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Matchstick-Sized Sensor Can Record Your Private Chats Outdoors

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the just-in-case-your-paranoia-was-wearing-off dept.

Privacy 90

wabrandsma sends this story from New Scientist: "A sensor previously used for military operations can now be tuned to secretly locate and record any single conversation on a busy street. [A] Dutch acoustics firm, Microflown Technologies, has developed a matchstick-sized sensor that can pinpoint and record a target's conversations from a distance. Known as an acoustic vector sensor, Microflown's sensor measures the movement of air, disturbed by sound waves, to almost instantly locate where a sound originated. It can then identify the noise and, if required, transmit it live to waiting ears. Security technologist Bruce Schneier says this new capability is unwelcome – particularly given the recent claims about the NSA's success at tapping into our private lives. 'It's not just this one technology that's the problem,' Schneier says. 'It's the mic plus the drones, plus the signal processing, plus voice recognition.'"

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Yawn (3, Interesting)

ArchieBunker (132337) | about a year ago | (#44981947)

Gene Hackman was doing this in the 1970's http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071360/?ref_=sr_1 [imdb.com]

Re:Yawn (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44982161)

Hah. I was about to post this obligatory Coppola myself.

Re:Yawn (1)

irving47 (73147) | about a year ago | (#44982499)

Looks interesting. Wouldn't it have been cool if his character's name had been Edward Lyle (Enemy of the State)

Re:Yawn (1)

MrKaos (858439) | about a year ago | (#44982909)

Gene Hackman was doing this in the 1970's http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071360/?ref_=sr_1 [imdb.com]

He is the original slashdot nerd, and so easily manipulated by Harrison Ford.

A lesson for why you never bring bitches to the man lair.

Not the future I want to live in (2, Interesting)

Coditor (2849497) | about a year ago | (#44982005)

I can imagine the same people collecting all of our online data now adding offline conversations to it. Imagine adding this to an insect sized flying drone and releasing many of them into your city. The could go anywhere and record anything.

Re:Not the future I want to live in (0)

Seumas (6865) | about a year ago | (#44982165)

Cue the slashdot Apologists who will tell you that any conversation and any activity you engage in outside of your own private home off-the-internet with your shades drawn is "public" and has no expectation of "privacy" and therefore it is completely fair to be eavesdropped on, recorded, and archived.

Re:Not the future I want to live in (1)

Deluvianvortex (2908365) | about a year ago | (#44982245)

actually I was about to post that I have a M-audio wireless receiver that can pick up the conversations of my neighbors inside their own houses. From my house. I don't even have to be near your house and I can record everything you say. Are your conversations really private if I can record them from inside my house?

Re:Not the future I want to live in (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#44982299)

Ethics does a lot to keep me from eavesdropping on my neighbors, but an even greater deterrent is fear of incredible boredom.

Re:Not the future I want to live in (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44982603)

I don't know, is your daughter's bedroom really private if I can watch her change from mine?

We have laws about these things. Laws used to apply to everyone, and people used to have a reasonable expectation that they would be followed. The government's current position seems to be that we're supposed to reasonably expect that the government will break the laws whenever its convenient for them.

Re:Not the future I want to live in (1)

davester666 (731373) | about a year ago | (#44983767)

But the NSA is only saving a representation of local variations of air pressure. What could possibly be illegal with doing that?

Re:Not the future I want to live in (2)

BrokenHalo (565198) | about a year ago | (#44983827)

We have laws about these things. Laws used to apply to everyone, and people used to have a reasonable expectation that they would be followed.

Most people used to have an expectation that simple good manners should be enough. But I guess I'm just old.

Re:Not the future I want to live in (1)

bagorange (1531625) | about a year ago | (#44982479)

I just wanted to congratulate you on knowing that it's "cue" and not "queue". Almost never see that word spelled properly!

Re:Not the future I want to live in (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44982537)

I just wanted to congratulate you on knowing that it's "cue" and not "queue".
Almost never see that word spelled properly!

Cue the queue of people about to call you pedantic.

Re:Not the future I want to live in (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44982657)

wtf? You're congratulating awareness of homophones? I'm pretty sure that's elementary school curriculum.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3prL9EHifw0

Re:Not the future I want to live in (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44983027)

elementary school curriculum

Which is beyond the intellectual maturity level of most Slashdotters, anyway, so . . . yes.

Re:Not the future I want to live in (1)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about a year ago | (#44983393)

We never learned the cue/queue pair in school. No one uses "queue" in America for general day-to-day conversation. And only so many know what the word is when talking about printing.

As for using "cue" correctly, I see/hear it often enough, both in relation to playing pool and acting.

a few laws of physics problems here (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44982033)

While the sensor measures the vector direction of sound, it measures the *SUM* of all sounds impinging on that point. With a single point sensor, you can't separate the direction of a particular one.

Now, a reasonably small array of these sensors (maybe as small as 30cm across) might be able to accurately localize the source, in the same way that your brain can tell what direction a sound is coming from with just two ears.

Of course, it will also be confused by multipath and reflections, although if adequately characterized, those could be used for localization as well, since the reflected paths have different spectral properties.

There are LOTS of sensors that are tiny and easily deployed these days, using all sorts of sensing modalities. And processor horsepower and tiny comm to get the signals to the processor are easier to get too.

Governments have always had the technical means to be invasive, they are restrained by common decency and the law of the land. I actually would have more concerns about private industry: they're not subject to most privacy laws (at least in the U.S.): The wiretap laws, for instance, refer only to comms over a system. If you want to set up a big acoustic array at the beach and record everyone's conversations, process it, and sell the product to whoever, that's perfectly legal. Or set that array up out on the pubic street in front of your house, or the thermal imaging camera, or the mmWave wall penetrating radar or whatever.

So, it's those laws and common decency is where the efforts should concentrate.

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (5, Insightful)

ATMAvatar (648864) | about a year ago | (#44982207)

Governments have always had the technical means to be invasive, they are restrained by common decency and the law of the land.

What governments would those be which are restrained by the law, let alone common decency?

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (3, Interesting)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | about a year ago | (#44982551)

What governments would those be which are restrained by the law, let alone common decency?

A representative government is a product of the law so of course it is restrained by the law. Just because individual actors within the government aren't 100% restrained by the law does not invalidate the principle that a representative government operates within the law.

The alternative to your nihilism is pure might-makes-right. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (1)

some old guy (674482) | about a year ago | (#44984449)

In ideal principle I think you are correct. However, recent evidence would indicate that somewhat more than a few individual actors are considerably less than 100% restrained.

There are alternatives to both the status quo and nihilism. Do not let rhetorical absolutism be the enemy of practical observation and action.

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44987123)

If governments can use such technology to spy on citizens, than why not citizens use it to spy on governments, and individual politicians? Who would you think has the most to hide?

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (3, Interesting)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#44982249)

And budget. Monitoring people used to require paying someone to listen to the tapes. The advent of computers has greatly brought down the cost of mass-monitoring by allowing the computers to sift through the vast collection and just flag the potentially interesting things for human examination.

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (1)

greenbird (859670) | about a year ago | (#44985911)

allowing the computers to sift through the vast collection and just flag the potentially interesting things for human examination.

Or allowing them to go back and review every bit of communication you ever been involved in once they decide you're "a person of interest".

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44982273)

I think the coarse hair would block the sound waves on a pubic street, thus rendering the technology useless.

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (3, Funny)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#44982309)

That wouldn't be a problem on Brazilian streets.

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#44982459)

Jokes get modded down? Is a reincarnated Puritan moderating tonight?

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (1)

Freshly Exhumed (105597) | about a year ago | (#44982507)

Tough room, kid. Go work the borscht belt for a few years.

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (5, Funny)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#44982989)

I just got back from a pleasure trip. I took my mother-in-law to the airport.

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (1, Informative)

sumdumass (711423) | about a year ago | (#44982705)

The moderator probably doesn't know what Brazilian waxing is and couldn't put the joke together properly.

Here is a NSFW link explaining it a bit. I'm serious, there are naked women on the page to explain the differences in styles so even though it is wikipedia, you are warned.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bikini_waxing [wikipedia.org]

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (4, Interesting)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#44982277)

Governments have always had the technical means to be invasive, they are restrained by common decency and the law of the land.

They are?

If you want to set up a big acoustic array at the beach

Were I to surveil the beach, I'd be more interested in visual than auditory information. YMMV.

All joking aside, I'm skeptical of the technical claims of superiority, other than small size. That's tempered by my lack of knowledge of acoustics. I think of it in terms of analogies to optics or radar (as a physicist I once knew said, a wave is a wave is a wave). You need an array to locate the direction something is coming from. Roughly speaking the larger the array relative to the wavelength, the more precisely you can determine direction, and the more you can spatially filter that source from other sources. You can do that with small optical sensors (e.g. a camera or your eye) only because of the short wavelength of light. Radar antennas with the same directionality and resolution need to be much larger. At 1kHz (a frequency you definitely need to understand conversation) the wavelength of a sound wave is 343mm. For radio waves that's the wavelength you'd get at 875MHz. You need a fairly big antenna to get decent resolution. That can be accomplished by widely spaced sensors (antenna elements, whatever) and some serious signal processing. I don't see how one of these sensors can have any serious directionality by itself, or having three in the same place pointing at x, y and z directions can do much.

One difference I can think of between electromagnetic radiation and sound waves is that the former are transverse waves and the latter are longitudinal waves. Does that make much of a difference for these purposes?

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (5, Informative)

fa2k (881632) | about a year ago | (#44982663)

One difference I can think of between electromagnetic radiation and sound waves is that the former are transverse waves and the latter are longitudinal waves. Does that make much of a difference for these purposes?

It's been explained already by Solandri but I'll give it a try. The sensor measures the displacement of the air, not the pressure. The GP post argues that it measures the vector sum of the displacement caused by all sounds, and this is correct. I imagine a small light ball that's magnetically suspended and being pushed around by the air, and the movement of the ball is recorded (this is probably not how it's done, I imagine it would have a highly non-linear frequency response). If there are two sounds from different directions with different frequencies, you could easily tell them apart -- e.g. the ball is moving up and down fast, and left and right slowly. If the sources have the same frequency, or it's just some broadband noise, you can't tell them apart. You could probably do it easily with two vector sensors and relative timing, but the whole point was that you can do it with one sensor in plausible conditions.

As for electromagnetism / sound, you are right that the transverse/longitudinal distinction makes a difference. The air displacement is analogous to the electric field. An RF antenna sort of measures the projection of the electric field onto some given axis, and an omnidirectional antenna measures approximately the absolute value of the electric field. (A mic may measure pressure, not displacement, but these are alternative variables for discribing the same wave). An analogous RF detector to the sound vector sensor would be three small linear antennae pointing in linearly independent directions, measuring the x,y and z components of the electric field as functions of time. The transverse / longitudinal distinction comes in here: the EM waves have an additional degree of freedom, namely polarisation. The E field can point in any direction perpendicular to the direction of propagation. Given the polarisation vector you can thus only constrain the vector to the source to a plane.

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about a year ago | (#44982937)

I don't think this sensor works in the traditional sense that you are familiar with. It is inferring information about a wave from the wave itself as it passes through the air. It actually looks at the medium the wave travels through itself and how the waves interact with it's surroundings not what the waves represent or the information it carries. Think of it more like your surround sound system when you connect a mic in the middle of the sitting area and the speaker timing is adjusted so the sound is centered around that location. Except in this case, it can derive information about the location of the speakers.

Now how this thing supposedly works is not by hearing the sound itself, but measuring the wave itself as it passes through the air. It has two elements on a sensor and three sets of the sensors in one sensor. Both elements of each sensor is heated and when the wave passes, one cools more then the other and the voltage resistance either increases or drops. This allows precise measurements of the wave and it's form which is then be processed with the other two sensors back to what originally created it. There is also a sound pressure transducer on the sensor that picks up the wave itself. So the one complete sensor actually analyses the sound wave from 4 points of information relatively close and can recreate the entire wave form in a 3 d representation which should infer the point of origin without needing separate sensors to triangulate from.

Think about how a wave flows through the water as you toss a rock into it. Not only does it have height hirer then the surrounding water, but it also radiates out in an arc or circle from where the rock landed. If you look close to the impact, you can see the entire wave and have a pretty accurate idea of the impact sight. If you look further away, you only see parts of the arc of the wave. You can still find the impact site by drawing 90 degree angles from the arc of the wave and where they cross like the spokes on a bicycle wheel, should be the center of origin. That's what this thing does but with a much smaller portion of the wave. It can recreate the entire wave and determine information from it. Or that seems to be the claim.

In this case, if you can determine enough information about a single section of a wave with enough precision to recreate the entire wave in 3d, you can work the arc of the wave and pinpoint where it originated from. If you filter all the waves to a single one specific type or specific like types, you can process those into the sounds that created the waves originally. You can likely do so to a degree better then normal hearing will allow too- as long as the wave from the sound can reach the sensor.

Now what I think might be frightening about this is that if I understand it correctly, all the information about all the waves can be stored and processed later with knowing where the sensor specifically was and all the conversations could possibly be decoded in the future with the locations of the conversations being pinpointed. What this might mean is, with enough time, the information can be synced with surveillance video that is impossible to pick up all conversations but you can single out on a specific person in the video by referencing their location and listen to the conversation of that location in the room. In other words, someone could use these and not only pick up all the conversations, but store video alongside them so later they can be put with a face or actions of people. Suppose you are at a protest and you tell everyone the cops are on their way, block the streets or stop blocking the streets. All the witnesses don't remember who said what, but not only can they hear it from the sensor, because of the abilities to pinpoint the locations they could locate person and see them from rather crappy videos of the event.

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (1)

volmtech (769154) | about a year ago | (#44989247)

Thank you for all the time you spent explaining this.

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44982399)

How about sensors the width of a matchbox?

The sum of all sounds start to really become singular when able to reprocess the source narrowing it down to a 3D origin, if you take exception of farts that is, but using simple frequency bandpass filters, they are easily filtered out by traditional means.

Technology has not always been here. This is totally new.

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (2)

Freshly Exhumed (105597) | about a year ago | (#44982445)

Note to old school eavesdroppers: don't get rid of all your parabolic dish microphones just yet.

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (2)

citizenr (871508) | about a year ago | (#44982449)

multipath and reflections

are already used in DSP to model rooms and sometimes even to reconstruct 3D shape from sound alone

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (4, Informative)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | about a year ago | (#44982451)

... If you want to set up a big acoustic array at the beach and record everyone's conversations, process it, and sell the product to whoever, that's perfectly legal...

Unless you are openly and obviously (to the subjects being recorded) voice recording, most states don't allow the type of action you posit there. At least ONE party from each conversation has to consent to any recording and in 12 states EVERYONE must consent. There are limited "Presumed Consent" exceptions but a public beach would not be one of them. There is a quick review here:
http://www.wingfieldaudio.com/surreptitious-recording.html [wingfieldaudio.com]
Not sure about "through the walls" video/audio recording but I'd bet peeping tom laws would be made to suffice...

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (5, Informative)

Solandri (704621) | about a year ago | (#44982539)

While the sensor measures the vector direction of sound, it measures the *SUM* of all sounds impinging on that point. With a single point sensor, you can't separate the direction of a particular one.

That's true for a single snapshot of sound in any given instant. But if you collecting acoustic data over a period of time, transient sounds (noise) average out, and the loud peak (gunshot) or cyclical nature (engine) of certain sounds of interest should ease their extraction, with sufficient processing.

Now, a reasonably small array of these sensors (maybe as small as 30cm across) might be able to accurately localize the source, in the same way that your brain can tell what direction a sound is coming from with just two ears.

That was my impression too (one of my grad school courses was on acoustics and sonar design). That's what they do in submarines - make a great big phased array microphone. But if you follow the link in TFA to the company's site, they have a PDF which gives a bit more info on how their sensors work:

The Microflown sensor is based upon MEMS technology , and uses the temperature difference in the cross section of two extremely sensitive heated wires to determine acoustic particle velocity . Assembling three orthogonally placed Microflown sensors in one single point, a very compact Acoustic Vector Sensor can be produced.

So whereas a phased array sensor works by comparing the arrival times of a wavefront at different locations to determine the direction the wavefront is traveling, it sounds like their gizmo is measuring in 3 dimensions the actual movement of air molecules caused by the sound wave, and deriving the wavefront travel direction from that.

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44982957)

uses the temperature difference in the cross section of two extremely sensitive heated wires to determine acoustic particle velocity

They're using hotwires -- commonly used in wind tunnels to measure fluid velocity.

Anemometer (2)

doru (541245) | about a year ago | (#44983857)

Mod parent up. This is not a microphone, it's a differential hot wire anemometer [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Anemometer (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#44985207)

This is not a microphone, it's a differential hot wire anemometer

An anemometer with sufficient bandwidth is a microphone.

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#44983035)

it sounds like their gizmo is measuring in 3 dimensions the actual movement of air molecules caused by the sound wave, and deriving the wavefront travel direction from that

Intuitively I can see how that works (although intuition isn't always good physics of course). But if you could get decent resolution this way, why don't they use something like this on subs instead of large phased arrays? Acoustic waves in both air and water are longitudinal waves, so you should be able to sense direction the same way. It seems like the inventive part of this thing is the MEMS technique, the heated wires, etc. I find it hard to believe that with lots of room and power available (e.g. on a sub) you couldn't have created something that does this sort of sensing years ago.

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44984181)

But if you could get decent resolution this way, why don't they use something like this on subs instead of large phased arrays?

Shh... they do. Well, they use arrays of vector sensors. But, shh....

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (1)

MouseTheLuckyDog (2752443) | about a year ago | (#44983571)

I have a feeling that these could easily be fooled by placing several speakers which emit variable barely audible sounds whit are emitted at random times of random frequency and of random length and changing volume.

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (1)

hankwang (413283) | about a year ago | (#44984971)

But if you collecting acoustic data over a period of time, transient sounds (noise) average out, and the loud peak (gunshot)

Well yeah, if you want to pinpoint the source of a massive transient or the source of an annoying continuous whistling sound or a never-ending repeated playback of some secret message, this sensor could work. But it would not be very useful for recording private conversations.

But look at it from this side: a normal microphone measures pressure as a function of time, i.e. p(t). If their is only one source of sound, you can reconstruct the sound wave at the source. If there are two sources, it becomes impossible to distinguish. This transducer will generate three signals: vx(t), vy(t), and vz(t). If you have three sources of sound, then you could, with proper tuning and calibration, disentangle the signal and reconstruct the output of each of the sources individually. As soon as there are more than three sources, say in a pub with 20 conversations going on at the same time, you cannot do this anymore simply because there are more bits of data being transmitted than being transduced; you would need to solve a system of three equations with twenty unknowns.

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44984177)

While the sensor measures the vector direction of sound, it measures the *SUM* of all sounds impinging on that point. With a single point sensor, you can't separate the direction of a particular one.

Sure you can... it's standard signal analysis stuff. There are actually a lot of really cool applications to vector sensors.

Re:a few laws of physics problems here (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44985133)

TFA mentions 3 sensors "placed orthogonally" so... yeah.

Re: a few laws of physics problems here (1)

DEN_GUY (97585) | about a year ago | (#44986359)

I always hear this garbage from Anti-Corp types. Here's the big takeaway: If a corporation does something bad, you can sue or regulate them out of business. If your government does something bad, they can choose to Ignore the law or pass an exception for themselves. And, btw, who's violating privacy on an scale these days? Uncle Sam.

measures the entire vector & intensity time se (1)

ridgecritter (934252) | about a year ago | (#44986499)

I looked at the company's web site. The technology description indicates that the sensor is a coplanar parallel pair of tiny hot wire anemometer elements located very close together. This structure measures the component of air velocity that is across the wire pair, in the wire pair's plane. Three of these sensors, mounted so they're mutually orthogonal (one each in the XY, XZ, and YZ planes) give the full vector field for air velocity. There is another co-located sensor that gives the pressure (intensity). So one small sensor assembly (about the size of a big kitchen match head) gives high accuracy directional information and time series pressure data. This data set contains everything needed to locate and record a sound source.

In action. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44982037)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ldir1vtNMnQ

Technology is not the problem (2)

GIL_Dude (850471) | about a year ago | (#44982065)

'It's not just this one technology that's the problem,' Schneier says. 'It's the mic plus the drones, plus the signal processing, plus voice recognition.'"

I usually agree with Bruce. But unless that quote was taken way out of context, he is wrong here. Technology isn't the problem. It never is. It is the people salivating at the thought of using it against us. Even those who think they are doing us a service to keep us safe: when they invade our privacy, they are the problem. The tech? It's actually cool. There are probably - how would someone jaded to the world of sound and copyright put it - many non-infringing uses of the tech. It can probably even be used in a way that isn't spying. For example recording a conference speaker (with permission) in a noisy room or the like.

Re:Technology is not the problem (0, Offtopic)

smitty_one_each (243267) | about a year ago | (#44982125)

What a retro notion. I suppose next you're going to argue that government needs a proper budget, guns don't kill people, life begins at conception, and

Re:Technology is not the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44982203)

Technology isn't the problem. It never is. It is the people salivating at the thought of using it against us

Great! By having law enforcement intercept their phone calls, email and IM, we can catch these bad guys and throw them into prison when they try to put this kind of privacy-killing scheme into action.

Re:Technology is not the problem (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#44982349)

With all our "law enforcement" concentrating on intercepting phone calls, email and IM, they probably wouldn't notice a gunfight in front of their office. One thing Schneier was definitely right about was when he said you don't find a needle in a haystack by adding more hay.

Re:Technology is not the problem (3, Insightful)

techno-vampire (666512) | about a year ago | (#44982311)

This is one case where I do agree with him, probably because I think I know what he was thinking when he said this: it's not just one technology, or even one set of technologies that's the problem. It's the fact that this set of gadgets can be combined to make something that can be used for invasive surveillance of whoever some government agency thinks needs watching combined with what appears to be a pervasive attitude in those agencies that they have the right to snoop on anybody, any time, any place for whatever reason they want without any substantive oversight.

Re:Technology is not the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44986277)

You mean, it's not the gun, it's the user of the gun?

Welcome technology if (4, Insightful)

aNonnyMouseCowered (2693969) | about a year ago | (#44982127)

...everybody has it. The last thing we need is awesome tech only spies and generals possess (weapons of mass destruction/contamination being a notable exception). So yes, this is unwelcome technology, but since it's already there, we might as well let everybody have it.

Re:Welcome technology if (5, Insightful)

Kjella (173770) | about a year ago | (#44982337)

No, having the lack of privacy go both ways isn't as good as having privacy. A system where nobody can keep their actions private is a system governed by mob rule, nobody wants to engage in socially unacceptable behavior because they're instantly shunned and those who fail to participate in the shunning are also shunned for condoning it. Nobody will speak out unpopular opinions even if they feel it ought to be said, because those who don't like the message will go after the messenger. All social circles become totally transparent and people will self-censor their associations to avoid social stigma. It's freedom of the "you have freedom of speech and can say what you want, but we'll shoot you afterwards" variety.

Not to mention, it won't work. The powers to be will always find some reason why their conversations must be protected in the name of national security - after you've given up yours in the name of national security, of course. And if you don't like it you've got something to hide and is probably one of the bogeymen we're trying to catch. They can clam up any time they feel like it, while you'll stay stripped bare. Only the truly naive wants to head us in that direction, because <Admiral Ackbar>It's a trap!</Admiral Ackbar> and a pretty obvious one at that.

Re:Welcome technology if (1)

nut (19435) | about a year ago | (#44982415)

GP's argument:

The last thing we need is awesome tech only spies and generals possess...

Your argument:

No, having the lack of privacy go both ways isn't as good as having privacy.

Which is shooting down a different position to the one the GP took. No one is arguing that privacy for all isn't the best situation. But this technology now exists, so the genie is out of the the bottle and that option is almost certainly off the table.

We now get to choose between the option where a small powerful elite has this technology, and the option where everyone has it.

I, for one, prefer the latter.

Re:Welcome technology if (2)

Kjella (173770) | about a year ago | (#44982501)

We now get to choose between the option where a small powerful elite has this technology, and the option where everyone has it.

Sorry, but just because the NSA has been listening in on everyone's phone calls doesn't make it a good idea to let everyone listen to everyone else's phone calls. The right choice is to make the NSA stop, even if the technology as such exists. It doesn't mean we have to embrace it, we already have many ways of planting stealth microphones and none of them have much legitimate use. I don't see how this one is very different.

Re: Welcome technology if (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44986233)

First, there's a distinction between tech like this and the NSA's universal phone interception. Phone interception doesn't involve any tech different from or more advanced than that already needed to run the modern PSTN, just add telco cooperation (whether voluntary or compelled by e.g. NSLs) -- adding more routers, switches, and lines, and making sure people who know about the extra stuff stay quiet. In other words, it's purely a problem of people, with no tech element at all.

This is new (or ostensibly new -- ISTR the same concept being discussed at least 10 years ago when I was in school, but I don't recall whether it was practical or merely theoretical at the time) tech permitting a single actor (whether government, private, or in this case even an individual), without any cooperation from others, to observe things (e.g. by planting a microphone covertly) that previously could not be observed (e.g. because an array of pressure-sensing microphones to gain equivalent directional data would be too large to hide). So this problem (or, depending on your taxonomy, perhaps this extent of the extant problem) couldn't exist without both the tech advance and the people willing to violate privacy.

The fact that NSA was able to illegally spy on all phones for many years without public notice -- despite all the non-NSA personnel necessarily involved -- strongly suggests that, given the existence of technical advances such as this microphone tech, the NSA and other elite groups will deploy such tech no matter what laws we might make to prohibit it. Unless you can propose a better solution*, it seems like the moment this tech was developed, we lost all real hope of the specific types and degrees of privacy it enables the infringement of, and that makes GP's position the reasonable one.

*Such a solution can't depend merely on force of law to constrain the behavior of entities such as the NSA, because we've seen that doesn't work. It can't depend on public knowledge of the privacy-violating use of the tech, nor even of the tech itself, since we've seen the NSA is good at keeping secrets for a long time. AFAICS, the only class of solutions that might actually work are those that prevent such an entity as the NSA from existing -- and yet, when you look at the trajectory of tech (drones/UAVs/whatever-you-like-to-call-R/C-aircraft) becoming cheaper, sensors becoming smaller), it seems to keep getting easier for smaller groups with less resources to pull NSA-like shenanigans, and thus even this avenue of control seems doomed to impossibility.

To me, our future looks like the sort of cyberpunk dystopia that makes for great books but lousy living. I hope I'm being overly pessimistic, but I just don't see the evidence to support a brighter outlook.

Re:Welcome technology if (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44984091)

Life in a small town.

Re:Welcome technology if (1)

cascadingstylesheet (140919) | about a year ago | (#44984639)

A system where nobody can keep their actions private is a system governed by mob rule, nobody wants to engage in socially unacceptable behavior because they're instantly shunned and those who fail to participate in the shunning are also shunned for condoning it. Nobody will speak out unpopular opinions even if they feel it ought to be said, because those who don't like the message will go after the messenger. All social circles become totally transparent and people will self-censor their associations to avoid social stigma. It's freedom of the "you have freedom of speech and can say what you want, but we'll shoot you afterwards" variety.

Sounds like Slashdot or Facebook ;)

Seriously, though, things never go out to their theoretical extremes like that. If effective technical countermeasures are not developed, then socially what will happen (yes, in fits and starts with much upheaval and not smoothly) is that people in general will simply have to get used to the fact that other people will often say things that they don't like.

Re:Welcome technology if (1)

doubletalk (3009215) | about a year ago | (#44982461)

If... We have anti-spy technology to counter-effect devices like this one.

why are weapons of mass destruction an exception? (1)

fantomas (94850) | about a year ago | (#44985473)

"The last thing we need is awesome tech only spies and generals possess (weapons of mass destruction/contamination being a notable exception). "

Just curious - why do you exclude these (weapons of mass destruction) from your definition of technology=good if everybody has it? It suggests you are declaring that the declaration that technology should be accessible to all is qualified by value judgements - who gets to make the judgement call? you, me, random person in Afghanistan/Bolivia/Estonia? the UN?

If nuclear weapons are not ok, how about large aerial launched bombs/missiles? How about hand grenades? or hand guns? wonder what the qualifying point is and how you came to it.

2084 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44982279)

Thank goodness I'll be dead.

Re:2084 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44982429)

Don't worry, we'll resuscitate you, and you'll become a slave for the rest of eternity! Mwahahahaha!

Re:2084 (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about a year ago | (#44982693)

Whatever you do, don't tell him we're going to bring him back to maintain those Python scripts he wrote in 2005.

And it's all Bullshit. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44982307)

Because they CANT get past the fact that battery technology DOES NOT EXIST to power this crap.

Slashdot is turning into the Bullshit for the Tin Foil Hat club.

Re:And it's all Bullshit. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44982665)

Because they CANT get past the fact that battery technology DOES NOT EXIST to power this crap.

Look ma, no batteries required, and this was decades ago.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thing_(listening_device)

Looks like you lose this round, son.

Jamming (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44982395)

It should be easy to jam. Just make a recording of your voice and that of whoever you're talking with and play both at the same time near enough this gadget can't distinguish the difference.

Rescue Potential (1)

taxtropel (637994) | about a year ago | (#44982475)

It's not always about spying and surveillance. It's not always about privacy and big brother. This technology would be endlessly useful in a search and rescue situation! Imagine pinpointing an unconscious person's breathing and directing rescue personnel to that location, or locating the cries of a small trapped / lost child. Or a victim stuck in a structure fire! Do you have any idea how LOUD structure fires are!?! Not to mention that unlike the Hollywood portrayal, fires are pitch black! Finding people and the potential of leaving people behind are some of the hardest things that firefighters do. I can think of countless uses for such a device as this for fire and rescue.

Private chat _outdoors_?!?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44982549)

Didn't all those Google apologists told us all, over and over, in the past couple years that, if you send unencrypted signals out to public places for everyone to pick up, you can expect no privacy? Those signals are fair game for anyone with the technology to pick it up.

So how can you expect to have a "private" chat out in a public busy street? You are sending out unencrypted sound waves for everyone which has the technology to receive it, right? RIGHT?

Where the hell are all those people now?

Re: Private chat _outdoors_?!?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44982689)

I'm a Minister. You attend the church at which I preach. We go for a walk deep in the woods owned by the church to discuss confession/advice. Nobody else around but (hidden) matchstick microphones. I think You have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Re: Private chat _outdoors_?!?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44982811)

I think You have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

We think you have a reasonable expectation of swimming with the fishes,
in order that our privacy is maintained.

                                                                                                                - Tony Soprano

Psychological warfare on everybody (1)

udachny (2454394) | about a year ago | (#44982667)

This is more than just some new way to record audio data with an undetectable microphone, this is psychological warfare and your government is engaged in it and the target is all of you.

There won't be microphones everywhere, but a few microphones will be placed in a few places and a few stories will come out how somebody was caught by using this technology. The point is to generate fear in the population, fear of the all seeing, all hearing, all powerful government.

They are working to bridge the gap between what you believe they can do and what they are actually doing, but the real damage will be psychological, more people will become paranoid, just like in the former Soviet Union or North Korea, of-course the modern Western governments have much more capabilities than those countries, but regardless of the capabilities, the real point is to scare you into submission.

Re:Psychological warfare on everybody (1)

AHuxley (892839) | about a year ago | (#44983405)

Very true udachny. It will be interesting to see the command and control networks needed long term.
Autonomous to a sat.
Autonomous to a local van.
Direct control from a local van, site or building with a short lived power supply.
The other question is the ability to hide the control signals from been taken over or triangulated back to their masters.
Before this tech makes it to court rooms expect a lot of countermeasures in place.

I suddenly see the value... (2)

roc97007 (608802) | about a year ago | (#44982681)

...in inventing a language. I think it's high time we addressed the tweepadoc in the room.

Re:I suddenly see the value... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44983919)

any substitution-type encryption is easily hacked. See rot-13 as an example (word-wise takes a little longer).

Re:I suddenly see the value... (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about a year ago | (#44985567)

I understand. Mere word substitution wouldn't do it. It'd have to be something more complicated, with a new, perhaps variable syntax, and a vocabulary where words mean completely different things in slightly different usages.

And make it sound like slang for some additional camouflage. And include meaningful sounds that would normally be considered background noise. Hmm.

End run (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44982815)

Every person who cares about these issues should declare in a public video of him/herself a political prisoner in advance.

--
Another fine opinion from The Fucking Psychopath®.

This is all going to be used against every human. (1)

Ralph Ostrander (2846785) | about a year ago | (#44982943)

On earth. Up here in space I'm looking down on you. My lasers trace Everything you do. You think you've private lives Think nothing of the kind. There is no true escape I'm watching all the time. I'm made of metal My circuits gleam. I am perpetual I keep the country clean. I'm elected electric spy I'm protected electric eye. Always in focus You can't feel my stare. I zoom into you You don't know I'm there. I take a pride in probing all your secret moves My tearless retina takes pictures that can prove. I'm made of metal My circuits gleam. I am perpetual I keep the country clean. I'm elected electric spy I'm protected electric eye. Electric eye, in the sky Feel my stare, always there There's nothing you can do about it. Develop and expose I feed upon your every thought And so my power grows. I'm made of metal My circuits gleam. I am perpetual I keep the country clean. I'm elected electric spy I'm protected electric eye. I'm elected electric spy I'm elected. Protected. Detective. Electric eye

Re:This is all going to be used against every huma (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44983345)

(c) Judas Priest FTFY

Who funded the research? (2)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about a year ago | (#44982993)

I think it would be New England Patriots coach who really really wanted this.

"Unwelcome technology" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44983327)

An interesting phrase. As if you can "outlaw technology" or "outlaw manufacturing" especially when the objects are tiny and the theory and manufacturing technique are openly available. Yes I would like to roll back time to when the world seemed saner and more real. On the other hand, that time may be fictional.
Some key points I think are:
1. Asymmetry of huge computing resources (huge disk space for storing a large number of sound fields over time, huge bandwidth for storing them, access to power requirements, huge processing capacity for processing prior to storage, and postprocessing of existing data, and all of this in coordination with similar storage of surveillance video or visible light fields, and possibly other spectra e.g. microwave for skeletal structure).
This asymmetry means that those in power / with access to huge computing resources makes this technology fundamentally put the individual or groups not in power at a disadvantage. Public disobedience would be more dangerous. Also, you cannot as easily take a walk to have a private conversation if you are worried about bugging.
2. On the other hand, construction of extremely small drone + camera + transducer + air pressure vector sensors might make it feasible to drastically increase transparency of "closed door" proceedings and "privacy" of public figures / those in power by the individual or groups not in power. The fly on the wall (or the fly that flew in from the window / air duct) so to speak. Conceivably this could be a power balancing tool.
3. This type of microspying capability might be useful in penetration of fanatic regimes, groups, individuals which covers quite a lot all the way from "axis of evil" scientists and politicians to terrorist groups, nihilist cults and rogue scientists. Though current technology and some elbow grease probably would be sufficient. This conceivably could improve global security, in the sense of reducing the risks of nonlinear weapons.

So while it certainly is "unwelcome technology" from the perspective of an individual, for example it frankly nauseates me, (2) suggests a small number of such devices could be controlled by those not in power to potentially level the impossible 0.0001% vs. 99.9999% world we live in now and as such have potential value in protecting human rights, and (3) seems like a good idea if you happen to live in the footprint of a potential nodong missile with dirty bomb tip, i.e. Alaska, u.s. west coast, or anywhere nearer to rogue states, i.e. Japan, Israel, and all the other neighbors who could be bullied into cooperation.

Personally I am not looking forward to all these nauseating technologies that will be arriving in coming years, but on the other hand that's what comes from living in the future and not a static middle ages. Hopefully some courageous souls will also arise to help figure out what to do about them.

Available since 2010 (3, Informative)

Animats (122034) | about a year ago | (#44983411)

"Acoustic zoom" beam-forming microphones [sqhead.com] have been available since 2010. Their main commercial product is an "acoustic camera" with 128 microphones on an 0.4 meter disk. They have other surveillance products [sqhead.com] , but they are "not approved for unlicensed users". This is already in use at FCI Otisville [fbo.gov] , a US prison. "This technology allows an operator to listen to various locations within the range of the system without any movement of the equipment. ... (T)his ability means the operator does not have to move about in order to "point" the equipment at his target and thereby draw attention to him potentially compromising the investigation."

With these systems, if you have enough recording bandwidth, you can record all the microphones and do the beam-forming later. So it's possible to pick the target at playback time. Squarehead is partnering with Galleon Embedded Computing, which makes 8 terabyte recorders full of flash devices capable of recording at gigabit Ethernet rates, so that's presumably what they're doing.

There are several other vendors now. This isn't really that hard to do.

So this technology is already out there, listening to crowds and pulling out single conversations.

Re: Available since 2010 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44986371)

Gigabit?

At the maximum reasonable recording quality:
128*48kHz*16bit/sample = 98Mbit/s

OK, you can't count on getting that through 100 Mb ethernet... but in reality, if your goal is not accurate music reproduction, but recognizable speech, you can go with much slower sampling rate. (In practice, you'd probably sample at 48 kHz or higher, then lowpass and downsample (in DSP hardware) to prevent aliasing) You could easily go as low as 16 kHz (33 Mb/s), or even 8kHz (16 Mb/s) -- for comparison, a single OTA HDTV channel (in the US) can have a bitrate up to ~19.4 Mb/s.

Anyway, the point is, 100 Mb/s ethernet and ordinary hard drives (or decently fast SD cards, or a lot of other storage media) is quite adequate for surveillance purposes. The only reason one might need to use gigabit or any sort of "special" fast media is if you're trying for a studio quality recording (which is not a bad plan -- the ability to virtually re-mic any instrument after the fact if you don't like what your live mic picked up could make for some really awesome recordings of live acts -- but I suspect you wouldn't be using the same mic array for that and surveillance) or if you're inexplicably using one storage device for several such 128-mic arrays, adding a SPOF instead of letting them each record to a local, slow disk, so if one disk fails, you keep the remaining data.

It's not tech Bruce.... that's security expert FUD (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44983533)

'It's the mic plus the drones, plus the signal processing, plus voice recognition.'"

No it isn't.

It's not about the technology, but how... or more importantly whom, exploits it.

Could this be used as a hearing aid? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44984015)

This kind of technology sounds like it would be pretty awesome for filtering out background noise, allowing the user to take part in normal conversation without having to strain to catch the words from among the surrounding cacophony of sound. I kind of want one...

This is pretty old technology (3, Interesting)

photonic (584757) | about a year ago | (#44984083)

I remember seeing a presentation by these guys when they were probably still a recent startup company at Twente University, must have been around 15 years ago. Their sensor is build with MEMS technology and consists of 2 or 3 tiny wires (maybe 1x200 micron) that are suspended over a valley etched out of a silicon wafer. When these wires are heated up, a sideways airflow will cause tiny difference in temperature between the wires that can be read out by measuring the resistance. At the time, their target application was low-cost microphones for use in mobile telephones. IIRC, the sensitivity of this sensor had a sensitivity that rolls off as 1/f inherent to the involved physics and they were struggling with the noise at high frequencies in the reconstructed sound. Looking at their website, the sensor still looks exactly the same. Assuming no major breakthrough (I could imagine they lowered the noise by a factor 10 meanwhile, but not that they solved the 1/f problem), I guess the major change now is that they can do more fancy signal conditioning with a DSP in real time. Too bad they went for the military market, but I guess that is a way to slap a few 10-Euro sensors together and sell them as a 10kEuro package. Does anyone know what could be done with these direction sensitive flow-sensors that cannot be done with a phased-array of conventional microphones?
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