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Big Brother is Watching. Government Invades Resident Privacy

By trixyf - 27 March 2013 58

the one eye sees all

ACT Territory and Municipal Services (TAMS) has admitted to surreptitiously tracking and recording the movements of residents in Canberra’s South through the interception of the private Bluetooth emissions of their mobile phones and car hands-free systems.

TAMS has collected these data as part of its evidence base in support of the highly controversial plan to implement more than 82 traffic calming devices across the southern suburbs of Chisholm, Gilmore, Richardson, Macarthur, Fadden and Gowrie.

The data were reportedly used to map traffic flows and to measure ‘rat-running’ of traffic through the aforementioned suburbs. Collection apparatuses were placed by the side of the road at all entrance and exit points to each suburb. Under the project, if the same signal was received at two collection points, it was inferred that the vehicle had ‘rat-runned’ through the suburb.

All traffic with Bluetooth devices entering or leaving each suburb was tracked as part of the study, conducted jointly by Purdons Consulting and TAMS, in December 2012. This capability would normally require obtaining a warrant under the Telecommunications Interception and Access Act 1979, which was intended to restrict the activities of domestic law enforcement agencies. Further, there is a reasonable expectation of privacy whilst utilising Bluetooth, as well as the possibility of the information being personally identifying. As such the collection of these data is likely to be in contravention of the Privacy Act 1988.

Residents were not advised about their intentions to conduct this activity, nor has TAMS offered residents the opportunity to review their private data collected under the study. When questioned about the legality of the program by concerned residents at a recent public consultation on 13 March, Mr Rifaat Shoukrallah, Roads ACT Senior Manager of Traffic Management and Safety, stated that he considered the actions of the department to be “completely legal”. The event was also attended by ACT Greens Minister Shane Rattenbury.

The activities of TAMS are eerily similar to the blunder of Google’s Street View project, where the company recorded Wi-Fi access point location data of millions of users worldwide. This lead to the company being fined for breaching user privacy. However, unlike Wi-Fi, where broadcasts are expected to be received by surrounding users attempting to locate and connect to home networks, Bluetooth beacons are private signals intended only for the target user. This makes the suspected breach all the more serious.

Similar activities have been conducted in Queensland, where investigations concluded that information collected was not personally identifying, and as such, not a breach of the Privacy Act. However, most readers will be aware that by default, Bluetooth devices often use the owner’s name as the identifier. The trend towards law enforcement abroad and domestically increasingly using similar methods as a mechanism for tracking the location of criminals (under warrant) also suggests that the legality of this technology needs to be reviewed before use in the ACT.


ED – We were rather surprised by this story so asked TAMS for comment. They had this reply:

Bluetooth data collection is used for traffic studies across Australia and worldwide. Please be assured that this technology is not able to collect any personal data and there is no way to identify individuals through Bluetooth devices. If the technology could in any way contravene the Privacy Act or other legislation, TAMS would not use it.

The Bluetooth technology allows for information to be collected about the movement of cars through a suburb. Data receivers collect an electronic signature at the entry and exit points to suburbs and by looking at the time it takes vehicles to travel that distance it can be determined whether they are ‘rat running’ or whether they were instead going to the local shops or dropping their kids off at school. If data is captured only at the entry point then it can be determined that the owner of the vehicle must live in the suburb.

TAMS has received many safety and complaints relating to rat running in Chisholm, Gilmore, Richardson, Macarthur, Fadden and Gowrie and is responding with detailed traffic studies. Bluetooth technology is being used instead of manual counting as it much more accurately records traffic flows. It also offers a greater degree of privacy than that which can be provided with toll tag tracking or license plate surveys due to the fact that there are no databases of Bluetooth addresses that can be used to associate addresses with individual owners or their vehicles.

The Minister has asked TAMS to include information on Bluetooth data collection on its website, as we understand people may have concerns or questions about how it works.


UPDATE 29/03/13 10:31: Good grief we’ve made The Register who seem to have blurred the line on user generated content into an editorial line.

What’s Your opinion?


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58 Responses to
Big Brother is Watching. Government Invades Resident Privacy
1
obamabinladen 11:36 am
27 Mar 13
#

We are entering an era where our privacy is under threat. The people need to remember that we are the majority and the government works for us not the other way around.

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2
Solidarity 11:58 am
27 Mar 13
#

A vast majority of people would have bluetooth turned off?

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3
devdsp 12:06 pm
27 Mar 13
#

> there is no way to identify individuals through Bluetooth devices

Bullshit. It’s a UID that you take with you either in your car or in your pocket. How is that not personally identifying?

Leave one of those sniffers at (or near enough to) one of the point to point speed cameras and they’ll be able to match hands-free kits to cars.

A bluetooth sniffer near a security camera would very easily build a dataset that could be used to match images of people to bluetooth devices.

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4
themetresgained 12:09 pm
27 Mar 13
#

At least that data is anonymous. The same cannot be said of transit data derived from registered MyWay cards. As a matter of principle, I choose not to register my MyWay card. There’s been incidents where Victorian police have solicited Myki data and gotten it with no trouble – there’s no way to prove the same can’t happen with MyWay.

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5
Canberracanuck 12:15 pm
27 Mar 13
#

I think the privacy needs of citizens are no more important than the safety concerns of those residents of the suburbs concerned. What reasonable objection can responsible citizens have to the territory trying to improve quality of life for those residents? Granted, there need to be controls to ensure the information gathered is used only for the stated purpose, but the point about it being the easiest/cheapest way to collect data is a good one…if they had announced what they were doing, then the data collected would have been suspect, as no doubt a portion of the group would have either changed their behaviour or found a way to avoid detection. There is a serious problem to be faced by our society in the addiction to the convenience of the automobile, with no consideration given to the discomfort and danger to which it exposes the rest of the population, let alone the driver/occupant. We should applaud the guy who thought up the idea, as well as the local government for trying to do something measured and constructive, instead of just blindly re-designing the infrastructure (or worse yet, doing nothing). And anyone who is squeamish about this tiny “invasion of privacy” might want to think about selling the computer they use to read this forum!

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6
Alderney 12:16 pm
27 Mar 13
#

I understand your concerns.

Quite frankly, I’m more concerned that my neighbour can have CCTV that can view my property.

Short of breaking the law and taking it down myself when they go away on holidays, there is nothing I can do.

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7
magiccar9 12:22 pm
27 Mar 13
#

Where was the community awareness and consultation for this project? Did we get told before this began what was going to happen? Did they say “Hey, we’re going to start tracking you through you bluetooth devices”…

My phone can pass information regarding a phone number and contact name stored in the phone to the hands-free kit in the car. For example, if I have a contact named “Jon” saved into my contact list on the phone and he rings me it shows up on my hands-free as “Jon” calling and the phone number.
By collecting the BT Unique Identifier, the Government can begin their own database to track these signals – which I feel invades our right to privacy. Can the Government guarantee me that this data can’t be stored and used later for their own use? Probably not.
Also, what’s stopping a begrudged TAMS IT employee from using this data collected for unsavory use?

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8
Mr Evil 12:33 pm
27 Mar 13
#

This is old news. The real worry is that “they” can now also track you by collecting the reflected light and brainwave energy that bounces off your tinfoil hat and passes through the chemtrails overhead.

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9
dpm 12:35 pm
27 Mar 13
#

I wouldn’t have thought that many people leave their bluetooth on? Maybe the ones with hands-free, but surely that isn’t anywhere near close to the majority (or a useable amount even)? You lean something new every day! :-)

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10
DrKoresh 1:15 pm
27 Mar 13
#

Not exactly a Stalinesque attack on our rights is it? Still would have been nice if they’d told us before-hand rather than after the fact.

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11
Felix the Cat 1:25 pm
27 Mar 13
#

themetresgained said :

At least that data is anonymous. The same cannot be said of transit data derived from registered MyWay cards. As a matter of principle, I choose not to register my MyWay card. There’s been incidents where Victorian police have solicited Myki data and gotten it with no trouble – there’s no way to prove the same can’t happen with MyWay.

Why would you be worried about the police accessing data? Ever think they might need it in relation to solving a crime?

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12
Gungahlin Al 1:28 pm
27 Mar 13
#

Won’t anyone think of the uni students?
How do they survive now without income from writing down numberplates??

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13
gooterz 1:30 pm
27 Mar 13
#

Cyclists don’t have Bluetooth?

It’d be skewed anyway, only a select few would leave Bluetooth on.

82 devices because the gov is to tight to fix anything south of parliament house?

Perhaps we could leave a devices outside the assembly so we know our leaders are working?

Good to know that the government was open about this, so the public could be assured of the confidentiality of their data.

Now was the Bluetooth’s Mac id’s recorded or were Bluetooth transmissions completely recorded, in which case the government has illegally intercepted telecommunications breaching the Telco act

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14
davo101 1:41 pm
27 Mar 13
#

Quick break out the tin-foil hat. Talk about an overreaction.

First off does the Telecommunications Interception and Access Act apply here? The Act states that it does not apply to a system for carrying communications solely by means of radiocommunication. Secondly does the Privacy Act apply? If they are collecting Bluetooth MACs then I don’t see how this can be considered personal information. How would you go about working out who 01-07-6B-88-EA-01 is? Thirdly, given the number of security breaks over the years, why would you have a reasonable expectation of privacy whilst utilising Bluetooth?

Lastly, and most importantly, if you choose to drive around Canberra broadcasting a tracking signal don’t be too surprised if some is listening in.

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15
mezza76 2:16 pm
27 Mar 13
#

davo101 said :

Quick break out the tin-foil hat. Talk about an overreaction.

First off does the Telecommunications Interception and Access Act apply here? The Act states that it does not apply to a system for carrying communications solely by means of radiocommunication. Secondly does the Privacy Act apply? If they are collecting Bluetooth MACs then I don’t see how this can be considered personal information. How would you go about working out who 01-07-6B-88-EA-01 is? Thirdly, given the number of security breaks over the years, why would you have a reasonable expectation of privacy whilst utilising Bluetooth?

Lastly, and most importantly, if you choose to drive around Canberra broadcasting a tracking signal don’t be too surprised if some is listening in.

^ this. Where can I subscribe to your newsletter?

What a beat up. Seriously. If you’re concerned about privacy and personal information by Government you might want to consider never loding a tax return, accessing welfare and the health system. That information stored would pale in comparison than your driving habits and bluetooth identifier which, frankly, probably bores the pants off some poor TAMS functionary.

And I do register my MYWAY card – because I couldn’t care less if the ACT police called me to ask if I saw a crime, or that I got on at Forde and got off at Civic. I’d volunteer it if I saw a crime or if the police asked me…because you know, I abide by the law.

Do you people put a hood over your face to evade CCTV in Civic or the bank? Or any other store? Your face is recorded… far more invasive than your name and bluetooth id. Or your driving habits.

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