Categories
News

Radar Searches of Private Houses

ranger-radar

Police Use

I think it is fair to say that the police force don’t have an easy job. News is coming out of the USA though of a new controversy. Many forces have apparently issued officers with hand held radars like the one in the picture above. These radars can be used to determine if a house is occupied or not.

Now as we might imagine this is military technology. No longer do you have to get your head blown off as you open a door to find the enemy inside with a weapon. No you can use your radar. You hold it against the outside off the building and it will tell you how many people are inside the building, where they are, and if they are moving, still, breathing, etc.

And this is great technology for fire fighters too. No longer will they have to risk sending people in to burning houses to see if anyone is inside, this machine will help them determine that the building is empty, or if the person inside is moving or even breathing.

And so certain police forces have started to use them. But things are a little different for the police. They have to have permission to search a house, and it is up for debate if the use of such a tool represents a search. There have been other similar instances, including determination that (in the USA) the use of heat imaging technology does constitute a search and even leading a police “sniffer” dog onto the front porch requires a warrant.

Privacy and Dual Use

So once again we reach a fine line, safety on the one side, and privacy on the other. And at the moment we are talking about government institutions using such devices. I am sure a certain section of my local community wouldn’t mind having one too, particularly those who like to steal computers from other people’s property while they are away.

But we should also remember that we live with military cast offs every day. The Internet itself is a military tool, both in terms of its development and current use. And even the search engine TOR and some of the things that are sometimes seen as unsavoury, benefit from their interactions with various secret service organizations. And nanotechnology development in the USA has greatly benefited from defense money.

There are plenty of articles available if you search this topic, some more technical than others, so I won’t attach any links and you can find your own.

Categories
Internet News Technology

Internet Information Laws

Internet Snooping

Once again the regulation of the Internet and collection of private data is in the UK news. According to the BBC, Home Secretary Teresa May is to outline a bill that will force firms to hand details to police regarding who was using a phone or computer at a particular time.

UK Government Intervention

Providers would have to keep data that links devices to users. In effect the Police want to know the IP address that the machine was allocated at any particular time, this is information that the companies currently do not keep as it is of no commercial value to them.

This is not the first time the UK Government has tried to pass legislation however that would enable large scale surveillance of Internet use, but the previous bill was dropped when they realized that it would not pass. Some think (and say) that this new proposal will be the start of an attempt to re-frame the argument and push a re-worded proposal whose aim will be similar to the last attempt.

My own opinion however is that this may all be a bit of a diversion, as the providers already have access to all of this and much more information and can do what they want with it. They are not democratically elected and so do not answer to the people. They are multinational, or probably more correctly sopra-national, and can realistically avoid national laws that may make life difficult for them. They can move operations, move storage facilities, change customer agreements, and do not have to justify their actions to anyone.

The Bigger Picture?

The idea that the government should not have access to this information is well worth thinking about, but governments are under some obligation to the people that they represent. They get access to the information that the providers want to give them. It will not be possible for the police or any other state organization to use raw data as they do not have the personnel to carry out such work, so they will have to be provided with already worked data.

Where and how this data is stored, how it will be processed, who will have access to it, what will be done with it in the future, how safe it is, what rights the users have, international law, privacy, responsibility, and any number of other issues you can think of should all be raised.

Once more the flow of information is in the hands of the big boys. It might not be right to worry so much about what a government might do with our data but better to worry about the data that the providers themselves have. Governments are asking for information from companies that already have it, that is the problem.

All of the above is of course my own opinion!

Categories
Media News Smartphones Technology

Mobile Phones and the Right to Search (and Privacy)

cnn.police

Earlier this year I wrote an article about whether the police had the right to search your laptop when you are passing immigration into the USA. The discussion has moved on however, and this week there is a Supreme Court case about whether the police have to right to search an individual’s mobile phone when they are stopped upon suspicion of having committed a crime.

Given the UK governments discussion about the stop and search powers currently in use, there are some serious questions to address here. We now carry our lives with us on our mobile devices. To call them phones is to do them an injustice, they are computers with the possibility of making phone calls. They have our medical, personal, business, banking and emotional data, and the question is whether this is public or private information if the police stop you.

Here in the USA the law has allowed police to search these devices without a warrant, although they could not search your computer in your house without a judge’s permission, and this seems to be an anomaly given changes in how we carry our lives with us.

The case before the court involves David Riley, who was pulled over for driving with expired license plates in 2009. When his car was impounded and inventoried, police found guns in the boot and decided to investigate further.

They looked into his phone and found evidence that he might be in a gang, they downloaded videos, contacts etc and some of this information was used to convict him.

Here in the US the case has been followed by journalist Nina Totenberg, and she has a fantastic account on her blog. You can either listen to her radio report or read a transcript of it. I have taken some of it below to give you an idea of how the debate is unfolding. The question is of whether a warrant should be required, but the following snippets give an idea of how wide the implications for the debate really are:

“It’s not just what can be looked at,” it’s the fact that information from cellphones can be downloaded and kept in “ever-growing databases.”

A person can be arrested “for anything,” including driving without a seat belt, and the police could search that person’s cellphone and “look at every single email” — including “very intimate communications” — as well as medical data, calendar and GPS information to learn everyplace the person has recently been.

People “choose” when they carry their cellphones with them — and thus they should have “no expectation of privacy” if they are arrested.

So some of the questions could be, when the police stop and search you, what do they have the right to look at? If you are then arrested should they need a warrant to search your mobile devices? Do you have the right to privately carry digital information?

Categories
Apps Media Smartphones

A Civil Rights Swiss Army Knife in your Phone

Last week I wrote about Apps for driving, and this week I would like to continue the theme, but with Apps that aim to protect the user from police harassment.

The first I would like to look at is called Stop and Frisk Watch, and has been developed with the help of the non-profit organization Make The Road New York. The App is designed so that the user can record both audio and video of police interactions in the community (with the screen black so that evidence is less likely to be destroyed), is alerted when other users are doing the same in the area, and has a direct reporting system so that any interaction can be reported in real time. Just shake the phone and the video is sent directly to a lawyer. It also contains a document that outlines an individual’s rights while recording the police in action.

Filming Police Brutality
Filming Police Brutality

The App is downloadable here through the New York Civil Liberties Union website.

The groups that are advocating the use of such Apps tend to be minority groups, who believe that they are treated differently from other members of society due to their race or religion, and hope that recording the police at work might help to address this issue. If we think back a few years to the Rodney King case in LA in 1991 we can see that video technology has held a place in these types of issues for some time. We should also remember that riots were triggered in which 53 people were killed when the police were acquitted and so this is not a technology without implications for all sides. If you watch the video of the beating though you can see why the acquittal caused so much anger.

UPDATE: I just want to clarify that 2 officers were later charged with civil rights violations related to the Rodney King case mentioned in the article and found guilty and imprisoned. Also readers should be aware that the use of these Apps to film the police may not be legal in certain states, a problem that I touched upon last week regarding radar tracking equipment in cars.

Also in New York the Sikh Coalition is making an App available called FlyRights. This App allows the user to file complaints about air travel discrimination in real time and directly to the correct authorities. If a user feels they have been profiled or are being searched because they are wearing religious dress such as a turban or veil they can report discrimination on the grounds of religion or race.

There are many other Apps like this, and supporters argue that they could become the base as a new civil rights movement, after all the phone is one of the few things that most people carry everywhere they go. A Swiss army knife for civil rights right there in your pocket for some, a dangerous tool for others, once more we are in a debatable position. In many states in the US it is illegal to film the police and action is taken against those who do, so an App that allows someone to do it without being noticed may be looked upon with suspicion.