Posts Tagged ‘GPS’

Our future privacy may already be a thing of the past

Monday, October 18th, 2010

FBI Agents showed up to claim this GPS device... Fortunately they left their memory flasher at home.

What would you do if you found a GPS tracker on your vehicle? Would you just assume you were being tracked by a federal agency? Would it make you paranoid? Would it confirm all the reasons you wear a tinfoil hat while you comment on underground conspiracy forums? Is that last one just me?

The legality of law enforcement agencies using GPS devices is being called into question after Yasir Afifi, a 20 year old college student, discovered a GPS device attached to his car during an oil change earlier this month. Uncertain of the device’s function or its origins, Yasir took pictures of the device and posted them up to see if he could determine what was going on. Shortly after the pictures had gone up, the FBI showed up to demand the return of the device.

I’m not here to argue against racial profiling (which would appear to be the case here) or scream government conspiracy but rather to take a look at where the past few years have gotten our “democratic” society as the technology has quickly outpaced the laws of our nation.

When the telephone was put into common use, law enforcement agencies found the means to listen in on the conversations. Discovering they could record the conversations in the late 1800s, it would be a few decades before the constitutionality of the process would be decided upon. Above all else, it was determined that the right of the individual to their privacy outweighed the legal arguments that were presented by the authorities. The matter was revisited during World War II where it was argued that allowing more leeway in wire taps would assist in the defense of the United States. But it was not until 9/11 that the courts determined to allow “wiggle” room in the laws regarding phone taps which was then expanded to include electronic communication via the means of data transfers.

But the recent advancements in GPS technology have allowed for a “gray” area. It isn’t technically and invasion of privacy, authorities argue, and provides a minimum of information in regards to the general whereabouts of the “suspect”. It also saves money that would otherwise be spent on surveillance and “tails” while still allowing the suspect to be tracked, at least while in their vehicle.

But how long before this data becomes damning in a court of law? We’ve already seen cases where a suspect’s cell phone calls are triangulated via cell towers to place them at the scene of the crime. How long before GPS is an accepted means of placing someone in danger of being convicted for a crime they didn’t commit? How long before the authorities bring in suspects merely based on their locale rather than by any other actual facts?

While the Internet rumbles with conspiracy theories and talks of “Big Brother” and “1984”, it may be best that we listen to those rumblings. We are entering a day and age where satellite tracking is not only feasible but a reality. We live in a time where devices we use on a daily basis determine our location and track our routines. Our online browsing habits are recorded each time we log onto the web, our cell phones keep track of who we call and when, and our every action that we see fit to record to the various social networks are kept for months, sometimes years, at a time.

We should be concerned by the lack of concern by the California courts in regards to law enforcement agents not being required to submit for warrants before attaching tracking devices to vehicles. We should be concerned with the lack of understanding with regards to the judges making decisions in exactly how this information affects our privacy. We should be concerned that the value of that privacy is becoming less and less in the eyes of the court. We should, as a collective, be concerned that the law isn’t keeping up with the technology.

And you guys wanted to make fun of my tinfoil hat.

Gritskrieg – End of Line

Texas Man disables 100 cars using the Internet

Friday, March 19th, 2010

Omar Ramos-Lopez is pictured here in his mug shot provided by the Travis County Jail. (AP Photo/Travis County Jail)

If you have a newer model vehicle, you may have decided to spring for an upgrade package that included OnStar or an onboard GPS system. And if you’ve ever used these services, you know how convenient they are and how much time you can save by having them available at the touch of your fingertips. A Texas man may make you reconsider having the options available on your car, however.

Texas resident Omar Ramos-Lopez was arrested on Wednesday and charged with the “felony breach of computer security” of his former employer, an Austin car dealership. Omar used a former colleague’s password to access the dealership’s systems and then proceeded to use the system to shut down ignitions on vehicles or set off their horns.

You might think it sounds like a bit of science fiction but one of the selling points of modern day auto security systems is that cars equipped with such systems can be shut down remotely if an owner reports their vehicle stolen. The systems are also used by repo agents to activate car alarms and horns when they suspect a vehicle is being hidden by the owner in order to prevent a repossession attempt.

Initially Omar’s shenanigans were confined to changes of the dealership’s business records. Employees noticed someone was going in and changing the names in their customer database. One of the changes was to name dead rapper Tupac Shakur as the owner of a recently sold vehicle.

Evidently Omar eventually tired of that mild  mischief and began shutting down the ignitions of vehicles, forcing owners to call tow trucks to have the vehicles moved to the dealership for repairs. Initially, the dealership thought there were mechanical issues especially when customers began reporting that their cars’ horns would begin sounding and could not be deactivated in any manner than to disconnect the battery.

The final straw, however, was when employees of the dealership noticed someone had ordered over $130,000 in parts and equipment from the company that manufactured the GPS devices. At that point, police were able to trace the malicious actions to Ramos-Lopez’s home computer.

Already a discussion topic around the nation, the actions of one individual bring to light how easily widespread damage can be done by a disgruntled employee with a computer to devices we have come to depend on for day to day life. Thankfully, there were no damages to property and no loss of life. One has to wonder how much damage Ramos-Lopez could have done had he decided to disable a moving vehicle that was in heavy traffic or on its way to a medical facility.

While the initial charge may be “felony breach of computer security”, there is no doubt in my mind that additional charges will be tagged on when Ramos-Lopez’s trial date is set. The mischief may have been contained to 100 vehicles or so but calculate how much money was spent by customers for tow trucks, loss of time, and perhaps even the potential loss of life that he caused by disabling vehicles.

Gritskrieg – End of Line