Your Microwave is not spying on you.  

“What I can say is there are many ways to surveil each other,” Ms. Conway told the paper. “You can surveil someone through their phones, certainly through their television sets — any number of ways.”

Surveillance can even be carried out with “microwaves that turn into cameras,” she added. “We know this is a fact of modern life.”

  • Trump’s senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway


Microwave ovens can not become cameras and start spying on you.   They lack the necessary sensing componentry to do that. However,

Microwaves can spy on you.

Gennarelli, G., Ludeno, G., & Soldovieri, F. (2016). Real-Time Through-Wall Situation Awareness Using a Microwave Doppler Radar Sensor. Remote Sensing8(8), 621.

Wang, X., & Lin, Z. (2016). Microwave Surveillance Based on Ghost Imaging and Distributed Antennas. IEEE Antennas and Wireless Propagation Letters15, 1831-1834.


Wi-Fi Can spy on you.

Adib, F., & Katabi, D. (2013). See through walls with WiFi! (Vol. 43, No. 4, pp. 75-86). ACM.


Electricity Meters can spy on you

Eibl, G., & Engel, D. (2015). Influence of data granularity on smart meter privacy. IEEE Transactions on Smart Grid6(2), 930-939.


Smart TVs do spy on you

Rutledge, R. L., Massey, A. K., & Antón, A. I. (2016, September). Privacy Impacts of IoT Devices: A SmartTV Case Study. In Requirements Engineering Conference Workshops (REW), IEEE International (pp. 261-270). IEEE.

Irion, K., & Helberger, N. (2017). Smart TV and the online media sector: User privacy in view of changing market realities. Telecommunications Policy.


So everything but Microwave ovens can be used to spy on people, what is there to worry about?


A concern in the continuing normalization of surveillance.   An unfortunate side effect of the persistent nature of mass surveillance operations and the continuation of low privacy standards by connected product and service providers is the normalization of surveillance.  Whether this is good, bad or insignificant to the function of societies around the world will and should be a topic of on-going debate.


Wahl-Jorgensen, K., Bennett, L. K., & Cable, J. (2016). Surveillance Normalization and Critique: News coverage and journalists’ discourses around the Snowden revelations. Digital Journalism, 1-18.

Pinto, L. E., & NEmoriN, S. E. L. E. N. A. (2015). Normalizing panoptic surveillance among children:‘The Elf on the Shelf’. Our Schools/Our Selves24(2), 53.

Weinstein, J.; Drake, W.; Silverman, N. (2015). Privacy vs. Public Safety: Prosecuting and Defending Criminal Cases in the Post-Snowden Era. American Criminal Law Review 52(4), 729-752.


What is perhaps of more immediate concern is the exception of those in power or with the power to wield surveillance tools in democratic societies.  It is at the very least at odds with the trend towards transparent governance and open data sharing to restrict the collection of data on those governing to prevent it from being shared.  That is not to say that these surveillance systems are a positive force, just that demanding privacy for yourself while stating that it doesn’t exist for others could lead to a asymmetry of information power incongruent with an egalitarian state.


Investigatory Powers Bill: Politicians exempt themselves from new wide-ranging spying laws: Andrew Griffin


So, while there are sure to be a few good laughs about the comment that microwaves are spying on us We should look closer at the context of the rest of the statement, and the juxtaposition that even the suggestion of surveillance of a person in power is a great concern and should be investigated; while that surveillance is a fact of modern life.


Michael Joyce is the Knowledge Mobilization Coordinator for SERENE-RISC.