Networks & Infrastructure
Converging and coexisting systems towards smart surveillance
Katina Michael and M. G. Michael
Tracking and monitoring people as they operate within their personal networks benefits service providers and their constituents but involves hidden risks and costs.
Automatic identification technologies, CCTV cameras, pervasive and mobile networks, wearable computing, location-based services and social networks have traditionally served distinct purposes. However, we have observed patterns of integration, convergence and coexistence among all these innovations within the information and communication technology industry.1 For example, ‘location-based social networking’ can draw on a smart phone's capacity to identify a user uniquely, locate him within 1–2m and share this information across his social network in real time. The resulting ability to associate people with resources (e.g. vehicles) within a given social network can have unforeseen value in helping to optimize business and government processes.
What is the trajectory to all of this depth-charged surveillance?2 The individual person becomes the most granular node in an autonomic computing environment, in which human actions and interactions produce system-to-system reactions. Business intelligence now allows company data centres to share time, location, speed, altitude and temperature stamps, and thus to infer someone or something's physical, social or economic context or state. The tracking part of the equation is fairly simple, as detailed chronicles are kept of discrete events, restricted only by storage limitations, network access and transmission and processing speeds.3 The monitoring of humans interacting with one another and with resources is more complex, as changes in state have a domino effect throughout systems of systems. One approach, depicted in Figure 1, involves complementary body-worn or implantable solutions, which can tell others what condition someone is in and how to respond to that condition.4
While we have yet to see fully fledged self-awareness in autonomic computing systems, we have chosen to investigate this area of study using fundamental socio-technical design theory. We are concerned not merely with the proposed technology and what it will be able to achieve once instituted, but also with the social changes and impacts that will be enacted as a result. Animals are increasingly being microchipped, and inanimate objects have been barcoded/tagged for decades. Theoretically at least, implants are not transferable. We reflect critically on the limitations of this ‘smart’ surveillance 6 and how it may be attractive to some constituents, yet abhorrent to others.7 The work is interdisciplinary, emphasizing the importance of studying the controllers (i.e. providers), the controlled (i.e. users) and the regulators (i.e. government).
We have investigated emerging technologies within an artistic, research, business development and emergency services context (see Figure 2). We have identified the relationships among stakeholders who have openly declared a financial interest in microchipping people: private companies, institutes, government-funded organizations and venture capitalists. Multiple sources of evidence have been used to examine the very real possibility that ordinary people will have iPlants (Internet-enabled implants) to communicate with one another, with their pets, with the things around them. Our proposed roadmap has been validated by in-depth interviews with key informants of these organizations, to better understand the future vision and ensuing risk-related consequences. 8
Filed patents, company web sites, media releases and newsletters, news and industry magazines, social media blogs, even law and policy agendas provide crucial evidence that informs the potentiality to microchip people. For example, it could be argued that tagging every person would reduce carbon emissions, since energy would no longer be drawn except when required. We have taken these vivid qualitative snapshots and narrated a bigger-picture view of the possibilities ahead. We have named this ‘smart’ surveillance überveillance: an omnipresent electronic surveillance, facilitated by technology that makes it possible to embed surveillance devices in the human body. Überveillance is reliant on ubiquitous infrastructure, platforms and services. 10
In constructing scenarios 11 of this age of überveillance, we have considered the best- and worst-case outcomes for a global society. The scenarios on which we have focused involve health, insurance, law enforcement and national security. No doubt the widespread introduction of implants would have an impact on the digital divide debate (see Figure 3). We have also launched transnational surveys to gauge the level of practical interest in adopting these kinds of technologies in more developed countries. Convenience seems to be a preoccupation for many people, but more important are human rights, 12 ethics, 13 trust 14 and privacy.15 Bodily intrusion concerns particularly abound, with respect to integrity.
Autonomic computing would require the identification of the ‘self’ in relation to ‘others’ and ‘things.’ Instituting microchip implants to facilitate this new ‘web of things and people’ leads to the question of who controls and who is controlled. The issue is often about the powerful and the powerless. Our future work will investigate the axis of access, the potential for proactive criminalization, the consequences to living off the grid and the defined limits of überveillance: misinformation, misinterpretation and information manipulation,16 bearing in mind always that society may come close to omnipresence but never to omniscience.
University of Wollongong
Katina Michael is an associate professor in the School of Information Systems at the University of Wollongong, Australia. She was recently announced as the editor-in-chief of IEEE Technology and Society Magazine. She has a strong interest in the social implications of emerging technologies in the national security domain.
M. G. Michael
University of Wollongong
M. G. Michael is a theologian, historian and writer. He recently completed an honorary senior fellowship at the University of Wollongong where he taught information security/ethics. He is responsible for the term überveillance. He has guest edited for IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, the Journal of Location-Based Services andPrometheus.
- K. Michael and M. G. Michael, Innovative Automatic Identification and Location-Based Services: From Bar Codes to Chip Implants, IGI Global, 2009.
- M. G. Michael and K. Michael, Towards a state of uberveillance, IEEE Technol. Soc.29 (2), pp. 9-16, 2010.
- K. Michael, A. McNamee, M. G. Michael and H. Tootell, Location-based intelligence—modeling behavior in humans using GPS, IEEE Int'l Sym. Technol. Soc., pp. 1-8, IEEE, 2006.
- S. Mann, Can humans being clerks make clerks be human?: exploring the fundamental difference between UbiComp and WearComp, Informationstechnik und Technische Informatik3 (2), pp. 97-106, 2001.
- http://www.ekac.org/timec.html Time Capsule. Accessed 16 June 2012.
- http://www.research.ibm.com/peoplevision/ IBM Smart Surveillance System (Previous PeopleVision Project). Accessed 30 October 2011.
- K. Michael and M. G. Michael, The social and behavioural implications of location-based services, J. Location Based Svcs.5 (3-4), pp. 121-137, 2011.
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dI3Rps-VFdo Video of a panel debate on microchipping people delivered at the International Symposium on Technology and Society 2010, held at the University of Wollongong, Australia. Credit: Katina Michael, University of W
- http://www.ekac.org/figs.html Images of the Time Capsule event. Accessed 16 June 2012.
- K. Michael, G. Roussos, G. Q. Huang, R. Gadh, A. Chattopadhyay, S. Prabhu and P. Chu, Planetary-scale RFID services in an age of uberveillance, Proc. IEEE8 (9), pp. 1663-1671, 2010.
- K. Michael, M. G. Michael and R. Abbas, The importance of scenarios in the prediction of the social implications of emerging technologies and services, J. Cases Info. Technol.13 (2), pp. i-vii, 2011.
- M. G. Michael and K. Michael, The fall-out from emerging technologies: on matters of surveillance, social networks and suicide, IEEE Technol. Soc.30 (3), pp. 15-18, 2011.
- K. Michael, A. McNamee and M. G. Michael, The emerging ethics of humancentric GPS tracking and monitoring,Int'l Conf. Mobile Bus., pp. 34-44, 2006.
- L. Perusco and K. Michael, Control, trust, privacy and security: evaluating location-based services, IEEE Technol. Soc.26 (1), pp. 4-16, 2007.
- M. N. Gasson, E. Kosta, D. Royer, M. Meints and K. Warwick, Normality mining: privacy implications of behavioral profiles drawn from GPS enabled mobile phones, IEEE Trans. Syst. Man Cybernet., Part C1(2), pp. 251-261, 2011.
- M. Michael, S. J. Fusco and K. Michael, A research note on ethics in the emerging age of überveillance, Comp. Comm.31 (6), pp. 1192-1199, 2008.
Original version published here