Peter Bromhead: Smartphone surveillance

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Cartoon / Peter Bromhead
Cartoon / Peter Bromhead

I've just noted with some amusement an American cartoon showing a pensive-looking guy thumbing his new iPhone and asking himself, "will this fingerprint ID protect me from government surveillance?"

In the background is a voice bubble coming from NSA headquarters saying, "Okay, now we've got his prints ... File them with the mug shot we just took with his camera."

Having just bought a new tablet, I found myself relating to the cartoon's caption as I faced a barrage of impertinent electronic questions - not from security organisations, but from program providers opportunistically seeking marketing information in exchange for allowing various downloading processes.

As gloomily predicted by various experts, the moment you crank up any form of cyber device, personal privacy goes out the window.

With commercial surveillance well established within the industry, what's the point in upgrading the stable door lock with a fingerprint?

And for anyone deluded into believing fingerprint identification will provide a smidgen of security comfort, I understand that a German computer club has already discovered how to fool the iPhone by creating a fake finger that uses lifted prints to trick the scanner into believing it's dealing with the rightful owner.

The process involves coloured powder and latex and appears complicated. As one blogger dryly suggests, it would be easier to kidnap the phone's owner and ruthlessly waterboard them until they hand over the mobile's identification.

In my household, unauthorised entry into devices is a real concern - not by the spook brigade, but by two small children aged 8 and 2.

The 8-year-old seems expert at breaking down security codes faster than I can create them, closely followed by the youngster, who once his brother has gained entry, effortlessly accesses YouTube and the insufferable Mickey Mouse Hot Dog ditty.

In an effort to secure our communication tools, I've been using World War II Royal Navy shipping identification codes, a system even German intelligence found difficult to crack.

No problem, however, to a small boy who seems to have eyes in the back of his head and the ability to memorise my discreet key-tapping operations.

The only comfort I can offer fellow cyber communicators is that there appears to be an excellent range of medication available to treat the inevitable paranoia we're all going to experience as we continue to advance under the benign electronic eyes of Big Brother.

- NZ Herald

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