Can the NSA track you on your prepay mobile?


The recent news about PRISM and NSA surveillance on people based on their Internet usage and mobile usage is fascinating. The concept of being able to monitor people’s activity based on their mobile is nothing new, although of course we all thought that it would only happen under a warrant, or in emergency circumstances such as when someone makes a 911 call or perhaps in a SAR emergency.

USA 162Commercial vehicles are being tracked as a normal process, in some cases to ensure staff are working, but more commonly for more practical purposes, such as driver behaviour and safety, making sure that refrigerated trailers maintain correct temperatures and in countries like New Zealand to allow diesel truck operators to claim Road User Charge rebates when they are not driving on public roads, which can save businesses a truck load of money if you will pardon the pun.

As a fan of TV programs like Person of Interest and 24, which I hear is making a comeback, I often wonder why it seems so hard to track criminals, but if you follow my blogs and tweets you will see that more and more criminals are being caught, especially after stealing iPhones or other devices containing GPS and communications. I love those stories.

So, to the question of this blog. What we know is that government agencies (and businesses with their clients’ approval, such as finance and insurance companies) are tracking people and monitoring their behaviour. By monitoring Big Data about the location of people’s mobiles, algorithms can identify information such as where people live, work and play. They can identify associations with other people through this same data. For example if you monitor a person and establish their home (where their mobile is most nights of the year) and identify other mobile devices that are also at that location during most nights of the year, then you can identify that they also probably reside at that location.

If those people were criminal suspects of any kind, you could thereby potential make some assumptions that those people might also be criminals. This would be very useful, not only with terrorists, which we thought were the prime reason for being able to spy on people, but also gangs, drug dealers and manufacturers and more. I guess part of the issue there is whether this evidence is admissible in a court of law. But again I digress.

If you are able to monitor mobile phone radio connections using GPS or less accurate technologies and identify unknown devices such as prepaid mobiles that frequently appear at the same locations as known devices, that would suggest that you could infer the identity or characteristics of a user. If, for example, a person had a mobile for normal use and an anonymous prepaid mobile for more nefarious purposes and they were carried around together, you could infer that the user was the same person.

This could mean that effectively the use of a prepaid mobile, being used for the purposes of criminal activity, on the basis of its implied anonymity, could be fatally flawed. Not a bad thing in my opinion. The problem is more in the assumption that a governmental agency has the right to spy on its citizens without recourse and without obtaining a warrant from a court first, a bit like apologising after the event.

I am all for keeping law abiding citizens safe, but there should be transparency on how that is done, especially in countries that we consider to be enlightened democracies. Anyway, the answer to the question in my opinion is that using a prepaid mobile will not by default prevent you from being tracked or identified if an agency has the power to track radio devices. the technology is certainly easy to access.

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The World Dairy Summit and Water


Auckland’s Sky City Convention Centre is hosting the World Dairy Summit this week, a conference which will be attended by delegates from all over the world.

I was pleased to hear that sustainability is a major part of this event, with a day committed to the environment. One of those sections is on knowing your water footprint and water accounting in the dairy industry. Another is zero waste, although I’m not sure if that takes into consideration the leaching of all sorts of bio waste, hormones and fertilizers into the rivers, such as the Waikato River from which we Aucklanders have to drink, but I digress.

In a recent blog about In Vitro Meat I mentioned that according to Fred Pearce who wrote the book When the Rivers Run Dry, it requires around 24,000 liters of water to grow the feed to make a kilo of beef, or 2,400 liters for a Quarter Pounder. Now that’s a lot of water. We’re quite lucky in New Zealand being an island nation, that we get a lot of rain, but a lot of the world is not so lucky.

Of course this water is recycled in some ways, although not scientifically, most of it flows back into the ground together with whatever chemicals and particulates have been absorbed with it. That is why I previously blogged about the water quality issue in Auckland with the Super City Elections, but this was not high on any agendas.

Now my blog has been criticized before by farmers saying I am anti farming. This couldn’t be further from the truth and I love eating meat. I’ve gone off pork in recent times having seen how its farmed, but I won’t say no to wild pork.

I chose the following video because it helps explain the water issue in growing beef, but I won’t be following the advice to become a vegetarian. I don’t think humans were supposed to be vegetarian. I just think we need to stop the outrageous waste of water in our current farming methods and find better ways to grow feed, recycle water and reduce the amounts required in the farming process. I hope that New Zealand will take a stronger leadership position on water and its preservation. We are on the verge of a global water crisis and I believe that we are taking it for granted that we will always have plenty downunder.

Contact lens display for your computer


I have said it before, all the stories I read about in Science Fiction are coming true, some of them even more advanced than the fiction. Think Robocop and other stories where police, soldiers and others can have access to their computer through a device attached to their eyes. I was half-watching the new series of The Bionic Woman last night and while some of the things she was doing, like using her bionic eye as a set of binoculars with the ability to lock onto faces and use facial identification, may be a little far fetched (so far) we are on the way there. The first concepts were something along the lines of a display attached to a helmet that you look at, in effect a sort of projector. That is old technology in that it has already been piloted by police in the UK and forces around the world. Now we are talking about a contact lens that incorporates a display, wiring and even a wireless receiver all built into a silicon lens that is placed on your eye just like your normal contact lens. Much of this research is being undertaken in the Unversity of Washington.

Animal lovers read no further, but apparently these lenses have already been tested on rabbits who reported that they felt no discomfort. I understand they have not yet determined how to display something that the eye can recognise because typically the eye needs to focus on something that is at least a very short distance from it. One research group is looking at having a seperate LED or similar device per pixel, which matches the eye receptors. This concept is also not unprecedented. My late grandfather went snowblind when climbing in the Swiss Alps in his early 80’s. He was the recipient of experimental eyes which looked like huge fly eyes. Not a fashion accessory, but he was able to faintly discern and identify shapes such as a human body.

Other researchers are using this technology to help determine health status and followers of iridology will tell you that you can tell a huge amount about a person’s health through an eye examination. I could imagine this sort of data being used in military and space research, allowing information to be gathered without having lots of additional hardware being attached to the body. Hey, we could require that everyone has one of these fitted, then anytime someone has a rush of blood to the head with the hormones associated with rage or excessive endorphins, it could send a message to the authorities. Imagine what would happen if they used that technology at the next Olympic Games, they would probably arrest the competitors and leave the terrorists to roam free, but I’m getting silly now, so perhaps I better head off to my Monday night poker tournament, where I could use my bionic contact lens to tell me the value of my starting hands and the play history of each of the tournament players from their Pokerstars records.

Now here’s a question I am struggling with. When you watch movies or TV programmes like 24 (which I must admit to enjoying, albeit on DVD with 4 episodes at a time) they have the technology to grab a security camera image and within seconds, not only enhance it to a high image quality, but instantly identify the person and download their life history. I’ve seen footage from companies like Arthur Anderson monitoring and analysing eye movement in a retail store, where they are studying the science of retail shelf product placement.

So why is it that when someone commits a crime which is captured on a security camera and they show us the picture or video on TV or in the newspaper, it is such a blur? On the one hand we are seeing unbelieveably exciting research, and on the other hand we can’t catch a thief in a petrol station using highly specialised camera technology.

Anyway, I’m putting an order in for my bionic lens. Maybe I can have it installed together with my eyePod implant. I’m told I have a few terrabytes free in my brain, so perhaps I could just download the entire  EMI/Warner music list straight into my brain. My car has an invisible antenna for my car stereo, perhaps I could have one mounted on my scalp so I can download the latest podcasts from any WiFi Hotspot after using the RFID tag in my contact lens for identification.

I said I was going so now I am stopping for real. Hey, if you are reading this, how about leaving me a comment, or if you know someone who might be interested in my rantings, send them a link.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course https://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)