The Seattle Police Department Disables Its Mesh Network (the New Apparatus Capable of Spying on You)


The Seattle Police Department just announced that it has begun the process of CLAIMING THAT IT IS deactivating its wireless mesh network, a powerful tool for sending vast amounts of data that also has powerful surveillance potential.

You will understand why I refuse to take their word for this.
Why is anyone legitimately worried about the pd "tracking people" with this? One, this is tech that any one could implement, anyone that has wifi already has all the tools; Two, do you think the spd has the ability to actually make heads or tails of this? It's not staffed by masterminds. I work for a city (not Seattle) and we can't even tell you the address of many of of the buildings WE OWN. So the odds the pd has the organizational talent to use this in any type of untoward manner is near zero. It's be like asking the Stranger Staff to wage a guerrilla war against the Chinese Army.
If they turn off SSID broadcast, they can leave their network up and it would be pretty hard to detect.
It will be turned on when President Dimon visits ... Just wait and see, Serfs.
This is how most Homeland Security grants work. Rather than being driven by community need they are driven by which company can secure the grant money. Cities and towns are riddled with unnecessary, fabulously expensive, equipment that nobody knows how to use.
@3 is correct.
Awesome work, Matt and Brendan.
This is PARANOID NONSENSE. Please write about things you understand.
#3 is most definitely not correct.
well done! (even if they're lying to you about the details) this is some good and proper local journalism. (and @3 "is most definitely" partially correct. and since it's well within the likely knowledge range of the folks involved, ought to be considered as the step that was taken)
SSID stands for what then. A passive listening device with a known GPS coord down to milregs only needs to receive.
#3 is completely incorrect. It's trivially easy to detect a wireless network even if the SSID is not broadcasting.
@2 demonstrates how low our concept of personal privacy has fallen. We find a future in which our every move can be tracked coming about and people ask what our "legitimate" concern is!

Why should anyone care that the SPD, FBI, NSA, and any Dell employees they've hired to staff their data centers have access to their travel history within the city of Seattle? It's not like you've robbed a bank! Who'd be interested in knowing whether you attended a meeting of a political party, a gay night club, your mistresses' apartment, where you were when you called in sick, that you've been secretly seeing an oncologist.

If you don't value your privacy then you are free to broadcast your current GPS coordinates from minute to minute on twitter. Many of us have a legitimate question about whether the mere use of a cellphone should entail 24/7 tracking by our own police force. If we don't stand against these overreaches now then the use of this technology will become routine.
It really gets me when people say you shouldn't worry if you have nothing to hide. To express that opinion is to ignore American history, and to discount the very recent history of abuses by the burgeoning Law Enforcement Industrial Complex in general, and the Seattle Police Dept in particular.

Not that long ago in America, at the highest levels of our government, we had the ignominious McCarthy witch hunts, where countless peoples' lives were ruined over misguided - and i would say criminal - accusations of "communist sympathizing". Zealots in power in this country have invented an ongoing string of bogey men to justify wars, nefarious prosecutions & other atrocities it alcohol (blame nutcase religious women's groups for fanning the flames), or demon weed (imagine if our white bread suburban kids become uncontrollable jazz musicians); or left-wingers (i.e., anyone who aspires to more than white-picket-fence America); or Al Qaeda (exploited by the insanely-canny Bush administration to take us into a disastrous war of choice) ...the list goes on & on.

The Seattle Police Department has no business engaging in this kind of clandestine behavior. Can we trust them to do the right thing? Of course not! Seattle Police have routinely engaged in egregious behavior, because they can (full disclosure: I do believe the great majority of Seattle cops are very decent people, with good intentions). But *no* police organization - and that certainly includes the out-of-control NSA - should be doing this kind of surveillance *without reasonable regulatory control*. One of the first things Mayor Murray should do is to make absolutely clear that this type of behavior by our police is NOT EVER ACCEPTABLE.

We don't live in a police state, we don't want to live in a police state. Fuck the Dept of Homeland Security, another out-of-control law enforcement agency that's gotten just a little bit too big for its britches. And bravo to Matt Fikse-Verkerk & Brendan Kiley for shining a spotlight on this ugly episode. And shame on the Seattle City Council for letting this happen in the first place!
@13, you gotta be kidding. Just wait until a disgruntled ex decides to subpoena all your locational and time-of-day records from SPD and they turn them over to him/her. THEN you will change your mind!
@15: You missed the joke. Nonetheless, a subpoena is not needed if the records are created by SPD and not specifically exempted from the Public Records Act.
Ahh... Citizen R - I think you completely missed the point of @13's comment ...take a deep breath & try again!
I just want to chime in here to weigh in on the correctness of @3.
i don't trust a damn thing they say... never have ..never will..
what this really shows is that the City Council hasn't even minimally been doing its job.
Amen sarah70!
@3 couldn't be more wrong. Just because you stop broadcasting your SSID (network name), doesn't mean it's not easy to find your network.

If your Windows (or Mac) laptop doesn't show it as readily available, try using a proper (and free) site survey tool. If it's there, you'll see it, or at least the evidence of it being there.
The thing is, once people know about it the data it stores could be subpoenaed and/or potentially used against politicians. Rogue surveillance networks have a life of their own.
I'm sure glad that this happened while Murray was mayor of Seattle! Oh wait...the other guy's mayor. Wonder why HE wasn't doing his job?
@14 - it's the opposite of "Nothing to Hide" - SPD, even the federals, are largely "Unable to Find".

In states where they use EZ-Pass, everytime you pass by the toll location, obviously it records your movement. But what you didn't know is that there are EZ-Pass readers embedded all over the highways in a system called Transmit. Because they don't know who's driving the car (and SPD "mesh" Network won't know who's holding the cell-phone) they've never solved a crime based on Transmit data. Where I work, the company that runs that system (a private firm) won't give us a sample of vehicles, even with any PII stripped out. We can get a rolled up sample of all vehicles that passed a particular location within a 15 minute chunk. The data is extremely useful for modelling traffic and measuring backups/delays, however. FHWA loves it.

Another part of my job is to drive a license plate reading vehicle around town, to determine where the people are parked have their car registered - we use this to determine if the parking population is likely residents, shoppers, commutters, etc. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to get the registration zip code (we don't ask for any other details, like address, or summons, etc, etc) from state DOT? Do you think we even consider trying to track any individual vehicle over subsequent runs? No. We don't have the staff for that, and we don't have a use for that. We'd be better off buying Lotto tickets.

Oh, PS, your phone is sending it's GPS location to Apple or Google anyhow, so all that information is already out there in public - and that's tied to your personal account, not your device. All this technology has been sitting on your windowsill for the past 5 or 10 years. Mesh or whatever is not new.
@16 Government records attainable by FOIL or their equivalents; personal information (including, say, name) is generally not submitted. So when I go to a public meeting and sign the sign-in sheet, the names of citizens attending and their e-mail address is redacted when provided under FOIL. But we go out of our way to keep stuff from being FOILable for just that reason.
"Deactivating" doesn't mean shit. I want those things taken down, period, and either sent back to where they came from, or destroyed in a blast furnace. Maybe Nucor could make rebar out of them.
Good news everybody! We defeated skynet again! But be vigil, you never know when those pesky terminators might show up, could be next week, could be next year, you never know when fear and paranoia are spoon fed to people by alternative newspapers.
@9, @12 Will you accept that it's hardER to detect? That is, it won't simply show up on the standard firmware/software supplied with your average smartphone. You might even need a directional antenna and field-strength meter. And/or a laptop kitted out with multi-band receivers and sniffer/capture software running in promiscuous mode. And if the things aren't transmitting continuously, the patience to wait for a burst.

It's still not what I would call trivial even if you're a well-equipped EE or network guru.

If you want to make sure they're actually out of service, climb the poles and take them down, or at least cut their power lines. Don't forget to remove their batteries.
What I don't get is the ignorance of the people in charge of things when it comes to our city. OF COURSE this was going to freak people out, and OF COURSE it would end up being investigated.

It's like with the WTO. I was just a secretary at the Sheraton when the management and some tools from the Seattle Tourism Board gathered the employees together and made a big patronizing announcement about how wonderful the WTO was going to be, and how much money it would bring to the downtown core. (As if that was going to help us twelve bucks an hour slobs) I had the temerity to ask if they were at all concerned about protests, given Seattle's political leanings, and they laughingly told me that it wasn't 1938 anymore. Silly secretary!

By the time the WTO happened, I was working for a dot com. I called the Sheraton when the hotel got barricaded, and asked them how they were enjoying the conference. Silly hotel dweebs.
Sure It's deactivated.. sure. sure.


Just when we get a technology that could help us pinpoint kidnappers and get evidence on assaults and rapes, you make them shut it off!

@4, Will in Seattle, is correct and appears to be spot on! (Although, I'm afraid to say, technically incorrect on his remarks on SSID.)

These mesh network nodes appear to be situated outside JPMorgan Chase Building (old WaMu building), Wells Fargo Center, etc., i.e., the bankster spots.

Colossal work on the part of Brendan (and Matt?).
If there's nothing wrong with surveilling the public, then let us have full citizen surveillance of those monthly Community Development Round Table meetings at the Washington Athletic Club!
"Our position is that the technology is the technology" sounds like a cousin of the ol' tag line "guns don't kill people, people kill people."
What @25, fetish says, has been said in various forms over the past fifty years, we heard it about various CIA subprojects, and major projects such as MK ULTRA, responsible for the destruction of untold lives in America, Canada, South America, Asia, and even Europe.

There exist cams at those toll boths, which come under another DHS contractor, and someone can and probably does access this data and correlate, match up, cross reference, etc.

The situation he/she describes doesn't give the full picture, either ignorantly, or purposely, so!

@33 that's who you're serfs of. Duh.
@24, approving expenditures/grants for equipment is not the Mayor's job; it's the Council's job. See article below:

"The mesh network, as The Stranger reported this week, was quietly purchased with grant money from the Department of Homeland Security and whisked through the Seattle City Council without any serious process of review and approval."

Dismantle it, remove it from it's mounted positions and put it in storage until the community and council makes policy and signs off on it. No covert misbehaving going on behind anyone's backs. And don't lie and say that that won't happen, as long as it's in place it sure as hell will.
For all the armchair activists that are concerned about them just turning off the SSID.…
@40 Nobody can click on your link, because unregistered SLOG users can't post links. I won't post a snarky comment about how if you can't even work SLOG, etc., etc.

More important point. Those aren't wi-fi access points (APs). I can't even imagine why they turned on SSIDs in the first place, unless it was to make it easier for them to troubleshoot their initial installation. They're monitoring devices. They collect communications data and transmit it back home somewhere. It's not clear to me whether that back link can be hardwire, or on another radio band altogether, running some other protocol. Looking only at the photos, I'm seeing four antennas of various lengths and a couple of wires.

Until someone steals one off a pole and reverse-engineers it, inserts a monitoring device in the monitoring device and puts it back online and sees what it's doing, I'm not sure we can have a high degree of confidence about exactly how it works or what it's doing. Considering how DHS works with local police departments, I'm not even sure we could trust the operations manuals the PD gets to tell the whole story.
Criminey, the level of geek on this thread is incredibly low. Thw broadcast SSID is for the SPD network, they should have that, it seems handy.

For surveillance dedicate one radio. It doesn't have an SSID because it isn't a network. It's a promiscuous packet sniffer. It's passive. It collects every wi-fi packet on all channels on all networks, connected or not, without interference. It stores the MAC address and time stamp of the frames which are unencrypted.
SPD purchased a mesh network

Not quite - a bloated, wasteful, over-funded, largely pointless DHS purchased a mesh network for the SPD.