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Monday, September 1, 2014

NSA: There’s a Spy in my Soup!

Janet Phelan

Okay, we now know that our phone calls are being monitored. Snowden has made it clear that none of our electronically conveyed communications are secure from NSA snooping. But to find that they are now listening to our potato chips? 

As revealed recently in an article in MIT News, technology has been developed which would allow our relentlessly nosy government to pick up voice prints from a bag of potato chips, a glass of water, a window or potted plant. 

This is how it works: 

The tiny vibration of objects as a result of a nearby conversation can now be picked up by a camera and the conversation reconstructed, due to an algorithm developed by researchers at MIT, Microsoft and Adobe. In a statement by the first author of the MIT paper, Abe Davis wrote: “When sound hits an object, it causes the object to vibrate. The motion of this vibration creates a very subtle visual signal that’s usually invisible to the naked eye. People didn’t realize that this information was there.”

Armed with the perception that the US government has developed other intrusive technologies, I conducted a search for prevailing spyware. We already know that our buttons can be replaced with microphones, that our passports are chipped and can GPS us at any given latitude, that our smart phones can, in concert with Google maps, betray our movements down to a precise address. We know that there is technology under development which may one day lay bare even our most secret thoughts

But spying on potato chips?

A search for NSA patents reveals a wide spread of mechanisms to track, locate, amplify and analyze our most microscopic of behaviors. We should therefore not be surprised to learn that back in 1982, the NSA sought to patent a method for secure voice conferencing. That’s right—the NSA has secured their conference calls from outside intruders and hacks, while ours, we find, are wide open. 

At a time when many are concerned that their offices or homes might be bugged, we might note that the NSA developed a proprietary method to locate a transmitter

Hey, bro! Wanna share? No?….well, I thought maybe not… 

And while we mere mortals must content ourselves with shredding our documents in hope of maintaining security, we should know that the NSA has gone a step further and patented a shredder residue dispersion system

A reusable tamper evident envelope would be useful for those who resort to snail mail as a non-electronically surveilled means of communication, which is returning to favor by those wishing to escape the 20/20 vision of Big Brother. Unfortunately, this has been patented by the NSA and is—once again—not on the market for the plebes

A self-authenticating cryptographic apparatus might come in handy for those trying to communicate in a personal, private manner. You remember—that archaic old Fourth Amendment which promised us security in our papers? If it is any consolation, Big Brother Loves You, and his peculiarly insistent nosiness is entirely benign. Right, Winston Smith

This is just the outer layer of the NSA patents, however. The patents reveal a level of voodoo science which is admittedly beyond the ken of this reporter. Methods for turning walls into mirrors, a space integrating ambiguity processor, measure of ramen gain spectrum in optical fiber, a method of measuring gain of photonic inverters, a biomimetic voice identifier and an infinite impulse response resonator digital filter left me scratching my head, baffled. 

But I found one patent that completely lifted my spirits. Should one be worried that the NSA is only trying to peer into your private life, it should come as a relief to know that the NSA also patented an integrated child seat for a vehicle. At a time when paranoia about NSA spying has become a common malaise, it is good to know that they are actually doing some useful and helpful research. 

I didn’t check to see if there was a microphone implanted in the seat, however…. 

Janet C. Phelan, investigative journalist and human rights defender that has traveled pretty extensively over the Asian region, an author of a tell-all book EXILE, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook” where this first appeared.

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