Futurology: Internet of Things and the NSA


The Internet was clearly expanding beyond the computer in 2004, even three years before the launch of the Apple iPhone in 2007, so many technologists saw the possibility for every day devices to become surveillance tools for businesses and governments.

The Bush administration in 2004 escalated homeland security to fight the war on terror, stoking fears that surveillance would grow alongside digital technology. Many did not know how broadly government surveillance expanded until news reports about the National Security Agency’s spying programs came out during the following decade.

Embedded networks
2004 prediction: As computing devices become embedded in everything from clothes to appliances to cars to phones, these networked devices will allow greater surveillance by governments and businesses. By 2014, there will be increasing numbers of arrests based on this kind of surveillance by democratic governments as well as by authoritarian regimes.

Respondents to a Pew Internet Project survey in 2004 were very prescient about both the expansion of Internet devices forming a network known as the “Internet of Things” and the power it gives businesses to track the lives of their customers. A clear majority of 59 percent agreed with the Pew prediction while 21 percent disagreed with or disputed it.

Internet of Things
The launch of the iPhone in 2007 caused a boom in the mobile device space and turned these new smartphones into troves of personal information that people use for more services each year. Wearables have yet to catch on as mainstream products but Apple is scheduled to launch a smart watch in 2015 that could once again inspire other companies to design new devices that become part of everyday life. Computers built into cars and houses are also becoming a bigger part of that mobile device network. All of these innovations give the businesses access to vast information about customers, which firms like Google sometimes use to plan advertising – its main source of revenue.

Internet businesses pose a greater threat to personal privacy than democratic governments, said one anonymous response to the 2004 Pew survey.

“It’s pretty much inevitable that if embedded technologies collect information about us, then that information will be used by others in ways that invade privacy and introduce opportunities for new crimes against the person,” the respondent said.

Google and Facebook have been scrutinized in recent years by the Federal Trade Commission for not properly notifying customers about changes to their privacy policies. The FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez is also calling for greater privacy as the growing Internet of Things.

Government surveillance
Mobile phone and the Internet communication have boomed since 2004, and during that time the NSA has used authority in the Patriot Act to request court orders for communications data from phone and Internet companies. The spy agency also monitored people using the “World of Warcraft,” and the FBI uploaded spyware onto computers to track suspected bombers. Because of this advocacy group Freedom House listed the U.S. as one of the “enemies of the Internet” for 2013, placing it alongside regimes like Russia and China that exercise even more digital surveillance than democratic nations.

The Pew survey in 2004 was correct in predicting that digital surveillance would be used to justify more arrests, but FBI efforts to tracked networks and prevent violent crimes has had mixed success. The casualties of shootings grew from seven killed or wounded in 2000 to a high of 208 in 2012, followed by 86 in 2013, according to an FBI report.

The public’s fear during the ongoing war on terror made it politically convenient for the government to continue its surveillance efforts since 2004, which..

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