Archive for the ‘surveillance’ Category

Tracking Our Children with GPS: Does it Solve or Mask the Problem?

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

(written by Intro to GIS student, E. H.)
Growing up in New Hampshire I always watched the Boston news stations. A particular announcement came on every night before the ten o’clock news. It was a public service announcement that said “It is ten o’clock, Boston; Do you know where your children are?” This announcement was to remind parents to be active participants in their children’s lives and know where they were going and what they were doing. This question of “do you know where your children are?” has taken on a whole new meaning in recent years. In North America, most cell phone companies have created tracking services. The cell phones are equipped with GPS locators so that parents can watch where their geolocated children are in real time on a map on their own cell phones. It doesn’t stop there. New tools for tracking children are coming out everyday. The GPS nanny is hidden within a wristwatch given to kids by their parents. This device not only locates the child and warns the parent if they stray too far from them, but it also has the option to be equipped with a video camera, speaker, and microphone, as well as the ability to monitor the heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature of the child. In recent years in Japan, several high-tech advances have come out for monitoring children, including built-in GPS locators in school uniforms and backpacks. Between April and July of 2006, a prototype for a child tracking system was tested in Yokohama Japan. One hundred and eighty-eight children in the region were tagged with wireless IC tags which transmitted radio signals to 27 sensors. If a child walked within 30 meters of a sensor an email was sent to their parents. This technology has been used in private schools to monitor when children arrive at and leave school and where they are during the time between leaving school and reaching home.

With the advent of all of this technology for pinpointing the exact locations and physical states of children at all times, one begins to wonder where the line should be drawn. When does tracking become overstepping boundaries and violating children’s rights? More importantly through this technology are parents distancing themselves from those they wish to keep safe? Are children no longer to be trusted? The phrase, “do you know where your children are?” no longer means “do you talk to your children and know who their friends are?” but rather “have you checked your laptop lately to see that the house they have entered is in the right part of town?” What happened to parents relying on themselves to protect their children? Have they become so busy and so wrapped up in themselves, that they can not take the time to walk children to the bus in the morning and pick them up at the end of the day or arrange for someone they trust to do so?

The recent increase in the fear of not knowing where children are at all times is not one that should be fixed with technology and tracking devices but rather with taking responsibility for kids and being good parents. Relying on technology to satisfy these fears is like taking cold medicine when one has a virus. Cold medicine will relieve the symptoms, but in doing so it prevents the body from actually fighting the virus and fixing the problem. In the same way, the use of technology to calm fears of where children are relieves the symptom but does not solve the problem of the break-down of communication with and the lack of active participation in the lives of children. I feel it is high time we that take a step back to evaluate what the real problem is and take steps toward solving it. This is not a matter having time to talk to children; it is a matter of making time, a matter of parents making their children a priority in their lives and not just another thing they must keep track of and monitor.

intruder alert: surveillance sensors to prevent poaching

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

From The Economist, sensors that detect poachers:

Nouabale-Ndoki’s [Congo] hard-pressed rangers are, however, about to get some high-tech help in the form of TrailGuard, a system of small and easily hidden electronic detection and communication devices. They will soon begin burying radio-transmitting metal detectors alongside elephant trails leading into the park. Authorised hikers through the park will be given transponders that tell the detectors who they are, as with the “identification friend-or-foe” systems on military aircraft. But when poachers carrying rifles or machetes traipse by a detector, it will send a radio signal to a treetop antenna. Seconds later the rangers will receive the intruder’s co-ordinates on their satellite phones. They will then be able to respond precisely, rather than slogging around on fruitless and demoralising patrols on the off-chance of catching a poacher up to no good.

A nonprofit, affiliated with the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry in Syracuse, Wildland Security, has created these sensors to aid countries and areas that have the will to save wildlife but not necessarily the person power.

Hmm, surveillance technology in the service of conservation?

chip implants to protect public health

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

One of the more ominous intersections of computers and environment, in this case public health:

Lawmakers in Indonesia’s Papua are mulling the selective use of chip implants in HIV carriers to monitor their behaviour in a bid to keep them from infecting others, a doctor said Tuesday.

unintended consequences of alternate energy policy

Friday, April 27th, 2007

Renewable energy sources that reduce our dependence on oil and gas and decrease the emissions of green house gases may unintentionally do more harm than good.

In the rush to develop biofuels, forests are burned in Asia to clear land for palm oil, and swaths of the Amazon are stripped of diverse vegetation for soya and sugar plantations for ethanol.
The campaign [for sustainable biofuel standards] is driven by evidence that developers in the two Asian countries have burned vast tracks of rain forest to grow palm oil. The fires unleash millions of tons of carbon dioxide and smoke that shroud entire areas of Southeast Asia in eye-watering smog for weeks at a time.

The Netherlands is Europe’s biggest importer of palm oil, used in a wide range of supermarket products as well as a fuel oil supplement. One Dutch company has plans [as of 2005] to build three 50 megawatt power stations exclusively running on palm oil.

This is part of a hurried effort by The Netherlands to produce biofuels, which is not just an internal environmental decision but a reaction to stringent limits on carbon emissions imposed by the EU and a response to skyrocketing oil prices. To promote the use of biofuels, the Dutch government has created a basket of tax incentives. The government is rethinking the consequences of the push.

The Cramer Commission, which conducted the study, has recommended “a track-and-trace system to follow a [sustainably developed] product from plantation to power plant, like an express delivery package”. This may be a good test case for RFIDs. The original goods/packaging could be peppered with the minute ID tags. Enough should survive each step so the provenance of the goods could be determined. Not to say there wouldn’t be problems (e.g., diluting the ‘sustainable’ products with non-sustainable oil) but my experience with certificate programs suggests that they are quite difficult to enforce. Every bit helps.

homeland security and spatial data–the local version

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007

Santa Clara County, California has just decided to limit its sale of geographically related information, that is the data needed to make computerized maps. The stated reason is homeland security because “they didn’t want some of the data to end up in the hands of terrorists”. However, the county also just happens to be in the final phase of a lawsuit alleging that the county overcharges for its data. According to the report, the county currently charges $150,000 but a consultant hired BY the county asserts that the whole data set could cost as little as $22,000.

This is just the latest salvo in the fight by cities and counties to protect digital spatial data, whic represents a lucrative source of funding for the government (but also, to be fair, finances the county’s own geographic information system and staff, which historically has never been adequately budgeted for in more prosaic government operations). One should note that the collection of this data is financed by public dollars AND most of it is available for free in paper format. Should one believe I am making up ulterior motives, one of the plaintiffs in the case responds,

This is a completely made-up argument thrown in at the last minute,” he said, noting that the county had already sold the information and that employees without any kind of special training are allowed to work with it.

In the killer app world of Google Earth and Google Maps, this type of data now forms a critical part of standard government operating procedure. For example, private sector planners use it to assess the impacts of transportation proposals. Realtors use the data to sell homes. Corporations use it to select sites for new development. Availability of local spatial data possesses enormous importance as a window onto government activties, whether it’s police presense, environmental impacts, or affordable housing construction. That’s why the San Jose Mercury News is one of the plaintiffs and why nonprofit and environmental organizations should follow this case closely.

too good to last

Monday, January 29th, 2007

On slashdot, kdawson posts on censorship of Google Maps/Earth spatial data.

Cyphoid writes

“While viewing my school (the University of Massachusetts Lowell) with Google Maps, I noticed that a select portion of the campus was pixelated: the operational nuclear research facility on campus. Curious, I attempted to view the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It too was pixelated. What or who is compelling Google to smudge out these images selectively? Will all satellite images of facilities that the government deems ‘sensitive’ soon be subject to censoring?”

Not surprisingly, the same areas are blurred in Google Earth. But how about images from satellites operated by other nations, such as SPOT or Sovinformsputnik?

It’ll be interesting to see what’s next? My guess is:

  • US major infrastructure, including dams and bridges
  • Celebrity’s houses
  • Sensitive sites, however foreign governments wish to define them

brother, can you spare a man a spy coin?

Monday, January 29th, 2007

From the US government, the bizarre story of the Canadian spy coin:

The government said the mysterious coins were found planted on U.S. contractors with classified security clearances on at least three separate occasions between October 2005 and January 2006 as the contractors traveled through Canada.

The US government’s subsequent retraction. Including the acknowledgement that the coins didn’t work especially well as a surveillance device if the person could easily use them to buy a cup of coffee or, I’d add, give money to a homeless person.

Paranoia About Surveillance

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

Paranoia about surveillance can lead one into some strange places. This User Friendly cartoon by Illiad shows this in a nicely humorous manner.

Big Brother is Listening to You

Monday, November 27th, 2006

In my EU and EPSRC-funded research work on the social and legal issues raised by automated processing of CCTV footage, I have naturally had to become something of an expert on the whole surveillance topic, in order to gain the correct context. During this, it was my understanding (based on both pubished work and discussions with law enforcement) that the police and other major CCTV operators were highly sceptical of the acceptability to the public of microphones, even where cameras are generally accepted in the UK. Of course there are places that are still beyond the pale for cameras, the most obvious being toilet facilities, even outside the cubicles.

It would appear that this reluctance to use microphones is not universal, however, and is even beginning to crumble in the UK.,,176-2471987,00.html

There are some interesting rays of hope, however, in that even ultra-authoritarian Home Secretary David Blunkett, now a back bencher after a second resignation from ministerial office, has called these proposals an unacceptable move towards a surveillance society. Some commentators are playing the “hypocrite” card, but if Blunkett has had a conversion on the road to Damascus, then I’ll happily include him in the fight against too much surveillance.