2 podcasts not to miss: Welcome to the panopticon

by Ezra Buckley on August 3, 2015

Ross McNutt has a superpower — he can zoom in on everyday life, then rewind and fast-forward to solve crimes in a shutter-flash. But should he?

In 2004, when casualties in Iraq were rising due to roadside bombs, Ross McNutt and his team came up with an idea. With a small plane and a 44 mega-pixel camera, they figured out how to watch an entire city all at once, all day long. Whenever a bomb detonated, they could zoom onto that spot and then, because this eye in the sky had been there all along, they could scroll back in time and see – literally see – who planted it. After the war, Ross McNutt retired from the airforce, and brought this technology back home with him. Manoush Zomorodi and Alex Goldmark from the podcast “Note to Self” give us the low-down on Ross’s unique brand of persistent surveillance, from Juarez, Mexico to Dayton, Ohio. Then, once we realize what we can do, we wonder whether we should.


At this point, most Americans have acknowledged — and many have de facto accepted — that the government can access our personal data. And sometimes it takes a personal case to understand just how intimate that snooping can get.

What we haven’t known — and couldn’t quite tell from the 2013 Snowden leak — are the technological details of that surveillance. Nor have we understand how pervasive that technology had become, at even the most local of levels.

Today, we understand quite a bit more thanks to one man in particular. His name is Daniel Rigmaiden, and while he’s not exactly the knight-in-shining-armor type (he’s a convicted felon who spent years building an almost-air-tight tax fraud scheme), he is the one who figured out how the government tracks us using our cell phones, despite their best efforts to keep it hidden: the Stingray.

This week, we’ll tell his story on our show. It’s the first full telling since the drama went down.

On a partner episode with Radiolab, we’re telling another, related story from a very different angle: the sky.

We think these podcasts will change the way you look at your phone, whether you’re an incredibly savvy tax fraudster or someone who just happens to notice when your phone mysteriously drops to the 2G network in the middle of a big city.

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