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Scrutinizing security of technology

Every month I prepare to write my editorial column with notes I have been saving for weeks. Sure enough, at least half of the time something happens on the news – either the world scene or local, and I end up doing a new column and saving my notes for next month.

The Houston paper on Sunday carried an article in the Business Section about gadgets and how they will continue to get smarter whether we like it or not. That article brought me back to one I had written for my column in November about NSA and how Congress and the President turned off the collection of “meta-data” from phone records because of a false sense of protecting “the public” from invasions of privacy while allowing commercial interests like the phone companies to not only see and collect the same data, but to also put it on the public market to anyone who will pay.

I asked my readers to write to our leaders in Washington (and in Austin) to “let them know whether you think Verizon and AT&T (and Edward Snowden) should be trusted more than our own National Security Agency” in protecting our national security. I wonder how many took the time to do so.

The Houston article on gadgets included a photograph of Hello Barbie (that’s her name). Hello can carry on a limited conversation with your child. When your child says something to the doll, Hello records the conversation and tries to match it with something in her database to say back to your child. Great technology, you say.

Would you believe that the doll actually sends your child’s questions back to Mattel so that the company can use it to create better responses? What else can they do with it when the child starts telling the doll personal information about the family?

When you tell your thermostat that you’ll be away for a few days and to adjust the cool/heat, if that info goes to someone else, like the manufacturer, can it be easily hacked to let burglars know you are away?

Your smart phone reminds you about your meetings; does it share that information with Apple Tunes or Google or someone else too?

Some TVs can now be turned on and off by voice. While the TV is supposedly off, it’s actually listening to everything in the room, waiting for you to tell it to turn on. Is it also connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi? Guess who else knows everything that’s said in your bedroom?

When your wireless baby monitor sends its video to your phone or bedroom, can someone outside pick up those transmissions? Almost always! Whether they can do anything with the transmissions, or what they might do with it is another question.

So why am I telling you this? It’s all about technology. We cannot and should not try to stop the development of new technology, but we do need to be aware that it needs to be harnessed. And we also need to be absolutely sure that OUR government has the best tools in the world to protect our security.

Today we give commercial companies more latitude in using our information than we do our national security folks. That’s not right. Especially when all the other governments and enemies have access to the same data and state-of-the art-technology.

So write to Washington. Or if that’s too much effort, send a letter to the editor of this paper. Or if even that is too much, just send me an email. Do something; because if you don’t we might lose more than just the next elections.

J David Derosier is a retired technology professional and worked for several years in a business that developed technology to prevent the use of cellular devices in restricted areas, without jamming. Prior to that he worked with Fortune-500 companies in Information Security (InfoSec) with a global focus on National Security. Today he consults with small business on planning and marketing issues, and provides web design and hosting services. He can be reached at JDAVID@Strategy-Planning.info.