the city does not yet have a usage policy in place.
The Orwellian “Big Brother”-style technology was not supposed to be functional in the city until local officials vote on the matter, but a TV news team walking around town was able to view the Seattle mesh network popping up on wireless devices.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) representative Jamela Debelak said:
They now own a piece of equipment that has tracking capabilities, so we think that they should be going to city council and presenting a protocol for the whole network that says they won’t be using it for surveillance purposes. We believe that people should be free to move about without having the government track their movements unless there really is reason to believe they’re engaged in some criminal activity. We definitely feel like the public doesn’t have a handle on what the capabilities are. We’re not even sure the police department does.
According to information posted on Aruba Networks’ website, the mesh wireless technology can also be linked into smart grids, wireless surveillance systems, and traffic cameras. As previously reported by Off The Grid News, the use of smart grid technology and smart meters to infringe upon the privacy of citizens has spawned at least one lawsuit and a host of public backlash. Some technology experts also believe that a smart grid offers cyber hackers an easy access point into the power grid. The USDA recently awarded nearly $15 million in grant funds to expand the smart grid into rural areas.