Surprise! Mesh network now extends along Rainier

Seattle Privacy co-founder Lee Colleton shares the following photographs from the Rainier Valley:

“These nodes aren’t online, but they’re installed. I photographed every node I could find and posted it publicly.

This appears to be a southern extension of the Seattle municipal mesh network given as covered by Crosscut. The network may interconnect with existing wireless and fiber equipment operated by SDOT and Metro.
Note that the network diagram (PDF) claims to be exempt from the PRA and can’t be FOIA’d. I’m left wondering about other connections that might be present in the system on other such secret documents. The notion that a basic network diagram is considered exempt seems like a ludicrous application of security through obscurity.
I’m not aware of any public outreach done by the city in these neighborhoods. Everyone I’ve spoken to in this area hasn’t known anything about the municipal mesh network.”

We can’t keep up with the feds

Yesterday, the Guardian revealed that the US government has been collecting months of phone “metadata” on millions of Verizon customers. Today, the Washington Post and the Guardian informed us that both the National Security Agency and the FBI have been pulling Americans’ data from major web companies like Facebook and Google.

Here’s a useful archive from ProPublica of articles on federal surveillance programs.

And for a fascinating look into what was happening at the NSA after 9/11, and some insight into how we got here, visit “The Secret Sharer,” a brilliant New Yorker article Jane Mayer wrote about Thomas Drake, a former National Security Agency official who was charged in 2010 with violating the Espionage Act. The government alleged that Drake had illegally retained and shared top-secret documents related to Trailblazer, a program designed to help the N.S.A. track cell phones and e-mail. The New Yorker has unlocked the piece in light of recent developments so its available to all.

Frankly, we just can’t hold down our jobs and write about it all. Besides, we want to keep our site as focused as possible on engaging with local government, because that’s where we think that we can make the most difference. But we had to at least MENTION the whole #PRISM thing, if only for our own sanity.

Visit our Contact page to sign up to receive calls for action. We’re in coalition-building mode and we need many voices to convince the City Council that the public cares about this stuff. We’re planning an email and phone call campaign in the future. Please join us.


Landmark UN report on surveillance and freedom of expression

Seattle Privacy Coalition co-founder Allegra Searle-LeBel points us to this excellent EFF article, which summarizes a special landmark report [PDF] on state surveillance and freedom of expression delivered this week by Frank La Rue, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion.

It makes for refreshing and relieving reading, we highly recommend it. As EFF puts it, the UN “gets it” — that with all the amount of information and evolving surveillance technologies, law enforcement agencies now can:

  • Directly observe people’s relationships and interactions and make inferences about their intimate and protected relationships.
  • Examine millions of people’s communications and rapidly identify precise communications interactions on any given topic.
  • Track any person’s physical movements almost all of the time and draw conclusions about one’s professional, sexual, political, and religious activities, and attitudes from individuals’ associations and Internet traffic.
  • Routinely retain data for decades, so that statements and interactions can be searched, analyzed, and recalled long after they have been made.
  • Do all of the above simultaneously.

La Rue calls for legal frameworks to ensure that communication surveillance measures “Are prescribed by law, meeting a standard of clarity and precision that is sufficient to ensure that individuals have advance notice of and can foresee their application,Are strictly and demonstrably necessary to achieve a legitimate aim, adhere to the principle of proportionality, and are not employed when less invasive techniques are available which have not yet been exhausted.”

Opportunity for privacy concessions? CenturyLink to Seattle City Council: Help

Seattle Privacy co-founder Phil Mocek writes:

On the agenda for today’s City Council Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee meeting is a presentation from CenturyLink about a topic that sounds good on the surface–improving high-speed Internet access in underserved areas ofSeattle–but I suspect is more about a private business requesting public concessions in an effort to reduce the cost of increasing its profit.

I wonder if this presents the opportunity to leverage some improvements to customer privacy out of them.

CenturyLink is unhappy about SDOT rule 2-2009, which regulates telecommunications facilities in public right of way. They complain that they will not be able to get in there and help those people out if the city continues to allow neighboring property owners to veto their plans.

I would love to see more competition with Comcast, and I would love to have faster Internet service available throughout the city.  But this smells fishy.  It’s not as if CenturyLink is a public utility.

Anyway, it seems that when a behemoth like this comes to our representatives with hat in hands, it’s a good time to look at how their current practices affect the public, and how we might be able to bring about some change in those practices in exchange for the concessions they seek.

You want special permission to build your for-profit enterprise on our public infrastructure?  Then start acting like a common carrier.  Move our bits, don’t look at them, and don’t tell us what bits we can and cannot move.

I have no specific plans related to this, but thought others might be interested.  Today’s meeting is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. (Tuesday, June 4, 2013), and video archives of all such meetings are typically made available a few hours after their conclusions.
Thanks for writing, Phil!

SPD event tonight and this week’s recommended #privacy reading

SPD event tonight:

Tonight at beautiful Golden Gardens, we’ll hear Seattle Police Department spokespeople and techies talk about the Port of Seattle surveillance cameras. If you can, please come: This is pretty interesting stuff.

Details: Golden Gardens Bathhouse, 8498 Seaview Pl. NW, Friday, May 24th at 7 p.m.

SPD also invites your e-mail comments or questions at

Seattle Privacy Coalition members have made it to each of the previous public meetings (at Alki and Belltown) and we plan to be there tonight.

This week in recommended reading

We don’t really mean to tell you to read Bruce Schneier every single time the man posts something, but we couldn’t resist sharing this very alarming article, which envisions all our devices, appliances, clothing, and other items tracking us and each other and reporting in: The Internet of Things.

Speaking of things that know where you are: From the opposite side of the country comes news of the Maine Senate voting to require police to get a warrant before engaging in location tracking of cell phones and other GPS-enabled devices in non-emergency situations.

We feel like we see articles almost every day that refer to new (or existing) programs and systems that gather and store data, such as ORCA and other transit cards, Smart Meters, and more.

Lately we’ve been seeing and using the term “Accidental Surveillance” to describe how, when they are all put together, these systems paint an alarmingly detailed picture of our lives and movements.

Here’s a piece by Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess that discusses how, starting April 1, owners of commercial and multifamily residential buildings of at least 20,000 square feet must report energy usage to the City on an annual basis. We’re all for saving energy, we just want to make sure privacy protection is part of the conversation: Tracking Building Energy Use.

Finally we saw that Woodinville plans to purchase surveillance cameras to fight crime, and is also considering the sort of automated license plate reader (ALPR) system in use currently in Seattle. Props to Mayor Bernie Talmas, the lone no vote, who was reported in The Seattle Times as voting no, “saying he was concerned about privacy issues and possible liability to the city.”

And this seems like a good moment to note that Seattle Privacy Coalition does not oppose data gathering systems, but we also are concerned about privacy issues and possible liability to our fair city, and would love to see oversight in place to review department protocols.