We suspected it for a long time and Snowden blew the lid off last year. The United States government loves data on as many people as it can obtain, and there is no digital place safe from their prying eyes. This should not be a surprise but the data they are looking for goes beyond just your email, social media, and cell phone usage. Law enforcement agencies are also looking for avenues into your home.
CNN Money wrote up a report looking at the connected or smart home and the fact that the data these systems are pushing to the Internet may be used against you. The article points out that many people are not aware of the type of data that smart services may be keeping or for how long and that this data can be requested by 2 methods: subpoena and search warrant. The suggestion of the article is that people should be aware and should be reading the Terms of Service on these types of services.
The article also goes on to quote Jay Stanley from the ACLU,
We’re seeing law enforcement across a variety of areas arguing that they should be able to access information with lower standards than before the electronic age.
If a lot of information is flowing out of your home, it provides a window into the things you’re doing in your private space.
Additionally they get comments from various companies like ISPs and individual services. The answers are interesting and fall in various places on the spectrum from scary to well that’s not so bad. You should go check it out. All of that being said, I want to talk about my feelings and propose an alternative.
There are systems setup for law enforcement to gather data for prosecution and investigation for a reason. We may jump without thinking about invasive searches but honestly, these things are in place and can be done legally. The real concern, at least for me, comes when I think about what a branch like the NSA would do. If someone finds empirical data that people who keep their homes at 72 degrees and above are 30% more likely to be terrorists, it is not hard to imagine the NSA doing blanket storing of data from Nest and cataloging of people who fall in that range. I realize I may be going way out on a limb, but I think the idea that the NSA is storing the meta data from every phone call in the United States might have seemed far fetched 2 years ago. It’s one thing for your local District Attorney to get a judicially approved search warrant sent to Dropcam for video of spousal abuse. The knowledge and potential of the NSA is something entirely different. Let’s try to be reasonable and remember that.
Now as for the answer? Eschew the cloud. This is a hard one for me. I use a Nest. I have a Dropcam. I have a freaking doorbell on my front door that will let me see who is at my door on my smartphone when they press the button. I want to live in the future. However, the increasing encroachment of the US government makes that problematic. When our government makes the case that email does not enjoy the same expectation to privacy as our postal service mail and when they argue that our cell phones should be an open book in traffic citations, free of a search warrant, the government is clearly overreaching. The Snowden leaks have shown just how far things can go. Through no fault of a lot of the services out there that might have data about our homes, we should now be in a default setting of distrust. So, maybe instead of using my Dropcam, I should be using something more old school that sends data to a server in my home instead of to the cloud. Maybe I should be using end to end encryption to connect to such services remotely.
I think it is obvious at this point that, rejecting the cloud is the only way to get some of our liberty back and is the only way we can control our data and know where it is going. It’s not the most convenient future, but it may be the only one we have left.