2012 July 08 Sunday
US Cellphone Carriers Flooded With Law Enforcement Requests

As computer and communications technology advances make large scale data collection affordable and routine governments demand rising amounts of info from cellphone carriers.

WASHINGTON — In the first public accounting of its kind, cellphone carriers reported that they responded to a startling 1.3 million demands for subscriber information last year from law enforcement agencies seeking text messages, caller locations and other information in the course of investigations.

What I'd like to see: a study that measures the efficacy of these requests. How much would the rates of arrest and conviction drop if police, prosecutors and assorted other law enforcement investigators had no access to cellphone data? Also, for what types of criminal investigation are text messages, call records, caller locations, and the like most efficacious? Also, does the data flood decrease arrests and convictions of innocents? Note that DNA evidence developed after convictions has freed a number of wrongfully convicted suspects. Do call records, text messages, and the like used in criminal investigations have the same effect?


Are we at risk from the data law enforcement agencies are collecting? Certainly in societies where governments jail and otherwise suppress dissenting views electronic data collection by government can be used to identify those who hold taboo opinions. But in the United States and other Western societies are governments using cellphone records, online postings, and the like to target people for intimidation and silencing?

While government surveillance of citizens is one aspect of a transparent society where lots of watching is going on the government role needs to be put into perspective. We are consuming increasing amounts of freely provided messages (both both narrow cast and broadcast) pictures, videos, and even live video feeds of what all of us are doing. We write for blogs, social media feeds, tweets, and other formats. We create profiles with many intimate details. Teens are sending nude photos to each other in surprisingly large numbers. People are choosing to give up substantial portions of their privacy. Will they voluntarily give up even more in the future? Update: Why'd I even ask that last question? The answer is of course Yes.

By Randall Parker    2012 July 08 08:51 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2011 July 01 Friday
Event Cloaks To Hide Activities

A couple of physicists at Imperial College London think it is possible to create event cloaks to hide events.

In this month's special issue of Physics World, which examines the science and applications of invisibility, Martin McCall and Paul Kinsler of Imperial College London describe a new type of invisibility cloak that does not just hide objects – but events.

Using the ultimate bank heist as an example, McCall and Kinsler explain how a thief could, in principle, use an "event cloak" to steal money from a safe, without even the CCTV surveillance cameras being aware.

So what event do you most want to hide? Got something you want to do or something you want someone else to do that requires invisibility?

An event cloak could emulate a Star Trek transporter. But it still wouldn't let you beam down from an orbiting space station.

If a high-performance, macroscopic-size, fully functional space–time cloak could be developed, one potential "party trick" could be a Star Trek-type transporter, in which a person could appear to instantly relocate from one point to another.

Although no-one has yet tried to build a space–time cloak in the lab, McCall and Kinsler argue that "there is no obvious reason why such a cloak could not be achieved quite soon, perhaps even within a few years".

What I'd do with an event cloak:

  • Place electronic listening devices in the offices of many top leaders in assorted nations.
  • Maybe kill a couple of especially bad dictators. Imagine that whoever knows they take the reins in, say, North Korea knows they will die unless they hold elections. How long would that government last?
  • Place electronic listening devices on or near organized crime figures.
  • Stroll thru Area 51 looking for alien spacecraft.
By Randall Parker    2011 July 01 12:47 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (17)
2009 July 06 Monday
Threat To Personal Identity Numbers Highlighted

CMU researchers find it too easy to figure out US national identity numbers of individuals.

The nation’s Social Security numbering system has left millions of citizens vulnerable to privacy breaches, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, who for the first time have used statistical techniques to predict Social Security numbers solely from an individual’s date and location of birth.

I have become a lot more wary about publishing info about details of my identity. I don't put my birth date on Facebook and similar venues just because I want to reduce my risks of identity theft.

Online credit card application forms make it easier to guess credit cards.

“A botnet can be programmed to try variations of a Social Security number to apply for an instant credit card,” Acquisti said. “In 60 seconds, these services tell you whether you are approved or not, so they can be abused to tell whether you’ve hit the right social security number.”

I get annoyed at financial institutions that use too few password recovery standard questions and that use questions that have answers that are too easy for others to figure out from public sources. Plus, asking a person's favorite pet's name is dumb for two reasons. First off, some names are more popular for dogs. Second, lots of people know the names of current and previous dogs of others.

Some online financial institutions ask user name and password on the same page. A smaller number of others (and I'm not going to mention by name one I use that is better) first ask your user name and then show you a separate password form personalized to you that does a better job of telling you that you really are dealing with that institution. More should do this.

Also, when typing in a password more financial institutions should show you a password quality measure. A few I deal with do. But most provide no indication whether your password will be easy to guess.

By Randall Parker    2009 July 06 11:46 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2009 February 20 Friday
Brain Scanner Identifies Image Seen By Brain

Some day we will have no privacy of mind.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) looks more and more like a window into the mind. In a study published online today in Nature, researchers at Vanderbilt University report that from fMRI data alone, they could distinguish which of two images subjects were holding in their memory--even several seconds after the images were removed. The study also pinpointed, for the first time, where in the brain visual working memory is maintained.

Don't become too attached to your privacy. If you do then you'll sure miss it when it is gone.

By Randall Parker    2009 February 20 12:16 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2008 June 03 Tuesday
Billboard Cameras Analyzer Passers-By

Next time you look at a sign or billboard be aware it might be looking back at you.

Now, some entrepreneurs have introduced technology to solve that problem. They are equipping billboards with tiny cameras that gather details about passers-by — their gender, approximate age and how long they looked at the billboard. These details are transmitted to a central database.

Behind the technology are small start-ups that say they are not storing actual images of the passers-by, so privacy should not be a concern. The cameras, they say, use software to determine that a person is standing in front of a billboard, then analyze facial features (like cheekbone height and the distance between the nose and the chin) to judge the person’s gender and age. So far the companies are not using race as a parameter, but they say that they can and will soon.

The goal, these companies say, is to tailor a digital display to the person standing in front of it — to show one advertisement to a middle-aged white woman, for example, and a different one to a teenage Asian boy.

This is a step in the direction of websites like Amazon where they show you products based on which products you've previously purchased or viewed. The image processing computers behind the cameras do not identify you personally today. But they probably will in the future.

What will you be able to do about it? Get onto a web site that provides genetic engineering services and come up with some instructions to feed into your home bioreactor to modify your stem cells to give them orders to reshape your face. Then the cameras won't recognize you.

By Randall Parker    2008 June 03 11:15 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2008 May 14 Wednesday
Web Sites Specialize In Watching You

If you feel paranoid because you feel you are being watched then your reaction is rational. Though I would advise "Don't worry, be happy".

Zaba Inc.'s ZabaSearch.com turns up public records such as criminal history and birthdates. Spock Networks Inc.'s Spock.com and Wink Technologies Inc.'s Wink.com are "people-search engines" that specialize in digging up personal pages, such as social-networking profiles, buried deep in the Web. Spokeo.com is a search site operated by Spokeo Inc., a startup that lets users see what their friends are doing on other Web sites. Zillow Inc.'s Zillow.com estimates the value of people's homes, while the Huffington Post's Fundrace feature tracks their campaign donations. Jigsaw Data Corp.'s Jigsaw.com, meanwhile, lets people share details with each other from business cards they've collected -- a sort of gray market for Rolodex data.

Check up on the political leanings of your neighbors.

Some sites use the ability to snoop as a selling point. The Huffington Post's Fundrace feature, which allows users to enter their addresses and see a map showing their neighbors' political donations, uses this come-on: "Want to know ... whether that new guy you're seeing is actually a Republican or just dresses like one?"

Got a friend, neighbor, boss, or local political figure whose personal details pique your curiosity? Give these sites a whirl and let us know if you are successful in finding out surprising facts about them.

By Randall Parker    2008 May 14 02:13 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2007 December 25 Tuesday
Image Processing System Identifies Bicycle Thieves

If a person taking a bicycle doesn't match an image of who parked it then a theft might be in progress.

PhD student Dima Damen, from the University’s Faculty of Engineering has developed a computer system that detects individuals parking their bicycles and can automatically warn security staff if it appears that someone other than the owner retrieves the vehicle.


Currently at prototype stage, Damen’s system takes colour information from CCTV images when a bike is parked and stores it until the bike is retrieved. It then marries the stored information with the new image and where there are significant differences, it can raise an alert to CCTV operators. In initial tests using a camera located above a bike rack at the University of Leeds, eleven out of thirteen simulated thefts were detected.

This approach seems like it might work for cars as well. Extended further, cameras trained on a street with image processing algorithms could alert humans when someone enters a building who has never been recorded entering that building before.

I am reminded of science fiction movies where small flying police monitor cameras watch people. When it comes to suspected thieves such mini flying cameras could be dispatched to record higher resolution images and even to follow a driver of a car or bicycle to track where they go.

By Randall Parker    2007 December 25 05:33 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2007 September 16 Sunday
Divorce Attorneys Big Users Of Electronic Evidence

Privacy protection advocates worry about intrusive governments and nosy corporations. But spouses looking at divorce have the keenest interest in electronic secrets.

“In just about every case now, to some extent, there is some electronic evidence,” said Gaetano Ferro, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, who also runs seminars on gathering electronic evidence. “It has completely changed our field.”

Privacy advocates have grown increasingly worried that digital tools are giving governments and powerful corporations the ability to peek into peoples’ lives as never before. But the real snoops are often much closer to home.

“Google and Yahoo may know everything, but they don’t really care about you,” said Jacalyn F. Barnett, a Manhattan-based divorce lawyer. “No one cares more about the things you do than the person that used to be married to you.”

Spying gets used in many ways. First off, spouses check up on each other to look for evidence of an affair in order to decide whether to divorce. But even if they decide to divorce before getting such evidence they still want evidence of affairs both to justify to themselves that they are the offended party and also to strengthen their position in bargaining for divorce settlement terms.

Another purpose for spying is purely financial. If the spouse has hidden assets then discovery of the assets creates the potential for a more advantageous settlement. One story mentioned in the Times article has a surgeon secretly buying a $3 million condo in order to continue an affair while denying that the affair is still happening. Cheeky devil.

The electronic trails left by emails, phone records, hidden recording devices, and the like create a fuller picture of just what humans have been doing on the sly.

Electronic means of surveillance are only going to grow more powerful, cheaper, and easier to use. Electronic devices mountable under vehicles provide a way for spouses to track each other's movements. But in the future smaller devices will be embeddable in clothing and other personal items to record sound and video of a person's day and form a much fuller image of what people do when their spouse is not around.

Surveillance technology will also transform the handling of paroled criminals. Already some criminals have to wear a ring around their leg or mounted in some other way on them to track their movements. But imagine when a ring worn around an extremity will be able to record all video and audio for a person for days and weeks. Recidivists who commit crimes while on parole will almost always get caught. You might think that crimes could still be concealed by briefly covering up a ring. But how about miniature video recorders mounted behind eyeballs? A person couldn't conceal where they are without closing their own eyes.

By Randall Parker    2007 September 16 02:59 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2005 November 11 Friday
Electrogastrogram On Stomach Can Catch Liars

Lies show up in your stomach.

HONOLULU, October 31, 2005 -- A new study suggests that changes in gastric physiology perform better than standard polygraph methods in distinguishing between lying and telling the truth. The University of Texas study, released today at the 70th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology, demonstrates a clear link between the act of lying and a significant increase in gastric arrhythmia.

To test their hypothesis that the gastrointestinal tract is uniquely sensitive to mental stress because of the communication between the central nervous system and the enteric nervous system, researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch recruited sixteen healthy volunteers to undergo simultaneous electrogastrogram (EGG) and electrocardiogram (EKG) recordings for three periods.

The researchers found that both lying and truth telling affected cardiac symptoms, while the act of lying was also associated with gastric symptoms. The EGG showed a significant decrease in the percentage of normal gastric slow waves when the subject was lying that corresponded to a significant increase in the average heart rate during the same situation.

"We concluded that the addition of the EGG to standard polygraph methods has clear value in improving the accuracy of current lie detectors," said Pankaj Pasricha, MD, University of Texas Medical Branch. "The communication between the big brain and the little brain in the stomach can be complex and merits further study."

The study started out as a high school science fair project.

Pasricha emphasises that the test will be an addition, not a replacement, for today’s polygraph devices – and only after further research involving hundreds more test subjects.

The initial study only included 16 subjects because it began as Pasricha’s daughter’s high school science fair project in May 2005 – she won second prize.

Pasricha says he needs funding to use a large enough number of subjects to test out the reliability of this approach and he's hoping for a corporate sponsor. The FBI and CIA ought to take notice. The value of lie detection is high for criminal investigations and national security.

In the long run I we'll see the development of technologies that can make the body act like you are not lying. Imagine a drug, for example, that would stimulate gastric slow waves to mimic truth-telling. The problem with such a drug is that a subject of interrogation could be instructed to tell lies in response to certain questions and the monitoring equipment could detect that the gastric slow waves did not decrease. What's needed is an implant that would not be detected in an x-ray that would allow a person to dynamically adjust the stomach's response. Perhaps a person could control the response by wiggling a toe or moving a finger that has nanosensors embedded in it.

By Randall Parker    2005 November 11 11:24 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2004 January 07 Wednesday
Does Reality TV Make People More Accepting Of Surveillance?

Mark Andrejevic argues that people are becoming less afraid of surveillance and some are even eagerly embracing it. (same article here)

Today's college students have none of the fear of "Big Brother" that marked their parents' post-McCarthy Cold War generation. In fact, their fascination with the notion of watching and being watched has fueled a dramatic shift in entertainment programming and ushered in the era of Reality Television.

Mark Andrejevic, an assistant professor of communication studies in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, says a number of factors including technology and economy paved the way for the rise of reality television, but none so much as a transformation of Americans' attitudes toward surveillance. He explores these factors and more in his new book, "Reality TV: The Work of Being Watched," (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004.)


Andrejevic believes that the interactivity of the Internet paved the way for reality TV mania. He interviewed producers of early reality programs such as MTV's The Real World who said that they initially had a hard time finding people willing to have their lives taped nearly 24 hours a day for several months. That was 1992. Now they hold auditions in college towns and thousands of young people form lines snaking for blocks just for the chance to audition.

"There are now more people applying to The Real World each year than to Harvard," Andrejevic says.

The key to that success is connected to people's increasing comfort with levels of surveillance that were once anathema in American society, Andrejevic says.

"In my book, I have attempted to think about the ways in which reality TV reconfigures public attitudes about surveillance," he says. "We're trained to make a split between private and public surveillance -- to be worried about government surveillance but not private, which is entertainment or gathering information to serve you better. We're moving into a period where that distinction starts to dissolve. Private surveillance is becoming so pervasive that it's time to start worrying about it as a form of social control."

That viewers of reality programming don't worry about surveillance or social control is testament to the power of television as a messenger, Andrejevic says.

"The cast members on these shows are constantly talking about how great the experience is, how much they have grown personally because of it," he says. "It connotes honesty -- you can't hide anything about yourself if you're on camera all day every day. It becomes a form of therapy or almost a kind of extreme sport -- how long can you withstand allowing yourself to be videotaped?"

There are many precedents for some elements of the reality TV shows. Various precedents have each introduced some element of what goes into a reality TV show. Consider all the TV shows that broadcast pictures and video footage of celebrities trying to go about their private lives and the TV shows dedicated to showing pictures of houses, cars, clothes and other things that celebrities own. Sometimes the celebrities cooperate with the paparazzi photographers because the celebs want to promote themselves. Other times celebs get quite angry at having their privacy invaded and yet viewers do not switch away from such shows in disgust out of seeing someone's privacy invaded. But even this is nothing new because gossip columnists have been reporting on details of the private lives of public figures for decades and have found large ready audiences for their reports.

There is even a TV show called Cribs where celebrities allow camera crews in to film the insides of their houses. But Cribs is not an entirely novel idea. For decades there have been magazines containing picture spreads of the insides of especially stylish houses whose non-celebrity owners wanted to show off their tastes and affluence to the readers of such magazines.

New generations are growing up viewing television shows that let anyone see the lives of others recorded either voluntarily, as is the case of most reality TV, or involuntarily, as is the case with paparazzi celebrity stalking but also with some reality shows like COPS where criminals are filmed being chased and arrested by police. The results of surveillance are increasingly seen as entertainment and as within the realm of the public's right to know. Perhaps the government can not watch us all but TV show producers can.

By Randall Parker    2004 January 07 01:26 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 December 17 Wednesday
Cell Phone Cameras And Personal Privacy

Real life is increasingly beginning to resemble the science fiction fantasy world of David Brin's novel Earth where he portrayed a future world where old folks video recorded everything happening around them in order to protect them from crimnals. But in the real world equivalent phone cameras are being used to surreptitiously make nude photographs and otherwise satisfy the desires of voyeurs.

The phones, with their discreet lens, tiny size and ability to immediately transmit images onto the Internet or other cell phones, are a voyeur's dream.

The phones first appeared on the market in early 2001, and for the last several months, media reports out of Asia have called attention to incidents such as nude photographs of unsuspecting victims turning up on the Internet.

As governments rush to pass laws restricting the usage of cell phone cameras prosecutions under the new laws are beginning to take place. Jack Le Vu, 20, of Sammamish Washington state, has been charged with pursuing his panty fetish by taking pictures up a woman's skirt while crouched down at a supermarket shelf.

A witness told investigators Mr. Vu pretended to scan the shelves July 10 as he followed a 26-year-old woman in a supermarket, crouched down with his cellphone extended beneath her skirt and then stood, punched a few buttons on the phone and looked at the screen.

Vu may be facing up to 5 years of jail time.

Charged with voyeurism, a felony under state law, Vu pleaded not guilty Monday in what officials believe is the first case of its kind in King County.

Even if the vast bulk of the populace are willing to obey laws restricting the use of camera phones will the courts in the United States uphold the laws?

Last spring, Hawaii passed legislation outlawing "upskirt" snapshots and video, but a First Amendment expert says such laws may be unconstitutional, according to the newspaper article.

That position has been supported by the Washington state Supreme Court, which last year overturned the convictions of two men who, in separate incidents, took "upskirt" photos with plans to sell them on the Internet.

Any legal experts reading this who care to comment?

Even if laws restricting cell phone camera usage are more widely passed and upheld by courts the voyeuristic applications of these devices seem fated to increase dramatically.

Long a staple overseas, "cam phones" arrived here in 2002, promising sleek and cheap--under $100--fun with a voyeuristic twist. And they're taking off: 7 million of 72 million cell phones shipped in the U.S. have cameras; by 2007, 51 million out of over 110 million will have them, predicts research firm IDC.

The fight to protect privacy is seen by some as a losing battle.

"The evolution, the penetration, the spread of digital capture capabilities in phones is going to be so fast, so wide that it might be a losing battle ultimately," said analyst Alex Slawsby of IDC, a leading technology industry analysis firm.

Count me in the ranks of those who think privacy will erode regardless of what governments do about it.

Obviously digital cameras already allow pictures to be taken fairly easily for later download into a computer and posting to the internet. So what do mobile camera phones bring to the table? First of all, they offer greater ease of concealment. Most cameras are bulkier and easier to spot in use. Also, phones offer the ability to immediately send a picture. The result is that more people will use them to take more pictures to send to other people or to post on the internet.

One factor driving the trend toward posting camera cell phone pictures to the internet is the development of services that automate the process.

And textamerica figures to cash in on this latest hotbed of digital technology.

The Rancho Santa Fe startup offers free moblog hosting to users around the world, and last month initiated a moblog where San Diegans could post photos of the wildfires, often taken before any firefighters or news media were on scene. (The textamerica service is free, but the user is charged by the carrier for sending the image.)

Camera phones are also turning out to be useful for the apprehension of criminals.

A 15-year-old boy foiled an apparent abduction attempt when he pulled out his cell phone camera and snapped photos of a man trying to lure him into a car, police said.

The teen also photographed the vehicle's license plate and gave the evidence to police, who arrested a suspect the next day.

An increasing portion of all the places we go to will have video devices recording whatever transpires. People will install them for security in their homes just as businesses and governments install them in offices, stores, busses, taxis, and other locations. Cell phone cameras are part of a much larger trend.

Many local governments in the United States are moving to restrict the use of cell phone cameras even as the quality of the camera pictures steadily improves.

Trying to distinguish between a camera phone and any other cellphone has also complicated matters. The Elk Grove Park District in suburban Chicago enacted a ban in November that covered the possession of any cellphone - not just camera phones - in park-owned restrooms, locker rooms and showers.

"There is no reason to have a cellphone while you're changing and showering," said Ron Nunes, one of the park district's commissioners. "I'd rather protect the children and the public more than someone who wants to call home and see what's for dinner." Fresh in the town's memory was a 2001 incident in which a man used a fiber-optic camera to secretly take pictures of children in a park shower.


Alex Slawsby, an analyst with IDC, said that by next year the typical camera phone sold in the United States would have a resolution of at least one megapixel, about three times the current average - doing wonders, no doubt, for the rendering of sloppy restaurant patrons.

South Korea's government is requiring that cell phones beep when a picture is taken.

More likely to gain prevalence are camera phones that make some kind of noise to alert bystanders of the possibility that their photo is being taken. In November, the South Korean government ordered manufacturers to install beeping sounds of at least 65 decibels on camera phones made and sold there, after officials received a flood of complaints about camera phone-wielding peeping toms.

In the future digital cameras will get smaller, cheaper, easier to conceal, higher resolution, have higher storage capacity, and will be integrated with electronics to allow smart software to control when something of interest is seen in order to trigger when a picture will be recorded. Wireless network bandwidth will increase by leaps and bounds. Technological gimmicks like the South Korean government beeping cell phone requirement will at best slow the rate at which surreptitious picture taking spreads.

There is a new fad in web logging called the mobile weblog or moblog. A moblog is a web log which displays pictures taken with cell ohone cameras. See, for example the Gary Dann photojournal as well as Neutral Zone, Furry Felines!, Wallace, the pug, and countless others. I think "moblog" is a poorly formulated term. It sounds too much like "mob log" which might have something to do with the use of electronic communications to organize spontaneous mobs (which itself could easily spawn a type of photo web log to record strange things that mobs might be organized to do).

In a way what is happening is that the invasion of celebrity privacy by paparazzi photographers and video camera operators is being extended to include the invasion of privacy of non-celebrities as well. People who used to expect that their relative anonymity would allow them to conduct their daily activities free from surveillance and recording by others are at greater risk of being photographed. But there is a big rate-limiting factor in all this: there are not enough people to view all the pictures. Besides, most of the pictures are pretty boring anyhow.

By Randall Parker    2003 December 17 11:03 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2003 December 01 Monday
Human Subdermal Credit Card Announced

Advanced Digital Solutions has announced their Veripay embedded radio frequency ID (RFID) cash and credit card technology.

Some day we may be able to walk into a store and be completely alone and not have to see a living person in sight, imagine walking out holding the items you want and being billed instantly just as you leave the store. No confrontations, no customer service, no cute check-out girl, isn't our future grand.

To entice you more, APS is offering $50 Off to the First 100,000 registrants at the time of the their first "chipping" procedure.

Does anyone remember James Coburn in that 1967 paranoid classic movie The President's Analyst? At one point Coburn's character is kidnapped by "The Phone Company" because "The Phone Company" wants Coburn to convince the President of the United States to authorize the implantation of embedded telephone devices in everyone's brains that would allow everyone to think a phone number and have a phone connection made instantly to that phone number. Well, this proposal is not quite as radical. But effortless totally automated and instantaneous shopping check-out certainly would take us in that general direction.

The chip is embedded in the arm.

VeriChip is a subdermal, radio frequency identification (RFID) device that can be used in a variety of security, financial, emergency identification and other applications. About the size of a grain of rice, each VeriChip product contains a unique verification number that is captured by briefly passing a proprietary scanner over the VeriChip. The standard location of the microchip is in the triceps area between the elbow and the shoulder of the right arm. The brief outpatient “chipping” procedure lasts just a few minutes and involves only local anesthetic followed by quick, painless insertion of the VeriChip. Once inserted just under the skin, the VeriChip is inconspicuous to the naked eye. A small amount of radio frequency energy passes from the scanner energizing the dormant VeriChip, which then emits a radio frequency signal transmitting the verification number. In October 2002, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that VeriChip is not a regulated device with regard to its security, financial, personal identification/safety applications but that VeriChip's healthcare information applications are regulated by the FDA. VeriChip Corporation is a wholly owned subsidiary of Applied Digital Solutions.

Recall that one reason carjackings have become popular is that it is much harder for criminals to steal unattended cars that have more technologically advanced anti-theft features. So attempts to steal a car from a person who has the key in hand or in the ignition are a response to technological advances in anti-theft technology. Well, it is easy to imagine some of the ways that criminals might respond to embedded credit cards:

  • Gouge the credit card bit out of the place where it is embedded.
  • Force a person to accompany a criminal to an ATM or into a store to buy things.
  • Kill a person and use the dead body or body part to gain entrance to a secure facility or to pass out of a store with goods.

Biometric tests combined with an embedded chip would eliminate the value of just taking the chip out of the body. A really advanced biometric test could even check the body temperature or iris response to light in order to verify that a person is alive and conscious. Another possible counter would be to put sensors on the device that check via various means whether it is still in the target host body and whether that body is still alive and free of trauma. One can even imagine an embedded cell phone technology where the device would phone for help in event that it is either removed from its host or the host is significantly harmed. So each counter the criminals might develop could be met by still more technological counters.

Stores could conceivably use this technology to track what path each person takes thru a store and what counter displays attract their attention.

Yet this is precisely why Katherine Albrecht, the founder of the consumer advocacy group CASPIAN, finds Veripay frightening: "It's a lot easier to cancel and credit card account than it is to gouge a chip out of your arm." She worries that the chips will provide tracking opportunities for advertisers wishing to know the intimate shopping habits of particular consumers.

If the idea of this device seems too creepy keep in mind that the use of it is voluntary. Will embedded credit cards take off in popularity? Or will some other first application be able to better break through popular resistance? For instance, I'd expect embedded devices that could identify a person's location to catch on with less resistance than embedded credit cards might encounter since many parents would be strongly attracted to the idea of being able to rapidly find a kidnapped child. Another target market for embedded devices that will meet with less resistance are devices for health problems. An embedded device that would have the ability to do a cell phone call to alert that a person is having an epileptic fit or a heart attack would be attractive to many people. Also, for Alzheimer's patients the ability to find them if they wondered off or for law enforcement personnel to scan one of them to figure out who they are and where to return them would be of some value.

By Randall Parker    2003 December 01 02:32 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2003 November 27 Thursday
FBI May Start Collecting Juvenile Offender DNA

A bill currently working thru the US Congress will expand the scope of FBI DNA data collection and storage.

WASHINGTON — DNA profiles from hundreds of thousands of juvenile offenders and adults arrested but not convicted of crimes could be added to the FBI's national DNA crime-fighting program under a proposed law moving through Congress.

The article reports that thirty states already collect DNA from juveniles. What accounts for some of the opposition to the spread of this practice as compared to the already universally accepted collection of fingerprints must be the fear that DNA can tell more about the innate characteristics of a person than fingerprints can. But if that fear is justified then what drives the opposition is fear that the truth about human nature will be used to treat people who are innately different in ways that are in response to those innate differences.

There is fear in the minds of many modern liberal thinkers that people will not be considered equal before the law if it is known that they have innate tendencies to behave in ways different from each other. So there is an element of "don't want to know" in the attempts to prevent information from being collected that might at some future point turn out to be useful for automatically identifying differences in innate behavioral tendencies.

Given that juveniles commit assault, murder, rape, armed robbery, and a large assortment of other crimes and that some juveniles do so repeatedly that part of the expansion of DNA collection does not strike me as unreasonable. It is hard to see why juveniles should be treated so differently than adults when they commit crimes every bit as brutal as those committed by adults and when juvenile criminals can pose threats as repeat offenders every bit as great as those posed by adult criminals.

Given that we do not now have the ability to analyse DNA to produce a detailed picture of genetic factors that influence behavior the current drive to collect more DNA samples is being driven by the same purpose for which fingerprint evidence is already collected: it allows the identification of more criminals from evidence found at crime scenes. This provides a few different benefits in terms of protection of the innocent population. First, it increases the rate at which criminals are caught. This removes dangerous people from the streets and also increases the deterrent effect of the law on would-be criminals.

But more accurate identification of criminals does something else that is rarely mentioned: it decreases the rate of investigation and conviction of innocent people. Every time a criminal commits a crime there is some chance that an innocent person will be incorrectly suspected of having committed it. This reduces the rates of false arrests (with all the stigma and costs which are entailed), trials in which innocents are found innocent (which have to be terrible and expensive ordeals for innocents caught up in them), and trials in which innocents are found guilty (even worse). Each crime that is correctly connected to a real perpetrator is a crime that is unlikely to involve a prosecution of an innocent. Also, if the deterrence effect of the law is heightened and more criminals are jailed the result is that fewer crimes will be committed and hence fewer innocents will be incorrectly implicated in something they didn't do.

A reduction in crime rates reduces victimizations both by criminals and by governments. It also reduces the amount of fear and inconvenience visited upon those who live with considerable risk of becoming crime victims. Proposals for measures that will have the effect of reducing crime rates need to be weighed with all of those factors in mind.

By Randall Parker    2003 November 27 01:21 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 November 11 Tuesday
Ireland First To Require Car Flight Data Recorders

Modelled after aircraft flight data recorders that are used to record crash information car data recorders are now cheap enough to become widely used.

On Nov. 6, Ireland's Transportation Minister announced an agreement to outfit the nation's vehicles with black-box data recorders and link them to an emergency notification system. Under the agreement, Safety Intelligence Systems (SIS), a private New York-based company, will partner with IBM (IBM ) as its exclusive information-technology provider, to supply the boxes and build a comprehensive crash-data network.

The data recorders can use cellular links to automatically phone in location recorded from a built-in GPS sensor. The recorders can report location, pattern of deceleration leading up to the end of the accident, and other information that can be used to determine the likelihood of occupant injury.

Insurance companies in the US may eventually offer discounts to drivers who agree to install recorders. The recorded information has many uses and not just from accidents. Picture recording and reporting of all vehicles that come down an off-ramp to measure whether the vehicles have a problem decelerating in the length of ramp available and whether vehicles tend to slide on a particular ramp or road curve when road surfaces are wet.

There are of course privacy concerns about the use of this sort of technology. But even if individuals resist allowing recorders to be placed in their own cars or place limits on what can be done with the data from their own cars the privacy issue will play out differently for fleet vehicles. An operator of a fleet of delivery vehicles would love to know whether any driver drives too quickly, tends to wait too long to decelerate, tends to accelerate thru intersections (a sign of running lights just turning red), or takes side trips that are not on the approved route. Fleet operators will probably be more willing to provide insurance companies with greater access to recorded data in exchange for lower rates. One can imagine a day when insurance companies will routinely come to fleet operators to demand that particular reckless drivers be fired before they cause accidents. One can also imagine how insurance companies will be able to develop databases of driver behavior and even make hiring recommendations to fleet operators based on the performance of those drivers in previous jobs.

Fleet data recorders could also provide useful information about driving patterns that lower gas mileage or increase tire wear or general vehicle wear. But fleet operators are not the only vehicle owners who will want to collect data on the driving of others. How about parents who want to monitor the driving behavior of their teenage kids? Here's a future conversation that will eventually take place many times: "You can't have a car unless the car has a very high capacity recording device". What's the kid going to do, say no? Here's a case where there would be no government or insurance company involvement where it would be hard to argue against it on civil liberties grounds. Do parents not have a right to monitor their kids in this manner?

A really smart box that was monitoring g force shifts and direction might even be able to detect drivers impaired by drugs, alcohol, or some other factor and the box could report this while the driving trip was taking place. Police could be summoned with a continuously updating position and direction of the vehicle. Or the vehicle could be ordered to shut down or at least to slow down to some low maximum speed.

Of course, in the longer run the computers will gradually take over driving responsibilities. This has already begun in a limited manner with ABS and even with airbag deployment. But more work could be done. For instance, a computer could detect a traffic light changing color or even be told by a radio signal that the light has changed color. Then the computer could flash a light or otherwise indicate to the driver that he is too close to the intersection to make it thru safely. Also, computers could be told that a traffic accident or fog is up ahead and alert a driver of the need to slow down and of where the exact danger lies. Also, a driver could be given optional adaptive cruise control (and this has already been tested - deployed anywhere?) that would decelerate a vehicle in order to maintain some maximum distance from the car in front.

By Randall Parker    2003 November 11 01:23 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2003 August 20 Wednesday
Identity Theft Made Easy By Computer Advances

The Washington Post has a great article on the growing problem of identity theft.

Identity theft is perhaps the most glaring symptom of the ills that have accompanied the data revolution of the 1990s. Bounced checks. Loan denials. Harassment from debt collectors. Victims of identity theft -- and there are millions of them -- are often haunted by the consequences for years.

Some government officials estimate that as many as 750,000 people a year are victimized. Others think that number is way too low. Last month Gartner Inc., a business research group, estimated that 7 million Americans have fallen prey to identity thieves in the past year alone, an extraordinary figure mirrored by a new survey from Privacy & American Business, an industry-funded think tank. Another study, by Star Systems, a company that facilitates the majority of U.S. ATM transactions, suggests that almost 12 million Americans in all, or about one in 19 adults, have been hit by such fraud.

One of the tales of identity theft has a Washington DC think tank manager worrying that he'd be arrested for murder because of murders committed by someone using his identity.

Bergin explained the warrant meant that he, the real Michael Berry, could be picked up for murder. The law enforcement computers would tell officers they were looking for a black man. But cops are so used to getting reports marred by mistakes, she said, they might ignore that detail if they had the right name.

The article is worth reading in full. As electronic information acquisition and transmission becomes steadily easier to do we are going to be faced with the problem that it is going to become just too easy to gather the key pieces of information needed to pull off identity theft. We need the widespread adoption of reliable biometric means of identification. We also need legal changes to put more responsibility on financial institutions to prevent identity theft. A person suffering under the consequences of identity theft has limited means by which to put a stop to it while financial institutions hand out key information far too readily while simultaneously making too little effort to verify identity.

If we count the faking of sender email addresses the commission of identity theft even more common than this article reports. I'm currently getting a large number of 100k+ email messages on one of my email accounts and many of the messages appear to be bounces of email by spam filters on other pop servers. Someone is sending out 100k sized junk mail using my email address as the return address.

By Randall Parker    2003 August 20 12:15 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2003 August 15 Friday
US Postal Service Intelligent Mail Proposal Seen As Privacy Threat

The US Postal Service is proposing to implement a system similar to what Federal Express and UPS have where they label and use computers to track the movement of every single item they deliver. This has predictably raised objections from privacy advocates.

The Postal Service estimates that it delivers about 670 million pieces of mail to more than 138 million addresses daily, leading to concerns among law enforcement and government officials that it is too easy to use the system for criminal or terrorist activity.

The commission said the Intelligent Mail could bolster security, as well as let consumers track the progress of anything they send. The latter has been identified as a top consumer demand in the commission's independent surveys.

One objection that privacy advocates raise is cost. But as computer storage, CPU, and communications costs continually fall the costs of implementing such a system fall as well. Their real objection is the threat to privacy. They want anonymous means of communication. But unless the postal service eliminates drop-box mailing and anonymous purchasing of stamps this proposal will not stop someone from sending mail without revealing their identity. Granted, a letter may be traced back to its originating mail box but letters are already marked with the town they originated from. One can easily drive to another town and drop a letter in the mail there under the current system and likely under the new system as well.

If privacy advocates do not like what computers can accomplish in terms of monitoring and tracking human activity now they face a bleak future. Computer speed, storage, and communications bandwidth will all increase by orders of magnitude in coming decades. Sensor networks are going to be cheap and pervasive. New readers to this site should check out my Surveillance Society archive and look for posts that discuss the argument that the death of privacy is inevitable.

By Randall Parker    2003 August 15 12:30 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2003 August 14 Thursday
Matrix Database May Substitute For Total Information Awareness Project

With the federal government having been effectively legislated and browbeaten out of the data mining business for capturing terrorists the activity has shifted to the states with Florida leading the way with a system called Matrix (Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange).

Organizers said the system, dubbed Matrix, enables investigators to find patterns and links among people and events faster than ever before, combining police records with commercially available collections of personal information about most American adults. It would let authorities, for instance, instantly find the name and address of every brown-haired owner of a red Ford pickup truck in a 20-mile radius of a suspicious event.

Some might see this as the triumph of federalism and the power of distributed networks where no one single large entity is in charge. Some might even see this as signs of the inevitability of as surveillance and data collection technologies spread far and wide in society and people sitting at home are even recruited to watch critical facilities remotely.

The database is being developed by a company called Seisint which already markets a commercial database service called Accurint which is a database service for locating people and past and present addresses.

Accurint uses a name, past address, phone number or Social Security Number to obtain the current name, address and phone number of targeted subjects. Using proprietary compilation of data sources and association algorithms, Accurint’s ability to deliver high-quality matches and find rates is unparalleled. Accurint can also provide previous addresses and location information for relatives, associates, and neighbors. As a result, Accurint is the most accurate and detailed source for forward-looking and historical views of consumer contact information.

By leveraging unmatched capability for processing billions of records per second, Accurint has compiled the world’s largest set of accessible location data. Accurint searches more than 20 billion records that cover recent relocation to historical addresses dating back 30 years and more. Individual queries are supported via web and client applications. For high-volume requests, Accurint provides on-demand batch capabilities, drastically reducing the cost of searches. For direct legacy application access Accurint supports XML API's.

With its unique combination of data, association algorithms and search technology, Accurint offers the best-performing solution in the marketplace.

Many companies have large databases of records of their transactions and contacts with millions of people and organizations. It is not a big stretch to use these databases to do data mining to look for activity that correlates with patterns found in investigations of known terrorists.

Clearly grasping at straws the Cato Institute is peddling the idea that automated systems of collection and analysis of information will drain resources from more productive approaches to finding terrorists.

Florida's database is similar in many ways to the Pentagon's controversial Terrorist Information Awareness program. In "Total Information Awareness for the Ages," Clyde Wayne Crews Jr., director of technology policy, writes: "Ironically, the project could also increase security risks. Even the Pentagon's resources are limited: Most people are not terrorists, and it can be a costly diversion to attempt to monitor the torrent of chatter that will be generated by this misguided program. Terrorists already immerse themselves in mainstream society, even using their real names and official government documents. They can learn and anticipate the trigger patterns that will supposedly generate red flags, and then avoid them."

The Florida project will simultaneously automate information searches for commonplace police investigations and also bring together data that can be mined to patterns of potential terrorist activity. As computers become cheaper and more powerful and as communications costs fall as well the trend is clearly running in the direction where computer automation becomes increasingly more cost effective than traditional methods of police and intelligence work.

The Berkeley Intellectual Property Weblog is also worried. (my emphases added)

But if each state collects and maintains citizen's data, each with different standards for correcting, aggregating and using the data, and if states string together their databases, as several states would like to collaborate with Florida to do (Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Utah so far in the MATRIX -- click here for their contacts list; and the District of Columbia and Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York in the DC program as reported by Spencer S. Hsu/WDC Post), I think we will have a far more dispersed and frightening problem than what the TIA proposed. Does this mean Safire, and Harrow do another round of columns, Congress and (hopefully) State Legislatures get involved to control this effort toward Too much surveillance (by Safire) of citizens? How effective can we as citizens be in asking for legislative oversight when there are so many different states and entities involved?

Things are spinning out of control? Woe is us? At the risk of sounding like I'm playing a broken record, these worrywarts show little sign of being familiar with science fiction writer David Brin's argument that the death of privacy is inevitable and our only choice is whether only governments or everyone will use the surveillance and data collection technologies which are continually advancing in sophistication and ease of use. In Brin's view we effectively face a choice between privacy and freedom. But those who scream loudest against government surveillance and data collection seem wholly unaware of Brin's analysis.

By Randall Parker    2003 August 14 08:49 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2003 August 01 Friday
Restrictions On US Government Data Collection Buck A Larger Trend

US Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has introduced a bill called the Citizens' Protection in Federal Databases Act which, among other things, would outlaw data mining by the federal government.

The bill also would prohibit data mining by the federal government. If the bill passes, no government employee or computer could sift through federal or commercial databases to search for individuals who fit a profile.

Thus, an FBI agent couldn't look in databases to find all the people who fit the pattern of a drug dealer, but could look up the name of a person who the agent suspected of being a drug dealer.

Think about this. Can commercial companies do data mining with commercial databases? Yes, of course. Very expensive systems containing enormous and continually growing databases are built for that purpose. If companies can get access to the data and if other governments can contract with the companies then where will this law lead us? If the federal government outlaws its own ability to do data mining searches then we will be in the curious position where US companies, foreign governments, and foreign companies will all be able to do data mining about American citizens even while the US federal government will not be able to do so. Depending on how far reaching this Wyden proposal turns out to be it may not even prohibit state and local government agencies to do data mining while the federal government won't be able to. Also, private individuals will increasingly be able to collect large amounts of information about each other.

There is something selectively Luddite about this bill:

The bill also prohibits all federal agencies from conducting searches of commercial data to create hypothetical scenarios of future terrorist attacks.

Federal investigative agencies are of course allowed to look for signs of a terrorist attack by using large numbers of agents to go out into the field to collect information by talking to and observing people. The agents can talk among themselves to compare and share with each other what they find. But in the view of Senator Wyden automated analysis of information collected for other purposes is considered too dangerous and ripe for abuse to allow the federal government to do it. So this bill seeks to deny federal agents many of the efficiencies in data collection and analysis that computers make possible.

Governments do inevitably abuse powers granted to them. Wyden's bill would probably prevent some abuses. Whether it will be a net benefit depends in part on how many threats could be discovered and neutralized by using computer data mining. But the bill seems somehow naive. The amount of data collected by and about people, companies, and governments is going to rise by orders of magnitude for the simple reason that the costs of collection and processing of the information will fall by orders of magnitude. An attempt to prevent just the federal government from making use of the enormous quantities of data is bound to create some unintended consequences. One consequence might be to put the US government at a distinct disadvantage in competing with other governments and with non-governmental groups which practice asymmetric warfare.

Ron Bailey of Reason reports on how Wyden and other US Senators have also recently shot down DARPA's attempt to form a trading market to collect information on political events in the Middle East and around the world.

The senators are objecting to a pilot project by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) called the Policy Analysis Market (PAM). As the PAM website explains: "Analysts often use prices from various markets as indicators of potential events. The use of petroleum futures contract prices by analysts of the Middle East is a classic example. The Policy Analysis Market (PAM) refines this approach by trading futures contracts that deal with underlying fundamentals of relevance to the Middle East. Initially, PAM will focus on the economic, civil, and military futures of Egypt, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey and the impact of U.S. involvement with each." The Pentagon envisioned enrolling 10,000 traders by October at a cost of $8 million to set it up.

Plus, this same cast of political characters also shot down the Pentagon's "Total Information Awareness" project. As Heather Mac Donald explains, this prevents US domestic intelligence agencies from modernizing their tools for gathering information on terrorists. Of course, when the inevitable attacks come the same cast of political characters will blame the FBI and other agencies for not foreseeing and preventing the attacks.

The fundamental problem with fighting against opponents who use asymmetrical warfare techniques is that they attempt to blend in to the civilian population. In many cases the only way to detect them is to use computers to scan thru a lot of information and detect patterns for how terrorist behavior deviates in subtle ways from that seen in the general population. There are not enough government agents to watch millions of people individually to look for tell tale signs. Without automated tools for detecting suspicious patterns many terrorists will likely go undetected.

Our future promises to be a surveillance free-for-all where individuals, companies, governments, and other organizations collect increasingly larger amounts of data about the actions of others. See my category archive Surveillance Society for many examples of technologies being used or developed to collect more information more easily about personal identities, activities, and movements.

By Randall Parker    2003 August 01 01:37 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2003 July 30 Wednesday
Biometric Passports And Biometric Databases Coming

Governments are rushing to meet a US government requirement for visa-free travel to the US with biometric passports.

International technical standards and civil aviation organisations have confirmed that they are working on deploying passports containing details that enable the "machine-assisted identification" of the passenger, which will be required by travellers visiting the US from October 2004.

Different governments are implementing different kinds of biometric passports.

Current plans call for the new passport books to include a contactless smart chip based on the 14443 standard, with a minimum of 32 Kbytes of EEPROM storage. The chip will contain a compressed full-face image for use as a biometric. European biometric passports, by contrast, are planned to feature both retinal and fingerprint recognition biometrics on their smart cards.

Some countries are using biometric data in many other forms of ID as well.

The technology will not just be used in passports but in drivers’ licenses. Malaysia is using biometric smart cards for government services. Unisys is even working on a registered traveler system which can give you a smart card with fingerprint information to use at airports and skip the check in lines.

Even without a formal approval of a national ID card system it seems inevitable that most people will end up having their biometric data recorded by one or more governments. This brings up an interesting twist: anyone who wants to pass thru an airport or other facility that has iris scanners and fingerprint checkers will end up having their biometric data recorded even if they never get a driver's license or other card that requires biometric data recording as part of the application process. Some people travelling around using multiple identities will likely be detected eventually by comparing biometric data and different names and nationalities used by the same person at different times.

If biometric datalogs are archived then British airports will become big iris pattern data collection systems.

Iris-recognition machines, which can identify people by reading the distinctive pattern surrounding the pupil of the eye, are to be installed at 10 British airports within a year.

Biometric passports might seem an improvement since they will be harder to counterfeit. But stop and think about it: A biometric passport is like a one person database of biometric data. Why have every persn carry a database for their own biometric data? After all, if a counterfeit passport can be made then a comparison of a person to the personal biometric database embedded in their passport will yield a match even though a person may be using a false identity. Many biometric identification systems do not rely on a person carrying a card. There is a central database so that each person can be scanned and compared to that database. Of course, a corrupt worker could make an inappropriate entry into that database.

One problem that biometric identification does not solve is that unscrupulous staff can issue biometric ids to people who do not qualify for them.

In Ireland, the introduction of national ID cards and biometric passports has provoked controversy, amid fears of data protection and privacy. On this front, the trustworthiness of staff with access to biometrics systems and data is considered to be important. A question the government and companies would need to ask itself in adopting biometric national IDs is "what checks and balances do you have to prevent them (staff) issuing false IDs to people," according to Allan.

One thing that biometric databases will make possible is comparisons to identify duplicate biometric data for people with multiple identities. A comparison of fingerprints and iris patterns of everyone in a massive database should not yield matches between different records. So biometrics will make it harder for a person to create a false identity if they have already been recorded with their real identity.

Even governments will find it harder to create new false identities for people. If a person travels to other countries and has their name and biometric data recorded in biometric database logs in foreign airports and yet eventually their own government provides a new identity some other government will be able to compare them to a database of previous visitors and recognize them by their older identity.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 30 03:21 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2003 July 15 Tuesday
Smart Homes Will Do Constant Medical Monitoring

The MIT Technology Review has a report on the efforts of Honeywell Laboratories in Minneapolis, MN, the Intel Proactive Health Research lab in Hillsboro, OR, and other labs to develop technology to monitor the health and activities of senior citizens. (free registration required)

The Intel consortium is developing even more sensitive ways to follow the activities of elderly people. Its research goes beyond motion detectors and pillbox sensors to include things like pressure sensors on an Alzheimer’s patient’s favorite chair, networks of cameras, and tiny radio tags embedded in household items and clothing that communicate with tag readers in floor mats, shelves, and walls. From the pattern of these signals, a computer can deduce what a person is doing and intervene—giving instructions over a networked television or bedside radio, or wirelessly alerting a caregiver. Dishman says Intel will install the first trial systems in the homes of two dozen Alzheimer’s patients by early next year.

Intel's system would help family and professional care-givers to check in on an elderly person remotely.

In collaboration with Intel Research Seattle, the Proactive Health team is building an advanced smart-home system to help those like Carl and Thelma deal with Alzheimer’s. Researchers are integrating four main technology areas into a prototyping environment to be tested in the homes of patients: sensor networks, home networks, activity tracking, and ambient displays. The researchers wonder about developing a better pill-tracking system for Carl’s medications, about sensor networks to help his adult children look in on things from far away, and about computer-based coaches that help Carl keep his mind fresh.

Intel foresees the use of WiFi wireless networks to spread sensors and actuators throughout our physical environment. (PDF format).

Small, inexpensive, low-powered sensors and actuators, deeply embedded in our physical environment, can be deployed in large numbers, interacting and forming networks to communicate, adapt, and coordinate higher-level tasks. As we network these micro devices, we’ll be pushing the Internet not just into different locations but deep into the embedded platforms within each location. This will enable us to achieve a hundredfold increase in the size of the Internet beyond the growth we’re already anticipating. And it will require new and different methods of networking devices to one another and to the Internet.

The University of Rochester Center for Future Health is working on a model home in their Smart Medical Home Research Laboratory which they are using to try out a number of concepts for constantly measuring human health signs and activities.

The Center's overall goal is to develop an integrated Personal Health System, so all technologies are integrated and work seamlessly. This technology will allow consumers, in the privacy of their own homes, to maintain health, detect the onset of disease, and manage disease. The data collected 24/7 inside the home will augment the data collected by physicians and hospitals. The data collection modules in the home will start with the measurement of traditional vital signs (blood pressure, pulse, respiration) and work to include measurement of "new vital signs", such as gait, behavior patterns, sleep patterns, general exercise, rehabilitation exercises, and more. This five-room "house" is outfitted with infrared sensors, computers, biosensors, and video cameras for use by research teams to work with research subjects as they test concepts and prototype products.

There are a few things to note about these reports:

  1. Automated electronic monitoring of the elderly at home will encounter little political opposition as the ranks of the elderly grow and the costs of caring for them rise quite dramatically.
  2. Monitoring of the elderly will also be done for reasons other than health purposes. Security is a big concern.
  3. Home monitoring systems will inevitably be used by parents to monitor children, for younger people with disabilities and illnesses, and others with special needs.
  4. These technologies will be used to enhance existing electronic systems which enforce what is effectively house arrest for some parolees. Their movements will be continuously monitorable and violations will be instantly detected and reported.
  5. The ability to automatically monitor is necessary in order to support a large array of automated home services. A home computer will not be able to respond to human commands unless it is constantly listening and watching for them.

The last point is in many ways the most interesting. Even adults in perfect health in safe environments will want to have extensive automated sensing systems installed in their homes if those systems can save them time and effort. Well, if automated systems can detect a dirty carpet to send out the automated vacuum or it can detect a spill on the kitchen floor and send out an automated cleaning device to clean it up then many people will want the automated sensor systems that will make these things possible. Ditto for systems that can pick up dirty clothes to take them to the laundry, that can notice that the counter has lots of dirty dishes, or that can respond to a voice command to clear the table.

But less obvious sensor systems can be imagined. Picture a section of floor tile that can accurately weigh what is standing on it. If that tile was connected to a computer that also had several video cameras which intersected that position then it could recognize what was standing on it, what it was dressed in or carrying (got to adjust the weight for clothes, pocketbooks, a plate of food, or whatever), and determine that Spot the dog is getting too fat or daughter Kathy might be becoming anorexic.

The Surveillance Society is going to become widespread more because of individual choices of hundreds of millions of private individuals than because of decisions taken by governments.

Update: MIT inventor Ted Selker has a smart futon that watches your face for cues about what you want.

The seemingly normal futon in the corner is actually a multimedia couch bed. By staring or blinking at images projected on the ceiling above the bed, you can turn on a radio or set an alarm clock without moving a major muscle. While the system could create the world’s worst couch potato, it could also be ideal for people with physical disabilities.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 15 03:25 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 June 12 Thursday
Sensors On Vehicles Will Detect Traffic Congestion Levels

In the San Francisco Bay area of California commuters put an electronic device - essentially a form of radio frequency ID or RFID - on their cars that allows them to automatically pay tolls. Those devices are going to be detected by antennas that will be installed on literally hundreds of millions of Bay Area freeways in order to track how quickly cars move from one sensing antenna to the next one. This will be done to measure and report traffic congestion and traffic speeds in real time.

Using small electronic antennas under overpasses and on signs, the system will calculate freeway speeds by tracking drivers' FasTrak units -- devices that pay bridge tolls electronically.

As a FasTrak device passes by one of 150 roadside sensors, an electronic signature will be entered into a government database and then scanned repeatedly as the vehicle passes other sensors

Note the pattern here. An electronic ID device tracking is adopted for one uncontroversial purpose and goes into widespread use. Then new uses are proposed. Unless a large public outcry ensues the tracking devices are checked for at more locations and for more purposes. The cost of collecting data to track the movement of people and things will steadily decline and the collected data will be put to a steadily increasing number of uses.

There are safeguards in this use of FasTrak to prevent highway sensors from reporting the identity of the individual vehicles whose speeds are being measured. But I bet those safeguards could be lifted with just a firmware revision to prevent the scrambling and encryption of the vehicle identities.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 12 01:48 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 June 09 Monday
Medical Transcripts And Personal Medical Privacy

The San Francisco Chronicle has an interesting piece on the practice of hospitals and other health care providers sending medical charts out to be read and typed into computers. Many medical transcriptionists in the US work in their homes doing the work. But an increasing number of medical records are being sent to India to be entered into computer format.

Last month, for example, India celebrated World Medical Transcription Week. "India has become the favorite country for outsourcing in the U.S.," Prasenjit Ganguly, vice president of the country's largest medical transcription service,

This passing around of hard copy medical records into homes and even to other countries certainly does not inspire confidence that medical privacy is being well protected. While the advance of electronic communications makes it easier to send records abroad to be translated in the longer run technology will probably eventually eliminate the need for human medical transcriptionists entirely. Scanning software ought to eventually be able to read many paper charts. Also, voice translation software ought to be able to transcribe video records made by doctors. But eventually all data entry on medical charts will be done directly into encoded digital form. Even voice records should be translated into properly spelled words just as doctors speak into a recording device.

Advanced integration of test equipment and lab results with medical computer databases should entirely eliminate the paper copies of test results. Increasing portions of medical records will never even be generated as hard copy in the first place.

So my FuturePundit forecast on medical record privacy is in the short term even greater distribution of written medical records to distant countries for data entry. But in the longer term all human medical transcriptionist work will be entirely eliminated.

Will the end of hard copy medical records increase medical privacy? Or will medical records be sent between health care providers, insurers, and other organizations more rapidly and in larger quantities? Will increasing numbers of workers of those organizations will be able to more quickly and easily look up details of your medical history? Will the result be that so many medical records are accessible by any one person that a black market in medical record information will become easier to develop since a single worker in a hospital chain or insurance company will be able to sell the records of many people to interested parties?

By Randall Parker    2003 June 09 01:18 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
2003 May 26 Monday
Euro Currency Notes May Get Embedded RFID Tags

The paper currency for the European Union may get RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags. (or see here)

"The main objective is to determine the authenticity of money and to stop counterfeits," said Prianka Chopra, an analyst with market research firm Frost and Sullivan in report published in March. "RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags also have the ability of recording information such as details of the transactions the paper note has been involved in. It would, therefore, also prevent money-laundering, make it possible to track illegal transactions and even prevent kidnappers demanding unmarked bills," Chopra said.

The Register has come up with a list of humourous applications for RFID currency.

Talking Euros for blind people and confused octogenarians: "No dear, I'm a fifty. Put me back in your purse and look for a five."

The curious thing about this particular item is that it is not so far from one real application of RFID currency: automatic currency counting in banks and other commercial establishments. In fact, a blind person could pass a hand-held device which has an embedded speaker over a note to have the note tell the person the denomination of the note.

Paper currency probably has a limited lifespan because counterfeiters will eventually figure out how to duplicate anything. It might well be the case that in 20 or 30 years physical unnetworked currency will be too easy to duplicate using nanotechnology for it to continue to be a safe store of financial value.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 26 11:18 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 March 28 Friday
Smart Dust Sensors To Be Cheap, Ubiquitous

Smart Dust to allow cheap and widespread distribution of sensor systems.

"Smart dust" devices are tiny wireless microelectromechanical sensors (MEMS) that can detect everything from light to vibrations. Thanks to recent breakthroughs in silicon and fabrication techniques, these "motes" could eventually be the size of a grain of sand, though each would contain sensors, computing circuits, bidirectional wireless communications technology and a power supply. Motes would gather scads of data, run computations and communicate that information using two-way band radio between motes at distances approaching 1,000 feet.

That dust you got on your shoes in the company parking lot may be spy sensors planted by a competitor who wants to listen in on company meetings. Or perhaps the dust in your pet's hair was put there by your ex-spouse who wants to find out who you are spending your time with.

When sensor systems become cheap and as small as dust particles it is going to become much easier to lay out sensor networks for a large variety of reasons. Of course this will inevitably lead to microscopic sensors that are designed to detect other types of sensors.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 28 02:45 AM   Entry Permalink
2003 March 26 Wednesday
Cell Phones Will Track Traffic Flow And Crowd Density

Here's another sign of how many ways location identification technology will be used to track groups of people.

Finnish mobile operator Radiolinja Oy has developed technology to monitor traffic by tracking cell phones in cars without identifying the owner. The technology, developed as an alternative to video-monitoring systems, could also be used to monitor the flow of crowds at public events or the number of cars passing roadside billboards as a tool for advertisers.

If the resolution of the locations is sufficiently fine then this technology could also be used by stores to track the flow of people in a store and get an idea what patterns of movement people use. Since a person could be tracked to the check-out stand it may even become possible to associate movement patterns with purchase patterns.

I predict that parents who are afraid of child abduction will have location detectors embedded in their children. Then the parents will move on from using it for emergencies to using it for routine tracking of their children. The same will be done with pets that have a tendency to run away.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 26 01:21 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 March 21 Friday
People Are Rushing To Embrace The Surveillance Society

MIT's Technology Review has an excellent article entitled Surveillance Nation.

It’s not all about Big Brother or Big Business, either. Widespread electronic scrutiny is usually denounced as a creation of political tyranny or corporate greed. But the rise of omnipresent surveillance will be driven as much by ordinary citizens’ understandable—even laudatory—desires for security, control, and comfort as by the imperatives of business and government. “Nanny cams,” global-positioning locators, police and home security networks, traffic jam monitors, medical-device radio-frequency tags, small-business webcams: the list of monitoring devices employed by and for average Americans is already long, and it will only become longer. Extensive surveillance, in short, is coming into being because people like and want it.

As surveillance systems become steadily cheaper and easier to use their use will skyrocket. Personal usage of surveillance systems will be just as extensive as government and corporate usage. For instance, I predict that within 10 or at most 20 years most houses will have cameras installed in them tied to the internet and sending out encrypted feeds so that their owners can look at what is happening in their houses when they are not home. Parents will embed surveillance systems into the cars they let their teenage kids drive so that the parents can know where the kids go, who rides with them, and whether the kids drive dangerously.

Imagine nanotech that allows instant testing for drug use. Governments and employers will not be the only users of cheap and miniaturized drug testing technology. It is easy to imagine a form of nanotech drug detector that can be unknowingly swallowed and absorbed into the body. Then when Mom gets suspicious that Junior is smoking pot she can give him a slice of cake that contains nanosensors and then Dad can secretly install a sensor on the front door that will interrogate the nanosensors every time Junior comes home.

Or how about nanosensors installed in the upholstery of a car that can detect marijuana or cigarette smoke or even beer fumes? Dad could check Junior's car by passing a small hand-held detector near it to interrogate its embedded sensors.

One way sensor usage may evolve at a personal level will be the sharing of sensor feeds among friends to allow people to organize into groups to help each other. For instance, imagine a group of people who are close friends letting each other watch the video feeds of their homes when they are not there. This could be done for security reasons or to track what their children are up to. If one person in the group has a job that gives her a lot of time to look at a video display then she could spend time watching what is going on in her own home and the homes of a few of her friends.

One can imagine neighborhood cooperation for detecting the movement of children. Every child could have embedded location detectors and many houses could have electronics for interrogating such detectors. Then a sharing of detector feeds could allow parents to detect whether their kids are still in the neighborhood. Automated software could even inform parents when their children are moving out of the area where they are allowed to roam.

Sharing of data feeds by government agencies, companies, and individuals will all lead to much greater scrutiny of the actions of individuals There are many causes of the greater sharing of data streams (e.g. detect fraud, detect terrorists, detect robbery attempts, detect bad credit risks, look for changing patterns of product demand). At the same time, the costs of collecting, sharing, and processing of data will all decline as the ease of sharing steadily increases.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 21 01:00 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
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