by Nicholas West
The very nature of the 1st, 4th and 5th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution appears to be at stake as the data from our personal tech devices increasingly is open for scrutiny … even if that data comes from within the four walls of our home.
We already have seen a number of cases where alleged crimes have been reported by home gadgets like smart meters, Amazon Echo, Fitbits and more. Courts are still trying to determine if this new stream of information is worth having to essentially rewrite the American justice system. But, in the meantime, it is becoming more evident that some smart tech producers are willing to cooperate with the rising number of government requests to gain access directly into the home.
As Forbes details, it is Google’s Nest that is at the heart of the latest scandal, due to “a little-documented transparency report from Nest.” We also have come to learn from the Forbes report that the land of the free is actually the first place in the world where Nest is known to have cooperated with law enforcement to release footage from its home camera feeds.
The report shows around 60 requests for data were received by Google’s unit in the first half of this year alone. In all those cases recorded from 2015 onward, governments have sought data on as many as 525 Nest account holders.
On Friday Forbes revealed the first known case in the U.S. in which Nest handed over surveillance feeds and customer data from its cameras. Indeed, it appears to be the first documented case of Nest assisting law enforcement in such a manner anywhere in the world. The information was provided to investigators looking into a $1.2 million fraud perpetrated by a rap crew that had taken control of surveillance technology tracking 95% of Americans.
Crazily enough, the above-referenced case highlights the overall scope of the problem – a sort of onion of surveillance that reveals more each time it’s peeled back. It turns out that the government request for a home video feed was likely so extreme (even by their limited standards) because the rap crew criminal enterprise had itself gained access to a trove of personal information known as TLO. Forbes calls TLO the “Holy Grail for any Internet-age scam artist.” And apparently it’s not too secure.
One brochure for the service promises access to a startling amount of personal data drawn from myriad sources: more than 350 million Social Security numbers of dead and living Americans, 225 million employment histories and four billion address records. Add to that billions of vehicle registrations and call records and you have one of the largest commercial surveillance databases in existence.
It’s used not just by cops but also by debt collectors and private companies carrying out background checks. Private investigators use it to track cheating spouses. But in the wrong hands it can be used to steal the identity of almost anyone in America. And Da Boss and his crew got access to it.
The takeaway here is convoluted but not complicated: the single largest database of personal information (run by a multi-billion dollar company) was infiltrated by people who were not even professionals. Then a smart home gadget was employed by the government to snitch on the perpetrators.
Wow, what a mess we’ve gotten ourselves into…