Living in the Age of Uberveillance

Dear Editor

I am writing in response to the article written by Katherine Danks titled: “Keeping crims on track from space” which appeared on the 12th of September on page 16. I am all for security for the sake of the common good but the widespread introduction of these kinds of tracking technologies without the commensurate consideration of socio-ethical implications means they are not a viable solution. Our human rights are at stake if we do not assess these technologies properly before deployment.

Since 2006, some Australian cricketers have been using location-based body wearable technologies, strapped to various parts of their bodies, to record their match fitness levels and productivity on the field. Observers have noted that some players may even have attempted to alter their match stats by keeping their heart rate up in between deliveries, or trying to run faster between wickets! The bottom line is that these technologies are not infallible. They can be duped.

The problem with attempting to play God is that we can never have total knowledge of proceedings, no matter what technologies we use to look up people remotely to ensure that they are doing what they are supposed to be doing. At best we can have near-presence, everywhere and simultaneously but this too cannot solely be relied upon due to technical and other resource limitations.

In short, technology cannot be trusted because the complete picture will always be missing. Ironically the new technologies will be susceptible to manipulation, misrepresentation, and misinterpretation of information. The impairment of data in this new breed of high-tech gadgetry is a risk that many have underestimated, if at all considered.

While we are not all wearing a “ball and chain” yet- our smart phones are strapped to us all day and at arm’s length at night. These devices are already monitoring our identity through a SIM card, our location through onboard GPS chipsets, and our activities through accelerometers. The only thing that’s left really is for us to herald in the age of the almighty implant through radio-frequency identification.


Recently, South Australia’s Police Commissioner Mal Hyde stated that there were quite a few different groups of people he’d like to see microchipped despite the acknowledgement that this kind of proposal would never see the light of day. But he did add that the future might bring a lot of different possibilities. A Sunshine Coast MP Peter Wellington was also cited as saying that he would like to see child sex offenders microchipped.

And it was only a few months ago that wearable GPS monitoring devices were embraced by the Queensland State Government for use in paedophiles, and sufferers of mental illness. Which will be the next minority group in society to be tagged before the track and trace technology is widely diffused into society?

Katina Michael, Associate Professor, School of Information Systems and Technology, University of Wollongong

Unpublished work. SMH did not print.