Tag Archives: Privacy

Are drones invading your privacy?

Unmanned drones have proved to be a stealthy asset in the war on terror, making strikes on targets and collecting data on enemy movements. However, these small, nimble and nearly silent fliers can also be used to keep tabs on law-abiding citizens from nearby skies. This domestic use of drones is raising concerns about privacy violations including potentially violating the Fourth Amendment. Now APlus Mobile is planning to build a Linux-based Personal Drone Detection System. These will detect any nearby drone using a method known as Mesh Grid Triangulation.

The R&D division of APlus Mobile, the DDC or Domestic Drones Countermeasures, is planning to launch a device that will detect and track a drone aircraft that approaches within 50 feet. DDC has launched a Kickstarter project for building the Linux-based Personal Drone Detection System. They plan to make it available in November 2014, at $499 for the alpha test model, and in April 2015, at $699 for the beta test model.

DDC has a drone detection algorithm for which a patent is pending. The Personal Drone Detection System relies on this algorithm to work its magic. APlus Mobile will be using a MotherBone PiOne board-level Linux subsystem motherboard for building the device. The motherboard is an open spec PiOne type, which means it can fit either a BeagleBone Black or a Raspberry Pi single board computer.

The MotherBone PiOne is actually a part of the Primary Command and Control Module unit. This unit works in conjunction with two nodes of detecting sensors and establishes a mesh grid network. In turn, the network can triangulate the location of mobile transmitters. If you deploy more control modules and nodes, the network can cover a wider area.

The wireless mesh network and target triangulation work together. You can set up the nodes as far as 200 feet apart. Although the mesh network uses Wi-Fi to communicate, it is kept isolated from the user unlike the control module, which communicates with the user over Wi-Fi.

To detect the wirelessly enabled, mobile devices or drones, the sensor nodes use a frequency that ranges between 1 MHz and 6.8GHz. While detecting all known telemetry transmission frequencies, the system tries to determine if the mobile transmitter is actually a drone. All drones must transmit some telemetry data that allows it to navigate. Therefore, even if the drone is only storing recorded media and not transmitting it, it can be detected.

The biggest challenge for the drone detection algorithm will be in distinguishing between a jogger passing by with a cell phone and an actual drone. According to Aplus, the software does reduce false triggering. The system is designed to detect and trigger an alarm only if a drone is loitering nearby. Therefore, a jogger would have to stop for a while in front of the house for the device possibly to trigger a false alarm.

Once the device detects a drone hovering nearby, it sounds an alarm and simultaneously, sends a message on your mobile device. That should make you draw your infrared-resistant blinds and call for the police, unless the drone belongs to the police.

The Eavesdropping LED Street Lights of Las Vegas

LEDs have come into our daily lives almost without our noticing them and suddenly they are everywhere. People visiting Las Vegas may notice that streetlights there are LED based. That in itself may not be very surprising, except that the LED streetlights in Las Vegas are able to not only entertain with videos and music, they care about what you say. Furthermore, LED lights even watch while you speak your thoughts. That gives credence to the inevitable quip: “What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas.”

Las Vegas streetlights are acquiring modules named Intellistreets from a company in Michigan – Illuminating Concepts. The modules will deliver music and news for the entertainment of the passers-by. However, they can also eavesdrop.

LED streetlights are nothing new – New York has a retrofit project. Las Vegas, along with some other cities, made the switch several years ago. However, adding the power of vision and hearing to streetlights is something entirely out of the ordinary. A fascinated San Francisco is also mulling over something similar for its streetlights.

Depending on whether the application is a retrofit or entirely new, Intellistreets has a number of configurations. For Las Vegas, it is a retrofit application, where post-top modules are added to the existing streetlights. The audio and video from the streetlight is transmitted wirelessly to the public works department.

Lights that double up for watching have been around for a while. The oldest patent for such an activity was issued in 1973, for a 360-degree infrared surveillance along with a panoramic display. Others have offered designs of a fake surveillance camera, attempting to create the illusion of tracking with a flashing LED.

Privacy cultures vary in Europe and the US. While closed-circuit video systems are the norm in say, UK and accepted there, suspicion of the government in the US is more deep-seated and video surveillance is less welcome, whatever may be the type.

Therefore, organizations such as municipalities that intend to deploy video surveillance use equipment with IP networks for collecting video data and communicating with the devices. However, it is not so easy or cheap as it looks offhand. Although optical fibers do provide the highest capacity, installation of fiber-optic cables can be rather expensive. Instead, Intellistreets uses cellular or wired connectivity between collection servers and light poles. They have found that for adding to an existing lighting infrastructure, going wireless is the easiest.

According to reports, the surveillance business of Illuminating Concepts started with an indirect path. Its CEO Ron Harwood has a passion for music. Majoring in ethnomusicology at Wayne State and managing Sippie Wallace, Ron made his way into lighting systems on the strength of his liaison with the entertainment industry.

Harwood holds two patents. One of them is for the combination of a lighting and a media device, with the device being self-powered based on the movement of air through the unit. Illuminating Concepts carried the idea forward, adding two-way communication. This gave the streetlight the ability to produce a disembodied voice that offered to help lost visitors.

British Airways is Googling passengers – comforting or creep?

In an effort to increase personalized service, British Airways has introduced the ‘Know Me’ program which give airlines staff members the authority and the tools to search online for passenger information.

Using iPads, staff members search through a list of that day’s passenger names for images on Google so that they can recognize them as they enter the airport or the plane. Their name is then used by the employees so that they are greeted and recognized personally. In addition to using the iPads to search for images, the staff can search for other information about the customer including their travel history and any past complaints.

British Airways maintains that their goal is to deal with customer complaints more effectively. As reported in the Telegraph, the British Airways program must comply with UK privacy laws. Assuming the program does comply with privacy laws, the question is do we think British Airways employees should be googling their passengers in an effort to provide better customer service? Is this comforting to think that they care to learn about us or just a tad creepy?