Last week, Seattle’s alternative weekly paper The Stranger published an exposé on their city’s new wireless mesh network, part of a $2.7 million project purchased by the Department of Homeland Security. The Seattle Police Department refused to answer more than a dozen questions about the network (which was fast-tracked by Seattle City Council with very little process for review and approval) including whether it’s operational, who can access its data, what it might be used for, whether the SPD has used or intends to use it to geo-locate people’s devices via MAC addresses or other identifiers, and how accurately it would be able to track people.
On November 12, Anthony Gucciardi and Mikael Thalen released reports on Infowars and Storyleak featuring leaked documents on the surveillance mesh posted by an anonymous whistleblower earlier this year. Some of the findings are recapped in the video below:
Shortly after the leaks went public (Tuesday evening) Seattle Police Spokesperson Sgt. Sean Whitcomb announced “The wireless mesh network will be deactivated until city council approves a draft policy and until there’s an opportunity for vigorous public debate.” While it’s fortunate they were forced to do this due to public pressure, it contradicted previous statements SPD had made to the local press in the wake of The Stranger article. As reported by RT:
The SPD told The Stranger previously that the system was not being used, but anyone with a smart phone who wandered through the jurisdiction covered by the digital nodes could still notice that their devices were being discovered by the internet-broadcasting boxes, just as a person’s iPhone or Android might attempt to connect to any network within reach. In theory, law enforcement could take the personal information transmitted as the two devices talk to each other and use that intelligence to triangulate the location of a person, even within inches.
When the SPD was approached about the system last week, they insisted that it wasn’t even in operation yet. David Ham of Seattle’s KIRO-7 News asked, however, how come “we could see these network names if it’s not being used?”
“Well, they couldn’t give us an explanation,” Ham said at the time.
“They now own a piece of equipment that has tracking capabilities so we think that they should be going to city council and presenting a protocol for the whole network that says they won’t be using it for surveillance purposes,” Jamela Debelak of the American Civil Liberties Union told the network.
Now just days later, the SPD has admitted to The Stranger that indeed the mesh network was turned on — it just wasn’t supposed to be.
“SPD maintains it has not been actively using the network — it was operational without being operated, having been turned on for DHS grant-mandated testing and then never turned off — so shutting it down won’t hamper any current SPD activities,” The Stranger reported.
Are we supposed to believe the SPD “forgot” to shut the system off or trust that they would leave it operational without anyone operating it in light of the fact that they lied to reporters about the system being on a few days earlier? Both seem unlikely, as does promises that they’ll have enough safeguards in place to prevent misuse of the information they collect.
As RT previously reported, the DHS has been quietly rolling out similar surveillance grids in other cities including Oakland and Las Vegas. At this point, all Americans must remain extra vigilant to stay on top of such Orwellian schemes and do everything within power to shut them down.
UPDATE 11/28: Infowars just released this follow-up report revealing SPD had in fact NOT shut down the surveillance grid after publicly announcing that they would. This is further evidence that government lies and/or is incompetent at doing anything not a high priority for them (like shutting off surveillance grids), as if anyone needed more evidence.
UPDATE 12/9: Seattle police just announced today that the last of the surveillance nodes had finally been shut off last Friday (12/6). According to The Stranger:
Today, an SPD spokesperson said the department had turned off the final nodes in the network on Friday—156 could be disabled remotely, which happened weeks ago (though 19 had to be double-checked in person), but 8 had to be deactivated manually by a technician. Those are now off.
Today, I also received a copy of a letter sent from SPD Chief Jim Pugel to city councilperson Bruce Harrell about the mesh network. The full text is below the jump, but the relevant points are: (a) the department says the technology needs “more vetting with the ACLU and other stakeholders before a public hearing” and (b) Chief Pugel’s assertion that the network does not have the capability to track or record a person’s movements, but that SPD’s draft policies about its use “will cover any non-video technology” anyway.
The department, Pugel says, should be ready for a briefing with the council member earlier next year.