• Malcolm Smith

This evening, roughly 24 hours after the Seattle Police Department announced it would deactivate its downtown wireless mesh network, one spokesperson and one engineer from Aruba, the company that designed and built the network, gave us a call.

The Stranger reported on this network last week:

After reviewing Aruba's technical literature, as well as talking to IT directors and systems administrators around the country who work with Aruba products, it's clear that their networks are adept at seeing all the devices that move through their coverage area and visually mapping the locations of those devices in real time for the system administrators' convenience. In fact, one of Aruba's major selling points is its ability to locate "rogue" or "unassociated" devices—that is, any device that hasn't been authorized by (and maybe hasn't even asked to be part of) the network.

Which is to say, your device. The cell phone in your pocket, for instance.

Aruba spokesperson Pavel Radda and engineer Chuck Lukaszewski, who said they also spoke to a Seattle Times reporter earlier today, claimed that the SPD's mesh network cannot geo-locate devices that don't already have an affiliation—that is to say, a username and a password—with the network.

"There are three product families" within the Aruba company, Lukaszewski said. Two of the families have geo-location capabilities, but "the outdoor mesh does not do outdoor location capabilities."

"I want to be crystal clear about the mesh product," he said, "and I did some follow-up with our software team—we can state unequivocally that the mesh product is not capable of reporting on unassociated devices." He added that the four radios in every wireless router can detect where a "rogue device" is, but that "we discard the information in the radio at a low level."

Could Aruba demonstrate that somehow—since the technical literature we reviewed, the Aruba clients we interviewed, and the engineers we spoke to indicated the opposite?

"I've talked about it with the software team," Lukaszewski said, "but it’s not in the documentation. For the moment, you’re going to have to go with the Aruba spokesman."

When we first approached the SPD and Aruba, they declined to answer questions about the network.

That leaves us with a he-said/she-said. Between the Aruba users, anonymous tech engineers, on-the-record technical directors, and Aruba's own literature, it appears that the Aruba mesh network has the potential—especially with future software upgrades in geo-location which, as we reported in our original story, is a hot part of Aruba's current business model—to track wireless devices.

If we're wrong, we're happy to correct the record. But we're not convinced yet.