This section is called Privacy - but there's not much left of that these days. The USA's NSA has been struck by "revelations this week in the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was collecting or tapping into vast amounts of telephone and internet communications data." The UK's GCHQ was also implicated by suggestions that it was monitoring UK citizen's activities if they used services hosted in the US. Obama defended his government's phone and internet surveillance programmes, saying that they had struck the right balance. David Cameron insisted that the UK intelligence agencies "operate within the law". But such statements are rarely water-tight - I work within the law but may consider deviating and breaking the occasional speed limit when it suits me. The problem is that once these stories are in public it's difficult to say anything that doesn't incriminate further.

Also, check out a June 2010 story on the BBC.

Whether you're using your mobile, credit card or car, you can be tracked easily and your general location known. This is the price we pay for the convenience of paying electronically, whether it be at a road toll, railway barrier, etc.


Mobile phone mast

Your mobile handset communicates with the service provider's transceivers but each mast usually has a number of uniquely identifiable antennae. The orientation of these will be known and you only need to be communicating with a single antenna for the network to broadly identify your general bearing from the mast. If your handset is communicating with two or more antennae, then your approximate location is known. Science fiction? No! Service providers already sell this service as LBS (Location Based Services). You can subscribe to services that tell you where your children are and the more accurate GPS service is used to track vehicles, trains, valuable shipments and so on.


Traffic flow camera

So you thought you might be safe in your car? Apart from the obvious street cameras, ANPR systems and road tolls, that know exactly where you are at a particular time, you can also be tracked using the traffic flow cameras. These are not speed cameras as such, but record your location at a particular time and then at a different location sometime later. The system calculates your average speed to assess traffic flow for services such as Trafficmaster, etc. However, the software as designed was supposed to store only the first and last parts of your registration number and omit the middle two charcaters, this being unique enough to track your location without knowing who you are. However, informed sources say that it actually records the whole registration number and so you're tracked.

BBC report about the disproportionate use of ANPR cameras in Royston, Hertfordshire.


Credit card

Credit card companies (you can include debit cards and store cards too) have sophisticated systems to monitor and assess your purchasing habits. From personal experience, I have had my card stopped on more than one occasion for a suspicious purchasing pattern. When I asked what it was, the company said they couldn't divulge what was suspicious but that it could have been a fairly normal usage pattern as that is what a card thief would try to emulate - great!

Also, did you know that your card may very well be stopped if you exceed as few as 10 transactions per day? The 10 includes the second cardholder's transactions, so that's only 10 between you per day.


Mobile phone

So you thought that your SMS messages were private? Think again! When the SFO visited our offices recently, someone offered to collect together mobile handsets so that evidence from sent and received text messages could be obtained. The SFO said, "Thank you but no, we can already gain access to that information" - and so they do, using direct connections into the mobile providers. They may need to have a court order, but if it's available to the SFO, it's probably available to the service provider's staff too.


Oyster card

If you have an Oyster card then you probably chose it because it is cheaper and quicker than queuing to buy conventional tickets. Having an Oyster card also benefits TfL because they can reduce staffing levels in ticket offices at stations and, of course, the stored credit is in their bank account and not yours. Using your Oyster card also pinpoints your location each time you swipe it at the barrier or top it up at a ticket machine. Since you can use the Oyster on trains, buses, DLR and on some boats, your route around London is precisely known.

Oyster cards haven't been without their problems. Around 65,000 cards were corrupted and stopped working in July 2008 and had to be replaced. Later in the same month there was a further failure and gates to all London Underground stations were left open after Oyster pay-as-you-go customers were again charged the maximum fare for their journeys.


Other countries have similar schemes. The Netherlands' OV-Chipkaart allows you to travel nationwide on trains, buses and trams.

I've been saying it for years!

BBC link.

Links to interesting articles

USA's Target customers have credit card details stolen

FBI cellphone tracking tool

Police suck contents of mobile phone

NSA's Prism internet surveillance scheme Protect your browser traffic with HTTPS Everywhere.

Before the age of smartphones, it was impossible for police to gather this much private information about a person's communications, historical movements, and private life during an arrest. Our pockets and bags simply aren't big enough to carry paper records revealing that much data. We would have never carried around several years' worth of correspondence, for example—but today, five-year-old emails are just a few clicks away using the smartphone in your pocket. The fact that we now carry this much private, sensitive information around with us means that the government is able to get this information, too.

The French are at it too.

London 2012 threatened with power outage.

UK Peer asks, and DVLA provides, information about a litterbug.

US planes carrying mobile transmitter are pretending to be mobile masts and accept connections from mobiles in the area and record IMSI details Link

The type of data stored on a smartphone can paint a near-complete picture of even the most private details of someone's personal life. Call history, voicemails, text messages and photographs can provide a catalogue of how, and with whom, a person spends his or her time, exposing everything from intimate photographs to 2 AM text messages. Web browsing history may include Google searches for Alcoholics Anonymous or local gay bars. Apps can expose what you're reading and listening to. Location information might uncover a visit to an abortion clinic, a political protest, or a psychiatrist.

Users get their own back when devices held as evidence in police custody are wiped remotely - BBC article.

Reports that the NSA and GCHQ hacked Gemalto to obtain encryption codes for mobile telephone SIMs is explained here. And this report makes light of the attack. Of course it could be in Gemalto's interest to play down the affair; its own share price increased and the NSA's and GCHQ's reputation is not affected so seriously.