Friday, August 23, 2013

Wired up and pinned down

Years ago, I was watching Bullitt and in one scene, a detective was in a taxi and he said to the driver, "I gotta make a call. Pull over to that pay phone." Today, that request seems so laughably quaint.

However, I still keep reading new crime fiction where modern-day characters refer to answering machines and phones ringing. I haven't seen an answering machine in close to twenty years. I know of only one friend who still has a home phone; all the rest of us have since chucked that land-line connection.

One of the conundrums in modern science fiction is that our technology has raced ahead of what we expected in our imagined future. True, we don't yet have anti-gravity boots and our forays into deep space are modestly pedestrian. No moon bases, or underwater cities for that matter. But our cell phones are far superior to anything imagined on Star Trek. The Internet has become a significant mode of commerce and social interaction. And that same Internet has made us incredibly vulnerable to business marketing, government snooping, and criminal fraud in ways no one predicted.

What tools are the cops already using? Besides data mining your email, Internet use, and cell phone traffic (usually without a warrant and in violation of the Fourth Amendment) the authorities can use your Internet connection and cell phone to pinpoint your location. They've already used facial recognition to cull through crowds. Secret GPS trackers are routinely attached to cars. Drones are staple weapons of war for reconnaissance and attack. Domestic drone deployment is in its fledgling stages, but the police have already used remote-control aerial cameras to surveil active crime scenes and to find missing people. These flying robots are cheaper than helicopters and just as effective. It's the rare major intersection that doesn't have cameras or radar monitoring. All this snooping is rife for abuse, by both the authorities and the crooks. And the enterprising PI will also have interesting ways to leverage this technology.

My favorite is the robotic surveillance drone that continues to shrink and become more sophisticated by the day. Think about it. How can we expect any semblance of privacy when drones the size of flies and roaches can infiltrate our homes? Imagine when the paparazzi get their sketchy mitts on these. What are the implications for corporate spying? How about capturing cheating spouses in flagrante delicto? Of course expect businesses that will make a fortune detecting and eliminating such eavesdropping pests...a high-tech Orkin as it were.

Like any new development, this technology cuts both ways. What would prevent gangsters from tapping into the facial-recognition databases to finger undercover cops and ferret out snitches in witness protection? A gun manufacturer has developed a computerized sniper rifle that will allow a neophyte shooter to knock out a bull's eye first shot at incredible distances. Hmmm...of what use could that be to terrorists?

These electronic gizmos broadcast signals that make them vulnerable to detection and hacking. You can buy a device that collects data from RF chips and WiFi transmitters. One ploy is to stroll with this electronic pickpocket through a crowd to harvest credit-card info and passwords.

It's a brave new world for the good and bad guys, and those characters in between. Plenty of material for some great mystery novels.

No comments: