The urge for control is powerful, made exponentially more so whenever two or more representatives of a government get together. Among the more prominent, and ridiculous, examples of this trend are Iran’s attempt to create a “halal” Internet (ostensibly to safeguard Muslim sensibilities, in reality to control the political thought of Iranian citizens) and the American former intelligence chief’s proposal for a “.secure” Internet in which users would voluntarily give up their Fourth Amendment rights.
Add to this China’s “national” global positioning system. This Chinese satellite navigation network will obviate the need to use the Pentagon-created and U.S.-run GPS system, which dominates location technology worldwide.
This strictly Chinese system, according to a defense tech expert in today’s Wall Street Journal, “could help the Chinese military to identify, track and strike U.S. ships in the region in the event of armed conflict.” It has already been used to coordinate the movement of Chinese troops.
The network, called the Beidou Navigation Satellite System (BNSS), began transmitting yesterday, after 11 years of development. It consists of 10 satellites, with another six slated for deployment in the coming year. The BNSS is run by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, a state contractor serving the nation’s space program and run by the Chinese military.
Since 2009, China has been very busy launching satellites, and learning from the successes and failures of those deployments. The BNSS is not believed to be as accurate as the GPS system, but it may, in time, get there. Bedou, which means Big Dipper in Mandarin, is only the first step toward a global system, called Compass, which is slated to have 35 functioning satellites around the world by 2020.
Like the GPS system, the BNSS would also make its data available for developers. Now, if you’re uneasy with the notion of high-tech governmental scrutiny in an occasionally transparent, more-or-less representational democracy, imagine the kind of fun the government of China could have not just with a high-resolution, wide-coverage satellite network, but with that scifi scrutiny wired into a suite of ubiquitous consumer goods.
The only other GPS alternative is Russia’s Glonass. The European Union is building its own, called Galileo, also scheduled to go live by 2020.
Sputnik graphic via Bruce Irving
CNET has up a blog post examining the question: does the Fourth Amendment apply to data stored in the Cloud? The US constitutional amendment forbidding unreasonable searches and seizures is well settled in regard to the physical world, but its application to electronic communications and computing lags behind. The post’s argument outlines a law review article (PDF) from a University of Minnesota law student, David A. Couillard. “Hypothetically, if a briefcase is locked with a combination lock, the government could attempt to guess the combination until the briefcase unlocked; but because the briefcase is opaque, there is still a reasonable expectation of privacy in the unlocked container. In the context of virtual containers in the cloud…encryption is not simply a virtual lock and key; it is virtual opacity. … [T]he service provider has a copy of the keys to a user’s cloud ‘storage unit,’ much like a landlord or storage locker owner has keys to a tenant’s space, a bank has the keys to a safe deposit box, and a postal carrier has the keys to a mailbox. Yet that does not give law enforcement the authority to use those third parties as a means to enter a private space. The same rationale should apply to the cloud.” We might wish that the courts interpreted Fourth Amendment rights in this way, but so far they have not.