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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Today in the Surveillance State: The Ghost of Seattle's Wireless Mesh Network Briefly Returns

Posted by on Tue, Aug 5, 2014 at 2:45 PM

One of the many nodes for the SPDs wireless mesh network that are still up around downtown Seattle.
  • Malcolm Smith
  • One of the many nodes for the SPD's wireless mesh network that are still up around downtown Seattle.

Last year, reporter Matt Fikse-Verkerk and I reported on the wireless mesh network—a series of communications nodes purchased by the Seattle Police Department with Department of Homeland Security money and then quietly installed throughout downtown Seattle with the hopes, as one SPD document put it, to extend it across the city.

Police declined to answer questions about whether the mesh network could record and track people's devices via their MAC address—which, after reviewing the technical data and talking to tech experts, it appeared that it could—and whether they had any surveillance protocols in place to control how that potential data would be stored, handled, or shared.

After the story came out, the SPD didn't move to answer any of those questions. Instead, it promptly shut the network down.

But parts of it didn't stay down.

Yesterday, the Seattle Times reported on civil-liberties advocates who noticed that part of the wireless mesh network was still up and running—and registering on their cell phones during a protest against a new youth jail. The SPD said it was an accident, claiming that "the 'rogue node' had been inadvertently activated when a contractor restored power to the pole."

That's a plausible enough explanation, but even if it's true, it illustrates some of the persistent dangers of buying and installing equipment with surveillance potential before (1) having a robust public discussion about how it will and won't be used and (2) establishing laws and protocols to control how information will be recorded, stored, shared, and audited.

Once we've got these capabilities, it's very hard to get rid of them. Even if a surveillance apparatus is installed by entirely virtuous people for entirely virtuous reasons—and that's a big goddamned if—we're just a few years, a few changes in leadership, and a few changes in circumstance from putting some very powerful tools in the hands of people we neither know nor trust.

Let this stand as another strong argument for lawmakers and citizens to pressure law enforcement to be transparent and—to repeat—establish rules, protocols, and punishments for violating those protocols in place before you buy and install any surveillance apparatus.

Because their ghosts will come back to haunt us.


Comments (11) RSS

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Will in Seattle 1
Of course it's an accident.

Sleep soundly, serfs.

Only citizens have rights - and only the Rich and Powerful are Citizens.
Posted by Will in Seattle on August 5, 2014 at 3:45 PM · Report this
The city council should demand the devices be removed immediately. Furthermore, they need to require all new tech be approved by the Council before implementation.
Posted by supergp on August 5, 2014 at 5:08 PM · Report this
Brendan, the story was posted to the Times' website yesterday, but it's on the front page of today's print edition.
Posted by Phil M on August 5, 2014 at 6:57 PM · Report this
The one on 4th and Blanchard (across from the fire station) has been on for the better part of a year since I started working down there.
Posted by RoosterSauce on August 5, 2014 at 10:11 PM · Report this
Kinison 5
I don't know what the big deal is. Anywhere you have WiFi (Starbucks, Hotel, Library, Apple Store, etc) is where your MAC will be logged.

Its incidents like the Seahawks Parade where the system becomes incredibly useful.
Posted by Kinison on August 6, 2014 at 5:01 AM · Report this
@5: Kinison: One difference between the two sets of systems you referenced is that one is controlled by private entities and the other is controlled by our public employees. We have no direct control over the activities of private businesses, so long as those activities are lawful. We can and should order our government staff to refrain from recording our words, associations, and locations unless they have reason to suspect us of wrongdoing.
Posted by Phil M on August 6, 2014 at 10:22 AM · Report this
drhackenbush 7
@6 the lack of control you cite regarding private wifi is precisely the reason that this is an absurd worry
Posted by drhackenbush on August 6, 2014 at 1:17 PM · Report this
GlibReaper 8
XXXOOO from a previous thread called it: "Next we'll hear that, oops, it was accidentally turned on again without telling anybody."…

Their definition of "disabled" is an odd one if it doesn't persist though a power-cycle. All of the "disabled" mesh nodes have lights blinking, including the one that I noted was transmitting at 3rd&Yesler.

Same goes for the cameras attached to this network which are "not in use" though they still have power and optical fiber network cables attached, blue "on" lights shining day and night.
Posted by GlibReaper on August 7, 2014 at 11:38 PM · Report this
We have seen similar devices here in Sarasota. They are called "Stingray's". They "trick" your phone into connecting to it like it would a cell tower, and at that point every single bit of data on your device is available to them. Fortunately here in Florida the ACLU has filed suit, and the Feds showed up to "collect" these devices for now. in the meantime SPD have had to temporarily cease and desist per a circuit judges order. Stay tuned...
Posted by Jethrovox on August 9, 2014 at 10:25 PM · Report this
10… is-your-homes-energy-meter-spying-on-you/… Another SaskPower smart meter explodes in Saskatchewan (July 28, 2014)… know-your-rights-new-electrical-smart-grids-raise-privacy-concerns/
Posted by Good Morning on August 14, 2014 at 4:03 AM · Report this
It is all about advancing the Police State by any means necessary, by whatever lie or evasion you have to use. You need this to enforce the insane laws being brought in primarily by secret treaties (TPP, TTIP, TAFTA, etc.) and by administrative law (the bureaucrats creating law on the spot, with no accountability, to suit them and their secret society masters). This gradual bringing in of Orwellian technology is the "Totalitarian Tiptoe" by David Icke,
Posted by Roger77 on August 14, 2014 at 7:39 AM · Report this

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