Surveillance Trends

As a Canadian I find that American trends worry me because they can be adopted in Canada on the simple basis that they have been “effectively implemented” in the States. I wonder whose judgment is it that applies the term “effective”?

I just came across a journal entry I had written manually I while back in response to the article about how surveillance is being used a California school, the Turlock Learning Centre Education Academy. The link is

The idea of parents watching students at school just seems wrong. How are kids supposed to learn to be good for it’s own benefits rather than being good because they are being watched? Wasn’t there a psychology study about how people being watched who know they are being watched, change their behavior?

How are students to learn the difference between backstage and front stage performances if everything becomes front stage? Will they become so desensitized that they will no longer differentiate? How do they test their boundaries?

The budget for this particular system was about $50,000. This money would have probably been better spent on other things like teaching aids or educational field trips. In reality, in a world where parents use t.v. as babysitters, do we really believe that parents are going to use this system to monitor and be more involved with their children?

Another surveillance system article relating to it’s implementation on Chicago streets also got to me mostly because of the attitude of the Mayor who commented that the City owned the streets and implying that citizens don’t own the streets. He talks as though people who pay taxes have no rights in terms of having a say in how their tax dollars are spent. He argues the surveillance doesn’t impinge on personal privacy because they are not inside homes or businesses. If the surveillance cameras are showing any entryways then isn’t this just the first step to crossing the property line?

However, in my readings I did come across an article which refreshed my trust in Canadians to not just blindly follow the Americans:

U.S. Patriot Act Raises Canadian Privacy Fears

Problems with a Biometric National ID Card

From a data management perspective biometric id cards present many problems. For example, if the ID card was not somehow embedded into the person it still seems like it can be open to abuse or transference. For instance, if it is encoded somehow with my DNA yet someone else carries it does that mean that they are automatically trusted to be me or is there some check on my DNA to the DNA in the card?

If there is a check between the individual and the card then how could you create an unobtrusive data collection method that would allow checking of the individual to the card to ensure they are one and the same? You can’t be pricking people’s fingers every time they go to the bank. Fingerprinting would be difficult as well but not quite as obtrusive.

The question then arises of hygene. In a world that has moved to washrooms in airports where you don’t need to ever touch anything, how could we go backwards and start making people touch things again?

The idea of retina scanners seems logical at first but then you have to consider what the long term affect of having your eyes scanned would be. What kind of long term studies would be needed to ensure no harm would come to people’s sight as a result of this type of on-going stimulus of the eye. Would this put the potential implementation of the product too far into the future as to be a feasible option?

Stalder and Lyon in Surveillance as Social Sorting, bring up a good point that the initial identification system would have to be based on our existing identification systems. We have a phrase for this in the technology industry, it’s called garbage in, garbage out, and it is where a lot of the problems in technology systems start. Data collection errors are always a huge problem, particularly when you have a large data conversion project like this and you get low paid workers to do the work to keep the costs down. The problem is they don’t care because they’re low paid and in this case, as Stalder and Lyon suggest, they could likely benefit greatly from being bribed.

Finally, my last point is the potential for categorization. There would have to be something in the identifier that pointed out whether the person had a primary identifier or secondary identifier. Primary identifier would be an “at birth” biometric id rather than an id created based on secondary identification documents. This in it’s essence is reminiscent of the potential beginnings for the movie GATTACA.

RFID potential uses and abuses

I decided to look in the patent database to find out what sort of patents might be out there for RFID technology development.

I only found one result which, funny enough, is for monitoring attendance. I was actually expecting to find something related to products and inventory tracking seeing as this is what is getting the attention in the popular media.

I find it interesting that the mass media is focussing on the inventory aspects while the only related patent I found was focussed on the human surveillance aspect, particularly where the patent is concerned with monitoring the length of time at the given device.

Vancouver’s Urban Apartheid

I was struck by the term “urban apartheid” used in the article by Davis, “LA Fortress”. Then when he went further to describe the “swaggering white cop” I was immediately reminded of a recurring theme in downtown Vancouver where both terms seem accurate. The instant visual for me was of the security guards of the downtown businesses which swagger up to skater kids and urban riders who trespass on their property and force them to stop having fun and go on their way. In one case I witnessed a guard turning a garden hose on the skater kids that he was having difficulty convincing to leave the premises.

The guards have video surveillance cameras which they monitor the business fronts so that they can quickly respond to the undesirables on their doorstep. These undesirables are just typical teenagers enjoying a sport together. I never thought about it in the sense of a segregation of society before but it does seem to apply. These kids likely live with their families in downtown condominiums. That makes downtown as much their neighborhood as the businesses, perhaps more so because they are actually “living” here. The kids’ activity is typically after 5 p.m. when the businesses have closed for the day. It makes one wonder where the harm is.

Architects are planning ways to “skate” proof the foyers in front of their buildings to go even further to prevent youth from making use of this space. This further entrenches the sense of segregation, not unlike that which is described in the Davis article.

In a world where children grow up in a concrete jungle, I wonder where we expect them to play? If we continue this form of “urban apartheid” then I wonder what kind of culture our children are expected to develop. Why not turn the cameras on the so called planned urban spaces to see why they aren’t used by youths? Maybe if urban planners study visuals and statistics of the drug addicts in Andy Livingstone Park and the young urban professionals and their dogs that frequent the park spaces in both coal harbour and and Yaletown, they can understand why the youth turn away from these parks. Then maybe we as a society can consider better options for youth within their neighborhoods instead of just shutting them out.

RFID – another look

RFID Tags as the New Product Code

According to this article RFID enables the electronic labeling and wireless identification of objects using radio communications. In this article Accenture talks about the future of the technology as they see it in terms of inventory tracking using RFID and a Global Positioning System. They call it “silent commerce”.

WalMart discusses the usefulness of this technology, also in terms of inventory tracking but in a more traditional sense. RFID is supposed to have more benefits than the UPC because the UPC has to be scanned in a clear line of site to the bar code. Now the key issue is proximity, which as with most technologies will likely improve at an exponential degree and not be an issue for very long.

There are inherent problems with current UPCs that I would suspect would be similar to the new RFID codes such as erroneous readings and corrupt data. The fact that the RFID chips can be read leaves me to suspect that they will be prime for tampering by unauthorized individuals. It seems like wide spread use of RFIDs is risky because, every time data is transmitted, either to be read or written, the data is more susceptible to intervention and tampering. Plus the more data that is stored in one place, the more we need to look closer at the associated privacy laws. The technology isn’t at the point of being profitable to be applied to individual items yet but once they are then some commercial outlets may decide it is a good idea to encode them with your personal customer information id. Combining identifiers is where the real meaning comes from.

This makes me think of the security of my garbage in the future. Currently it is widely known that you should shred any garbage that contains identity information so as to prevent identity theft. What form will the implementation of these RFID codes take in the future and how will we as individuals manage the thorough destruction of the codes to ensure our privacy?

Film 1984

There is so much in this movie to contemplate it’s hard to know where to begin.

Human nature, why the first reality t.v. show 1984 was so popular, why the phenomena continues to be popular, what’s worse the idea of society as a panopticon or synopticon. How are humans able to be so cruel to one another, why do we hunger for control over each other?

I think an important concept in 1984 that I was missing until now is the concept that it is human nature to want to watch and to judge each other. If it wasn’t human nature I don’t think we would still be so stuck in the same scenario as we were so many years ago. That of putting so much emphasis on surveillance in our lives, either as the watcher or the watchee.

I had a discussion with a couple of others after class today about why hasn’t anything really changed in the last 100 years. Sure technology has changed or progressed but the underlying social issues haven’t seemed to change at all.

What was most striking to me in the film was the concept that people would have to be forced into believing the ‘facts’. In today’s society many people are more than happy to accept the “facts” without a second thought and without force.

After watching the movie I did some basic investigating on the Internet. I used “google” as I often do and when I was reviewing the resulting links it occurred to me how much trust I put into “google” search results. This fact now feels a little creepy to me after watching 1984 and seeing the news stories displayed on the screens with the facts rewritten. When one realizes the tight control of the media outlets one also has to realize how controlled the information is that we really have access too. That is unless we know how to dig a lot deeper than just the nightly news and the one liners that are displayed on

Plus it’s more than just the know how, you have to have the desire to dig deeper as well. In a world where we just want to be entertained, how many of us take the time to dig deeper?

Rear Window

Thoughts about the movie Rear Window (1954)

It is interesting to be reminded that the issue of surveillance has been around for so long. The technologies advance but the basic concepts are quite similar. Is it ethical for one to spy on ones fellow human beings and to judge them by what they infer from the surveillance data that they collect? I was also interested in seeing that they had apartment buildings so close together even back in the 50’s. For some reason I thought that this was a more recent phenomena. The movie makes me wonder how the same type of scenario would play out today. Instead of just watching ones neighbor one could record everything he sees because the cost of technology is so cheap. It makes you want to keep your blinds closed permanently if you live in a downtown condo. It makes me a little paranoid of what “neighbors” could have seen and recorded during the time that I did live in a downtown condo.

RFID – Fri. Sept. 16, 2004

Our class discussion motivated me to investigate the RFID a little further starting with IBM and Accenture, two companies that I have previously worked for that I thought would be all over this technology. Both sites had information posted about how they are involved with this technology in conjunction with various other companies. It seems a little curious that all of a sudden they are all over it, seeing as the technology has been around since the ‘40’s. I guess that, as Richard said in class, this is because the technology cost is beginning to drop which makes this technology now actually affordable to use in certain scenarios. I suspect it may also have a little to do with the post 9/11 environment that is allowing citizens to be a little more accepting of this kind of interactive tracking mechanism. What surprised me about the technology is the fact that the RFIDs are meant to be both read and written (or overwritten) to. This makes them quite different from the UPCs we currently see on products. Given the widespread advance of wireless technology these devices can be updated with location, something that Accenture is all over in terms of services they want to be able to offer in conjunction with Geographic Information Systems (GIS). According to their site, we should look forward to the day when we can look on-line and see precisely that our Priority Post package is on truck number 191, heading West at 100 kph and is estimated to arrive in Vancouver at 3 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19. Funny, it’s not anticipation I feel right now, more like a little bit of nervousness.

Googling Yourself – September 8, 2004

Today in surveillance class we watched a 20 year old film clip which reminded me of some personal issues that I’m currently trying to address. There was a particular scene at the beginning where a gentleman was discussing how he was all of a sudden denied access to the United States and he didn’t know why, and worse yet, couldn’t find out why. I started to wonder how easy this would be to happen and how frustrating it would also be. I’ve also visited the United States without any problems, but I realized that it was mostly when I was married.

A couple of years ago I separated from my husband and I’ve been procrastinating changing my name back to my maiden name because of all of the hassles it will cause in electronic customer databases. I was originally worried about banks, credit cards, and insurance agencies. But now, 2 years later, I’m finally getting brave enough to consider the name change again. I decided before officially changing my name back to my maiden name, to first do a google search on it. I was very surprised by the results and now that I think of the potential traveling implications, I’m also concerned by the results. The search returned information about an FBI file #M-760117239. It appears that there is someone with my maiden name that is wanted for kidnapping in the United States. She has the same color hair, similar weight but a little taller and different color eyes. She also has a different middle name. I wonder what the Customs Agents would get back if they pulled up my maiden name on their computer? I wonder how they would react?

I decided to think about alternative surnames. I did a second search on my mother’s maiden name. This returned ties to a pornography database. I then considered shortening the name. Bad idea, turns out there is a bondage pornography model with that handle. What would my friends think if they decided to google me for fun? I wondered what would go through my mind if I came across this type of information if I googled them.

So, in the end I think I have two choices. Leave my name as is or make something new up that doesn’t have anything weird tied to it in a google search. At least not yet. Too bad Google, with all it’s power, can’t predict the future.