Files leaked by NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 highlighted the extent of the US government surveillance of online activity, generating a wave of outrage and discontent. As technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, the magnitude of police surveillance is mounting.
In Ohio, traditional surveillance cameras are being replaced by a new, more powerful generation of public observation technology – cameras that can track each person and each vehicle in an area as big as a small city for several hours at a time.
As the Washington Post writes, this new surveillance technology provides such a wealth of data, police, private individuals and businesses can use them to track the movements of citizens and identify people (1).
These real-time event-tracking surveillance systems are raising civil liberties concerns about their civilian use.
Ruling that modern surveillance technology can result in unconstitutional searches when carried out without a warrant, US courts have placed stricter limits on the use of technology which can see things that aren’t visible to the naked eye.
However, the law remains blurred as courts struggle to apply such models to rapidly evolving technology.
As Global Research notes in an article about the StingRay cell phone spying device, prevented by a Supreme Court decision from using law enforcement GPS tracking devices without a warrant, law enforcement agencies and federal investigators are turning to more “powerful and threatening technology” to spy on those suspected of crime (2).
Global Research uses the example of the StingRay, a new portable surveillance device which, by acting as a fake cell phone tower, is capable of tracking cell phone signals. By tracking information such as phone calls, emails and text messages, the innovative technology enables the police to pinpoint the location of a targeted wireless mobile phone.
The StingRay has, however, raised concerns among privacy advocates and civil libertarians and even some federal judges, who believe its uncontrolled use by police raises constitutional questions.
As the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said in a statement about what the FBI don’t want us to know about its “secret surveillance techniques”:
It is the biggest threat to cell phone privacy you don’t know about.” (3)
Reiterating concerns that such technology is being used to monitor everyone, even innocent civilians, Christopher Soghoian, American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) privacy researcher, expressed concerns about the StingRay’s ability to interfere with cell phone signals of everyday citizens.
“If the government shows up in your neighborhood, essentially every phone is going to check in with the government. The government is sending signals though people’s walls and clothes and capturing information about innocent people. That’s not much different than using invasive technology to search every house on a block,” said Soghoian.
Another advanced handheld surveillance device that has been described as a tool US law enforcement doesn’t want you to talk about is the Range-R. The Range-R is being deployed to see inside houses by at least 50 law enforcement agencies, reports have stated.
Using radio waves, the radar can detect even the slightest of movement in a house. Using a display screen, the device will show how far away the movement was.
According to a report in USA Today (4), law enforcement agencies have been using such surveillance devices for more than two years but their deployment has been kept deliberately quiet.
This was until December 2014 when it was revealed a court had learned that officers had used the Range-R before entering a house to arrest an individual for violation of parole. Judges were alarmed to learn that the officers did not have a warrant to search the premises.
“New technologies bring with them not only new opportunities for law enforcement to catch criminals but also risks for abuse and new ways to invade constitutional rights,” (5) judges wrote in response to the case.
With CCTV cameras on every corner and law enforcement agencies capable of seeing inside our homes with a small handheld device, George Orwell’s dystopian world of Big Brother watching our every move has become a chilling reality.