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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We Will Remember Them – Our ANZAC Soldiers


We are not a militaristic nation, we Kiwis. However we have a proud fighting tradition, standing up for democracy and human rights all over the world. We lost many men and women in the World Wars and on many other fronts such as Viet Nam and Korea. Once a year on ANZAC Day, we remember them and those who have fallen since, in Afghanistan, East Timor and other fronts. In RSA Clubs around the country the dwindling numbers of vets and their families have a beer, share a yarn, have a dance and a sausage roll and club sandwich and share the ANZAC Prayer.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”

Then they play the last post, we stand proud and we remember.

Laying the Kings Wreath 2011

Laying the Kings Wreath 2011

My late father in law was a few months from his final rest after a terrible fight with cancer. He served in the Air Force in Guadal Canal and other locations during World War II and my mother in law was a Wren. You should have seen her march in the parade, as erect as she would have been in her youth. Now we are left with photos and memories, not only of our people, but of their reunions with their fellow service people, remembering the fun times and remembering the fallen and the horror as the nights went on. The things that they could only discuss with those who had shared the experiences. The things we civilians can’t appreciate because we weren’t there. The trenches, the mud, the desert, the beaches, the waiting, the camaraderie, the fear, the relief, the moments of respite, the people in the countries where they served, who looked at them with gratitude and relief, coming home with their cobbers, coming home without their mates.

Today is ANZAC Day and we remember our lost and respect those who remain. I’m proud to be a Kiwi, even though I am an import. In some ways more so because, while I haven’t experienced war first hand, I was born in Holland and the Allies rescued our country from the ravages of 5 years of occupation.

When I was in the USA again last year, I was humbled by the respect shown to all veterans in all places. Everywhere I went, I met and shook hands with people who had served. Everywhere I went, people thanked them for their service. Every concert I went to, we stood and people were thanked for their service. Of course the numbers of people who have served in the USA are so many more on a ratio than in New Zealand. They are more visible as well. While there is a lot of negativity towards US involvement around the world, I have to wonder with a shudder what our world would be like if they weren’t there. I also think about the fact that we are talking about individual people, with partners, children, parents, who are stepping outside of their lives to do the right thing for their country. They all have their own stories.

That’s what motivated me, after 6 months of research, to write the song Another Stretch in Iraq, my Christmas song for 2007. I remember performing it in a ‘biker friendly’ bar in Florida, seeing a couple of 6 foot something men coming to the stage and thinking “I’m going to get beaten to a pulp” as the came towards me with tears in their eyes. But no, they came to thank me and welcome me into the arms of their Desert Storm ‘family’, saying that I had taken them straight back to their Bradleys and MRE‘s.

Yet, as I sit here in my lounge and watch the ANZAC commemorations in New Zealand, I am reminded that we, at the bottom of the planet, far removed from all the fronts and global politics, do serve. We tend to be in peacekeeping forces these days rather than at the front lines, but you will find Kiwis in most countries where there is freedom to be preserved. We fight for human rights. We take global responsibility as we can and we care fiercely about freedom and democracy. To a large degree we do that because of those who lead by example, who took arms and piled onto planes and ships and those who didn’t come back.

We will remember them. We do remember them. Even if our eyes aren’t wet every day as they are this morning. We remember them and we honor them by trying to do the right thing for the future of our children.