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US government admits it could use home devices to spy on people

Baby monitors, Fitbits, Samsung televisions - did you know these internet-connected devices are recording data on you?

Rachael Revesz
New York
Wednesday 10 February 2016 14:55
James Clapper said home devices will mean that surveillance capabilities are increased
James Clapper said home devices will mean that surveillance capabilities are increased

The internet of things - baby monitors, Samsung televisions, home security devices, voice recognition barbies - is a wonderful place, designed to make your home safer and your children’s playtime more interactive.

But what if this new network of gadgets is recording data on you and sending it back to the manufacturing company and intelligence agencies?

The US intelligence chief has insinuated as much this week, when he said that agencies might be able to use this new generation of household devices to increase their surveillance capabilities.

James Clapper, US director of national intelligence, said at a Senate hearing on cyber security: “In the future, intelligence services might use the [internet of things] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.”

Mr Clapper did not specify which devices could be used or which agencies would use the data, but The Guardian reported that security experts took it as a given that agencies could intercept signals that newly networked devices emit, as they have done for years with mobile phones.

The comments shed light on the fact that millions of customers buying these devices may have no knowledge they are being recorded, unless they choose to read the small print.

Products on the watch list may also come as a surprise: toothbrushes, door locks, watches, toasters and bedsheets may also be recording data, as reported by The New York Times.

Police have already asked Dogcam, owned by Google, for footage from cameras inside people’s homes which are designed to keep their children safe. Data from Fitbit, the electronic pedometer that also tracks your movement, has already been used in court against defendants.

Devices like Xbox Kinect, Amazon Echo and GM’s OnStar program can also track car owners’ driving patterns.

All of these apparently unsecured networks can be easily infiltrated by amateur computer hackers, as illustrated by a new search engine called Shodan, which showed it can easily tap into schools, baby cams and people’s homes.

The notion of increased surveillance goes against what the FBI has claimed for two years - that it faces a “dark crisis” to track potential criminals as more companies enjoy encrypted communications and would not share data on their customers.

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