Tuesday, 13 August 2019
We recently looked at the strange phenomena of metallic sphere falling from heavens, some believe these orbs to extra-terrestrial in origin other that they are parts of damaged satellites re-entering earth’s atmosphere.
One thing that stood out in that story is that no one was talking. If the ball came from satellites no government or private company was admitting to losing a satellite.
Could this be because they don’t want us to know what is up there, if we did would it reveal technological capabilities that they wish to hide from us?
Recently there have been claims that governments possess satellites that will be able to watch you everywhere you go and at all the times.
This signalling the end to privacy.
There have been many cases of people being captured for illegal activities by police surveillance teams. The police and other government agencies use a wide range of tech to spy and gather evidence on criminals. Slowly this tech ability has incorporated new methods these have included a police operation that targeted a marijuana growing operation that used google earth to collect images of a plantation. The Brazilian police used satellite imagery to gather evidence of an illegal logging operation and probably the most surveyed population on the planet “the Chinese” felt what it’s like to be scrutinized when again satellite images revealed the Uighur re-education camps that the government had been hiding.
As each year passes the capabilities of spy satellites increases. The number of orbiting eyes in the sky has increased to the point where the surface of our planet is under 24 hour a day 365 day year monitoring. Not only has this technology become pervasive it has also become smarter. The image clarity has become so good that tracking an individual’s face from space is easily done. A person can be traced going about a record of all that they do can recorded saved and shared.
The end of privacy maybe here!
Currently this ability is restricted to the alphabet agencies. Public and commercial agencies are limited to capturing images that are a resolution of 25 centimetres. This federal regulation is stopping the wider spread of this capability to more commercial agencies, for the moment.
This regulation has already been changed to give us this 25 cm limit before it was set at 50cm
The new 25 cm resolution was pushed through in order to satisfy customers. These satellites being used so Investors can predict world oil supply from looking at the shadows which are cast inside oil storage tanks. Farmers can monitor flooding to protect their crops and Human rights organizations using them to track the flow of refugees from places such as Myanmar and Syria.
We can see just how important access to these satellites and the clarity of the information they provide is especially in terms of the global power dynamic.
The ability for these satellites to gather such detailed images will inevitably be used business. Today we see companies like Planet Labs running over 140 satellites, this number means that the company has the ability to image every single place on earth in a 24 hour period. Maxar, who were formerly known as DigitalGlobe, launched the world’s first ever commercial Earth observation satellite way back in 1997, the newest project they are working on is to build a constellation of satellites which will be capable of revisiting the exact same locations up to 15 times accurately in a single day.
BlackSky Global promises to survey and image most of the major cities of the world up to 70 times a twenty-four hour window. This may not be enough to track every individual’s every single move, but it would show some valuable information for example when they go to work. They could see what times of day someone’s car is typically in the driveway.
This really is Orwell’s 1984 coming to pass.
This is just the tip of the preverbal spear, there are now other companies which can offer live video beamed directly from the orbiting observation stations. Terra Bella shows HD video clips up to 90 seconds long. They are not alone in this service a company known as “Earthnow” says it will offer “continuous real-time” monitoring “with a delay as short as about one second.
But how often have we seen how these technologies have been used to secretly gather data on people whilst in their own homes.
What could be some of the scariest developments in this monitoring of the earth’s surface goes beyond catching HD images of the world. The use of radar sensing and hyperspectral images, which capture electromagnetic wavelengths outside the visible spectrum. Will allow these companies to see through heavy cover and even cut through the darkness, using synthetic aperture radar, which emits a signal that bounces off the sensed object and back to the satellite. It can determine the height of an object down to a millimetre.
Surveillance down to the millimetre why should we worry!!!
We all see the prevalence of cell phones and know that they have GPS, this GPS data can be used to track an individual and most would say it is a legitimate privacy threat, but we are happy to put up with this security risk for the convenience the devices provide. There is one thing you can do with a phone which you cannot with a satellite and that is ‘leave at home.’ You cannot hide from the camera of an orbiting satellite.
The makers of the technology obviously point to the benefits that it offers for example it can be used in agriculture. Farmers utilizing the hyperspectral sensing to record the growth cycle of their crops.
The same capability could easily be re-tasked to identify underground bunkers or nuclear materials.
This is something we often see with technology, the use is often corrupted or used in way that the original designers could not anticipate. The future looks even more frightening as the technology continues to become more powerful.
The ability to process ever larger quantities of data will make the mapping and the imagery more accurate and more ever present.
Analytics companies like Orbital Insight and SpaceKnow feed this visual data into their computer algorithms, these are designed so that anyone with an internet connection can view and understand the pictures. This seemingly having little regard for a person privacy.
This collection of images is then used by Investors for analysis, as an example it has been used to estimate the true GDP of China’s Guangdong province on the basis of the light that the businesses and factories emit at night. Those that have a distrust of government also point how this can be used to influence behaviours and target people.
These Satellite and analytics companies make the claim that will be careful to anonymize their data, scrubbing of details which could be used to identifying a person. But the fact of the matter is that the raw images still exist and it could take a single hacker to break into and reveal this information to world and I for one do not have faith that these businesses will not feed this data to the alphabet agencies around the globe. After all we are now seeing just how cosy the social media giants like Facebook are with the likes of the CIA and FBI.
Peter Martinez, of the Secure World Foundation says
“Even if satellites aren’t recognizing faces, those images combined with other data streams—GPS, security cameras, social-media posts—could pose a threat to privacy.”
He goes on to speak on the types of data they could gather
“People’s movements, what kinds of shops do you go to, where do your kids go to school, what kind of religious institutions do you visit, what are your social patterns, all of these kinds of questions could in principle be interrogated, should someone be interested.”
We may have a brief reprieve from the eyes in the sky with many saying that at the moment anyway, this technology and the creation of constellations of satellites is cost prohibited.
This is changing as new designs come to the forefront, nanosatellites are offering a cut price option but they do currently mean that those who purchase them must sacrifice imaging ability. As of yet the mini satellites cannot capture the hyper detailed images of their bigger cousins.
That being said technology always moves in the direction of smaller cheaper and more powerful.
This like all things will be driven by demand, companies are already chasing the sub–25 cm resolution limit. Insurance underwriters what this level of imagery so that they can spot every detail of an area to protect their liability. They say that they need to see a level of detail so they can see things like trees overhanging a roof, or being able to distinguish a skylight from a solar panel. Today they are pioneers in using and airplanes and drones to capture the picture they need. Drones are limited in where they can go. In the US, the Federal Aviation Administration forbids flying commercial drones over groups of people, and you have to register a drone that weighs more than half a pound (227 grams) or so.
This early adoption of technology will continue as the price of satellites falls.
As the companies adopt this technology they will no longer be constrained by the rules which hold back drones, there are no restrictions in space. There is The Outer Space Treaty, which was signed in 1967 by the US, the Soviet Union, and many of the other UN member states.
This treaty allows all states free access to space, and subsequent agreements on remote sensing have enshrined the principle of “open skies.”
When satellites were first being fired into space during the heights of the cold war this made a lot of sense but with today’s capabilities of imaging almost any location on the planet, this treaty is no longer effective enough and may need to be renegotiated.
So what does this mean for the future of human freedom?
I have looked into targeted individuals in a couple of videos. These unfortunates have been selected by mysterious agencies for monitoring. The reasons for why they have been chosen are not always clear.
For the most part they seem like ordinary people, these folks went about their ordinary lives until one day things began to happen, strange things, the spotting of the same vehicle in different places throughout the day. Odd messages or interference on electrical devices. People following them and even voices in the head.
Is this a future that awaits us all?
Is it a future you would be happy to live in?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
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