By Ann Harrison
December 29, 2005
BERLIN -- When the Austrian government passed a law this year allowing
police to install closed-circuit surveillance cameras in public spaces
without a court order, the Austrian civil liberties group Quintessenz
vowed to watch the watchers.
Members of the organization worked out a way to intercept the camera
images with an inexpensive, 1-GHz satellite receiver. The signal could
then be descrambled using hardware designed to enhance copy-protected
video as it's transferred from DVD to VHS tape.
The Quintessenz activists then began figuring out how to blind the
cameras with balloons, lasers and infrared devices.
And, just for fun, the group created an anonymous surveillance system
that uses face-recognition software to place a black stripe over the
eyes of people whose images are recorded.
Quintessenz members Adrian Dabrowski and Martin Slunksy presented
their video-surveillance research at the 22nd annual Chaos
Communication Congress here this week. Five hundred hackers jammed
into a meeting room for a presentation that fit nicely into CCC's 2005
theme of "private investigations."
Slunksy pointed out that searching for special strings in Google, such
as axis-cgi/, will return links that access internet-connected cameras
around the world. Quintessenz developers entered these Google results
into a database, analyzed the IP addresses and set up a website that
gives users the ability to search by country or topic -- and then rate
"You can use this to see if you are being watched in your daily life,"
The conference, hosted by Germany's Chaos Computer Club, featured many
discussions on data interception and pushing back the unprecedented
onslaught of surveillance technologies.
Even the Dutch, once known as hacker-friendly, politically progressive
Europeans, are now fearful and demanding more cameras on their
streets, said Rop Gonggrijp, founder of Dutch ISP Xs4All.
Gonggrijp says the Dutch chief of police has announced the intention
to store large amounts of surveillance data and mine it to determine
who to pressure and question. "People are screaming for more control,"
Dutch journalist Brenno de Winter warned that the European
Parliament's support for data retention doesn't ensure security, and
makes citizens vulnerable to automated traffic analysis of who
communicates with whom through phone calls and internet connections.
"What we have seen is a system that fails because we miss out on too
much information, and even if we have all that information, it doesn't
give us the right information and it is easy to circumvent," said de
CCC member and security researcher Frank Rieger said hackers should
provide secure communications for political and social movements and
encourage the widespread use of anonymity technologies. He said people
on the other side of the camera need to be laughed at and shamed.
"It must not be cool anymore to have access to this data," said
Rieger, who argued that Western societies are becoming democratically
legitimized police states ruled by an unaccountable elite. "We have
enough technical knowledge to turn this around; let's expose them in
public, publish everything we know about them and let them know how it
feels to be under surveillance."
The four-day Chaos Computer Congress is meeting near Alexanderplatz in
the former East Berlin, where more than a half-million people rallied
for political reform five days before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In his keynote address, Joichi Ito, general manager of international
operations for Technorati, warned that the internet could itself
become a walled-in network controlled by the International
Telecommunication Union, Microsoft and telecommunications companies.
Ito said these restrictions would stifle free speech and the ability
to question authority without retribution. "An open network is more
important for democracy than the right to bear arms and the right to
vote," said Ito. "Voice is more important than votes."
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