You're being watched right now

You're Being Watched Right Now

In an Era of 'Internet Everywhere' Everyone Is Being Tracked All the Time

Source: http://abcnews.go.com/Business/FunMoney/story?id=3937203&page=1

European officials are using terms like ubiquitous computing and pervasive or invasive computing. One of them said that ambient intelligence is an even greater challenge to European privacy enforcers than terrorism. Ambient intelligence refers to an environment in
which electronic devices support human beings in their daily activities in a way that conceals the computers' inner workings. This will involve embedding tiny chips inside the body, customizing them to the individual and anticipating needs of the individual.

Michael G. Michael, a theologian and technology historian at the University of Wollongong, in New South Wales, Australia, says that he originated the term uberveillance to describe the new
environment. The stem "uber" means "over" or "super" in German. He thinks the pervasive monitoring will lead to increased cases of insanity and mental distress. "Mental illness will become an increasingly confronting factor as these issues develop," he frowned.
Another threatening term often used in these contexts is nanotechnogy, which refers to a
miniaturization of technology allowing applications originally deemed impossible. Still another term is biobanking, which, in the words of an IBM developer, "aims to empower researchers with unprecedented access to critical molecular and clinical information to accelerate a
more personalized paradigm of medicine." Biobanks--sometimes called biorepositories or tissue banks--are a critical resource for 21st century clinical research and medicine because they naturally generate lots of genomic and phenotypic data. "Combining the wealth of genetic and molecular information now emerging with patient records and other clinical  records will help researchers understand disease at the molecular level, ultimately leading to
innovative new personalized therapies and treatments." Even -- especially -- children are  already subjects of this pervasive monitoring. Web sites like Neopets.com, Webkinz.com,
Surveysmash.com and Barbie.com manipulate children by offering bonus points for loyalty to products and to the site. Children are coerced into visiting on a regular basis. They are
forced to give care, love and attention to fictional characters and animals. Collecting information on child-oriented Web sites is regulated by American law (even though kids, of course, have little difficulty circumventing the parental consent rules), but manipulating children online is not regulated. 

Citation: Robert Ellis Smith and Forbes.com, December 5, 2007, "You're being watched right now", ABCNews: Americahttp://abcnews.go.com/Business/FunMoney/story?id=3937203&page=1

MG Michael's Research on Uberveillance

Dr MG Michael with his new book From Dataveillance to Uberveillance and the Realpolitik of the Transparent Society. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Dr MG Michael with his new book From Dataveillance to Uberveillance and the Realpolitik of the Transparent Society. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Dr MG Michael, studies the social implications of technology, including the way governments can use it to intrude on the lives of citizens. The term ‘‘uberveillance’’ means an exaggerated surveillance of citizens, an above and beyond omnipresent 24/7 version using tracking technologies which are embedded within the body. Think of it as Big Brother on the inside, looking out.

It is an emerging area of information and communications technology which preoccupies me.

However, if the powers behind some of the intrusive surveillance technologies which I am studying do not pause to consider both the trajectory and consequences of the
new ‘‘machinery’’ they are building, then we are in for a bumpy ride and the effects will potentially be catastrophic.

I am not a naysayer per se, but that’s how I see things as they now stand. This is not to say that technology is not affording us some amazing and groundbreaking possibilities, especially in the areas of biomedics, communications and, of course, business information systems.

I am certainly not a neo-Luddite. But I do not buy into the glossy and predictably misleading publicity of where this ‘‘computer age’’ is supposedly taking us. I genuinely doubt, based on past and present evidence, that we are about to enter the cornucopia of an electric world.

On a more positive note, our work is about promoting discourse among the academic disciplines, the various sectors of the community and the public itself which is a critical and significant stakeholder in this discussion which is shaping both our immediate future and the civilisation to come.

I have been contemplating the social implications of technology from within an apocalyptic framework and narrative for almost 25 years, and have travelled the world during that time listening and speaking to recognised experts in their respective fields.

This group includes both religious persons and those who are firmly fixed to the empirical side of things. It is a truly extraordinary and revealing mix. People might be surprised with some of the points of agreement.

There are several strong connections between the desert and city that we often altogether miss, or choose to ignore.

My research focus extends to:

  • modern interpretations of scripture and the Apocalypse of John;
  • the historical antecedents of modern cryptography;
  • the auto-ID trajectory;
  • uberveillance and Big Brother;
  • data protection, privacy and ethics related issues;
  • biometrics, radio frequency identification and chip implants;
  • national security and government policy;
  • and more broadly the system dynamics between technology and society.

Each one of these subjects intensely fascinates me. There is a noticeable cross-disciplinary indication here; we are finding this more and more in perceived ‘‘monolithic’’ disciplines such as engineering and computer science.

My passion extends to teaching, writing papers, and presenting at conferences. But particularly teaching, above all else. 

I have been invited to present at international conferences and have published a number of papers in the disciplines of IT, bioethics, and biblical studies. More recently we have been given the honour to deliver a paper in the high profile 29th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners which was held in Canada, alongside such keynotes as Michael Chertoff, Secretary, US Department of Homeland Security.

Dr MG Michael is an honorary fellow at the University of Wollongong’s School of Information Systems and Technology.

Q&A


Best part of your research?

Sharing my work in class with my students at the University of Wollongong and listening to what they have to say; meeting and exchanging ideas with colleagues both locally and internationally; working closely with my wife, Dr Katina Michael, who is the driving force behind this funded research collaboration; and educating and regularly surprising myself with new bits of information and knowledge.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

Lots of things! One of these, the dream to become a policeman, I actually fulfilled for a short period. I also liked to make believe that my bedroom was a spaceship and that I was an astronaut taking off into the heavens, heading for the Moon.

Has your career followed a straight line?

Positively not. I found myself in the IT world through an unbelievable twist of fate. I really am the proverbial ‘‘accidental tourist’’. In previous incarnations I have been a police officer, high-school teacher, soldier, and clergyman. I have moved about a bit and have found that institutional hierarchies and I do not always see eye-to-eye. I have a habit of asking too many questions! But there are other things which I think matter a whole lot more, and those things I have tried to let follow a straight line. However, like most people, I do not always succeed.

What would you change?

Ten years ago I probably would have said quite a few things; and five years prior to that a whole lot more. But I have increasingly come to the realisation that providence really does know best, and that all things do work together for good. We just need to hang in there.

Advice for young researchers:

Passion for your work; endurance in reaching your goals; humility with your successes; and the desire to become ‘‘builders’’. Also to read as many books as you can, to make this a life-long habit. Be predisposed to biographies. And to make sure that you surround yourselves with suitably qualified mentors. 

Next adventure:

Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero. (Seize the day, trust least to the future).

Citation: MG Michael, "MG Michael's Research on Uberveillance", Illawarra Mercury, November 27, 2007.

Is RFID safe and secure?

Elizabeth Latham, Radio Comms journalist

We've heard a lot about RFID - it's used in supermarkets, implanted in pets and even by blood banks - but is it actually secure? Is the information we put on these chips safe from hackers? RFID is a very useful technology, especially in production because it is usually non-line-of-sight (nLOS). This means that cartons or pallets do not require a particular orientation  or scanning, unlike bar codes. This aids in the automation of many tasks throughout the supply chain that have typically been labour intensive, such as checking and scanning incoming
inventory.

Organisations also have an accurate picture of stock levels, which in turn means lower inventory costs and fewer out-of-stock occurrences. 

Can you trust the RFID to hold your information? 

Dr Katina Michael, senior lecturer in the School of Information Systems and Technology, Faculty of Informatics, University of Wollongong, believes it's all a matter of context, but would not advise the use of RFID for access control types of applications.

"Security has to be identified as the number one disadvantage of RFID. Although it should be stated that researchers are working hard to overcome this hurdle, offering a variety of partial solutions," Michael said. 

While standards are beginning to emerge like EPCglobal, there is a great number of proprietary specific RFID standards on the market. The standard denotes how a message is stored, the length of a message (for example 128-bit) and a sequence of bits that tell a reader when to start and stop reading, as well as additional error-checking bits. 

How does information get tampered with?

 "It is as simple as acquiring the relevant reader and working out what each bit in the message means, and interpreting that information correctly. Bits can be encoded using a particular scheme, but once the scheme is identified, the  information can be read," Michael said. 

"Given RFID is wireless, you need be in the proximity of 90 centimetres (dependent on the range requirements of the tag) to intercept the radio signal. So once you have read the chip you can simply play back the signal you picked up and pretend to be someone you are not."

This has major implications for active tags because it means the hacker cannot only read information but write to the tag as well, and even change variables

"When a new technology enters the market, hackers are presented with a new challenge. And so the race begins for who can 'crack the code' so to speak," Michael said.

How can you protect yourself from hackers?

There are many options to choose from when trying to protect data. For example, it is possible to kill off the RFID tag after a certain time and datestamp on the chip. The information on the chip can also be encrypted and passwords placed on the tags.

Two main approaches have been adopted by researchers: either a separate piece of hardware is required (hard solution), or a software-based solution is adopted (soft solution). Blocker tags (such as ancillary RFID tags) can also help solve the problem of hacking by preventing
unauthorised scanning of items. 

It is also possible to use antennae energy analysis to gauge the distance of a reader from a tag or storing a biometric onboard the RFID chip. "All the RFID security-privacy solutions being proposed are only partial solutions and each has its benefits and limitations. At the crux of the
matter is the unique ID of the actual RFID tag, how this information is stored and whether or not passwords have a role to play and how anonymity is ensured," Michael said.

More recently, developments for human-centric applications have seen RFID go into the subdermal layer of the skin in the form of a transponder. "The argument for this latest development to 'protect' information is simple - if it's beneath the skin the ID chip cannot be stolen, is with you everywhere you go, is lightweight, it cannot be duplicated, a perpetrator
does not know you have something implanted, and the RFID chip can be accessed at crucial times with your prior consent," Michael said. 

Michael warns that the benefits of the above method of protection are misleading. Chips can still be read by persons in close proximity to an implantee, or even by unobtrusive readers that can trigger the device to emit a signal.

So, you decide. Is the risk worth it? What information is on the RFID chip and do you want someone to have access to it?

Citation: Elizabeth Latham, 2006, "Is RFID Safe and Secure?", Radio Comms, February 12, 2007: http://www.radiocomms.com.au/radiocomms/feature_article/item_022007a.asp