Bluetooth surveillance secretly tested in the city of Bath

Bath according to bluetooth

In 2001 Jose Emilio Suarez Trashorras was jailed in a Spanish prison for drug related offences. Whilst imprisoned, Trashorras established regular contact with Jamal Ahmidan who was serving time for a petty crime. Both individuals embraced radical Islamic fundamentalist ideas within the prison and were recruited in the Takfir wa al-Hijra group, a Moroccan terrorist groups linked with al-Qaida . Following their release, Ahmidan became the leader of the terrorist cell that conducted the Madrid bombing. In a drugs-for-bombs exchange with a third party, Trashorras provided the explosives for the 13 backpack bombs that killed 191 people and injured hundreds.

So write Vassilis and Panos Kostakos in the department of computer science and the University of Bath in the UK, who have come up with a system that they say could spot and monitor these kinds of interactions in prisons.

Their idea? Fit inmates with RFID tags that allow their positions to be monitored, and then number crunch the resulting data sets to see who spends the most time with whom.

Not exactly rocket science but the Kostakos’s have an even more frightening idea. Why not test the idea by anonymously monitoring the movements of students, residents and workers of the city of Bath by listening out for their bluetooth-enabled devices as they move around the city. And that’s what they’ve done.

What the Kostakos found is that it is straightforward to capture data on people’s encounters using bluetooth. In fact they captured data on 10,000 unique devices during the 6 month study. Yep, that’s 10,000.

Exactly how much you can tell about these encounters isn’t clear. But hey, this is only a demonstration (either that or they’re keeping schtum about the juicy details).

Of course, it’s already possible to make inferences about encounters between individuals using the location information from cellphone networks. But that isn’t easily accessible to ordinary folk and in any case has a blunt resolution of a mile or so. Bluetooth, on the other hand, gives your location to within 10 metres or so.

The moral? Turn off your bluetooth enabled devices when in the city of Bath (and anywhere else). In other hands, this kind of data could be dangerous.

Ref: Intelligence Gathering by Capturing the Social Processes Within Prisons

14 Responses to “Bluetooth surveillance secretly tested in the city of Bath”

  1. xiz says:

    It’s done in The Netherlands as well. It’s very easy to pick up bluetooth-devices with very cheap hardware. This is certainly a privacy concern. We tracked a number of people traveling around the Netherlands, picking up their unique bluetooth-ids on multiple locations.

  2. I’m convinced privacy is only an illusion. No matter what country you’re in.

  3. spooksalamnder says:

    I am not familiar with the Netherlands but I know the UK hasn’t had privacy for a while. The entire country is a giant CCTV system. 90s cell phones in the US could be triangulated and with todays GPS enabled phones thats a lot easier. Our cellphones typically are a generation or so behind Europe and Korea/Japan (grumbles) so you could even without bluetooth you could be tracked. Why bluetooth inmates just RFID them?

  4. anon says:

    > In other hands, this kind of data could be dangerous.

    Er, how, exactly?

  5. Anon says:

    Load of rubbish. The data is worthless.

  6. Mike Nutt says:

    The data isnt worthless, the study is quite well thought out, and the data is freely broadcast, if your bluetooth device is on, then any bluetooth device can see it, just like any human can see your face.

    its a clever way of studying a parallel to the RFID in prisons idea, although I will have to tell all my bath friends about it. I tend to keep bluetooth off unless I’m sending something, so Ill probably pop up at random and disappear in there records.

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