The sort of thing we are curious about…

As Seattle Privacy discusses the need for privacy oversight in City Hall, we are interested in both the big policy and governance questions and in the technical details of privacy-sensitive technology. Here is an example of the latter, drawn from city paperwork involving Cascade Networks, Inc., the contractor that installed the police surveillance cameras and mesh radio network in 2012-2013. The radios that make up the mesh network are basically tricked-out, weather-proofed versions of normal Wi-Fi access points. Before the city “turned off” the radios last year, each of them was broadcasting a network ID that you could have seen on your laptop or cell phone alongside Starbucks or the name of your home wireless router.  The specs for the project included requirements about network access and logging:

mesh_spec

In bland technical language, we learn that the network has the following capabilities.

  • It can limit logins to a list of approved users stored in a database.
  • It can identify potential users based on username/password or hardware device IDs.
  • It will keep detailed logs (time, duration, identity, etc.) of client connections.

However, these details raise questions that still have not been answered by the Seattle Police Department or any other city office.

  • What happens if a random passerby with a laptop or cell phone attempts to “associate” with a city access point? The answer to this could have privacy and security implications for both parties.
  • Wi-Fi devices broadcast uniquely identifiable radio beacons; does the city equipment record these beacons, or can it be configured to do so? Authorities in Chicago are planning just such a capability in a potentially intrusive Big Data collection scheme.
  • How long will logs be kept, and who will have access to them? Will they be subject to public records requests?

These are questions that should have been asked and publicly debated at early stages of the planning process. They also quickly become issues of general policy: If data is collected, it will be used by any legal or illegal branch of government whose agents can pick up a phone. To protect privacy, don’t collect sensitive information in the first place.

Below is a link to the source documents, courtesy of Tacoma-based Infowars reporter Mikael Thalen, who discovered them on the Seattle.gov Web site:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/183600279/Port-Security-Video-Surveillance-System-with-Wireless-Mesh-Network-Seattle

Or download the document.

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