We’ve known for a while that military personnel using GPS-enabled health tracking apps and accessories in sensitive operational areas was kind of a problem, from an intelligence standpoint. Such appliances make it wicked easy for someone to check in on the wearer’s daily routine, whereabouts or, should enough people in an operational area use the same service like Strava, figure out where personnel congregate at certain times of the day, no satellite surveillance or human intelligence assets required. Well, it looks like the Department of Defense has finally decided to do something about it: As of right now, DoD employees are no longer allowed to wear or use a wide variety of health tracking hardware.
The ban was first announced in an August 3 memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan. It follows a months-long investigation into the use of location-tracking apps after the fitness app Strava published a global heat map that accidentally revealed the locations of several United States military bases. The Pentagon’s response also comes after a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report to Congress calling for “enhanced assessments and guidance … to address security risks in DoD” posed by internet of things devices.
How the United States military will enforce this ban is anyone’s guess, at this point. According to Stars & Stripes, it’s not immediately clear what the punishment for accidentally tracking your run with your smartphone might be, or what consequences a solider might face for intentionally wearing their Fitbit into a war zone (what time was it and what was your heart rate when you were being shot at? Read the rest
Cincinnati landlord Courtland Gundlind had enough of the thief who had recently stolen two air conditioning units from his properties. So he hid a GPS tracker inside a new unit, installed it, and waited for the culprit to strike again. Two weeks later, the air conditioner texted him that it was "on the move." From Cincinnati.com:
The Okeana landlord called a friend and followed the trail. The GPS updated every 60 seconds, so they remained about a minute behind. He called police who eventually caught up with the unit and a suspect at the McDonald's on Reading Road.
Cincinnati Police arrested David Lester Walls, 50, of Linden Street, and charged him with theft and criminal damaging. He was arraigned April 11, pleaded not guilty, and is set to return to court May 15....
(Gundling) said police were surprised the GPS in the AC worked.
(Thanks, Charles Pescovitz!)
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Kelly Herron stopped while jogging in a Seattle park to use a public restroom, where she was set upon by a sex offender. After a brutal fight, she managed to escape, thanks to a recent self-defense class. Her GPS fitness tracker captured the ordeal. Read the rest
GPS security is increasingly implicated in both physical and information security: from steering a super-yacht (or a super-tanker) into pirate-friendly waters to diverting self-driving cars or even unlocking geo-tagged tokens and AR game objectives. Read the rest
National Geographic reporter Bryan Christy commissioned two fake elephant tusks embedded with GPS, then planted them to track ivory smuggling routes from the Central African Republic into Sudan. Read the rest
How does Google Maps account for plate tectonics? That's the seemingly simple question that led George Musser to unearth some fascinating facts about map-making, history, and the accuracy of modern GPS systems. Turns out, not only does the crust of the Earth, itself, move, but so do the locations of lines of latitude and longitude. Both those things contribute to small errors when your GPS tries to pinpoint exactly where you are. Read the rest
When one of Caroline Paul's cats disappeared for 5.5 weeks, it inspired her to find out what Tibula (the cat) was really up to when he left home. The process of this is pretty fascinating. The outcome is, well, kind of cat like. What was Tibula doing when he wasn't at home? Avoiding the house and staring at himself in windows, apparently. Read the rest
If you've got a major-brand camera with a built-in GPS, don't plan on taking any geotagged photos in China. Chinese law prohibits mapmaking without a license, and most of the large camera manufacturers have complied with this regulation by quietly slipping a censorship function into the GPS -- when you take a picture, the camera checks to see if it's presently in China, and if it is, it throws away its GPS data, rather than embedding it in the photo's metadata. On Ogle Earth, Stefan Geens looks at how several different manufacturers handle this weirdness -- how they phrase it in their manuals, and what their cameras do when they run up against this limitation. It's a fascinating look at the interface between consumer electronics, user interface, and the edicts of totalitarian regimes. In some Nikon cameras, for example, the GPS does work, but all its measurements are shifted about 500m to the west (!).
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Why does all this matter? Wherever local laws prohibit the sale or use of a personal electronics device able to perform a certain function, manufacturers have traditionally chosen not to sell the offending device in that particular jurisdiction, or — if the market is tempting enough — to sell a crippled model made especially for that jurisdiction.
For example, Nokia chose not to sell the N95 phone in Egypt when the sale of GPS-enabled devices there was illegal before 2009, whereas Apple opted to make and sell a special GPS-less iPhone 3G for that market. Early models of the Chinese iPhone 3GS lacked wifi, while the Chinese iPhone 4/4S has firmware restrictions on its Google Maps app.
At ABC News, a thorough "explainer" by Ariane de Vogue on the January Supreme Court ruling that requires the FBI to immediately stop using GPS tracking devices to spy on suspects. Today, FBI Director Bob Mueller said the Bureau will cooperate, but not without complaint: “Trackers enabled us to utilize resources elsewhere, so it is going have an impact on the work that we do but of course we will comply with the ruling.” Read the rest
A recent US Supreme Court ruling that overturned the warrantless use of GPS tracking devices "has caused a 'sea change' inside the U.S. Justice Department." Following the ruling, the FBI turned off an estimated 3,000 GPS tracking devices that were in use. But how to locate the little buggers to take them home?
From the WSJ, quoting FBI General Counsel Andrew Weissmann:
These devices were often stuck underneath cars to track the movements of the car owners. In U.S. v. Jones, the Supreme Court ruled that using a device to track a car owner without a search warrant violated the law.
After the ruling, the FBI had a problem collecting the devices that it had turned off, Mr. Weissmann said. In some cases, he said, the FBI sought court orders to obtain permission to turn the devices on briefly – only in order to locate and retrieve them.
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The US Supreme Court has unanimously overturned several lower courts and ruled that police can't hide GPS trackers on your car without a warrant. Read the rest
SpyFiles, a new project from Wikileaks and several partner organization, is based on 287 secret documents revealing a campaign of mass spying on users of webmail, GPS, and mobile devices, with this data being sold in a covert, 25-nation global marketplace that Wikileaks claims is worth $5 billion. At present, the underlying documents are not available (Wikileaks is withholding them as part of a fundraising drive), but an interactive map showing the spying on a nation-by-nation basis is up and running, and there's a page showing the press reportage on the map.
The Spy Files Wikileaks Read the rest
As the fight over the warrantless placing of GPS trackers on suspects' cars continues, Americans continue to discover hidden GPS trackers. Wired's looked at these before, and today they've got the story of "Greg," a young man in San Jose, California, who found not one, but two warrantless trackers on his SUV.
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The 25-year-old resident of San Jose, California, says he found the first one about three weeks ago on his Volvo SUV while visiting his mother in Modesto, about 80 miles northeast of San Jose. After contacting Wired and allowing a photographer to snap pictures of the device, it was swapped out and replaced with a second tracking device. A witness also reported seeing a strange man looking beneath the vehicle of the young man’s girlfriend while her car was parked at work, suggesting that a tracking device may have been retrieved from her car...
Greg says he discovered the first tracker on his vehicle after noticing what looked like a cell phone antenna inside a hole on his back bumper where a cable is stored for towing a trailer. The device, the size of a mobile phone, was not attached to a battery pack, suggesting the battery was embedded in its casing...
On Tuesday, Nov. 1, Wired photographer Jon Snyder went to San Jose to photograph the device. The next day, two males and one female appeared suddenly at the business where Greg’s girlfriend works, driving a Crown Victoria with tinted windows. A witness reported to Greg that one of the men jumped out of the car, bent under the front of the girlfriend’s car for a few seconds, then jumped back into the Crown Victoria and drove off.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation are asking the Supreme Court to ban the practice of using warrantless GPS-based bugs to track citizens' movements. They've just been joined in their appeal by Roger L. Easton, the principal inventor of GPS technology.
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Roger L. Easton is considered the father of GPS as the principal inventor and developer of the Timation Satellite Navigation System at the Naval Research Laboratory. The current GPS is based on Timation, and its principles of operation are fundamentally identical. In an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court Monday in United States v. Jones, EFF, Mr. Easton, along with other technology experts, pointed out the many ways in which GPS tracking is fundamentally different from and more invasive than other surveillance technologies the court has allowed before, and how law enforcement use of GPS without a warrant violates Americans' reasonable expectations of privacy.
"This is the first case where the Supreme Court will consider automatic, persistent, passive location tracking by law enforcement," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "The government can use location information over time to learn where you go to church, what sort of doctors you go to, what meetings and activities you participate in, and much more. Police should not have blanket permission to install GPS devices and collect detailed information about people's movements over time without court review."
In Jones, FBI agents planted a GPS device on a car while it was on private property. Agents then used the GPS to track the position of the vehicle every ten seconds for a full month without obtaining a search warrant.