‘Going Dark’? Internet of things empowering governments



A raft of new technologies — like television sets with microphones and web-connected cars — are creating ample opportunities for governments to track suspects, many of them worrying, according to a new study from Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. The study, titled, “Don’t Panic: Making Progress on the ‘Going Dark’ Debate,”  argues that the phrase ignores the flood of new technologies “being packed with sensors and wireless connectivity,” The New York Times reports:

The products, ranging from “toasters to bedsheets, light bulbs, cameras, toothbrushes, door locks, cars, watches and other wearables,” will give the government increasing opportunities to track suspects and in many cases reconstruct communications and meetings.

Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of law and computer science at Harvard who convened the group, said in an interview that the goal was “to have a discussion among people with very different points of view” that would move “the state of the debate beyond its well-known bumper stickers. We managed to do that in part by thinking of a larger picture, specifically in the unexpected ways that surveillance might be attempted.”

He noted that in the current stalemate there was little discussion of the “ever-expanding ‘Internet of things,’ where telemetry from teakettles, televisions and light bulbs might prove surprisingly, and worryingly, amenable to subpoena from governments around the world.”

“What will this omnipresent connectivity mean for the future of democracy?” was the question raised by a recent discussion at the National Endowment for Democracy:

Soon, we will be fully immersed in a pervasive yet invisible network of everyday objects that communicate with one another. There is evidence that in authoritarian countries, the internet of things will be another tool for social control. Even in democracies, the privacy threats are enormous, as is the potential for political manipulation.

“I think what this report shows is that the world today is like living in a big field that is more illuminated than ever before,” said Joseph Nye, a Harvard government professor and former head of the National Intelligence Council. “There will be dark spots — there always will be. But it’s easy to forget that there is far more data available to governments now than ever before.”

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