By Daniel Taylor
Mobile phones have become a major part of our modern civilization. These hand-held computers have reached a level of sophistication that allows us to instantly communicate through text, voice and video. This same technology is also being used to amass a situational awareness and sensory system that will track you and the world around you. You and your cell phone are nodes in a grid of sensors that paints a virtual picture of the world.
We are offering a huge amount of “human intelligence” to whoever is watching. In days gone by, this information was uncovered by finding the right paperwork and other hard intel. Now that the public has become acclimated to social media, advancing technology and a lesser expectation of privacy, we are collectively offering freely and openly information that is valuable to corporations, marketers, and especially governments. Cell phones are a nexus point for all of this information. As the Economist reports,
“…imagine [your cell phone] being able to aggregate this sort of information from large numbers of phones. It would be possible to determine and analyse how people move around cities, how social groups interact, how quickly traffic is moving and even how diseases might spread. The world’s 4 billion mobile phones could be turned into sensors on a global data-collection network.”
You post facebook updates from your phone, you post tweets, and you send texts. This information is being used to track social movements, predict crime, and build psychological profiles on individuals. Some phones are even being made that act as breathalyzers.
We have all likely heard about the NSA wiretapping of phone calls, but cell phones and mobile devices offer an entirely new level of real time information. “Social awareness” and geolocation, i.e. the “tagging” of your location with the popular Foursquare app is an example. Police are also scanning cell phones with wireless devices during routine traffic stops. The device can retrieve all photos and video from a cell phone and “…works with 3000 different phone models and can even defeat password protections.”
The Air Force is developing a “Social Radar” that will track social developments and aid counter insurgency operations. An earlier model was developed by the Pentagon called the “Sentient World Simulation” that predicts “…how long you can go without food or water, or how you will respond to televised propaganda.” In 2010 Dr. Mark Maybury, an artificial intelligence specialist, wrote his paper on the proposed Social Radar for the MITRE Corporation. Wired magazine’s Danger room reports,
“Using sociometrics, it will pinpoint groups. Facebook timelines, political polls, spy drone feeds, relief workers’ reports, and infectious disease alerts should all pour into the Social Radar, Maybury writes, helping the system keep tabs on everything from carbon monoxide levels to literacy rates to consumer prices.”
The NSA is developing an artificial intelligence system called Aquaint (Advanced QUestion Answering for INTelligence). James Bamford, who helped expose the NSA’s illegal wiretapping under the Bush administration, covered the story in 2009. Bamford quotes one researcher who worked on the system – and quit after finding out how intrusive the technology was – as saying, “Think of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the most memorable character, HAL 9000, having a conversation with David. We are essentially building this system. We are building HAL.” As Bamford reports, this system will use “…phone calls, credit card receipts, social networks like Facebook and MySpace, GPS tracks, cell phone geolocation, Internet searches, Amazon book purchases, even E-Z Pass toll records…”
Not only can the government monitor your cell phone, it can now seize control of it through mandatory chips installed in new phones. Most major cell phone providers have signed on to the government program. Terror alerts, Amber alerts, public safety and presidential messages can now be sent to your phone. “Users can opt out of any of the alerts except the presidential messages,” notes the New York Times. An unannounced test of this system caused panic in New Jersey in December of 2011 when Verizon customers received an alert warning of a civil emergency.