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Big Brother Really Is Watching Us All 405

Posted by Zonk
from the hi-guys dept.
siddesu writes "The BBC has a nice high-level overview of some technologies for surveillance developed in the US and the UK. 'The US and UK governments are developing increasingly sophisticated gadgets to keep individuals under their surveillance. When it comes to technology, the US is determined to stay ahead of the game ... But it [a through-the wall sensing device in development] will also show whether someone inside a house is looking to harm you, because if they are, their heart rate will be raised. And 10 years from now, the technology will be much smarter. We'll scan a person with one of these things and tell what they're actually thinking.'"
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Big Brother Really Is Watching Us All

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 16, 2007 @09:19PM (#20630867)
    I grew up in Poland in the 1960s and 1970s. This is the sort of shit we dealt with each day.

    The Communists claimed to have devices that could read minds to determine one's intentions. Now, we didn't know if this was true or not. But seeing as many of us wanted to live another day, or at the very least not get tortured, we assumed they did.

    It seems that the citizenry of the UK and the US are now in a very similar position....

  • Heart Rate Raised? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Randseed (132501) on Sunday September 16, 2007 @09:19PM (#20630875)
    Harm you because their heart rate is raised? They could be overdosing on caffeine. They could be on meth. They might be some teenager on Ritalin or its relatives. They might be masturbating. They might just have physiological tachycardia.

    I'd rather the government not base their decision on whether to come in guns blazing on something as ridiculous as whether my heart rate is increased above some theoretical average at the time.

  • by shbazjinkens (776313) on Sunday September 16, 2007 @09:25PM (#20630927)
    So in the end, my question is what can we do about it? It's impossible to get the masses (in the US) to actually get out and do something about this right now, I just don't think they care enough. Mass opinion is that if you don't have anything to worry about the government finding then don't worry about them watching you.

    The only credible methods I've seen for avoiding surveilance involve actually destroying the surveilance equipment.

    The only way to circumvent them is by RF jamming, wire cutting and creating a bright spot around you at all times to flood the camera view - which involves wearing bright LED's or a laser.

    Does this mean that eventually there are going to be rogue groups going around and destroying government surveilance equipment? I think so. When you feel you're cornered you do what you have to.

    Does this mean that people who are planning terrorist attacks in the future will develop plans to destroy/jam all of the surveilance equipment if they want to get out alive? Definately.
  • Never Resign (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TaoPhoenix (980487) * <> on Sunday September 16, 2007 @09:31PM (#20630981) Journal
    In the snap of the chilly evening,
    My face frozen like a thrull,
    The roaring of the howling wind
    Is deafening to all.

    House minions roam out in force,
    Trying to fathom thoughts
    Of Citizens within their homes,
    Whose actions they know naught.

    Fahrenheit Four Fifty One, and
    Huxley's Brave New World
    Form siren lures to power lords
    Elected and unfurled.

    The weak attempts must duly fail
    Of the Bretheren of Cain;
    Cordwainer Smith declared it best -
    Scanners Live In Vain
  • by mosb1000 (710161) <> on Sunday September 16, 2007 @09:35PM (#20631005)
    Actually, modern technology can detect the magnetic fields that your firing neurons produce right now. This is where you get all those images of "brain activity" that you see. It is very much a non-invasive and passive technology, and could, theoretically, be carried out remotely. If studies are carried out in real situations, they could correlate the patterns of brain activity with the the apparent intent of the individual (assuming that similar intentions make similar patterns). The result is they could tell what you are thinking (in a rudimentary way). It's not really that far fetched.
  • by b0s0z0ku (752509) on Sunday September 16, 2007 @09:49PM (#20631109)
    I grew up in Poland in the 1960s and 1970s. This is the sort of shit we dealt with each day.

    And it's funny, I was just in Poland (Krakow) two months ago. The place felt *worlds* more free than NYC or London. Fewer cameras around. No constant babble about how bags are subject to search because of terrorism. Able to buy an intercity train ticket for cash without ID (same went for a domestic plane ticket, though they did glance at my passport when I boarded). Fewer police swarming about, unlike in NYC where they seem to be out in force near Penn Station or driving in cavalcades, lights flashing to an unknown destination.

    I love the USA, but Poland definitely has its good points...


  • NOT NEW (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Sunday September 16, 2007 @09:55PM (#20631159)
    There is already court precedent for this in the U.S.

    Through-the-wall IR scanners have been available to some police departments in the US for a while now. There has already been at least one court case about them.

    In the United States (yes, still), it is illegal for officers of law enforcement to use electronic means to determine what is going on in your home without first obtaining a judicial warrant. The case I mentioned dealt with police using an through-the-wall scanner to determine where an alleged drug dealer was inside someone else's house, before they raided it. Because they had not obtained a warrant, the evidence was thrown out of court. The judge ruled that it was clearly an electronic device, and thus fell under the Federal Statute preventing its use.

    I wish I had a citation at hand for this case, but I do not. I will try to find it.
  • by Hal_Porter (817932) on Sunday September 16, 2007 @09:58PM (#20631195)
    I think it's impossible now. But in principle I think it could be done.

    I thought of a thought criminal detector for airports actually. The idea is on entry to the US you hook people up to an MRI scanner and then show them a quick "America fuck yeah" type montage. Patriotic stuff - cheerleaders and so on. But you cut in news footage that people who hate America will be annoyed by. Like B52s carpet bombing, fighter jets dropping napalm or Mardi Gras parades. Or George Bush flipping the finger to the masses. Now there are presumably bits of your brain that will light up with anger as you get a short term burst of anger.

    So you have a bunch of annoyance data. Now my model of this is that conservatives will register very low levels of annoyance at the patriotic stuff. I'd toss in some gay rights parades and pictures on Michael Moore though, just to make sure you get a few spikes. Left wingers, at least the Kos/Democratic Underground ones will register a bit higher on the patriotic stuff and lower on the gay rights/Michael Moore stuff. And the sort of people who might blow themselves up in airports will register a bit more. And America does have a few terrorists on ice in various locations around the world, so you could run the test on them. Actually, in a twisted sort of way it doesn't matter if the people in Gitmo had a patholigical hatred of America before they were locked up, they certainly do now. So they're ideal test subjects to get a potential terrorist response.

    Now this is not precrime and you can't punish people for thought crimes. But you can tag them for surveillance later. If a right wing, Christian terrorist group started to blow shit up, you can in principle detect them too. It's not really about politics, my theory is that violent extremists are motivated by uncontrolled anger.

    I think if you have enough visual trolls, you can probably deduce someone's political views quite accurately. And if their politics are too extreme and their are terrorist groups that share them, you tag 'em.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 16, 2007 @09:59PM (#20631201)
    "Actually, modern technology can detect the magnetic fields that your firing neurons produce right now. This is where you get all those images of "brain activity" that you see. It is very much a non-invasive and passive technology, and could, theoretically, be carried out remotely."


    Now I can see why you all think broadband is "unlimited".

    In plain English the energy is too small. The attenuation is too great. And no useful device is sensitive enough. Let along the resolution is too poor. And I haven't even touched upon the issue of matching "brain activity" with "what you think" in other than the most superficial way.
  • by gillbates (106458) on Sunday September 16, 2007 @10:07PM (#20631261) Homepage Journal

    Interestingly, we, the public, don't seem to mind. Opinion polls, both in the US and Britain, say that about 75% of us want more, not less, surveillance.

    I think we've just found the next Jason Blair.

    I have to call bullshit on this one. In my entire life, I have met atheists and believers, gays and straights, liberals and conservatives, and not once, ever, in my life have I met someone who espoused more surveillance. Now, I live in a large metropolitan area - one with numerous projects involving installing more surveillance cameras, and even the most conservative, cop-loving suburbanites are at best indifferent, and quite often, vehemently opposed. There's a lot of hostility, but absolutely no support. The law of statistics would dictate that if 75% of the population supported more surveillance, I would have - at least once in my life - have heard someone argue in support of it. But I've never heard it from anyone. Not even the most gullible of idiots or stupidest of patriots I've met has ever said they'd like to see more surveillance.

  • by CastrTroy (595695) on Sunday September 16, 2007 @10:11PM (#20631273) Homepage
    You would have to have some pretty good filtering technology to filter out someones brain waves from another room with all the other ambient electromagnetic radiation going around. A standard action potential [] only fluctuates the membrane voltage by about 120 mV. Meanwhile, a CRT, which actually is vulnerable to Van Eck Phreaking, requires a voltage of 32,000 volts [] to display an image on the screen.
  • Rainbow Six (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mnemonic_ (164550) <> on Sunday September 16, 2007 @10:16PM (#20631317) Homepage Journal
    Did anyone else notice they've basically developed the "heartbeat sensor" described in Rainbow Six in 1999 or so?
  • by element-o.p. (939033) on Monday September 17, 2007 @12:12AM (#20632093) Homepage
    Really? Not even once? Because I sure have.

    When the NSA wiretapping story broke, the anchor and legal specialist on CNN were arguing over whether that surveillance was really something to worry about. The legal specialist said yes, it's a violation of the fourth amendment. The anchor said, essentially, I don't care; I have nothing to hide.

    I've argued with people here on /. about whether or not the surveillance powers claimed by the wiretapping, the Patriot Act, etc. are a problem or not (for example, see []). I've argued with my wife that surveillance without judicial oversight is a bad thing. My brother-in-law, an Air National Guard pilot, once told me, "You can't do too much to protect our country."

    So, yeah, I've talked/posted with people who think that surveillance is a good thing, and who even think government could do more to protect the country.
  • Re:Ineffective (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ushering05401 (1086795) on Monday September 17, 2007 @12:58AM (#20632353) Journal
    Some people are born with this ability, but are not trained killers. A member of my family is completely immune to excitement and pain. He is in his fifties and has never accepted anaesthetic during medical procedures (including major dental) because the pain does not phase him in the least. His mood never changes. It is creepy to a lot of people, but he leads a normal life as a high-end carpenter, husband, and father.

    I remember hearing that he had been hit by a cab and was in the hospital for over a week, and in a wheelchair for a while after that. After the cab hit him he got in and requested a ride to the hospital... then limped himself into the lobby and calmly told the nurse that he was seriously damaged.

    I am pretty certain that he could off a bus full of preschoolers without flinching.
  • Re:Ineffective (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Neuticle (255200) on Monday September 17, 2007 @01:30AM (#20632543) Homepage
    Indeed, musicians and other performers use beta blockers to keep the heart rate down and to keep hands from getting sweaty.

    The International Olympic Comitty had to ban beta blockers as performance enhancing drugs because (IIRC) athletes in shooting events used it to steady their hands while shooting. I wouldn't be too surprised if I heard that military snipers used it in combat.

    Beta blocker block reception of epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline). Stops the whole "fight or flight" response at the gate.

  • Re:Ineffective (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Monday September 17, 2007 @03:56AM (#20633285)
    A lot of these people die in the shower. The water feels nice and warm and they scald themselves to death.
  • Re:Ineffective (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Colin Smith (2679) on Monday September 17, 2007 @03:58AM (#20633297)

    Actually most trained professionals generally maintain calm when preparing to kill someone.
    Bollocks they do. Maybe if they're snipers, but the rest are just as hyped up as the rest of us. They may be better able to control the effect on their performance, but the adrenalin and the associated heart rate response are there all the same.
  • by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Monday September 17, 2007 @04:52AM (#20633583)
    You have looked into Scientology's use of the primitive polygraph called an e-meter? Go look at for details on how they use it for brainwashing their own new members, and track the links for testimony about how the "auditing" confessional materials get recorded and sent back to their headquarters, for use against anyone who tries to leave the cult and speak out against it. Such monitoring is old hat: the US government grew very fond of using polygraphs on security personnel, and probing for political information.
  • by Walt Dismal (534799) on Monday September 17, 2007 @06:33AM (#20634003)
    In reply to both the article poster who said "...We'll scan a person with one of these things and tell what they're actually thinking." and the above comment, I have some things to say about 'mind reading' and 'telepathy': they AREN'T VIABLE. The problem is this: each one of us, as we grow up, develops complex internal symbol systems - essentially private language. Example: a baby that learns to recognize a ball DOES NOT have to know the word 'ball' to think about a ball. He uses an internal symbol system. As we grow and integrate ourselves into society, we learn to map from this internal coding to a publicly accepted coding: 'aha', thinks Baby, this thing I know from sense impressions of red and round, is called a 'b-a-l-l'. Also, if we're American, we map to English words. If we're Japanese, we map to Japanese. Now the thing is, no matter how sensitive a brain scan is, it cannot pick up internal codings, which are partly physical/topological anyway, and make them available in any way that can be individually externally decoded at a semantic level. There is NO universal pulse train that always decodes to 'hamburger' in all human beings. So if I have a technology to read impulses in the nervous system of a test subject, there is NO WAY I can pick an arbitrary subject - a guy in a house - and decode to a meaningful word level what his brain is computing at the moment. In an analogous way, the concept of telepathy is pure fiction and could not work, because no two people have the same native internal base dictionary, and if you pick up 'radiation' from someone's brain, you still are stuck with not knowing the internal-to-external mapping. That spike sequence you just emitted - I can't know what it means outside of you. So the point is, no, they're not able to read minds and it isn't going to happen any time soon.
  • Scary (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jmpeax (936370) on Monday September 17, 2007 @09:10AM (#20635091)
    What's frightening is that these people developing this stuff haven't yet seen an ethical issue with what they're doing.
  • by ahfoo (223186) on Monday September 17, 2007 @05:14PM (#20643073) Journal
    This is what I've hear anyway. I hear that the cheapest and easiest way to get massive amounts of electromagenetic noise is a cheap dimmer switch on an AC circuit such as a lamp. I'm not quite sure why that is, but I've read that this is the kind of thing that really causes headaches for people trying to do remote monitoring as opposed to some fancy James Bond signal jammer doohickie. I'm not sure if the same thing applies to cheap carbon potentiometers on a DC circuit. I'm sure somebody here knows and perhaps even has some math to back it up.

You can tell how far we have to go, when FORTRAN is the language of supercomputers. -- Steven Feiner