New fronts in surveillance vs privacy

MIT Tech Review reports that terahertz sensing technology is nearing maturity. One of the first applications is in stand-off scanners allowing police to check people for concealed weapons from a distance. Current models have a range of about 15ft, but should be able to be tuned for ranges up to 75ft. The scanners will allow the current “stop and frisk” policy of stopping people on the street for questioning and if they have “reasonable suspicion” – a lessor standard than “probable cause” that can lead to a search warrant – they conduct a pat-down search for weapons.

Law Enforcement advocates taut the tech as a way to protect police who are often assaulted or even shot during such episodes. Privacy advocates cry foul claiming this is a further erosion by remote sensing technology of constitutional protects from “unreasonable searches and seizures”. They argue that remote scanning technology has the potential to make physical searches for many types of items unnecessary, and importantly, conducted without the subjects knowledge. “The Fourth Amendment doesn’t vanish when you leave your house” a privacy advocate maintains.

On a related note, stores are starting to analyze store security footage to try to gain insight into what people specifically do when they shop, with an eye to increasing marketing effectiveness. Company’s are starting to market store surveillance that goes beyond security to analyze movement, actions, and even collect RFID info on purchases brought into stores. So far stores have balked at capturing wi-fi data of customers for supposedly “anonymous” marketing analysis, fearing a backlash on snooping. Most people do not read the terms of use agreements before they connect to free wi-fi, but watchdog groups have been quick to jump on unnecessary permissions buried in the fine print. Iphone and Android apps have been boycotted for onerous permission changes, and Google has come under criticism for recent consolidation of of its disparate privacy policies into what many consider a “lowest common denominator” that is unnecessarily friendly to Google marketing uses.

The tension between “fair use” of information about what you do online and within stores and the spectrum of privacy expectations people have is increasingly going to cause dust-ups in both the real and virtual worlds


About Paul Vebber

"If you read about something, you have learned about it. If you can teach something, you have mastered it. Designing a useful game about something however, requires developing a deep understanding of how it relates to other things."

Posted on February 5, 2012, in Tech Policy. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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