tracking is ubiquitous

(written by Intro to GIS student, R. P.)

The Washington Post’s article regarding the tracking power of cell phones would have been a much more interesting read several years ago. The reality is however, that in 2007, an article about tracking powers with mobile phones is nothing new. Don’t get me wrong, the technology that can facilitate the solving of even the most complicated crimes is remarkable. But again, can anyone really be surprised given how incredibly dependent modern society has become on technological devices such as cell phones, Ipods, and high-speed computers with ArcGIS 9.2?

The technology that allows us to do nearly anything we want with a pocket-sized gadget is obviously interesting, but what’s of greater concern here (which the article does touch on) is the issue of privacy! Is it okay to listen in on people’s conversations to help solve a crime? Is it possible to “permit surreptitious conversion of a cell phone into a tracking device” without finding out more information than one ethically should? According to the same article, Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesperson insists that

Law enforcement has absolutely no interest in tracking the locations of law-abiding citizens. None whatsoever.

Some may disagree. Check out Google maps (particularly the satellite images or “street-view” options in major cities). I think almost anyone will agree that it’s fascinating how you can zoom in enough to the extent at which you can see your own house on the Internet. But is it okay that everybody in the known universe with a functioning computer can do so as well? In one controversial case, the street-view option of Google Maps allowed users to see a certain location in such detail, that the a resident of the area in question could see her cat “sitting on a perch in the living room window of her second-floor apartment.”

There have certainly been similar cases regarding privacy with satellite images and tracking information. Following September 11th, 2001, it appears that any authority figure will prosecute suspicious people regarding crimes (ranging the entire spectrum of crime severity). In her book, Silencing Political Dissent Nancy Chang confirms this movement towards “rapid disintegration of American civil liberties” as a result of the Bush administration’s War on Terror. In that regard, the technology has been welcomed in the same fashion that forensic science advancements have facilitated crime-solving (or so it appears on CSI Miami).

Another thing to remember is that most criminals are not stupid. As we become smarter in the development of tracking mechanisms, so too do criminals. No matter how good our crime-stopping technology gets, criminals will figure out how to beat the system.

We probably won’t know the consequences of this surveillance technology for a while, but when an Intro to GIS assignment involves choosing a suitable location for a new 5,000-inch flat-screen television in my room at home based on my room’s layout, we’ll know for sure.

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