Big Brother Is Watching
Technology as Spymaster
RFID Identifies and Tracks You
Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID, is a device that sends out an identification/tracking signal using radio waves. This device can be applied or attached to products, animals or people, and the signal it sends can be read from several yards away. There are three types of RFID tags—Active RFID, which contains a power source and can transmit signals continuously and autonomously; Passive RFID, which contains no battery and requires an outside source to provoke signal transmission; and Battery-Assisted Passive, which requires an outside source to trigger transmission, but whose battery allows a greater signal range.
RFID was invented and first utilized by the Soviet Union as an espionage tool to help facilitate covert listening. Nowadays, the technology is everywhere: RFID is used in the E-ZPass and other electronic toll-paying devices in many public-transportation systems around the world, in quick-pay systems such as the Exxon Mobil Speedpass, and in U.S., Korean and European passports.
ECHELON Monitors Your Communication
ECHELON is the name given to the system of signal-collection and analysis networks run by the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. ECHELON was created during the Cold War to monitor the military and diplomatic communications of the Soviet Union and its satellite countries. Following the fall of the Iron Curtain, it was used to monitor communications to help spot terrorist chatter, drug-cartel information and other illegal activities. The exact locations of ECHELON listening posts are unknown, but likely sprinkled across the globe in order to increase the vast spider web making up the program’s area of coverage. ECHELON is thought to be capable of collecting virtually any form of communication—including telephone calls, faxes, emails and other data traffic—by intercepting satellite transmissions, microwave links and public-switched telephone networks, as well as tapping into fiber-optic networks.
But Who Watches the Watchmen?
ECHELON was born out of the pitched frenzy of the Cold War. Nuclear obliteration and the destruction of the human race were very real possibilities in the early atomic age. Today, however, the outlook is not as apocalyptic. Terrorists may want to hurt America but the chances of their ending life on Earth as we know it are slim. In addition, electronic conversations and communications, while common enough in the 1960s and 1970s, are now completely ubiquitous. Electronic records of commerce, banking statements, medical records, personal identification numbers and private conversations are whizzing through the air in a way that barely seemed possible even 10 years ago. Emails, texts, tweets, cellphone calls and Internet traffic can each contain information both deeply personal (religious beliefs and romantic gestures) and highly private (social-security numbers and credit-card details).
Can the average Joe really trust the government not to train its billion-dollar spy systems on his private conversations and transactions? The government claims that it is only after bad guys, but is there any way to be certain? And how does one define “bad guy?” Is it a known lawbreaker, a suspected terrorist, or could it be stretched to a member of the political opposition? It might sound paranoid if there was not already ample evidence of the government listening in and spying on citizens without required court-ordered warrants.