A little gadget to confuse government spies

SpyingA long time ago, I became friends with a man who worked as an electrical engineer in the aerospace defense industry.  Beginning in the 1980s, he told me that the government was spying on us — and he knew, he said, because he worked on the technology that made it possible.  I assumed that he was (a) paranoid and (b) boasting about a skill set I wasn’t sure even existed back in the day.  Over the years, he continued to tell me that the government was monitoring my land line and my cell phone.  I scoffed.  My attitude changed after 9/11, when it became a reasonable certainty that the DHS was indeed monitoring people’s calls.  With revelations about NSA spying, I’ve finally come full circle and believe everything this guy was telling me thirty years ago.

Let me say here that I don’t think governments should never spy.  If our government thinks that bad actors are planning to do bad things against America, it should be all over the situation, like white on rice.  What I find disturbing is the completely indiscriminate net that the NSA has spread.  It’s spying on everyone.  Since there’s no way it can monitor all that information in real time, the likelihood of the government using this data to stop a terrorist attack is small.

Look at England, for example.  The prevalence of CCTV’s means that England is the most heavily monitored First World country in the world — and yet its crime rates climb higher and higher.  The cameras do nothing to prevent crime.  Their utility, which is limited, is to try to catch criminals after the fact.  They don’t always catch the criminals and, when they do, their multiculturalist, PC values are so warped, they can’t adequately punish them anyway.  The result is that criminals don’t care that they’re being watched, while people of good will are afraid that anything innocent they do today can be used against them tomorrow.

In any event, my understanding is that the best way to stop terrorism is still the old-fashioned way, beginning with human intelligence and common sense.  To the extent our government is indiscriminately collecting everyone’s data, it is doing so not to prevent future crimes, but to prosecute past crimes — including words and activities that weren’t actually criminal at the time people acted or spoke.

This knowledge is why I’m intrigued about something that’s being voted on at Quirky.  If you watch Jay Leno, you know what Quirky is.  People submit ideas for inventions and the public gets to vote on whether they think it’s a good idea or not.  Some of the ideas are brilliant and some are goofy.  If enough people like an idea, Quirky will work with the inventor to bring it into being, from the patent process to the manufacturing to marketing.  Quirky naturally takes a cut, but the Quirky people claim that some people have become millionaires.

The idea at Quirky that intrigues me is one that my friend’s acquaintance came up with.  The Yosemite Box is a device that, when you turn it on, instructs your cell phone to say that your GPS coordinates are in Yosemite:

The Problem

Many governments are spying on peoples’ cellphone metadata, and this makes many people feel that their rights to privacy have been invaded. They object to having their movements and location recorded by the government, 24 hours a day (perhaps from a lovers house?). This device makes their spying incapable of tracking peoples movements through their GPS location on their cellphone – a service which cannot be turned off. If all cellphones sent the same constant address, then no one could be tracked. If you do need the GPS service, turn off the Yosemite Box.

The Solution

The Yosemite Box emits a GPS signal that gives the GPS coordinates of Yosemite National Park, maybe at the top of Half Dome. You simply keep the device near your cell phone when you do not wish to be tracked. If all cellphone metadata had the same address it would make the collection effort worthless. It would be low power so as to get under FCC regulations. Yosemite of course is just a random choice but a nice place for people to think you are visiting and besides you can say that you climbed Half Dome.

What an elegant solution to a 1984-ish government.  If you think it’s a good idea, head on over to Quirky and vote for it.  When it receives 200 votes in this preliminary round, it will go up to the next round.

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  • rwturney

    GPS Spoofing is not enough. They don’t need the GPS receiver, they can determine your location based on the cell tower through which your phone is connected.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    And people thought I was paranoid…

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Oh btw, Book, those CCTV videos do provide a benefit. To people I know who train off of them. It’s very useful to know the most commonly used tactics by criminals, murderers, rapists, and youth gangs. It’s called Sun Tzu’s recommendation to know thy enemy.
    They also serve as Obama and the British government’s snack for mid night entertainment. When they can’t farm enough children in the snuf videos overseas.

  • Matt_SE

    Two outcomes:
    1) if it works, the authorities will outlaw it.
    2) if it doesn’t work, they will keep quiet and give people a false sense of security.
    Sorry, but the only way to fix the NSA is to win control of the government and then gut the agencies involved.

  • Ron19

    If I’m in a situation for which I need to use GPS, and the guy a few feet away is sitting on top of Half Dome, where are the EMTs, etc., going to go to help me?
    What if my driving/walking instructions go haywire because somebody nearby is hiding from the government or their spouse’s divorce lawyer investigator, or trying to convince his boss that he’s at home, sick in bed?
    Folks, if you don’t want the government tracking you by the several means for tracking your cell phone, just turn it off!

  • jj

    Turning off your cell only means that it isn’t actively pinging the nearby towers.  The FBI freely admits that they can engage in “remote bugging,” which is activating your phone’s microphone – whether the phone is on or off – and listening in to whatever you and anyone else in the room within range of the phone’s mic may be saying.  Call me Mr. Suspicious, but I imagine that if the FBI can do it, so can the NSA.  Not to mention DHS.  Or tghe BATFE.  Or your local cops.  Or your cell carrier.  I would further suspect that if they can do this, they can also locate the damn thing, and whether it’s on or off means nothing.  (Up here in the rugged northwest they locate people lost in the mountains all the time.  People who’ve shut their phones off, hoping desperately to preserve the battery life long enough to make a call for help, should they happen to wander into a viable signal.)  Turning it off solves nothing.  Your last (only) line of defense is to remove the battery.  (They’ll still probably be able to find the goddam battery, but if you tossed it out the window ten miles back, maybe you have shot.)

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Maybe we should construct aluminum foil Faraday’s cages and put them around the cellphone when it is recharging…


    I was driving today and tuned in Rush on the radio. Mark Steyn was filling in for Rush. Here’s the link. I don’t believe for a moment that the “installed program” is limited to the bad guys.
    CNN: NSA Team Spies, Hacks to Gather Intelligence on Targets, Report Says