The Specter of Omniveillance is Looming on the Horizon. I hate being right.

October 1st, 2009

About two years ago, I wrote an article about Google Street View, and the potential privacy implications.

From Gizmodo (H/T John P.) Google Earth Will Track Cars and People In Real Time, Eventually Destroy Privacy – Realtime cars – Gizmodo.:

This is one of the awesomestest and scariestest technology demonstrations I’ve seen in a long while: Georgia Institute of Technology’s students are using CCTV video to map actual vehicles and people into Google Earth. Why is this scary?Right now, all the data displayed is anonymous, which makes up for a cool looking technology. You could see a football game in real time or the actual traffic in your route to work. Eventually, you will be able to see clouds moving, the weather changing, and even birds move in real time…

Imagine that someone is able to tag you in some way. In theory, it could be as easy as having access to one of the CCTV cameras and this system. You mark a car on the screen and, provided that you have enough cameras along the way, the technology would be able to follow the vehicle wherever it goes. In England, for example, this will be really easy to do, because there are CCTV cameras absolutely everywhere. And let’s not talk about RFID tags.

See the video below for details


At the time, I wrote in my Omniveillance article (pp. 340-341):

Although the current version of Street View is limited to pre-recorded still photographs, future technology will allow real-time streaming video feeds of everything occurring in public . . . These omens ominously bear on the value of Street View, and create a scary image of what Google could do. Because there is no viable right to privacy in public, and because Google seeks to create a visual map of the planet, there is nothing preventing Google or any other company from installing such video cameras with tagging capabilities on the rooftops of private business throughout America. This vision of the future poses serious issues and conjures up an Orwellian nightmare…

If a live video feed of every action a person takes is recorded and broadcasted over the Internet, facial recognition technology … can be applied. The effect will be that the technology could instantly and automatically tag every person in a city. At any given moment, these cameras would know what stores a person goes to, what doctors a person visits, what activities a person engages in, and even if someone breaks the law. Currently, people who seek to stay out of the limelight can avoid using a computer, abstain from posting to blogs, and miss out on all of the fun of social networking. However, under this new regime, you can’t run; you can’t hide; there is no escape.

I really hate being right.

More after the jump.


“there is nothing preventing Google or any other company from installing such video cameras with tagging capabilities on the rooftops of private business throughout America.”

Well, it seems the Researchers from Georgia Tech are already getting a leg up on installing cameras with tagging capabilities throughout America. This is very similar to the situation I described. If live video cameras were somehow linked with Google Street View, privacy as we know it is forever changed. And because the law does not protect privacy in public, there is no viable cause of action against Google, or anyone else.

I wrote two years ago that the Specter of Omniveillance is looming on the Horizon. Today, we are inching slowly towards that zone of twilight.

Popular Science has an interesting write up. And the Georgia Tech researchers are presenting this paper to the IEEE.

Another choice quote from p. 339

Imagine an alternative business model in an
omniveillant society, wherein these cameras do not simply
analyze the facial features of a promenading consumer, but
rather snap a photo, and search tagged images on the
Internet to ascertain the identity of the person. With this
technique, the billboard does not simply know the person’s
age or gender, but can ascertain what online stores the
person frequents, who the person’s friends are, and volumes
of other personal information. An advertiser’s dream, indeed!
Imagine further that the billboard recorded how long a person
stared at the billboard, in order to gauge his interest at a
particular advertisement, or even whether a person began
discussing the billboard with a fellow spectator. Unassuming
spectators would be unknowingly conscripted into serving as
a veritable Nielsen rating focus group. This information
could be further disseminated throughout the Internet to
create a profile about a person’s likes, dislikes, and
preferences. The information gleaned from these billboards
could serve as a perfect conduit for an omniveiller to gather
more information about people from the real world, in order
to tell them things like “ ‘[w]hat shall [they] do tomorrow’ ” or
“ ‘[w]hat job [should they] take.’ ”

This paragraph was inspired by the following scene from Minority Reports:


For some comic relief, see also (H/T Alex F.)