Ultimax logo
return button to home button to products button to tech support button to top of resources button about us

Back to Directory of White Papers

White Paper #1989-1

AUTHOR: R. G. Kennedy, III
rev. 25 April 1989

[OBE MDC info deleted, as Mac-Dac itself has become OBE]

originally published as DOUGLAS [Management] PAPER No. 8282

Following are the final speaking notes for the informal Douglas Paper #8282, “Technological Threats to Civil Liberty”, presented at the IEEE's 15th Annual Asilomar Invitational Microcomputer Workshop, 26 - 28 April 1989 at Asilomar, CA. MDC builds weapons to defend the Free World and, by extension, its values and institutions. Examination of technological impacts on freedom is not, therefore, entirely inappropriate. The underlying thesis is that most channels of information flow have been exploited sooner or later for the purposes of control and maintenance of social order, benign or not.

Until recently in the Soviet Union, XeroxTM machines were to be found only in armored vaults under armed guard, such was the official paranoia about samizdat. Even in this country, few unregulated forms of communication exist. It is not my purpose here to portray technology as inherently good or evil (it is neither), but merely to examine certain emerging technologies with respect to their threat potential for what Americans like to think of as their traditional civil liberties. Identify threat modes now before they materialize, then one can plan intelligently for the event. Every one of the technologies mentioned exists now, although not always in the form I am suggesting.

In Europe, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) has been experimenting with robotized autobahns for some time. Eureka/Prometheus is a seven-year, $1 billion effort to develop intelligent autos and highway systems.[RW89] The French government is researching the installation, on their highway on-ramps, of optical scanners, manufactured by a Tennessee image processing hardware firm, Perceptics, Inc. They read license plates automatically, thus replacing toll-booths.[Per88] At the end of a month, a driver gets a simple bill in the mail. Convenient for the driver. Fuel efficient. Cheaper to operate for the State. And I note, convenient for control/surveillance by the authorities as well. Historians may recall that there were mandatory internal passports and travel permits in Revolutionary France, almost a full century before anyone else got the idea. The U.S. Customs Service is considering installing the scanners at all 400 border crossings to screen vehicles and their occupants in real time. The Kansas City P.D. recently installed mobile data terminals in their vehicles that can access local, state, and federal computer systems. Some listeners may also remember the controversy some months back when the City of Pasadena installed radar detectors and Polaroid cameras in the back of their traffic cruisers. It was also planned to install stationary units alongside particular routes deemed to have an above average percentage of violators. Signs bearing a prominent Smiley Face posted at the city limits advise motorists to “Smile--speed enforced by photo radar”. (The city of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia, uses a similar method to discourage speeders--less than a dozen photo-radar units are shuffled among more than 100 posted intersections, adding an additional element of chance to the game.) Drivers got tickets in the mail, accompanied by a photo of: their car, the license plate, their face, and in one corner of the snapshot, a LED readout from the radar gun showing the offendor's speed at that moment. It struck many people as unfair to get a delayed summons without being pulled over or placed on notice at the time of the infraction. The units have been withdrawn from service pending litigation.

Related to this are the “smart” stop signs being delivered to rural police departments. It seems that these innocent traffic aids are often utilized as impromptu targets by would-be sharpshooter/motorists. The smart signs detect a gunshot's unique acoustic signature, and take a picture of the miscreant/victim with an invisible infrared flash. (Note: “Smart stoplights” are also being considered for installation by municipalities with overworked law enforcment resources. These are retrofitted devices which clock speed through the intersection and also are tripped when a vehicle passes over a buried metal loop while the light is red. Once activated, a camera, specially designed to operate under low light levels, snaps a shot of the offending vehicle. Once again, a ticket is mailed to the registered owner. It is not too hard to imagine the day when one's bank account will be automatically debited via electronic funds transfer (EFT) at the instant of traffic violations.)

A benign example of technological control would be automobiles that signal to all other motorists in view when the vehicle is being operated dangerously (drowsy driver, etc.) as suggested by one physician at a 1987 Mental State Estimation conference. Breathalyzer-activated ignition interlocks clearly fall in this category.[TV89a] The physician stated that he “would be most happy to live with some inconveniences rather than perpetuate the mass mayhem that is tolerated on American highways.”[MSE87] Although a precise balance has yet to be struck between the exercise of rights by individual drivers and the interests of public safety, at least the issue�s boundaries are beginning to be defined.

More frequently, states are turning to computerized probes of citizens to extract taxes.[INS89c] This was recently the case in New York when the investigation of 12 wealthy individuals yielded $50 million in tax liabilities. This trend was extrapolated to a fictional future organization called the Federal Tax Police in a recent science fiction novel.[SK87] The possibility of electronic seizure of assets/priviledges in a cashless society seems closer to reality.

An alarming synergy could occur when debit card data is accessed by connectionist machines (neural networks) for business applications. There are patterns to our behavior (economic and otherwise) of which we ourselves might be unaware; these can be extracted by neural nets without the need for formal rules, models, or a priori knowledge. A net is very, very good at pattern inference and recognition. It's sole purpose is to establish workable, exploitable patterns, whether they would have been obvious to the programmer or not.[NNW89] One can see the potential for some truly subtle forms of embezzlement, irresistable invasive advertising keyed to surreptitiously acquired psychological profiles, or consumer fraud on a grand scale, among other things.

Q: What constitutes “unfair advantage”? At what point is advertising “illegally invasive”? The optical scanner mentioned above was marketed for the specific purposes of consumer targeting by linking travel habits with DMV databases, optimizing revenue collection at parking lots, etc.[Per88] Automatic telephone dialers (“robot telemarketing”) are being outlawed/severly restricted in many states in response to charges of a) invasiveness and irritation; b) tying up phone lines during life-threatening emergencies; c) consumer fraud; d) lack of the accountability present in traditional economic transactions. Certain local municipalities require that the message be preceded by a live human voice requesting permission to continue with the sales pitch, thus negating the economic benefit of the technology. The scanners would be far more invasive than that, because telephone company databases simply don't contain that much sensitive information. While law enforcement uses can be argued to be legitimate, the advertising applications are borderline immoral. Again, technology is inherently neither good nor evil, however, ethics, commercial or otherwise, have not kept pace with it. We have here a collision between cherished 18th-century values and late 20th-century technology. Inquiries into the nature of “forbidden knowledge” and in the potential abuses of a machine intelligence were what first interested me in Artificial Intelligence. There is a neologism, not trendy yet, that describes this concept: “Crypto-Anarchy”--the untraceable, uncontrolled buying and selling of things that shouldn't be sold (secrets, viruses, blackmail, etc.) usually via electronic media. [Hen89]

Lie detectors and voice stress analyzers exist, although their accuracy and merits are disputed. Voice recognition systems are getting reliable enough to be used to fight telephone charge card fraud.[INS89d] However, given a large enough database of physiological statistics, correlated with observable and measurable physical characteristics and suitably cross-indexed, an expert system could improve confidence in polygraph results. Character profiling techniques, as practiced by the DEA, has not been deemed unconstitutional, according to a recent Supreme Court decision.[New89a] Therefore it can be expected that agencies will continue to use them. Given the march of technology in other areas, it is not unreasonable to expect character profiling to be automated, too. Now, microwave imaging techniques have recently been improved to the point where vital signs can be detected without touching the subject.[INS88b] The method is completely non-invasive, and was developed for that very reason by medical researchers at Georgia Tech. You can see where this discussion is leading. I've seen nothing in the literature even hinting at the feasibility of this spin-off. Imagine a "Lie-Detector-at-a-distance." The sensor's radiation would be undetectable by the target, unless that person happens to be wearing a very sensitive detector tuned to the exact microwave frequency. The term "Spy Ray" leaps to mind: not at all overstated in this case. (I also foresee a booming market in countermeasures.)[WEC89]

(The countermeasures claim is confirmed by recent articles in Insight magazine describing a mini-arms race taking place on this nation's highways between those who speed and those who would catch them. The battle of the radar detectors is well known with the guns growing ever more subtle, and the detectors (fuzzbusters) becoming more sophisticated. Various design techniques are being explored with the specific purpose of reducing one's radar cross-section. Some companies have gone so far as to offer “Stealth” car-bras in coordinated colors for the discriminating violator.[MD89])

In a similar vein, Science Applications International Corp. (LaJolla, CA) is building five machines to be delivered to the government (FAA) in 1990.[New88a], [PCJ89b] These machines, called SNOOPE's, will help address the recent problem of disguised explosives getting by airport security. Luggage is irradiated with a neutron pulse; positron emmissions are stimulated in the target molecules; these emissions are analyzed by a sophisticated computer using a neural net architecture. As a frequent air traveler, I applaud their efforts and feel they cannot deliver the machines fast enough. However, imagine the invasions of privacy that could occur when the technology (remote chemical/physical determination by neural-net analysis of neutron flash reflection) gets miniaturized enough to be cheap and portable.

Friends of mine (hackers) who “live” on the public bulletin board network (the so-called “global village”), tell me that the distribution (free-of-charge) of public-key encryption algorithms is receiving a great deal of unfriendly attention from the NSA (occasionally referred to in jest as “No-Such-Agency”), and the Munitions Control Board. I am told that the Feds have a definite interest in being able to scan electronic mail (e-mail). Obviously, they haven't the time to cryptanalyze every bit of protected communication, or perform keyword analysis of all plaintext, even with their multiple supercomputers. (In a related development, speech recognition techniques are being explored to scan teleconversations that are routed via satellite--virtually all long distance calls. A listening device would be turned on when certain keywords are encountered.) There is 2-3 Mb/day of just net news; e-mail traffic would be at least as large. The NSA has defended their position by maintaining that the algorithms are militarily sensitive technology subject to export controls; hence, illegal to give away on public bulletin boards because those can be accessed by foreign nationals. The users feel that the keys, being subject to copyright law (now in the public domain) are a First and Fourth Amendment protected form of expression. E-mail itself should have the same actual protections against unreasonable search-and-seizure as written correspondence, they say. (It has some - the Electronic Privacy Communications Act of 1986, Title 18, ch. 2701 - but it's not well enforced.) Furthermore, these users feel this attempt at regulation would establish a dangerous precedent if it goes unchallenged. Naturally, this matter too, is being litigated.[Hen89] The tripartite nature of official perceptions of, and Constitutional protections for print, common carrier, and broadcast media in this country was well explored in Ithiel del Sola Pool's book, Technologies of Freedom [Sol83] Depending on the outcome, there could be another booming market, this one in encrypting disk drives with “volatile keys”.

(Note: There exists a Defense Data Encryption Standard (DES) which can be used to encrypt e-mail, although virtually no public mail is. There is some concern that a perception of unprotected privacy would cause a backlash of unproductive encryption in the user community. The protection is apparently quite good; one is unlikely to decipher the text without the key, even possessing the algorithm or standard. It is unclear why Federal agencies should place their imprimatur on one encryption technique, yet consider another sensitive military technology and try to restrict its circulation.)

(Note: A new communications experiment in which telephone companies are to be allowed to carry cable television signals on their fiber-optic lines is taking place in the Los Angeles suburb of Cerritos, CA. The two-way televisor--used as an instrument of State control by the Ministry of Truth's Thought Police in a certain bleak political novel of the future--was once considered to be unimaginable. How could a device simultaneously transmit and receive images, one asks? Now, not too long after Orwell's 1984, this seems quite feasible.[INS89a], [PCJ89b])

An executive I know has told me of an office surveillance/attendance system being installed at his company, along the same lines as home security systems. Commercial versions have been on the market for over a year. It uses interactive badges and scanners, sort of transponders-in-an-ID, to track the location, time, and identity of personnel in a building: sort of an electronic leash. (He confided that it is silly to treat employees as bar-coded merchandise; for my part, I was polite enough not to mention the phrase, “Big Brother”.) Similar devices directly linked to a parole officer are being considered by the law enforcement community to restrict non-violent criminals to their homes for specified periods in lieu of jail terms.[Ins89e] The stated intent is to allow the incarceration of truly dangerous persons in scarce prison space, and still address the salient issue of overcrowding and resultant early release mandates. Ground sensors sophisticated enough to detect a single person hundreds of meters away were developed for early warning of border incursions by US forces on the Central Front, FRG. They were later used in the Iran/Iraq Gulf War. Now, realize that Milstar and Navstar GPS's (Global Positioning System) exist, which can locate an appropriately equipped individual anywhere on the face of the earth to within 10 m. Further know that the Massachusetts state police use a system of remotely-activated (by them) transponders to track stolen automobiles. Finally realize that many commercial locator systems such as electronic dashboard maps, personal cellular phones (such as the one marketed by Gerard K. O'Neill of L-5 fame), etc., will be “piggybacking” on the military satellite systems. Just imagine the possibilities.

About the Author

Robert Kennedy is president of the Ultimax Group Inc., a corporation distributed across 11 time zones from Moscow to L.A. He speaks enough languages to start bar fights in all of them. Robotics engineer, amateur historian, and jack of all trades, he spent 1994 working for the House Science Committee's Subcommittee on Space as ASME's Congressional Fellow. On the Sputnik anniversary in October 1997, he managed to make the Russian evening news. Robert telecommutes from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where he resides with his wife, numerous cats, the occasional horse, and a yard full of trees and Detroit iron.



[Hel84]. Martin E. Hellman, Notes for a Short Course on Cryptography and Data Security, (Hellman Associates, Stanford, CA: 1979)

[Hen89]. H. Keith Henson, computer and systems engineering consultant, Teleconversations, 01 Feb - 31 Mar 1989.

[Fir89]. Dr. Henry E. Firdman, president, H. E. Firdman & Associates, Inc., Teleconversation 15 Mar 89, interview 27 Jan 88.

[INS89a]. Shear, Jeff, “The Calls for a Party Line with TV,”, Insight Magazine Technology Briefing, 27 Feb 89.

[INS88b]. Van Pelt, Dina, “Checking Vital Signs from a Distance,”, Insight Magazine Technology Briefing, 05 July 88.

[INS89c]. ------, “N.Y. Probe Turns Up 12 Who Owe $50 Million,”, Insight Magazine Tax Briefing.

[INS88d]. Dillingham, Susan, “Voice ID to Fight Phone Card Fraud,”, Insight Magazine Technology Briefing, 06 Mar 89.

[INS88e]. ------, “Electronic Leash,”, Insight Magazine , 06 Mar 89.

[Kah76]. Kahn, Herman, The Next 200 Years., Hudson Institute, (Belmont Press, New York: 1976)

[MD89]. ------, “Stealth Technology Hides Cars from Speed Traps,” Machine Design , News Trends, 06 April 1989

[NEW88a]. Anderson, Harry, “Technology of Terror,” Newsweek , News Trends, 07 Dec 88

[NEW89a]. ------, “The Case of the Conspicuous Dealer,” Newsweek , Justice, 17 Apr 89

[NNW89a]. Shea, Patrick, “Artificial Neural Systems for Plastics Explosives Detection in Checked Luggage,” Neural Networks in the Real World Conference,, San Jose, CA, 22-23 Mar 89.

[NNW89b]. Buffa, Mike, “Neural Networks for Mortgage Underwriting Applications,” Neural Networks in the Real World Conference,, San Jose, CA, 22-23 Mar 89.

[OTA89]. Office of Technology Assessment, Science, Technology, and the First Amendment,, GPO #052-003-01090-9, (U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC: 1989).

[PCJ89a]. Dettling, J. Ray, “Industry Tips,” Professional Careers Journal,, January 89

[PCJ89b]. Dettling, J. Ray, “Industry Tips,” Professional Careers Journal,, January 89

[Per88]. Perceptics, Inc., Knoxville, TN, Sales brochures, Teleconversation.

[RW89]. Schmidt, D and Rockwell S, “Robots 13 Conference Explores Research and Investment Issues,”, Robotics World, June, 1989, p.37.

[SK87]. Streiber, Whitley, and Kunetka, James, Nature's End,, (Warner Books, New York: 1987).

[Sol83]. de Sola Pool, Ithiel, Technologies of Freedom,, (Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA: 1983).

[TV89a]. Television news item, Channel 7 11:00 Nightly News,,, Adelaide, South Australia, 25 May 1989, 2300 hrs.

[WEC88]. Kelly, Kevin ed., Signal: Communication Tools for the Information Age,, A Whole Earth Catalog, (Crown Publishers, NY: 1988).

Update/Event Log

25Apr1989; original presentation of DAC Management Paper #8282 to Asilomar Microcomputer Workshop
xxNov1989; presentation to The Hackers Conference v5
27Jan2003; upload HTML version to Web.

Back to Directory of White Papers

This site proudly powered and maintained with Macintosh logo
Figures and technical content of this paper © 1989-1991 by the author, Robert Kennedy.
All other material © 1994-2003 by The Ultimax Group, Inc.

For product or dealer inquiries within the USA & Canada, call:

West Coast: (888) ULTIMAX..................................................................East Coast: (800) ULTIMAX

Outside USA: +1 (865) 483-7097 -- note area code has changed from (423)

or send us a fax: +1 (865) 483-6317 -- note area code has changed from (423)

or write to us:
The Ultimax Group, Inc.
112 Mason Lane
Oak Ridge, Tennessee, USA 37830-8631

or send email to pub at ultimax dot com

The entire content (images and text) of these pages is copyrighted and may not be distributed, downloaded, modified, reused, re-posted or otherwise used without the express written permission of the authors.

Privacy Policy: The Ultimax Group Inc., will never sell our customer list or distribute our customer's personal data to others without permission.

These pages last updated March 7, 2003