Will PRISM Use Microsoft’s Kinect to Spy On Us?

The scary reality is that the NSA does use these companies to spy on us. Does having any percentage of security therefore justify the breach of our rights in our own living rooms?

The cat has recently been let out of the bag, so to speak. For the first time it has been made known to the general public a program of the US government entitled PRISM that allows government agencies the ability for warrant-less spying on Americans when connected with “foreign communication traffic”.

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This news comes right after the Xbox One privacy concerns in response to its reveal in May. Anyone who has been following along knows that Xbox One will be shipped with a mandatory Kinect, and have the ability to watch you, hear you, and even track your motions. It will also require at least one connection to the internet every 24 hours in order to play games, or every hour on a friend’s console. It has been marketed as an all inclusive entertainment system, and as such we can assume will sit at the center of American homes.

So what is PRISM?

The National Security Agency is based in Fort Meade, MD, and is the largest and most secretive intelligence agency; it has long held the nickname “No Such Agency.” According to The Washington Post, who have first brought the story to light in the U.S., the PRISM program is used by NSA and the FBI to collect what it wants “…directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.” 

Through an undisclosed source within the program, The Post explains that the companies who volunteer to join this program will gain immunity from lawsuits. It’s kind of like that Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card in Monopoly. The companies allow access to their servers and the American public has little legally they can do about it.

A member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Udall, who had classified knowledge of the program stated:

“As it is written, there is nothing to prohibit the intelligence community from searching through a pile of communications, which may have been incidentally or accidentally been collected without a warrant, to deliberately search for the phone calls or e-mails of specific Americans.”

As of April 2013 an internal presentation reported PRISM data was collected in 1,477 items last year. They further go on to state that PRISM is the “leading source of raw material, accounting for nearly 1 in 7 intelligence reports.”

1 in 7 may seem like not very many occurrences, but imagine also how much data in total our intelligence agencies collect on a yearly basis.

Connecting the dots with Microsoft

The NSA has already been proven that time and time again they gain access to cell phones, e-mail clients, browsers, and more without wanting to be checked in their use by warrants and other means of protection against unlawful searches. Americans are left standing in the crossfire.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation lays out a nice timeline that dates especially from 2001 (though it does list a few instances prior as well) of all such practices up until this year, 2013. The scary reality is that the NSA does use these companies to spy on us. EFF even has documents on the case of AT&T using “…a fiberoptic splitter at its facility in San Francisco which sends copies of all AT&T customers’ emails, web browsing, and other Internet traffic to the NSA…” as reported by former technician Mark Klein

Looking at the progression, it doesn’t take much to jump from these heavily used consumer devices to the future Kinect on Xbox One as adding one more tool for their programs to use.

The first discerning bread crumb that leads us on this trail is the fact that Microsoft was the first company to opt into the program. Add into this Xbox One’s abilities. It will be able to track when you are at home, and when you are at a friend’s home. It will track whom you live with. How many children you have. It could, in theory, have the ability to listen to every word you say, monitor your heart rate,  track every emotional reaction you display, and in essence produce a pretty picture of your life. The data Kinect is capable of collecting is vast, and slightly ridiculous. Whether it will or not, remains to be seen.

We don’t know everything about the system yet, after all. IGN has quoted Microsoft to say:

 “If you don’t want the Kinect sensor on while playing games or enjoying your entertainment, you can pause Kinect. To turn off your Xbox One, just say ‘Xbox Off.’ When the system is off, it’s only listening for the single voice command — ‘Xbox On,’ and you can even turn that feature off too. Some apps and games may require Kinect functionality to operate, so you’ll need to turn it back on for these experiences.”

Yet, this still begs the question. If Kinect is still able to turn on through a voice trigger, is it not possible therefore to be still turned on remotely, given the right incentive ?

Security vs. Freedom

Long has been the challenge of nations to determine the balance between what is required for the protection of its citizens, and what is in violation of their rights. PRISM isn’t the first of its kind, and I imagine it will not be the last.

Modern wars and modern technology have forced the line of morality used by the government to become blurred and less distinctive when concerning the rights of its citizens. The world has created new kinds of threats and thus the need to attempt more clever ways of national defense.

The September 11th attacks initiated this by opening the eyes of U.S. citizens to the realities of terrorism, and the knowledge that absolute total security is a facade. Often the reaction after such an atrocity is the call for more security. People are sometimes willing to pay any price to silence their fears. It was after 9/11 that the agency began its special collection program as it looked for new tools to fend off terrorism. Since then, the NSA has created program after program with power that was very poorly checked – if at all – in gathering information where it deemed a threat possible.

Microsoft argues differently. Their statement to The Post stated:

“We provide customer data only when we receive a legally binding order or subpoena to do so, and never on a voluntary basis. In addition we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers. If the government has a broader voluntary national security program to gather customer data we don’t participate in it.”

This denial seems little comfort. According to documents obtained by the Guardian, Microsoft is attributed to have done just that. They are supposedly the first to “volunteer” as an immunized company for PRISM.

Whether volunteer or unwilling partner, Microsoft will still be producing hardware and software via its Kinect that will have access to private information on American citizens. PRISM has already been known to “incidentally” and “accidentally” collect information on an unknown number of American citizens. This number is mysteriously kept under wraps. When Senator Ron Wyden asked for an estimate, the only answer he received was that “…stating that would violate the privacy of Americans in NSA data banks to try to estimate their number.”

That’s irony, if one ever saw it.

President Obama has made a public announcement about the programs claiming with strong certainty that “…they help us prevent terrorist attacks” with “…moderate encroachments…”  He attempts to clarify some of the questions by explaining, for example, that when looking at phone numbers only the numbers and call durations are observed, and not names or content. Obama further states that in order to listen to the content of a call, a federal judge is still needed. 

“You can’t have 100 percent security, or 100 percent privacy,” the President declares.

Yet, does having any percentage of security therefore justify the breach of our rights in our own living rooms?

The question remains open whether Microsoft’s Xbox One Kinect will violate these rights or not. It is not enough for the parties involved to say simply that, though having the ability to do it, our privacy is not violated. It is not enough to allow our rights and our privacy to be protected by faith alone in the line between security and freedom. As consumers and citizens, we must evaluate the risks involved in being a passive party to these “encroachments”, and voice our opinions for or against them.

What do you say in response to the recent PRISM reports, and how do you feel about the Kinect given the possibility that it could also be used by the NSA?


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Author
Jamie K
I'm a 29 year old Jersey girl who loves games. I currently work full time, volunteer part time at this awesome non-profit called Amman Imman, and go to school part time. I also train in jiu jitsu. So time isn't quite on my side (unlike that song says). I have been trying unsuccessfully for years to clone myself so I can devote one of me to boring stuff like working and laundry - thus allowing more time for gaming. I'm willing to offer large sums of imaginary money to any who can make this happen.