Toward a State of Überveillance

Introduction

Überveillance is an emerging concept, and neither its application nor its power have yet fully arrived [38]. For some time, Roger Clarke's [12, p. 498] 1988 dataveillance concept has been prevalent: the “systematic use of personal data systems in the investigation or monitoring of the actions of one or more persons.”

Almost twenty years on, technology has developed so much and the national security context has altered so greatly [52], that there is a pressing need to formulate a new term to convey both the present reality, and the Realpolitik (policy primarily based on power) of our times. However, if it had not been for dataveillance, überveillance could not be. It must be emphasized that dataveillance will always exist - it will provide the scorecard for the engine being used to fulfill überveillance.

Dataveillance to Überveillance

Überveillance takes that which was static or discrete in the dataveillance world, and makes it constant and embedded. Consider überveillance not only automatic and having to do with identification, but also about real-time location tracking and condition monitoring. That is, überveillance connotes the ability to automatically locate and identify - in essence the ability to perform automatic location identification (ALI). Überveillance has to do with the fundamental who (ID), where (location), and when (time) questions in an attempt to derive why (motivation), what (result), and even how (method/plan/thought). Überveillance can be a predictive mechanism for a person's expected behavior, traits, likes, or dislikes; or it can be based on historical fact; or it can be something in between. The inherent problem with überveillance is that facts do not always add up to truth (i.e., as in the case of an exclusive disjunction T + T = F), and predictions based on überveillance are not always correct.

Überveillance is more than closed circuit television feeds, or cross-agency databases linked to national identity cards, or biometrics and ePassports used for international travel. Überveillance is the sum total of all these types of surveillance and the deliberate integration of an individual's personal data for the continuous tracking and monitoring of identity and location in real time. In its ultimate form, überveillance has to do with more than automatic identification technologies that we carry with us. It has to do with under-the-skin technology that is embedded in the body, such as microchip implants; it is that which cuts into the flesh - a charagma (mark) [61]. Think of it as Big Brother on the inside looking out. This charagma is virtually meaningless without the hybrid network architecture that supports its functionality: making the person a walking online node i.e., beyond luggable netbooks, smart phones, and contactless cards. We are referring here to the lowest common denominator, the smallest unit of tracking - presently a tiny chip inside the body of a human being, which could one day work similarly to the black box.

Implants cannot be left behind, cannot be lost, and supposedly cannot be tampered with; they are always on, can link to objects, and make the person seemingly otherworldly. This act of “chipification” is best illustrated by the ever-increasing uses of implant devices for medical prosthesis and for diagnostics [54]. Humancentric implants are giving rise to the Electrophorus [36, p. 313], the bearer of electric technology; an individual entity very different from the sci-fi notion of Cyborg as portrayed in such popular television series as the Six Million Dollar Man (1974–1978). In its current state, the Electrophorus relies on a device being triggered wirelessly when it enters an electromagnetic field; these properties now mean that systems can interact with people within a spatial dimension, unobtrusively [62]. And it is surely not simple coincidence that alongside überveillance we are witnessing the philosophical reawakening (throughout most of the fundamental streams running through our culture) of Nietzsche's Übermensch - the overcoming of the “all-too-human” [25].

Legal and Ethical Issues

In 2005 the European Group on Ethics (EGE) in Science and New Technologies, established by the European Commission (EC), submitted an Opinion on ICT implants in the human body [45]. The thirty-four page document outlines legal and ethical issues having to do with ICT implants, and is based on the European Union Treaty (Article 6) which has to do with the “fundamental rights” of the individual. Fundamental rights have to do with human dignity, the right to the integrity of the person, and the protection of personal data. From the legal perspective the following was ascertained [45, pp. 20–21]:

  • the existence of a recognised serious but uncertain risk, currently applying to the simplest types of ICT implants in the human body, requires application of the precautionary principle. In particular, one should distinguish between active and passive implants, reversible and irreversible implants, and between offline and online implants;
  • the purpose specification principle mandates at least a distinction between medical and non-medical applications. However, medical applications should also be evaluated stringently, partly to prevent them from being invoked as a means to legitimize other types of application;
  • the data minimization principle rules out the lawfulness of ICT implants that are only aimed at identifying patients, if they can be replaced by less invasive and equally secure tools;
  • the proportionality principle rules out the lawfulness of implants such as those that are used, for instance, exclusively to facilitate entrance to public premises;
  • the principle of integrity and inviolability of the body rules out that the data subject's consent is sufficient to allow all kinds of implant to be deployed; and
  • the dignity principle prohibits transformation of the body into an object that can be manipulated and controlled remotely - into a mere source of information.

ICT implants for non-medical purposes violate fundamental legal principles. ICT implants also have numerous ethical issues, including the requirement for: non-instrumentalization, privacy, non-discrimination, informed consent, equity, and the precautionary principle (see also [8], [27], [29]). It should be stated, however, that the EGE, while not recommending ICT implants for non-medical applications because they are fundamentally fraught with legal and ethical issues, did state the following [45, p. 32]:

ICT implants for surveillance in particular threaten human dignity. They could be used by state authorities, individuals and groups to increase their power over others. The implants could be used to locate people (and also to retrieve other kinds of information about them). This might be justified for security reasons (early release for prisoners) or for safety reasons (location of vulnerable children).

However, the EGE insists that such surveillance applications of ICT implants may only be permitted if the legislator considers that there is an urgent and justified necessity in a democratic society (Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention) and there are no less intrusive methods. Nevertheless the EGE does not favor such uses and considers that surveillance applications, under all circumstances, must be specified in legislation. Surveillance procedures in individual cases should be approved and monitored by an independent court.

The same general principles should apply to the use of ICT implants for military purposes. Although this Opinion was certainly useful, we have growing concerns about the development of the information society, the lack of public debate and awareness regarding this emerging technology, and the pressing need for regulation that has not occurred commensurate to developments in this domain.

Herein rests the problem of human rights and striking a “balance” between freedom, security, and justice. First, we contend that it is a fallacy to speak of a balance. In the microchip implant scenario, there will never be a balance, so long as someone else has the potential to control the implant device or the stored data about us that is linked to the device. Second, we are living in a period where chip implants for the purposes of segregation are being discussed seriously by health officials and politicians. We are speaking here of the identification of groups of people in the name of “health management” or “national security.” We will almost certainly witness new, and more fixed forms, of “electronic apartheid.”

Consider the very real case where the “Papua Legislative Council was deliberating a regulation that would see microchips implanted in people living with HIV/AIDS so authorities could monitor their actions” [50]. Similar discussions on “registration” were held regarding asylum seekers and illegal immigrants in the European Union [18]. RFID implants or the “tagging” of populations in Asia (e.g., Singapore) were also considered “the next step” in the containment and eradication of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003 [43]. Apart from disease outbreaks, RFID has also been discussed as a response and recovery device for emergency services personnel dispatched to terrorist disasters [6], and for the identification of victims of natural disasters, such as in the case of the Boxing Day Tsunami [10]. The question remains whether there is a truly legitimate use function of chip implants for the purposes of emergency management as opposed to other applications. Definition plays a critical role in this instance. A similar debate has ensued in the use of the Schengen Information System II in the European Union where differing states have recorded alerts on individuals based on their understanding of a security risk [17].

In June of 2006, legislative analyst Anthony Gad, reported in brief 06-13 for the Legislative Reference Bureau [16], that the:

2005 Wisconsin Act 482, passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Jim Doyle on May 30, 2006, prohibits the required implanting of microchips in humans. It is the first law of its kind in the nation reflecting a proactive attempt to prevent potential abuses of this emergent technology.

A number of states in the United States have passed similar laws [63], despite the fact that at the national level, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration [15] has allowed radio frequency identification implants for medical use in humans. The Wisconsin Act [59] states:

The people of the state of Wisconsin, represented in senate and assembly, do enact as follows: SECTION 1. 146.25 of the statutes is created to read: 146.25 Required implanting of microchip prohibited. (1) No person may require an individual to undergo the implanting of a microchip. (2) Any person who violates sub. (1) may be required to forfeit not more than $10,000. Each day of continued violation constitutes a separate offense.

North Dakota followed Wisconsin's example. Wisconsin Governor Hoeven signed a two sentence bill into state law on April 4, 2007. The bill was criticized by some who said that while it protected citizens from being “injected” with an implant, it did not prevent someone from making them swallow it [51]. And indeed, there are now a number of swallowable capsule technologies for a variety of purposes that have been patented in the U.S. and worldwide. As with a number of other states, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed bill SB 362 proposed by state Senator Joe Simitian barring “employers and others from forcing people to have a radio frequency identification (RFID) device implanted under their skin” [28], [60]. According to the Californian Office of Privacy Protection [9] this bill

… would prohibit a person from requiring any other individual to undergo the subcutaneous implanting of an identification device. It would allow an aggrieved party to bring an action against a violator for injunctive relief or for the assessment of civil penalties to be determined by the court.

The bill, which went into effect January 1, 2008, did not receive support from the technology industry on the contention that it was “unnecessary.”

Interestingly, however, it is in the United States that most chip implant applications have occurred, despite the calls for caution. The first human-implantable passive RFID microchip (the VeriChipTM) was approved for medical use in October of 2004 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Nine hundred hospitals across the United States have registered the VeriChip's VeriMed system, and now the corporation's focus has moved to “patient enrollment” including people with diabetes, Alzheimer's, and dementia [14]. The VeriMedTM Patient Identification System is used for “rapidly and accurately identifying people who arrive in an emergency room and are unable to communicate” [56].

In February of 2006 [55], CityWatcher.com reported two of its employees had “glass encapsulated microchips with miniature antennas embedded in their forearms … merely a way of restricting access to vaults that held sensitive data and images for police departments, a layer of security beyond key cards and clearance codes.” Implants may soon be applied to the corrective services sector [44]. In 2002, 27 of 50 American states were using some form of satellite surveillance to monitor parolees. Similar schemes have been used in Sweden since 1994. In the majority of cases, parolees wear wireless wrist or ankle bracelets and carry small boxes containing the vital tracking and positioning technology. The positioning transmitter emits a constant signal that is monitored at a central location [33]. Despite continued claims by researchers that RFID is only used for identification purposes, Health Data Management disclosed that VeriChip (the primary commercial RFID implant patient ID provider) had enhanced its patient wander application by adding the ability to follow the “real-time location of patients, the ability to define containment areas for different classes of patients, and one-touch alerting. The system now also features the ability to track equipment in addition to patients” [19]. A number of these issues have moved the American Medical Association to produce an ethics code for RFID chip implants [4], [41], [47].

Outside the U.S., we find several applications for human-centric RFID. VeriChip's Scott Silverman stated in 2004 that 7000 chip implants had been given to distributors [57]. Today the number of VeriChip implantees worldwide is estimated to be at about 2000. So where did all these chips go? As far back as 2004, a nightclub in Barcelona, Spain [11] and Rotterdam, The Netherlands, known as the Baja Beach Club was offering “its VIP clients the opportunity to have a syringeinjected microchip implanted in their upper arms that not only [gave] them special access to VIP lounges, but also [acted] as a debit account from which they [could] pay for drinks” [39]. Microchips have also been implanted in a number of Mexican officials in the law enforcement sector [57]. “Mexico's top federal prosecutors and investigators began receiving chip implants in their arms … in order to get access to restricted areas inside the attorney general's headquarters.” In this instance, the implant acted as an access control security device despite the documented evidence that RFID is not a secure technology (see Gartner Research report [42]).

Despite the obvious issues related to security, there are a few unsolicited studies that forecast that VeriChip (now under the new corporate name Positive ID) will sell between 1 million and 1.4 million chips by 2020 [64, p. 21]. While these forecasts may seem over inflated to some researchers, one need only consider the very real possibility that some Americans may opt-in to adopting a Class II device that is implantable, life-supporting, or life-sustaining for more affordable and better quality health care (see section C of the Health Care bill titled: National Medical Device Registry [65, pp. 1001–1012]. There is also the real possibility that future pandemic outbreaks even more threatening than the H1N1 influenza, may require all citizens to become implanted for early detection depending on their travel patterns [66].

In the United Kingdom, The Guardian [58], reported that 11-year old Danielle Duval had an active chip (i.e., containing a rechargeable battery) implanted in her. Her mother believes that it is no different from tracking a stolen car, albeit for more important application. Mrs. Duvall is considering implanting her younger daughter age 7 as well but will wait until the child is a bit older, “so that she fully understands what's happening.” In Tokyo the Kyowa Corporation in 2004 manufactured a schoolbag with a GPS device fitted into it, to meet parental concerns about crime, and in 2005 Yokohama City children were involved in a four month RFID bracelet trial using the I-Safety system [53]. In 2007, Trutex, a company in Lancashire England, was seriously considering fitting the school uniforms they manufacture with RFID [31]. What might be next? Will concerned parents force microchip implants on minors?

Recently, decade-old experimental studies on microchip implants in rats have come to light tying the device to tumors [29]. The American Veterinary Medical Association [3] was so concerned that they released the following statement:

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is very concerned about recent reports and studies that have linked microchip identification implants, commonly used in dogs and cats, to cancer in dogs and laboratory animals…. In addition, removal of the chip is a more invasive procedure and not without potential complications. It's clear that there is a need for more scientific research into this technology. [emphasis added]

We see here evidence pointing to the notion of “no return” - an admittance that removal of the chip is not easy, and not without complications.

The Norplant System was a levonorgestrel contraceptive insert that over 1 million women in the United States, and over 3.6 million women worldwide had been implanted with through 1996 [2]. The implants were inserted just under the skin of the upper arm in a surgical procedure under local anesthesia and could be removed in a similar fashion. As of 1997, there were 2700 Norplant suits pending in the state and federal courts across the United States alone. Most of the claims had to do with “pain or damage associated with insertion or removal of the implants … [p]laintiffs have contended that they were not adequately warned, however, concerning the degree or severity of these events” [2]. Thus, concerns for the potential for widespread health implications caused by humancentric implants have also been around for some time. In 2003, Covacio provided evidence why implants may impact humans adversely, categorizing these into thermal (i.e., whole/partial rise in body heating), stimulation (i.e., excitation of nerves and muscles), and other effects, most of which are currently unknown [13].

Role of Emerging Technologies

Wireless networks are now commonplace. What is not yet common are formal service level agreements to hand-off transactions between different types of networks. These architectures and protocols are being developed, and it is only a matter of time before existing technologies have the capability to track individuals between indoor and outdoor locations seamlessly, or a new technology is created to do what present-day networks cannot [26]. For instance, a wristwatch device with GPS capabilities to be worn under the skin translucently is one idea that was proposed in 1998. Hengartner and Steenkiste [23] forewarn that “[l]ocation is a sensitive piece of information” and that “releasing it to random entities might pose security and privacy risks.”

There is nowhere to hide in this digital society, and nothing remains private (in due course, perhaps, not even our thoughts). Nanotechnology, the engineering of functional systems at the molecular level, is also set to change the way we perceive surveillance - microscopic bugs (some 50 000 times smaller than the width of the human hair) will be more parasitic than even the most advanced silicon-based auto-ID technologies. In the future we may be wearing hundreds of microscopic implants, each relating to an exomuscle or an exoskeleton, and which have the power to interact with literally millions of objects in the “outside world.” The question is not whether state governments will invest in this technology: they are already making these investments [40]. There is a question whether the next generation will view this technology as super “cool” and convenient and opt-in without comprehending the consequences of their compliance.

The social implications of these über-intrusive technologies will obey few limits and no political borders. They will affect our day-to-day existence and our family and community relations. They will give rise to mental health problems, even more complex forms of paranoia and obsessive compulsive disorder. Many scholars now agree that with the support of modern neuroscience, “the intimate relation between bodily and psychic functions is basic to our personal identity” [45, p. 3]. Religious observances will be affected; for example, in the practice of confession and a particular understanding of absolution from “sin” - people might confess as much as they might want, but the records on the database, the slate, will not be wiped clean. The list of social implications is limited only by our imaginations. The peeping Tom that we carry on the inside will have manifest consequences for that which philosophers and theologians normally term self-consciousness.

Paradoxical Levels of Überveillance

In all of these factors rests the multiple paradoxical levels of überveillance. In the first instance, it will be one of the great blunders of the new political order to think that chip implants (or indeed nanodevices) will provide the last inch of detail required to know where a person is, what they are doing, and what they are thinking. Authentic ambient context will always be lacking, and this could further aggravate potential “puppeteers” of any comprehensive surveillance system. Marcus Wigan captures this critical facet of context when he speaks of “asymmetric information held by third parties.” Second, chip implants will not necessarily make a person smarter or more aware (unless someone can afford chip implants that have that effect), but on the contrary and under the “right” circumstances may make us increasingly unaware and mute. Third, chip implants are not the panacea they are made out to be - they can fail, they can be stolen, they are not tamper-proof, and they may cause harmful effects to the body. They are a foreign object and their primary function is to relate to the outside world not to the body itself (as in the case of pacemakers and cochlear implants). Fourth, chip implants at present do not give a person greater control over her space, but allow for others to control and to decrease the individual's autonomy and as a result decrease interpersonal trust at both societal and state levels. Trust is inexorably linked to both metaphysical and moral freedom. Therefore the naive position routinely heard in the public domain that if you have “nothing to hide, why worry?” misses the point entirely. Fifth, chip implants will create a presently unimaginable digital divide - we are not referring to computer access here, or Internet access, but access to another mode of existence. The “haves” (implantees) and the “have-nots” (non-implantees) will not be on speaking terms; perhaps this suggests a fresh interpretation to the biblical tower of Babel (Gen. 11:9).

In the scenario, where a universal ID is instituted, unless the implant is removed within its prescribed time, the body will adopt the foreign object and tie it to tissue. At this moment, there will be no exit strategy and no contingency plan; it will be a life sentence to upgrades, virus protection mechanisms, and inescapable intrusion. Imagine a working situation where your computer - the one that stores all your personal data - has been hit by a worm, and becomes increasingly inoperable and subject to overflow errors and connectivity problems. Now imagine the same thing happening with an embedded implant. There would be little choice other than to upgrade or to opt out of the networked world altogether.

A decisive step towards überveillance will be a unique and “non-refundable” identification number (ID). The universal drive to provide us all with cradle-to-grave unique lifetime identifiers (ULIs), which will replace our names, is gaining increasing momentum, especially after September 11. Philosophers have have argued that names are the signification of identity and origin; our names possess both sense and reference [24, p. 602f]. Two of the twentieth century's greatest political consciences (one who survived the Stalinist purges and the other the holocaust), Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Primo Levi, have warned us of the connection between murderous regimes and the numbering of individuals. It is far easier to extinguish an individual if you are rubbing out a number rather than a life history.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn recounts in The Gulag Archipelago (1918–56), (2007, p. 346f):

[Corrective Labor Camps] quite blatantly borrowed from the Nazis a practice which had proved valuable to them - the substitution of a number for the prisoner's name, his “I”, his human individuality, so that the difference between one man and another was a digit more or less in an otherwise identical row of figures … [i]f you remember all this, it may not surprise you to hear that making him wear numbers was the most hurtful and effective way of damaging a prisoner's self-respect.

Primo Levi writes similarly in his own well-known account of the human condition in The Drowned and the Saved (1989, p. 94f):

Altogether different is what must be said about the tattoo [the number], an altogether autochthonous Auschwitzian invention … [t]he operation was not very painful and lasted no more than a minute, but it was traumatic. Its symbolic meaning was clear to everyone: this is an indelible mark, you will never leave here; this is the mark with which slaves are branded and cattle sent to the slaughter, and this is what you have become. You no longer have a name; this is your new name.

And many centuries before both Solzhenitsyn and Levi were to become acknowledged as two of the greatest political consciences of our times, an exile on the isle of Patmos - during the reign of the Emperor Domitian - referred to the abuses of the emperor cult which was practiced in Asia Minor away from the more sophisticated population of Rome [37, pp. 176–196]. He was Saint John the Evangelist, commonly recognized as the author of the Book of Revelation (c. A.D. 95):

16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom: let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six (Rev 13:16–18) [RSV, 1973].

The technological infrastructures—the software, the middleware, and the hardware for ULIs—are readily available to support a diverse range of humancentric applications, and increasingly those embedded technologies which will eventually support überveillance. Multi-national corporations, particularly those involved in telecommunications, banking, and health are investing millions (expecting literally billions in return) in identifiable technologies that have a tracking capability. At the same time the media, which in some cases may yield more sway with people than government institutions themselves, squanders its influence and is not intelligently challenging the automatic identification (auto-ID) trajectory. As if in chorus, blockbuster productions from Hollywood are playing up all forms of biometrics as not only hip and smart, but also as unavoidable mini-device fashion accessories for the upwardly mobile and attractive. Advertising plays a dominant role in this cultural tech-rap. Advertisers are well aware that the market is literally limitless and demographically accessible at all levels (and more tantalizingly from cradle-to-grave consumers). Our culture, which in previous generations was for the better part the vanguard against most things detrimental to our collective well-being, is dangerously close to bankrupt (it already is idol worshipping) and has progressively become fecund territory for whatever idiocy might take our fancy. Carl Bernstein [7] captured the atmosphere of recent times very well:

We are in the process of creating what deserves to be called the idiot culture. Not an idiot sub-culture, which every society has bubbling beneath the surface and which can provide harmless fun; but the culture itself. For the first time the weird and the stupid and the coarse are becoming our cultural norm, even our cultural ideal.

Despite the technological fixation with which most of the world is engaged, there is a perceptible mood of a collective disquiet that something is not as it should be. In the face of that, this self-deception of “wellness” is not only taking a stronger hold on us, but it is also being rationalized and deconstructed on many levels. We must break free of this dangerous daydream to make out the cracks that have already started to appear on the gold tinted rim of this seeming 21st century utopia. The machine, the new technicized “gulag archipelago” is ever pitiless and without conscience. It can crush bones, break spirits, and rip out hearts without pausing.

The authors of this article are not anti-government; nor are they conspiracy theorists (though we now know better than to rule out all conspiracy theories). Nor do they believe that these dark scenarios are inevitable. But we do believe that we are close to the point of no return. Others believe that point is much closer [1]. It remains for individuals to speak up and argue for, and to demand regulation, as has happened in several states in the United States where Acts have been established to avoid microchipping without an individual's consent, i.e., compulsory electronic tagging of citizens. Our politicians for a number of reasons will not legislate on this issue of their own accord, with some few exceptions. It would involve multifaceted industry and absorb too much of their time, and there is the fear they might be labelled anti-technology or worse still, failing to do all that they can to fight against “terror.” This is one of the components of the modern-day Realpolitik, which in its push for a transparent society is bulldozing ahead without any true sensibility for the richness, fullness, and sensitivity of the undergrowth. As an actively engaged community, as a body of concerned researchers with an ecumenical conscience and voice, we can make a difference by postponing or even avoiding some of the doomsday scenario outlined here.

Finally, the authors would like to underscore three main points. First, nowhere is it suggested in this paper that medical prosthetic or therapeutic devices are not welcome technological innovations. Second, the positions, projections, and beliefs expressed in this summary do not necessarily reflect the positions, projections, and beliefs of the individual contributors to this special section. And third the authors of the papers do embrace all that which is vital and dynamic with technology, but reject its rampant application and diffusion without studied consideration as to the potential effects and consequences.

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IEEE Keywords: Implants, TV, Data systems, National security, Pressing, Engines, Condition monitoring, Circuits,Feeds, Databases

Citation: M.G. Michael, Katina Michael, Toward a State of Überveillance, IEEE Technology and Society Magazine ( Volume: 29, Issue: 2, Summer 2010 ), pp. 9 - 16, Date of Publication: 01 June 2010, DOI: 10.1109/MTS.2010.937024

The Emerging Ethics of Humancentric GPS Tracking and Monitoring

Abstract

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is increasingly being adopted by private and public enterprise to track and monitor humans for location-based services (LBS). Some of these applications include personal locators for children, the elderly or those suffering from Alzheimer's or memory loss, and the monitoring of parolees for law enforcement, security or personal protection purposes. The continual miniaturization of the GPS chipset means that receivers can take the form of wristwatches, mini mobiles and bracelets, with the ability to pinpoint the longitude and latitude of a subject 24/7/365. This paper employs usability context analyses to draw out the emerging ethical concerns facing current humancentric GPS applications. The outcome of the study is the classification of current state GPS applications into the contexts of control, convenience, and care; and a preliminary ethical framework for considering the viability of GPS location-based services emphasizing privacy, accuracy, property and accessibility.

Section I

Introduction

GPS has the ability to calculate the position, time, and velocity of any GPS receiver. It does so using a process of triangulation, which works on the premise that you can find any position if the distance from three other locations is also known. Originally conceived by the U.S. Air Force for military purposes in the 1960s, it was commercially released in 1995. In 2000, selective availability was turned off, providing consumers the same level of accuracy as the U.S. military. Since that time, mobile business applications based on GPS and cellular network technologies have proliferated. The rate of innovation has been high, and the level of adoption has been steadily increasing, showing a great deal of promise for the small start-up companies which are targeting GPS solutions at families, enterprises, and security-related government initiatives. This paper is significant because in the not-to-distant future, mobile devices will have GPS chipsets on board. Yet, the growth in the number of commercial offerings–while approved by government regulatory bodies–have not been faced with the commensurate ethical discourse which includes legalities and ownership. The aim of this paper is to explore current commercial services based on GPS technology, with a view to identifying emerging ethical concerns and developing an ethical framework.

Section II

Background

The concept of tracking and monitoring using GPS technologies is far from novel [1].Numerous studies and experiments have investigated the potential of GPS to record a person's movements [2], [3]. However, very few studies have attempted to explore the ethical problems of GPS tracking. The question of ethics in precise location services has been gathering traction within the research community, much of this provoked by Wal-Mart's announcement to implement radio-frequency identification (RFID) for itemized inventory tracking using the EPCglobal standard. More recently a whole issue of the Communications of the ACM was dedicated to RFID privacy and security concerns, while other location technologies were largely ignored. The work of Dobson and Fischer [4], Garfinkel et al. [5], Michael and Michael [6], Perusco and Michael [7], Kaupins and Minch [8], Perakslis and Wolk [9] and Stajano [10] have all indicated the need for a deeper understanding of ethics in location services. In addition the foreseeable power of GPS working in tandem with RFID and wireless local area networks (WLANs), will bring with it a new suite of pressing concerns.

2.1. Unanswered questions

Many questions remain unanswered. Who is liable for providing an incorrect geographic reference location for an emergency services call? Does a private enterprise require the consent of an individual subscriber to track a vehicle that has been rented and is mounted with a GPS receiver? Does a government agency or the police force have the right to location information for a given subscriber when they suspect illegal activity? Do refugees or illegal immigrants have the right to refuse a government-imposed tracking device? Is the 24/7/365 monitoring of a parolee's location information ethical? What rights does a mentally ill person have to their location data and does a caregiver have the right to impose certain geographic constraints on that subscriber? And how do caregiver relationships differ from guardian/parent-to-child, or husband-to-wife contexts? And what of employer work-related location monitoring of employees? Who owns location data–the individual subscriber, the service provider, or a third party that stores the information? The answers to these questions are complex and highlight the urgent need for the development of an ethical framework and other industry guidelines.

Section III

Usability Context Analyses and Ethics

Table 1. Ethics-based conceptual approach

Table 1. Ethics-based conceptual approach

Ethics is defined as “[a] system of moral principles, by which human actions and proposals may be judged good or bad or right or wrong” (Macquarie Dictionary). Moral is concerned with “right conduct or the distinction between right or wrong.” This study is aimed at exploring whether the real-time tracking and monitoring of people is morally right or wrong. It is an attempt to formulate an ethical framework by considering principles of moral behavior–something that “has always been a necessary feature of human cultures” [11], [12]. The conceptual approach used toward the building of an ethical framework is based on four main aspects: principles, purpose, morality and justice (Table 1).

When one conducts a usability context analysis, they are not focused on a traditional case study but on a specific product innovation area. The unit of analysis is thus any interactive system or device which supports a user's task. This approach has been used successfully in the past to study controversial chip implant applications [13]. Three usability contexts will be analyzed–care, control and convenience. Each context will focus on uses of GPS tracking and monitoring applications. There is synergy between a usability context analysis methodology and an ethics-based conceptual approach, as one looks at the use, and the other at the implications of the use value.

Section IV

Control

Most ethical issues are connected to the control aspect of GPS tracking, as it imposes an intrusive method of supervision. For the purposes of control GPS has been used for law enforcement, parolees and sex offenders, suspected terrorists and employee monitoring.

4.1. Law enforcement

U.S. law specifies that a court can issue a warrant for the installation of a mobile “tracking device” if a person is suspected of committing a crime [14]. See also House Bill 115 currently being deliberated in the U.S. The term “tracking device” covers a broad spectrum of technologies but the popularity and simplicity of GPS makes it an obvious choice. Gabriel Technologies is one company which is seeking to be the supplier of choice for the federal and homeland security markets [15]. GPSs are even being used to track gang members in U.S. cities, strapped to parolees [16].

There are documented cases in the U.S. of police discreetly planting GPS devices on suspected criminals. The William Jackson case was the first to rule that placing a GPS device on a person or their vehicle does not require a warrant as it is the same as following them around [17]. In 2000, Jackson was found guilty of murdering his daughter after the GPS device placed on his truck found that he had returned to his daughter's crime scene. In another case in New York the judge ruled that police do not need a warrant to track a person on a public street stating that the defendant: “… had no expectation of privacy in the whereabouts of his vehicle on a public roadway” [18].In San Francisco, Scott Peterson had a GPS tracking device placed on his car after being suspected of murdering his pregnant wife in 2002 [19]. His suspicious behavior led to a legal trial involving much speculation over the use of the GPS antenna (even though police had a warrant), and the accuracy of the collected data [20]. However, the judge ruled that the technology was “generally accepted and fundamentally valid” [21].

4.2. Parolees and sex offenders

Today many parolees are fitted with a small tamperproof GPS tracker worn as a bracelet or anklet. The ankle device is in the shape of a rigid plastic ring, accompanied by a small tracking box that can fit in a pocket [22]. Companies such as iSECUREtrac, design GPS monitoring systems to track parolees and sex offenders ensuring they do not commit any crimes, alert authorities if they enter certain locations, (e.g. schools, parks), and prevent them from leaving their homes, if that is prohibited [23]. Some GPS units can also offer the added capability of knowing how much alcohol a person has consumed by measuring perspiration levels every hour. Parolee and pedophile tracking is widespread in the United States with an estimated 120,000 tracked parolees in 28 states [24]. However, there are over 50,000 convicted sex offenders in the US that are not tracked at all [25].

Australian states have been trialing GPS systems and there are proposed schemes for NSW, Western Australia and Victoria [26]. In NSW there are 1,900 offenders on the Child Protection Register but officials say it is too costly and difficult to track all of them [27]. Queensland's corrective services minister, Judy Spence, reviewed a New Zealand trial and found that for the GPS scheme to be cost-effective in Australia, their would need to be quite a lot more prisoners. It is interesting to note, that the question of ethics was not addressed: “the cost of monitoring someone using GPS technology [is] about 1,000 cheaper than keeping them in prison [28].However, in Florida (USA), the estimated cost of placing tracking devices on all sex offenders is 56 million USD per annum [25]. Accounting for each person individually would cost about 100 if they were physically in prison [24]. One disadvantage of the parolee tracking process is its labor intensive nature. A U.S. parolee officer in Georgia who monitors the movements of 17 parolees has said: “… the amount of information is overwhelming … I could easily spend an hour every morning on each offender to go over the information that's there. For some of them, it's necessary. For some of them, it's not” [29]. The amount of data generated has some advantages, such as in the event that parolees are falsely accused of committing crimes at particular locations and evidence suggests otherwise. The message from the police is clear, “[w]e know where you are, and we are watching” [30].

4.3. Suspected terrorists

A number of national laws stipulate the use of a tracking device affixed to any person suspected of “activities prejudicial to security” (e.g. ASIO Act 1979). Previously, the maximum period of time a suspected terrorist could be tracked was 6 months, however, during the Council of Australian Government (COAG) meeting on counter-terrorism it was planned to increase this period to 12 months [31].

4.4. Employee monitoring

Employees that are tracked using GPS usually travel in vehicles over long distances. Tracked workers include couriers, and bus and truck drivers. The motivation for tracking employees is linked to improving company productivity. Automated Waste Disposal Incorporated uses GPS to ensure their truck drivers do not speed and are on track to meet their delivery schedule. The company imposed GPS tracking on its employees to reduce overtime and labor costs. After implementing the GPS tracking system the number of overtime hours dropped from 300 to 70 hours on average per week [32].

Section V

Convenience

Although GPS tracking may not be widely used for the purposes of convenience today, there are a number of commercial uses. For example, Satellite Security Systems (S3), offer vehicle tracking services to a variety of customers, including parents and suspicious spouses [33]. Clients carry a GPS device with them which transmits location data to S3 computers for further analysis. S3 tracks so many vehicles that even homeland security officials sometimes turn to them for support. GPS systems are also becoming important in delivering key business processes such as real-time sales force automation. Norwich Union uses GPS to track their 18 to 21 year old customers, charging their car insurance premiums based on the time of day they drive. The company induces a tariff at peak times when there is a greater chance of having an accident [34]. Companies like Disney are riding on their family brand, targeting up to 30 million children that they classify as “tweens” (8–12 year olds), with location-based family-centric services [35]. But this idea is not new, Japanese school children have for some years been tracked by their parents, wearing transmitters in their school backpacks, uniforms, or shoes [36]. BuddyFinder systems have also been around for some time, allowing friends and family to catch up based on their whereabouts. On another level, there are even golf GPS devices which display the layout of each hole and player locations on the course [37].

Section VI

Care

GPS satellite tracking can assist people who are responsible for the health and wellbeing of others. Two such applications include GPS for tracking dementia sufferers, and parents tracking their children.

6.1. Dementia wandering

Dementia is a symptom of a number of diseases. However, the most common forms are Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies [38]. It currently affects five per cent of people aged over 65 years and twenty per cent of people aged over 80 years. Dementia becomes a serious problem when a patient begins to wander. Due to his/her mental state a dementia sufferer may get lost easily and may even be injured or killed [39]. Since it is difficult to keep constant watch over a dementia sufferer, a caregiver can employ a variety of assistive technologies which notify family members automatically by phone or email if problems arise [3].Proponents of this application emphasize that the technology grants dementia sufferers more independence and freedom, allowing them a better quality of life [40].

6.2. Parents tracking children

There are a number of GPS products available today which allow parents to track their children. One of the more popular products is Wherifone created by WherifyWireless. The device is about the size of a credit card and has a feature which alerts emergency services. Previously, the company offered a wristwatch tracker but discontinued production because customers wanted to be able to call their children [41]. Users can find the location of their child by logging onto the company website and viewing data on a map. Gilson's AlwaysFind GPS trackers are an alternative [42]. Another GPS tracking system provided by TAA GPS, supports The Teen Arrive Alive program in the U.S., dedicated to addressing teenager driving safety. Parents can find the location of their teenage child, for $19.99 USD a month by using the Internet or calling the locator hotline [43]. Locations are updated every two minutes so parents can keep a constant eye on their child's activities. Further on the theme of driving, the application Ezitrack allows parents in Australia to immobilize a car while it is moving. Even though the device gives a ninety second warning before the car shuts down, officials are still concerned saying it is dangerous, causes inconvenience, and “puts (policing) in the hands of the individual” [44]. A South Australian primary school is also using a GPS tracking system on their school bus, to monitor the speed and keep track of where children get off the bus [45].

Section VII

Towards an Ethical Framework

In each usability context analysis, several GPS tracking applications were presented, raising questions about the potential ethical implications of the technology. Yet the “acceptable use” of GPS is currently #ff0000. Can information generated by a receiver, be treated the same as just any other piece of information? Can data generated by a GPS for one purpose, be used for another? For example, can vehicle tracking be used to track an employee, and to convict the driver of speeding?

Table 2. Ethical framework

Table 2. Ethical framework

The most significant ethical issue facing GPS tracking is that of privacy (Table 2). It can be claimed that products that have the ability to track their subjects are automatically impinging the rights of the individual, even if they themselves have elected to carry the device. Legal jurisdictional issues also apply, as do acts which often seemingly contradict one another. For instance, there is precedence that indicates that a person can be found guilty of a crime based on GPS generated information [46]. In one such case, the judge ruled that there was “no Fourth Amendment implications in the use of the GPS device.” A framework has been devised to encapsulate the ethical issues related to GPS tracking and monitoring. This framework is based on the information technology (IT) ethical issues framework created by Mason [47], and later updated by Turban [48]. The four main ethical issues are categorized into privacy, accuracy, property and accessibility.

7.1. Privacy

The greatest concern of GPS tracking is the amount of information that can be deduced from the analysis of a person's movements.

7.1.1. What location-specific information should an individual require to reveal to others?

In many cases a person's location does not need to be known unless he/she does something unexpected. Parents only need to know if their child is not at school when they should be or is speeding in a vehicle. Similarly, caregivers should only be notified if a dementia patient is wandering, and parole officers only need to know if a parolee ventures outside his/her home zone. Employers too can be alerted when one of their vehicles has made an unnecessary detour.

7.1.2. What kind of surveillance can a parent use on a child?

Using a GPS device to track a child's location is becoming more and more popular. If a child is lost or kidnapped he or she has a better chance of being found. But does the child have a right to determine whether or not they are to be tracked, and until what age or length of time? [49] Another question is how children actually feel about being tracked? [50] Are parents replacing trust with technology, [41] and developing an unhealthy relationship with their children? [51] Christy Buchanan, an associate professor of psychology believes that: “[p]arents shouldn't fool themselves into thinking that they can keep their kids from making mistakes, which is a part of growing up and learning” [52]. Simon Davies of Privacy International believes parents may even become obsessed with tracking their children [51]. On the other hand, parents who have experienced the loss of a child, see GPS as a life-saving technology, especially those who have lost children to drink-driving accidents. These parents point out that tracking is for safety, not for spying.

7.1.3. What kind of surveillance can employers use on employees?

Employers usually track their employees to reduce costs, especially labor costs and costs related to unnecessary product shrinkage. In this context, employers attempt to protect their business interests, and employees attempt to protect their privacy? [53] The two positions are in contrast, as the power is obviously in the hands of the employer. Some workers however have objected to the technology due to privacy concerns [54]. Galen Monroe, a truck driver from Chicago USA, voices his concern: “[t[hese systems could be used to unfairly discipline drivers, for counting every minute that they might or might not be on or off duty and holding that against them” [32]. Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute in New Jersey, said that the exchange of privacy for security would affect employee morale and that the next steps would probably be implants [55]. Managers, on the other hand, are more concerned that workers are doing what they are paid to do. Yet this is a shocking development when one considers that there are few, if any, laws governing workplace surveillance in countries like the U.S. and Australia [56].

7.1.4. Do police need a warrant to track a suspected criminal or terrorist?

Several cases have ruled that tracking a person with a GPS device is the same as following them on the street. However, GPS tracking is much more pervasive. First, a person is usually more aware of a person following them, than if a small tracking device were attached to their vehicle. Additionally, a GPS tracker can find a person's location anywhere at anytime even when trailing is not possible. Furthermore, since a tracked person's location is digitized it can be instantly analyzed to make inferences, in ways that simple observations cannot [57]. If the issuing of warrants is not compulsory there will be no barriers for police or security personnel to place tracking devices on any individual. Warrants are essential to ensure GPS tracking devices are used justly and ethically.

7.2. Accuracy

GPS can give error readings in particular conditions. Dense forest, tall buildings, cloud cover and moisture produce inaccuracies in readings but these are considered negligible when compared to the potential for inaccuracies in resultant information processing.

7.2.1. Who is responsible for the authenticity, fidelity and accuracy of information collected?

In the event of GPS failure or enforced shut down by the U.S. government, companies whose mission-critical applications rely on GPS technology would incur heavy losses.The U.S. government has already released plans to shut down parts of the network in a “national crisis” to prevent terrorists from using the network [58]. Consider the implications for those organizations and customers that have become reliant on the technology, for example, criminals serving their sentence from home. And who is responsible for accuracy? The U.S. government created the system but they are under no obligation to ensure accuracy. Another concern is that sixteen of the twenty-eight GPS satellites currently in orbit are beyond their design life and are likely to fail in the near future [59]. At least two satellites are failing each year and launches of new satellites are barely keeping up. This poses problems for the users of the GPS system in the longer term which is why the more accurate European Galileo initiative is critical.

7.2.2. Who is to be held accountable for errors in information, and how is the injured party compensated?

Private companies who offer GPS tracking services avoid liability by introducing product descriptions, warranties and disclaimers [60]. In California several rental car companies were wrongly fining customers for breaking their rental agreement for allegedly leaving the state. Customers were asked to pay $3000 USD for something they did not do. As a result California became the first U.S. state to prohibit the use of GPS receivers by car rental companies to track their customers [33].

7.2.3. Is GPS an appropriate tracking technology for dementia wandering?

The Project Life Saver Organisation helps locate and return wandering dementia sufferers. They believe that GPS is not suitable for tracking persons with dementia, recognizing that GPS lacks four fundamental attributes of an assistive technology: reliability, responsiveness, practicality and affordability [39].

7.2.4. How can we ensure that errors in databases, data transmissions and data processing are accidental and not intentional?

Software used to store tracking data makes it possible to edit data points in order to create false evidence. Effectively a person can be accused of a crime he or she did not commit. For this reason it is imperative that extensive validation checks are enforced to ensure data has not been tampered. There is also the concern with the intentional and non-intentional jamming of GPS signals. Safeguards and laws restricting GPS jamming need to be advocated.

7.3. Property

7.3.1. Who owns the information?

Table 3. The ethical possibilities

Table 3. The ethical possibilities

The U.S. government owns the physical satellite system but who owns the information once it is collected? If a company collects and stores location information on a person who commits a crime, are they obliged to hand it over to the police?

7.3.2. What are the just and fair prices for exchange?

It is theoretically free to access GPS, as long as you have a receiver. Free service however, does not equate to commercial satisfaction. GPS-based voice service providers incur a cost for ‘priority access’, and therefore pass this cost onto their subscribers.

7.4. Accessibility

7.4.1. Who is allowed to use the GPS service?

One of the objectives set out by the GPS policy is the provision of worldwide “positioning, navigation, and timing services” [61]. However, the GPS policy also indicates that the GPS system can be shut down in certain areas “under only the most remarkable circumstances,” like in the event of a terrorist attack [62].

7.4.2. How much should be charged for permitting accessibility to information?

US policy proclaims that the GPS service is and will continue to be “free of direct user fees” [62]. However, private companies are billing customers to use services [63]. Costs may include payment for equipment and data transmission among other fees. There is also the possibility that information can be accessed illegally by a third party for sinister purposes.

7.4.3. Who will be provided with equipment needed for accessing information?

Parolee tracking is more cost-effective than detainment but it is impossible to have all parolees and sex offenders tracked. So who will be tracked and who will not? In previous cases less aggressive criminals have GPS tracking devices attached first. Where radio tag tracking methods have been used, parolees have had to pay for their own tracking devices [24].

7.4.4. Is the tracking of parolees and sex offenders justified?

The three most apparent reasons for parolees and sex offenders to be tracked appear to be: to save costs, deter further crimes and for controlled rehabilitation. The cost of tracking a person is much lower than incarceration. Tracking may deter some criminals from committing a similar offence but if they are tracked at length they may lose awareness of their GPS device. In examining New Zealand's Bill of Rights (sec 21), the N.Z. Law Society (NZLS) found that authorities had the power to impose electronic monitoring on people who had already completed their sentences. NZLS argued that extended supervision equated to “two punishments for the same crime” but the government argued that the main purpose of the extended supervision was preventive not punitive [64]. Others believe that tracking parolees grants them the opportunity to spend more time with family, acting to fast-track the rehabilitation process (Table 3).

Section VIII

Conclusion

Molnar and Wagner [65] ask the definitive question “[i]s the cost of privacy and security ‘worth it’?” Stajano [10] answers by reminding us that, “[t]he benefits for consumers remain largely hypothetical, while the privacy-invading threats are real.” Indeed, when we add to privacy concerns the unknown longterm health impacts, the potential changes to cultural, social and political interactions, the circumvention of religious and philosophical ideals, and a potential mandatory deployment, then the disadvantages of the technology might seem almost burdensome. For the present, proponents of emerging LBS applications rebuke any negatives “under the aegis of personal and national security, enhanced working standards, reduced medical risks, protection of personal assets, and overall ease-of-living” [9]. Unless there are stringent ethical safeguards however, there is a potential for enhanced national security to come at the cost of freedom, or for enhanced working standards to devalue the importance of employee satisfaction. The innovative nature of the technology should not be cause to excuse it from the same “judicial or procedural constraints which limit the extent to which traditional surveillance technologies are permitted to infringe privacy” [56]. The aim of this present research is to understand the ethical implications of current LBS applications, with a view to emphasising the need for future innovators to ethically integrate these technologies into society.

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Citation: Michael, K.; McNamee, A.; Michael, M.G. 2006. ICMB '06. International Conference on Mobile Business, Date: 26-27 June 2006, pp. 34 - 34, DOI: 10.1109/ICMB.2006.43

IEEE Keywords: Ethics, Global Positioning System, Monitoring, Humans, Senior citizens, Law enforcement, Security,Protection, Usability, Context-aware services

INSPEC: Global Positioning System, ethical aspects, law enforcement, ethics, humancentric GPS tracking, location-based services, memory loss