Big Brother Is Watching
Big Government and Big Businesses Working Together to Spy on You
Spying Through Your Phone
In 2006, AT&T was sued in a class-action lawsuit for cooperating with the National Security Agency (NSA) and allowing them access to massive amounts of data from AT&T customers. The NSA was reportedly given a “direct hook-up” to the AT&T database, which stores information about all calls made on its systems, including duration, time and place. Federal agents also reportedly contacted communications giant Qwest in hopes that they could gain access to its databases.
Jeff Dahlstrom, a former Air Force pilot and current government watchdog who monitors government disaster drills, related his own brush with the fearsome reach of unauthorized government wiretapping. In the middle of a normal business phone exchange with his bank, Dahlstrom learned that the representative to whom he was speaking was based in Portland, OR. Just as a friendly heads-up, Dahlstrom helpfully informed her to avoid downtown in the coming week because it would be hosting “a drill where they’re gonna simulate setting off a nuclear bomb.”
Whether the trigger was the word “nuclear” or “bomb” or some combination of the words Dahlstrom used, the call was picked up by the government, recorded, analyzed and flagged for further investigation. Dahlstrom continued, “Within six hours I have two Secret Service agents at my house. They had a transcript of every word that was said on the telephone.”
Over-eager government agents plucked his words out of the ether, unconcerned about his privacy and civil rights.
Spying Through Your License Plate
As noted, RFID tags were born out of Soviet spy craft and, some worry, their ultimate purpose may have changed little. With increasing amounts of household items tagged with RFID devices, it's increasingly possible that every purchase made—every brand, every amount and every time—will be recorded in some database somewhere, open to government agencies or corporate monoliths. But RFID may not simply end in our kitchen cabinets or chest of drawers. It may soon track our every movement, whether by land, air or foot.
The automobile has been a symbol of freedom to generations of Americans, from teenagers who are given their first real sense of independence from their parents, to those who hit the open road in search of their share of the American dream. The idea that the automobile could be an instrument of control is a horrifying possibility that many Americans would prefer to not think about. However, license plates with RFID chips have already been introduced in many European countries. These chipped plates can transmit their identification information a distance of more than 300 feet. Anyone with a reader can merely point it at your vehicle to gain personal information about you. Moreover, the government can use them to track your every move—they can see where you've been, when you went, and study and make conclusions based upon your driving history. And in certain countries, there is a new RFID-enabled program being tested that would allow traffic citations and tickets to be issued based on the information transmitted by RFID plates. If the RFID chip thinks you're following the car in front of you too closely or believes you to be speeding, the chip can inform the local traffic authority of your alleged infractions. Leaving aside the indignity of being fined by your inanimate license plate, there are the unfair impracticalities—what if you were speeding to the hospital or closely following the next car in a funeral procession? Beyond that, the ability for the government to know precisely when and where you go is a chilling one. Why would the government need to track its citizens so precisely? How is it anyone's business as to where you might go? RFID-enabled license plates are already a reality in Europe, and here in America a local politician in Texas has introduced a bill mandating them in the Lone Star state.
No Limits on Spying
And it's not just government intrusion we need to fear. What if someone were to read all the personal identification from every car parked at a particular rally? Or a religious gathering? All one would need is the right equipment, and the desire for ill-gotten political or financial gain.
Privacy expert Katherine Albrecht tells just how easy it is to build a device to read RFID transmissions. “The type of RFID technology that they’ve put into these licenses can be picked up by anybody. I can spend a couple hundred bucks and buy a reader to pick this up. I could be standing here right now reading the number off of your ID card right though your pocket. Right through your wallet.”