Vid: These White Boxes Could Track Your Every Move

First published on July 9, 2014. Original text below:

In fall 2013, Seattle, WA, residents noticed mysterious white boxes installed on street corners throughout downtown Seattle. Their interest only grew when curious WiFi networks with the names of those street corners began to pop up on their mobile phones as available networks to connect to. The boxes and WiFi turned out to be a wireless mesh network set up by the city for emergency personnel to communicate in case of a disaster.

"Ultimately it's designed to keep our community safe, to help out with criminal investigations and just to be a part of effective government," says Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, a public information officer with the Seattle Police Department (SPD). The network was paid for with a $2.7 million port security grant from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
But privacy advocates say the network may be capable of much more than its intended use, including tracking the location of Seattle residents. After the story broke in The Stranger newspaper, it was met with so much concern from the public that the SPD turned off the mesh network in November 2013 and promised to develop protocols for its use.

"Protocols would give the Seattle police the opportunity to show how they are going to use surveillance technology to protect people and show how they are going to protect their privacy," says Brian Robick, senior policy strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.
But, with focus turned finding a new police chief, the city has gone nine months without a finalized privacy policy for the network. Robick says that the policy is important because—although the SPD says its intention is not to track users and Aruba Networks, the company that manufactured the network, told Reason TV that the product bought by Seattle is not designed to track users—things could change in the future with a new police chief or software updates.

"The city council has asked that every single time you add something or change something that the police disclose it, and we're still waiting for them to disclose what they are going to do with the base line, but without that we have no assurances of what they are going to add onto the network to change it to do other things," says Robick.

Although it's hard to predict what a city might do with newly acquired technology, the city's 2012 Request for Proposal shows diagrams that would have given the Washington State Fusion Center a direct connection to the mesh network. The Washington State Fusion Center tries to stop major crimes and terrorist acts by collecting and analyzing massive amounts of data submitted by local law enforcement agencies like the SPD and federal agencies like DHS and the FBI.

"That has been a surprising bit of information to some of the folks we have spoken with in the city and the police department when we bring it up," says Robick who points out that he doesn't think it's their intention to have that connection anymore.

"But I do think that it's interesting that when cities are campaigning for grants that they build in additional information sharing and, in a way, barter the people's privacy in order to get the funds to put up these systems."
UPDATE: The city of Seattle has confirmed that the $2.7 million cost of the mesh network only covered equipment and services and after installation the total cost of the network was $4.4 million.
Written and produced by Paul Detrick. Camera by Alex Manning and Detrick. Music by Ergo Phizmiz and Podington Bear.
About 6:12 minutes.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    This is why my phone is avocado green, has a rotary dial and coiled cord. The way God intended.

  • mr lizard||

    I didn't know you stayed at Warty's cave.

  • fish||

    "Stayed"....yeah that's it! Like a guest.

  • Cdr Lytton||

    "Mr. Warty, there's no dialtone on this phone.."

  • RussianPrimeMinister||

    Can you hook into these WiFi nodes? We could flood the emergency frequency with pictures of cats and hairy man ass.

  • Root Boy||

    These things are nothing new. I used to help build and manage these kinds of wifi mesh networks -- Motorola Quattro units with some wireless backhaul -- It's just secure wifi for the cops and fire department. Most of the po-po is going to build their own LTE networks as they will get better speed and coverage.

    Danger with these is they do initially get some better coverage and if they add cameras, it's gets all UK Big Brotherish.

    I think the real danger is when they combine automated license plate readers with those secret Stinger cellular intercepters, then it's time for some judicious vandalism -- and taking out a few doesn't degrade the network much. A smart person would find the data center where the servers are or the fiber backhaul points.

    Not that I would do that.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    You are 100% correct. I used to manage these too. They are very popular with cities that have laid fiber everywhere. They are just mesh with backhaul. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • Virginian||

    I destroyed a ton of these in Batman: Arkham Origins.

  • Almanian!||

    1) ANOTHER repeat. Thanks, Reason!

    2) Figures that the WHITE boxes would surveille you. Cause - RACIST.

  • Agammamon||

    Did you know that 1 in 12 black boxes are police informants?

  • Warrren||

    So about 8%?

  • Almanian!||

    +8%

  • Ted S.||

    Always with the racist boxes.

  • Grand Moff Serious Man||

    Okay, please bear with me as my imitation skills might not be up to snuff, but here it goes:

    Spot the Not! Lindy West 'Comedy' Writing Edition!

    1. Fuck women. Fuck men. Fuck no one. Point is, you get to fuck what you like, when you like, and your worth is not determined by some golden ratio of extreme boner tantalization vs. minimal boner touching. BONERS ARE NOT THE BOSS OF YOU. You are the boss of you.

    2. What pisses me off more than anything, though, isn't just that crusty white fucks like LaPirre are peddling penis-enchancing death machines, it's that they also have the nerve to claim that their penis-enhancing death machines, OH YEAH, also protect women from rapey men hiding in dark alleys. THANK YOU WAYNE, FOR SAVING US WITH YOUR MAGIC ANTIRAPE TOOLS that also totally don't pump lead into innocent children every day in America.

    3. Today in absolutely fucking absurd and transparent gender bias rooted in the widespread male terror of women's mysterious, swampy genitals, Apple apparently refuses to engrave "vagina" or "clit" on anyone's iPad! You can, however, get "penis" or "dick" permanently etched into your electronics with no trouble whatsoever. KOOL GYNOPHOBIA, BROS.

  • Virginian||

    2 is fake.

  • ||

    I am gonna guess 2 also. You screwed up by tossing in the 'pump lead' bit, it is over the top.

    In 3 the "male terror of women's mysterious, swampy genitals," I am guessing that is restricted to her personal experience. Seems genuine.

  • RussianPrimeMinister||

    They're all so great. . .I dunno if I can choose.

    I choose 1.

  • Irish||

    1. Fuck women. Fuck men. Fuck no one. Point is, you get to fuck what you like, when you like, and your worth is not determined by some golden ratio of extreme boner tantalization vs. minimal boner touching. BONERS ARE NOT THE BOSS OF YOU. You are the boss of you.

    This is hilarious.

  • RussianPrimeMinister||

    I'm going to use BONERS ARE NOT THE BOSS OF YOU in every I feasibly can from now on.

  • RussianPrimeMinister||

    *conversation

  • Root Boy||

    or sing it to the tune of You're Not the Boss of Me from Malcolm in the Middle.

    I would say 3 as I can't imagine progressive Apple being that awefully sexist.

  • Irish||

    God, they're all so funny. The unbearably bad grammar and random punctuation...just stupendous. I think she might legitimately be a worse write than Marcotte.

  • Almanian!||

    *stands and applauds Serious Man's excellent efforts*

    Ima go with Dos.

  • kibby||

    It's worrying how good you are at this. I'm going with 1.

  • Grand Moff Serious Man||

    I wash hoping Derptologist would weigh in and hazard a guess, but I'll reveal the answer now:

    2 is the fake. I think Suthenboy is right and I did gild the lily a bit by adding the pump lead into children bit.

    I'm not demented enough to think of a line like "mysterious, swampy genitals."

  • Irish||

    That was actually the craziest line in all three of them, but it seemed the sort of crazy West would indulge in.

  • Root Boy||

    Yeah, I found that totally believable for the Jezzie/Salon stuff I read on on HnR.

    I do not aim to be an expert in crazy prog argument, just enjoy the cliff notes.

  • Derpetologist||

    Sorry, I was out turning money into noise at the gun club.

    I would have guessed 2 though.

    Still- good effort. I wouldn't even try to parody someone as demented as her. I nearly broke my brain trying to spoof Marcotte.

  • Almanian!||

    Nice. Took Daughter #2 to the range a few days ago. Deadly with my beloved M1 and Mrs. Almanian's S&W 686.

    It's fun shooting with friends. It's even more fun shooting with my own kids!

    Of course, I always end up providing the guns. And ammo. And range. And drive there...

  • Warrren||

    I found it amusing that the cop car they kept showing was car # 187.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    Israelis in a town which has been a target of Hamas sit on a hillside, eating popcorn, to watch the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

    Vapors are had.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.u....._hp_ref=uk

  • Warrren||

    Journalist looking for a place to watch = fine, normal mundane types? = Teh evilz!

  • Vulgar Madman||

    It's what I'd do. Except id fire up some brats.

  • Warrren||

    So just like the IDF then?

  • Vulgar Madman||

    Zing!

  • SweatingGin||

    Huffington Post (UK)'s tweet of that picture draws a nice set of responses. More anger than just vapors.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • SIV||

    Good times:

    About 5:30 p.m., Ely spotted a line of Confederate infantry emerging from a nearby wood. Two officers approached Ely and asked who he was.

    Alfred Ely.

    What state are you from? asked the officers.

    From the state of New York, replied Ely.

    Are you connected in any way with the Government? prodded the soldiers.

    A Representative in Congress, answered Ely.

    One of the officers grabbed Ely by the arm, stripped him of a pistol, and proclaimed him a prisoner. The two officers hustled Ely to their commander, Colonel E.B. Cash of the 8th South Carolina. When they announced the identity of their prisoner, Cash–a cantankerous old farmer who would fight one of the last lawful duels in America after the war–pointed his pistol at Ely's head.

    God damn your white-livered soul! screeched Cash. I'll blow your brains out on the spot!

    The junior officers quickly interceded: Colonel, Colonel, you must not shoot that pistol, he is our prisoner. Still enraged, Cash grudgingly stashed his pistol, and the South Carolinians hustled Ely to the rear. He would spend the next six months in a Richmond prison, a political prize tormented all the while by his captors. (Once released, Ely would do the thoroughly American thing and write a best-selling book about his ordeal.)

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    United Kingdom: University law clinic secures asylum for Afghan atheist - the Muslim-born man worried that his life might be at risk in Afghanistan

    http://www.thelawyer.com/analy.....42.article

  • Warrren||

    Heh. Your link says analy.

  • SweatingGin||

  • Warrren||

    I'm the missing Link!

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    "Hail and well met, Sir Dorkus."

  • Warrren||

    Watch out Boko Haram, I'm a comin' to get ya!

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    Mario says, "if the Princess is in *that* castle, she'll be easy to rescue!"

  • SweatingGin||

    "they may take our lives, but they'll never take... OUR FREEDOM(fest)!"

  • SweatingGin||

    "GILMORE is going to have a shit fit!"

  • Rich||

    "'Flesh wound'?! You've no bloody *lips*!"

  • Grand Moff Serious Man||

    Donate to Reason TODAY-

    Even our Editor-in-Chief has to work a side gig at Medieval Times to make ends meet!

  • Grand Moff Serious Man||

    "Matt is overjoyed as this year he has finally amassed sufficient rotundity to play Sir Cumference."

  • Warrren||

    Finally the gear I need to defeat The Jacket!

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    O young Matt Welch is come out of the west,
    Through all the wide RenFest his glasses were best;
    And save his good broadsword he weapons had none,
    Unless you count the Smiting app on his iPhone.
    So faithful in love, and so loud in his belch,
    There never was knight like the young Matt Welch.

  • Warrren||

    The Knight Welch.

  • Grand Moff Serious Man||

    House Welch

    Sigil: A white lower case r on a field of orange with black framed glasses

    Words: Hear Me Politely Discourse on Why Both Parties Are Uniquely Terrible On Most Issues

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    "Quae causa est quod foeminae non sunt libertarian"

  • Derpetologist||

    Hmm. Sir John Falstaff has really let himself go.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    Holder: He and his boss face "racial animus," voter ID is racist, and the country is still "too afraid to confront racial issues."

    Plus, racist.

    (autoplay ad)

    http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-.....opposition

  • Vulgar Madman||

    Sure didn't see that coming!

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    Yeah, that's it. People hate Obama and Holder NOT because they are the antithesis to liberty....but because they are bleck.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    The Salon parody account may as well give up, it can't compete with actual articles.

    "Why Can’t Women Compete Against Men at Video Games?

    "Sexism, that’s why"

    http://www.newrepublic.com/art.....ign=buffer

  • ||

    The article, which is pretty reasonable, doesn't really jive with the headline. I think someone else wrote it as clickbait.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    Well, it worked on me.

  • SIV||

    Immigration Millenials Marijuana Gay Marriage Food Trucks More

  • Atanarjuat||

    Pot, Ass Sex, Mexicans

  • SIV||

    I remember back when the motto was "Free Minds and Free Markets"

    God I'm old.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    Jamaican journalist is skeptical of ganja legalization - Parliament isn't legalizing it, but is making it a citable offense and exempting Rastafarians.

    "And this issue of exempting Rastafarians from any offence and treating them differently from the rest of us is problematic. How far does the State go in facilitating religious exceptionalism? What about the religious rights of Mormons whose scriptures still exalt polygamy, but who, because of American state action, cannot practise their theology - which their founders did? It is only because polygamy is illegal in their homeland, America, why the Mormons have been forced to adjust their teaching. America could have exempted them, citing its revered constitutional protection of religious liberty?...

    "Let's think these things through. Let's debate them rationally, not viscerally, as we are wont to do in Jamaica. The Raelians reportedly have sex orgies and nudist camps as part of their religion. They encourage teen sex for our extraterrestrial creators like that. Would Jamaica grant them special camps where they can have their sex rituals, the denial of which would make us guilty of suppressing people's religious rights? I don't believe religious people should have special privileges in a secular society."

    http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gle.....ocus3.html

  • Warrren||

    I want to play Tokemon!

  • SIV||

  • RishJoMo||

    OK dude lets just roll with it already oK.

    www.AnonToolz.tk

  • SweatingGin||

    Late to the party, just found it this morning, but worth a quick post, anyway: Seattle PD says "oops, a node did get turned on again"

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement