Is the CIA in Your Kitchen?

The CIA can then gut the Fourth Amendment digitally, without ever physically entering anyone's home.


If this question had been asked by a fictional character in a spy thriller, it might intrigue you, but you wouldn't imagine that it could be true in reality. If the Constitution means what it says, you wouldn't even consider the plausibility of an affirmative answer. After all, the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution was written to prevent the government from violating on a whim or a hunch or a vendetta that uniquely American right: the right to be left alone.

Everyone wants, at some point in the day, at some places in the home, to be left alone. The colonists who fought the war of secession from Great Britain were no different. But that war and the wish to keep the government at bay had been heightened by the colonial experiences involved in the enforcement of the Stamp Act.

That law, which applied to the colonies and not to residents of Great Britain, required that government stamps be purchased and printed on all legal, financial and even political documents in the possession of every colonist. The enforcement of that law—which was done by British soldiers who entered private homes armed not only with guns but also with search warrants that they had written for themselves, which Parliament authorized them to do—was so disturbing and resulted in such anti-British political animosity that Parliament eventually rescinded the act.

But the damage to British rule had been done, and it was irreparable. After the Founders won the Revolution and wrote the Constitution and added the Bill of Rights, they rested in the assurance that only judges could issue search warrants "particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized," and that judges could only do so if they found probable cause of criminal behavior in the place the government targeted.

The war on drugs has regrettably weakened the intended protections of the Fourth Amendment, and the Patriot Act—which permits federal agents to write their own search warrants—has dealt it a serious blow. That act, which has not yet been ruled upon by the Supreme Court, fortunately has not yet animated the Supreme Court's privacy jurisprudence. Last year, the court invalidated the police use of warrantless heat-seeking devices aimed at the home, and it will probably soon invalidate the warrantless use of GPS devices secretly planted by cops in cars.

Regrettably, unless the government attempts to use the data it has illegally gathered about a person, the person probably will not be aware of the government's spying on him, and thus will not be in a position to challenge the spying in a court. Relying on the Patriot Act, federal agents have written their own search warrants just like the British soldiers did. They have done this more than 250,000 times since 2001. But the government has rarely used any evidence from these warrants in a criminal prosecution for fear that the targeted person would learn of the government's unconstitutional and nefarious behavior, and for fear that the act would be invalidated by federal courts.

Now, back to the CIA in your kitchen. When Congress created the CIA in 1947, it expressly prohibited the agency from spying on Americans in America. Nevertheless, it turns out that if your microwave, burglar alarm or dishwasher is of very recent vintage, and if it is connected to your personal computer, a CIA spy can tell when you are in the kitchen and when you are using that device. The person who revealed this last weekend also revealed that CIA software can learn your habits from all of this and then anticipate them.

Acting "diabolically" and hoping to "change fingerprints and eyeballs" in its "worldwide mission" to steal and keep secrets, the CIA can then gut the Fourth Amendment digitally, without ever physically entering anyone's home. We already know that your BlackBerry or iPhone can tell a spy where you are and, when the battery is connected, what you are saying. But spies in the kitchen? Can this be true?

Who revealed all this last weekend? None other than Gen. David Petraeus himself, President Obama's new director of the CIA. I wonder whether he knows about the Fourth Amendment and how the Supreme Court has interpreted it and that federal laws prohibit his spies from doing their work in America. I wonder whether he or the president even cares. Do you?

NEXT: Can ObamaCare's Mandate Be Severed from the Rest of the Law?

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  1. Really? No takers yet?

    Also: I didn’t know that someone built a networked dishwasher now. That’s pretty cool.

    1. Yeah, cool. I see why I might want the alarm setup, but why exactly do I want my microwave or dishwasher networked to my PC?

      1. Dishwasher: so you can command it to do the dishes while you’re at work.

        Microwave: No clue. Seems pretty dangerous to command one to operate while you aren’t in the house.

        1. until it doesn’t


          1. Damn Mary Stack,8113 Sun Meadows Ct, Ft. Worth, Texas 76123 Phone Number: (817) 263-4116, I didn’t mean to help send you off the deep end there. At least before you were actually a funny troll; now it’s just sad.

              1. But then, what’s the difference?

                1. Thinks her cat is a libertarian Marxist working for the CIA.

                  1. Political Offizer Kat!

        2. Eventually most home appliances will come with their own Sim cards. For something like a Microwave, many of them come with a bunch of customizable settings that you can pre-program for items you defrost or cook all of the time. It may be easier to use a PC to program or modify these settings than doing it directly in the microwave. Also, newer microwaves will have refridgeration capibilities where you will be able to keep a dish cool until however long it needs to cook before you get home from work. Would be advantagous to be able to remotely change the settings if say you needed to work late or ended up too long at happy hour.

        3. It’s a microwave oven, not a phasar bank.

            1. Yeah, I prefer Earl Grey as well.

            2. You said this was Earl grey? I’d swear it was Darjeeling!

              1. “Here’s your TEA, Captain”, said Ensign Earl Grey, hotly.

      2. It’s all about the smart energy grid.Once you have everything linked to the energy grid the energy company can also turn it off if it feels you are using them to much. hows that for more conspiracies that are actually true.

        1. What if the food/eliminate fat people nazis linked up with the smart grid people and then monitored obese people so they couldnt cook food… And then had a scale in the micro and camera so they could o nm ly cook approved food/portions… And then they could have locking fridges that could only open when a regulator approved it

    2. We just bought new appliances and some are internet enabled. My wife thought it was goofy and just me being a geek, but it does make sense for some of them. You don’t need the net to use x10 or other home automation though.. for dishwashers, it’s hard to see much of a value add.

  2. Yay. More paranoia fuel, because that’s what I fucking need.

    1. If only you could go back to the ignorant days of when you were merely a lower case T.

      1. Life was so much simpler then, I admit.

        On the plus side, now that I’m a capital I get whiskey and beer.

  3. OK, is there a reference for the General’s comments? Can we see the transcript?

    1. Supposedly, he made them at the In-Q-Tel CEO Summit. Excerpts of his remarks are available here, but those excerpts aren’t a full transcription, and don’t have the dishwasher, etc… comments.

  4. Working biometric ID in home appliances already? Cool!

    1. Yeah, I was coming back to say they can tell someone is in the kitchen, but not who.

      1. It’s not like they’ve shown much of a damn about collateral damage.

  5. I’m in ur kitchenz, washing all ur dishez.

  6. I knew networked printers were up to no good but I didn’t know about other appliances.

  7. …and it will probably soon invalidate the warrantless use of GPS devices secretly planted by cops in cars.

    Hasn’t the court already ruled on this issue?

  8. The EPA needs to know whether you are running that dishwasher when it’s only half full. For the children.

  9. My connection to the intertubes at home is so crappy, I don’t think I have anything to worry about.

    1. we report, you decide

      1. Is convinced the market is reading her email.

  10. Once we settle this pesky nonsense abut whether the government can compel you to buy stuff, they will force everybody to buy networked gun safes which can be remotely locked down by the government, just in case. for the children.

    1. And cars, where the ignition can be turned off by the govt. So one can’t use it to evade the authorities or emit environmental pollution. For the children.

      1. It’s for the children.

        Fibertarian told me so.

        1. (stink lines)

          (end stink lines)

          Naw. That ain’t never gonna get old.

        2. Poltical Offizer Gambol Lockdown!

      2. At your service.

        1. Thinks her car works for the Russians.

      3. You do know that the police wanted a chip installed in every car computer so that they can remotely shut down cars? Rumor has it that those chips are in fact installed, just not activated. Yet.

        1. In my previous life I’ve worked on embedded systems, both for telecom & automotive.

          As far as telecom goes (central switches), the provision of tapping capability is required by law.

          I’ve never worked on central (engine control) ECU software, so I can’t make any statement regarding that. What one would have to follow is the thousands of laws & regulations: is there any legal requirement for providing the HW/SW capability of disabling the engine remotely?

          In Europe, there are initiatives for dynamic speed control, whereby roadside transmitters would set/limit the speed of the vehicle to suit (traffic) conditions. Why would one pay for a supposedly personal vehicle which isn’t fully controlled by oneself?

          1. Because it’s the only choice, by law?

  11. Isn’t this really a product of the exclusionary rule? Your only remedy for an illegal search is having the evidence against you thrown out of court. That is great for protecting the guilty. But not so good at protecting the innocent from government spying.

  12. Good thing Lew Rockwell posted this like 2-3 days ago.

    Way to stay up on the cutting edge reason.

    Napolitano is the man though. Fox is nuts for cancelling his show, especially the late night aspect for the Fucking Willis Report.

    What BS

    1. cmon. I’m all for a LRC vs Reason smackdown when there is an actual difference to be yelled about. But here you are just being a dick for no good reason.

      1. “I disavow.” ~Newt Paul


        1. Loves Lew Rockwell.

  13. Am I for or against this?

    1. Political Offizer Romney!

  14. I recall reading that we had installed some sort of tracking devices in printers and/or photocopies sold to the Hussein regime. Then we used those devices to locate and blow up “secret” locations.

    So maybe it’s not so much about monitoring our behavior as in being able to provide drone process when needed.

    1. The devil is in the details.

  15. Limits on power are so… limiting.

    What’s the point of having power if it’s limited?

    Power should be ABSOLUTE!


    1. You just made me sooooo wet, sarcasmic.

  16. For it in the primaries. Against it in the general. For it when President. Against it when the CIA finds out that illegals installed your networked appliances.

    1. In reply to Mitt (3.28.12 @ 12:46PM)

  17. until it’s not


    1. Sorry Mary, but that’s just you being stupid and a luddite.

      MY tech lets me totally control all incoming and outgoing information, CIA be damned.

      And I have faraday cages for anything that might use radio signals.

      So, once again, in attempting to make some kind of point, all you do is prove your ignorance.

      MY tech is freedom, it’s YOUR ignorance of tech that’s keeping you locked down.

      Go ahead and cry more now.

      1. Mary, if technology is so stupid, you must loathe Aidan for owning a telecommunications technology company, amiright? Poor guy…

    2. Thinks the CIA controls her IPhone.

  18. You know this is all Bill Gates’ fault. He thought everybody would have computer-controlled houses some day so he put a start-up command in Windows that makes one of the first things Windows does when it starts up is to check to see what connected appliances are trying to communicate with your computer. In Bill Gates’ case, everything connects to his computer – he can adjust lighting, temperature, music, start his laundry or oven, feed the dog, start a hot bath – virtually everything by remote access. Wonder what he uses as a firewall for his house?

    But I suspect that the CIA does not need a dishwasher/computer connection to tap into to gain access to your computer – all it needs is a device the computer thinks is your dishwasher.

    1. Dedicated hardware firewall(s).

  19. “and if it is connected to your personal computer”

    Needs more specifics, I’m fairly sure they mean Windows.

    Other OS’es? I’m much less sure of.

    And since I don’t let Windows anywhere near my box, I’m not worried.

    1. I don’t let Windows anywhere near my box either!

  20. CIA in my kitchen? Is it one of those hot agents from Alias, and can she make me a sammich? You know, as long as she’s already in there.

  21. If you connect your microwave to the internet, you deserve to have someone spy on you.

  22. Political Offizer Bupkis…ding….your pizza rolls are ready!

  23. People have been talking about hooking up kitchen appliances to personal computers since the 1970’s, and I have NEVER been able to understand why.

    As for the CIA; they have been the Keystone Cops of the intelligence community ever since they were formed out of everybody from the OSS who couldn’t get a job in the interim.

  24. This kind of shit, one would normally expect from Team Red being in power… but Obama’s at the top of the power heap, and his Team has most of the knobs and switches at their fingertips.

    So… why aren’t they shitcanning stuff like this?

    1. It could be because Team Blue only paid lip service to civil liberties and the anti-war movement while Team Red was in office because they are power hungry hypocrites and don’t really give a shit about any of that now that they’ve got their guy in office.

      Get this: Team Red probably won’t turn the country into an orgy of laissez faire capitalism if they win either.

      It’s almost as if political parties say one thing and then do another…

      1. I know… it’s some sad shit, innit?

        The things we could have been, if not for the Teams…

    2. They are all the same people. Looks at Bush/Obama policies:

      -drone strikes

      -drone strikes

      They just have different ways of going about it and breaking it to the public. I’m no conspiracy theorist, I just think it’s the state vs. you- has been since 1913.

  25. Oh, the irony!
    In my younger days I scrupulously read Solzhenitsyn and Orwell, and watched movies about Stalags and gulags. World War III was surely coming you see, and I wanted to be ready in case I got taken prisoner. so I absorbed all their tips on how to function in a completely hostile, completely arbitrary environment.

    The USSR is long gone, but the information and attitudes gleaned from preparing for The Big One are coming in damn handy in post-Constitutional America.

    1. Definitely stealing “post-Constitutional America” from you.

  26. Britain Deserves Better

    1. Britain is still “pre-Constitutional”.

  27. Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah, someone’s in there, I know!

    Do you know how many people it would take to monitor the microwave habits all the lame-os in America? Why on earth would the government want to know when I make popcorn? I think you people are thinking you’re way more important than you are if you think the government is really keeping tabs on YOU this way.

    1. Got to agree. There are some aspects of our lives we should worry about the government monitoring…whether or not our microwaves are on or off are not one of them.

      I like a lot of what Napolitano says, but his more frequent tinfoil hat-style conspiracy theories are a bad fit for Reason, IMO. I’ve noticed that with the additions of Kennedy (who is a decent writer, but a so-so journalist) and Napolitano, Reason seems to be looking for some name recognition with their writing staff. I think that’s an unhealthy road to go down.

    2. There’s always the possibility that it’s more about the principle than the actual act. I was never that terribly worried about the government listening in on my phone calls either, since I don’t make a practice of calling up Saudi Arabia to discuss munitions with my uncle Ahmed all that terribly often, but it’s still a dangerous precedent. I don’t think there’s ever going to be much reason for a CIA drone to blow me up while I’m driving to work, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to give them that authority. Unlike a lot of the folks here at Reason, I don’t have any substances in my house that would incite the cops to come break down my door and throw me in jail, but I still think no-knock warrants are over-used and dangerous.

      The government shouldn’t have the ability to randomly peep in on your privacy regardless of whether or not they ever exercise. THAT is the issue.

      1. *exercise IT – as in their authority. They shouldn’t be able to peep in on you regardless of their fitness either though 😀

  28. The network IS the problem. For 99% of private citizens having your appliances networked, programmable by remote is going to save you zero time, ultimately cost you time. I have written on this extensively but of course most people want to believe that this is cool, to monitor your empty house from work, start and stop your lawn sprinklers from your car, etc. When in fact technology is causing people to omit a simple positive attribute, planning. Some automation is certainly helpful in mundane repetitive tasks (sprinkler timers) but the networked aspect has dark consequences. Vendors rarely spend the effort to include security schemes to protect the user from unwanted hacking. Of course the government loves this. Remember, anything you say can and WILL be used against you. Now your appliances will speak for you, whether you like it or not.

  29. Here’s what I think: The 4th says that no one shall be deprived of life/lib/ property without due process of law. Once again, the 4th says that no one shall be deprived…without. I believe if the CIA doesnt deprive anyone of LLP while spying, then they are not in violation. So they could mull around and keep an eye on the big fish without probable cause and thwart his attempt, but then would have to let him go because his rights were violated. I would be ok with this actually.

  30. Sorry that was the 5th ammendment. Even so, to be secure in you privacy I do not think is violated if nothing is taken, broken, or disseminated publicly.

    1. Let’s see, if the government spies (watches) on me 24/7 and nothing comes of it, ever, then I could so, OK so what, no harm done (deprivation). By this same logic, then anyone else watching me live my life (stalkers, peeping-toms, etc.) to which nothing comes of it, so what, right? Wrong. We know from common sense and history that something can and does come from it (not always, but often enough) and that something can be harmful or fatal to the one being spied on. It is justified mistrust of government that is at the core of the 5th amendment, as is much of the constitution.

      1. If the Teams were honest about their views on privacy, they should just go ahead and outlaw shades, blinds, or any window coverings.

      2. By this logic maybe we shouldnt have police because sometimes they do dumb stuff like killing you or harassing you. Take the consequences. If the government spies on you unlawfully, then the exclusionary rules applies and you are off the hook. You migth even be able to sue for damages right? If I’m the CIA, I’ll take the risk of lawsuit because they can probably afford to pay. And if I want to thwart an attack, I’d give up being able to prosecute.

        1. If government spies on someone illegally and determines there is something illegal going on, then they will find a way to obtain a legal search warrant or wire tap. Their illegal activity is buried. There is nothing to sue for because they never reveal the information they obtained b spying. It’s just a filtering tool to zero in on who they can prosecute (or persecute).

        2. The CIA has killed hundreds of people throughout its history, they have not be prosecuted for a single one of these killings (Lumumba being the most famous example). Now you want to pretend that you can sue them for spying on you, you are beyond naive.

          Your logic is essentially “if you have nothing to hide, then you should not be worried by …”, is the same logic used if every single dictatorship. Oh, and please fuck off with the predictable “but this is America its different” response, there is nothing special about America, tyranny is in the genes of all people including American ones.

          1. I didnt say america is different. I’m just saying the exclusionary rule ought to apply in such cases. Here’s what to do. Get Ron Paul in office, clean up the CIA to make them stop being evil (dishonest whatever) and I believe this would be permissible. Say someone wanted to nuke NYC. We stop him from doing it, but let him go with the exclusionary rule.

            1. Just because there is a law saying you or the government cant do something doesn’t mean they won’t. I would probably break the law (say someone killed my wife, I’d probably have to go all William Wallace) if I thought it was worth it. The CIA will do the same. So long as the law is applied in court, we should be fine.

  31. There is a kitchen remodeling company in McLean, VA called “Counter Intelligence”. Sheer genius. [McLean- not a company town- The Company town].

    There’s a certain lack of plausibility in the article as a whole- there’s no need to do anything overly sophisticated to tell when a microwave is being used (radar range, anyone). Plus, it’s a relatively distinct power load (intensity, duration, etc.) .

    This sounds like a misinterpretation of some smart-grid features used as an example of what machine learning and plan recognition algorithms can do, used in an unclassified presentation in place of a real application.

  32. i know alot of you are taking this as no big deal and that it’s funny but in reality we are definitely under attack by our own agencies! Our rights and liberties that were always protected are being undermined by the very ones supposed to protect us! this is unamerican and unacceptable! If we the people do not keep allowing this to go on in the name of “national security” then we will be under the thumb of unknowns who will be able to violate our space at will. I fear for the future!

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