Stewart wears an ankle bracelet.Sprint
announces a new "Business Mobility Framework" for employers to track
employees.School officials in Sutter, California, order students to
hang RFID tags around their necks; parents object and the principal
backs down.Already, school children in Osaka, Japan, are required to
wear similar tags tucked in their belongings.The government of Mexico
tracks court officials with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags
implanted in their shoulders.Finland changes national laws to allow
cell phone tracking of children.A woman in Kenosha, Wisconsin,
discovers her estranged husband has hidden a GPS tracker in her car.
All are current news items.
Once viewed as a futuristic nightmare, human-tracking is now affordable
and available without restriction.For $200 plus a monthly service fee
of $20, anyone can purchase an electronic device that puts George
Orwell's 1984 surveillance
technology to shame.They're marketed as "kid-tracking" devices, though
ads also mention pets and senior citizens.In vivid shades of
company offers service plans named "Liberty, Independence, and
surveillance and control are their purpose.
At the very least, human-tracking devices will alter relationships
between some parents and children, husbands and wives and employers and
employees more dramatically than any other product emerging from the
information revolution.Ultimately, they offer a new form of human
slavery based on location control.They pose the greatest threat to
personal freedom ever faced in human history.
Whatever legitimate uses there may be -- to safeguard a child or
incapacitated adult, for example -- abuses will occur.Even full-blown
geoslavery is inevitable: the uncertainty is how many people will
suffer from it -- hundreds, thousands or millions.
Consumers welcome GPS receivers for personal navigation, especially for
travel and outdoor recreation.There's much good and certainly no harm
as long as the coordinates go directly to the user and no one else.
Current devices display maps produced by GISs containing detailed
information about businesses, residences and individuals.
Human-tracking devices add radio communication that reports location
data to a service center with its own powerful GIS.Subscribers pay for
the privilege of peeking in at will to check on the individual being
After decades of fretting over Orwell's vision, hardly a whimper has
been heard since the devices went on sale.Media attention has focused
entirely on the advertised case: parents of good intention watching
over their own children.Far from critical review, news and talk show
coverage amounts to little more than blind acceptance of manufacturers'
Will the practice really protect children? Or will it introduce new
risks? How will children react, emotionally and behaviorally, to
constant surveillance and control? Will tracking be confined to
children and incapacitated adults? Or will it become a ubiquitous tool
of control throughout society? Peter F.Fisher, professor of geographic
information science, University of Leicester and editor of the
International Journal of Geographic Information Science, and I have
raised these and other crucial questions in scholarly journals and
trade magazines, but questioning of any sort is strangely absent
It's time for an explicit national debate on human-tracking that goes
far beyond privacy, per se.Which applications are acceptable and which
are not? Which will require informed consent, legal proceedings or
medical hearings? Which existing laws must be amended to place
electronic means on a par with traditional means of branding, stalking,
incarceration and enslavement? Should human-tracking companies be
licensed? Should their employees undergo background checks? What other
safeguards are needed?
Initially, the front line will be in the workplace.How will union
leaders value workers' rights with human-tracking as a bargaining chip
in contract negotiations?
None of this debate will happen until citizens become alarmed enough to
educate themselves and demand answers, and it's not clear they will
resist.At church one recent morning, a fellow member described to me
how his friend, the owner of a construction firm, uses GPS-based cell
phones to track "his 20 Mexicans." He envied his friend's constant
control and hoped to adopt the technology himself though he has only
"three Mexicans of his own." That conversation occurred in the oldest
church in Kansas, established by abolitionists who came to make Kansas
a free state and thereby sparked the Civil War.The irony was