Digital TV Switch Opens Electronic Door to Censors - and Spies?
• "Addressable" remote technology allows would-be "big brothers" to block channels, or programs, from certain viewers.
• A way to control authorized viewing -- or to censor and harass "targeted" persons by messing up their signal?
• Electronic surveillance built into the algorithm?
GET POLITICAL w/ VIC LIVINGSTON
Lost amid the hype surrounding the transition to digital television is the fact that DTV technology is addressable. That is, digital TV sets or DTV set-top converter boxes only will receive channels that have been previously scanned in; the devices will not "address" any other channels that may be in the broadcast data stream. But here's what's not widely known, and rarely discussed:
DTV technology provides an electronic means for third parties to selectively control the programming available to each set or converter box. The most frequently cited reason is a need to regulate access to proprietary programming available by subscription only, or to prevent home recording of copyrighted material such as recently released movies.
But the technology also allows a would-be censor to block channels, or programs, from certain groups of viewers, or from the entire audience.
And, of course, DTV will be mandatory once traditional analog signals are taken down for good. The Obama administration has asked Congress to pushed that date back to June 12 of this year out of concern that millions of American TV households wouldn't have been ready in time for the previous DTV deadline of February 17th. But as of this writing, the House has refused to go along, leaving the Feb. 17th deadline in place, at least for now.
The DTV technology also raises another little-known peril: the specter of what might be termed "rogue censorship" perpetrated by technically savvy video saboteurs equipped with a remote control device and the DTV address of "targeted" viewers.
And how would a "big brother" know the "address" of each set, or box? Easy! The DTV boxes are being subsidized by government coupons, so the government is collecting a huge database of DTV addresses. As for buyers of high-definition or standard-definition digital sets, would-be TV censors could demand customer data under the provisions of sweeping laws such as the USA Patriot Act (unless, that is, if Congress restores civil liberties in America by scaling back the law's draconian provisions).
Rogue government agents or private sector video vandals who dare to violate constitutionally-protected rights by using DTV technology as a tool of psychological harassment and control wouldn't necessarily need the precise "address" in advance. A technically sophisticated operation could decrypt the access key just by being in proximity to the set or converter box. That's because each set or box (or computer, for that matter) radiates an electronic field that can be accessed by hi-tech equipment in possession of spy outfits such as the National Security Agency -- providing another possible gateway to remote manipulation of DTV broadcast channels.
Tekkies long have known that DTV specs require a so-called "broadcast flag" to prevent unauthorized recording or reception of programming by unauthorized viewers. That same built-in screening technology is what opens the door to potential censorship of broadcast TV programming.
To be more specific, DTV's addressability features allow certain channels to be blocked; reception can be degraded (pixelization -- blocking and streaking -- or a sudden "fade to black"); or, perhaps, an alternate message could be broadcast to "targeted" users, what would be a chilling echo of that old Apple Macintosh "Big Brother" commercial.
Now here's the really intriguing part: Some tekkies insist that the DTV technology could be used to turn any DTV set or set-top converter box into an electronic eavesdropping "bug" -- using the connection to the set's speakers as pre-installed microphones.
Electronically, turning DTV into an audio surveillance device would be a simple task. But is that capability really built into consumer units? If electronics industry or government insiders know, they aren't telling.
(Anyone in the biz who wants to rat this out: Please post here, with some hard evidence to back up the claim.)
Some spy hypothesizers speculate that pinhole video cameras may be built into sets and boxes; while plausible, the assignation of DTV as an in-home video voyeur remains just that -- speculation.
DTV addressability, however, is very real. Victims of so-called "organized community gang-stalking" by citizen vigilantes affiliated with government-sponsored community watch, policing, and anti-terrorism groups say that malicious harassers already are randomly disrupting the DTV reception of their "targets" as a malicious method of psychological intimidation -- what might be termed "video psy ops."
That's not merely speculation; I believe that has happened to this journalist, and to other "targets" of covert surveillance and "programs of personal destruction" created or expanded during the Bush-Cheney years. Is it just coincidence that the DTV specs were formulated during the first five years of the Bush era?
As Special Agent Jethro Gibbs of TV's N.C.I.S. is wont to say: "I don't believe in coincidences."
(Vic Livingston is a former editor of the trade journals CableVision and TV/Radio Age.)
THE NEXUS BETWEEN PERVASIVE SURVEILLANCE AND 'THE AMERICAN GESTAPO':
Most Recommended Comment
Philadelphia suburbs, Pennsylvania, United States