9 Terrifying (and Real) Surveillance Technologies Coming To A Smart City Like You

Smart cities could mean much more surveillance

Smart sounds good, doesn’t it. Who would want the alternative. We are on an inexorable path towards smart cities, smart TVs and smartphones,what makes these artifacts ‘smart’ is that they are internet connected and log a lot of detail. That means they can record our activity in such fidelity that, in the event of a crime, they can turn back the clock to analyses any component which contributed.

Imagine, for example, a UK Police force which has finished working through the aftermath of a bombing at a music concert and runs back through time, examining video records of people and vehicle moments, facial recognition technology and other means to track the bomber, where he built the bomb, those he colluded with and whether he was part of a terrorist movement. What, 10 years ago, would seem an unlikely scenario now garners a shrug. Of course they do that, we think. It’s a good thing.

The new surveillance technology we don’t even know about

But do you know the extent of current surveillance capabilities? Here are 9 different surveillance technologies which have been perpetrated in just the last few years. See if any of them scare you.

  1. The FBI warn of monitoring facilities in internet connected children’s toys: The rise of consumer focused, in house technology presents risks, as you might imagine. In 2017, an Autonomous jeep was driven off the road by a hacker. In the same year, in the US, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
  2. The threat from Alexa and Google Home and other smart voice assistants: In a series of well publicized news stories, people were made aware that, not just the commands they give their home assistants could be captured and stored by the companies that provided them. A number of factors are contributing to the threat. The rise of AI as a competitive differntiator in the fights between technology manufacturers like Apple, Google, Microsoft and so on is the biggest contributor. But voice recognition is now getting so good that it is nearly at the point it is practical for almost any purpose. Improvements in voice recognition technology (it is now nearly as good as the human ear at discerning someone’s spoken intent, even in noisy environments) and
  3. The threat from your smartphone: Not only is your phone always connected to the internet and always with you, we thoughtlessly impart our most personal details in to the devices through Facebook, Google and other web based services. Phones also track your location and a myriad of other details about you. 2017 also saw a number of situations in which the government tried to crack access codes to get in to iPhones and, perhaps even more worryingly, sought legislative changes to give them the right to demand access.
  4. When your smartphone gets hacked: It’s not just governments we need to worry about. Even at a consumer level, there are literally dozens of apps designed to
  5. Big glass microphone: One of the more ingenious surveillance programs to have appeared in recent times, project ‘Big Glass Microphones’ used the vibrations caused in fiber optic telecommunications links as people walked over them, to record group movements.
  6. Domain Awareness Centers: The 400, 000 Residents of Oakland, California were more than a little surprised to find that they had been part of a detailed surveillance program for many years. The DAC operated 24 x 7 and included feeds from email servers, social media, microphones which could detect gunshots, import areas  and the weather. The local council which implemented it had not talked to the residents or defined policies to detail the period for which they would store the information they collated. In the end, the program was scaled back under public scrutiny. It now only covers the port.
  7. Stingray fake phone masts: Stingray is a technology capability that police forces in the US are investing in. Stingray places masts which look like standard cellular technology masts around a conurbation and use them to track the movements of your smartphone – importantly – without a warrant.
  8. Massive parallel facial recognition: Systems now exist to track, photograph, process and recognize the faces of literally hundreds of people at a time. Sporting events and political rallies can be analyzed in real time by computer systems
  9. AI can pick your voice out of a crowd: A 2017 test showed positive results when it came to voice recognition with an algorithm now able to establish the modulations of the voice of a single individual talking in a crowed circumstance, such as a restaurant or bar.

9 Terrifying (and Real) Surveillance Technologies Coming To A Smart City Like You

Does there come a time when we just accept it?

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions is what they say. Those people driving the investments in the uptake of these new surveillance technologies no doubt have good intent. They want to protect us from terrorist attack, solve crimes and reduce risk in crime ridden areas of town. There may, however, some aspects of the surveillance technologies listed above that came as a surprise to you, just as the DAC came as a surprise to the residents of Oakland, CA.

It’s one thing to be surveilled, it’s another not to know about it. Edward Snowdon brought the government’s huge surveillance abilities to our attention in 2013, leaking details of the NSA’s abilities which shocked the world. Unfortunately, as was made famous on the satirical HBO TV show ‘Last Week Tonight’, very few Americans actually know who he is or what he did.Even more interesting is the science behind the motivation. There is actually, currently, little evidence to support the contention that even high levels of surveillance reduces crime.

When new programs are being rolled out, ostensibly to improve our safety but they are so secret the community doesn’t know about many of them and those that are known, are soon forgotten about, it seems only a matter of time before our entire lives are surveilled.