Petraeus: CIA Could Use Smart Household Appliances To Spy

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
March 19 2012 4:15 PM

Petraeus: CIA Could Use Smart Household Appliances To Spy

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Could a smart washer and dryer help the CIA keep tabs on you?

Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

Watch out: the CIA may soon be spying on you—through your beloved, intelligent household appliances, according to Wired.

In early March, at a meeting for the CIA’s venture capital firm In-Q-Tel, CIA Director David Petraeus reportedly noted that “smart appliances” connected to the Internet could someday be used by the CIA to track individuals. If your grocery-list-generating refrigerator knows when you’re home, the CIA could, too, by using geo-location data from your wired appliances, according to SmartPlanet.

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“The current ‘Internet of PCs’ will move, of course, toward an ‘Internet of Things’—of devices of all types—50 to 100 billion of which will be connected to the Internet by 2020,” Petraeus said in his speech. He continued:

Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters—all connected to the next-generation Internet using abundant, low cost, and high-power computing—the latter now going to cloud computing, in many areas greater and greater supercomputing, and, ultimately, heading to quantum computing.

This is a legal gray area. In the summer of 2008, Congress passed an expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which forced companies like Google to give the United States access to all emails, phone calls, and text messages believed to be sent from overseas. Wired’s Spencer Ackerman notes that the FISA amendment contributes to the government’s ability to use location data:

The CIA has a lot of legal restrictions against spying on American citizens. But collecting ambient geolocation data from devices is a grayer area, especially after the 2008 carve-outs to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Hardware manufacturers, it turns out, store a trove of geolocation data; and some legislators have grown alarmed at how easy it is for the government to track you through your phone or PlayStation.

ITworld’s Kevin Fogarty thinks that J. Edgar Hoover, were he still with us, would “die of jealousy” upon hearing about the tools soon to be at Petraeus’ disposal.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Caitlin Mac Neal is an intern for Future Tense.

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