I noticed an article on IT News Australia this morning about talk of the “Australia Card” identification card/system coming up again.
This got me to thinking a bit today, and also trends I’ve noticed previously and things that people have pointed out to me and that sort of thing. Who really is watching?
Think about it? How much information is there that gets recorded about you and what you do on a daily basis?
I live in Brisbane, Australia, where Translink and the Queensland Government have introduced what is called the “Go Card” system for public transport users. This is a smart card that you swipe whenever you enter and exit a train station, get on or off the bus, the ferries or city cats. It uses a credit system, where you pre-purchase credit which is applied to your card. You can do this at participating retailers or online.
Now, in order to know what to charge you, the system records where you get on and where you get off and charges you accordingly. This doesn’t just go away though after you get off. If you use the online payment system, you will notice in your account that you can view your history as far back as 60 days.
If you can see this, it is guaranteed that there is a possibility it could end up being visible to people you don’t want to see it.
The public transport system still allows you to pay anonymously with cash, but they are strongly pushing the Go Cards.
A system in QLD that is at the end of June moving completely away from an anonymous system is the toll road payment system. E toll has been around for quite a while now, but it has always been optional and you could pay anonymously with cash as you went through the toll plazas.
From July this year though, the plazas in Brisbane are being removed after the new “Free Flow” system is enabled.
This system knows who you are, you cannot use it anonymously. You have two options, either an account with an E toll tag, or a video matched account based on your vehicle registration plates. There are multiple payment options but I won’t go into that.
Again, if you use E toll and have used the online system to manage your account, you know that your history is accessible there. As above, there is a record of where you are, granted it doesn’t say where you are going, but you are there, or at least your car is.
My university ID is a smart card as well. I don’t know whether or not your room access history is recorded or not, but I expect it would be.
Those are just a few things though around Brisbane. Consider other things, credit and debit cards, they all have a history. Look at your statement sometime, if you are like me, you can probably trace a huge number of the places you were in a month from your statements.
GPS devices, mobile phones, all can be used to locate you, not necessarily accurately but they can give an approximation, and they are improving.
Consider these things, and consider that there are people exempt from the privacy laws that are allowed to access these sorts of things. Consider that there are companies like Acxiom that collect enormous amounts of this sort of data and sell it on to anyone willing to buy it, be it a private company, the government, or anyone else. Consider that all these sorts of things, even your phone call records, your SMS records, your internet usage are all being recorded somewhere, and think about it, chances are that the vast majority of things you do are recorded by people you don’t know.
Surveillance cameras are another one, especially in larger centres and commercial locations, there are thousands upon thousands of camera’s just in Brisbane alone. Most of these will belong to small store owners that record a 2 weeks or so worth of footage and record over it again without it ever leaving the store. Others though, will keep this video for notably longer and it could go via multiple people, or companies. In Brisbane city, the Goodwill pedestrian/bike bridge has a surveillance camera every 10-20 metres along the length of it. Granted this is necessary to try and prevent and to follow up on vandalism. However, there seems to be a bit of a push on improving facial recognition software at the moment as well.
Think about it. If a system existed that could take data from all these sorts of places, and recognise you in video from the thousands of streams in say just one city, then whoever has access to this sort of system could know your location and where you have been. They could determine patterns in your routine, and literally figure out everything you do.
Things like this may start out as marketing exercises, determining where your customers come from and what appeals to them. Thinking about it that way it seems harmless. I don’t know about you, but I regularly look at my website statistics, I can see what pages people have come from, what they have looked at, what search term they used, how long they were on the page for, what browser they were using, what operating system they were using and their IP address. I find these things quite interesting to look at and analyse so I know what things I need to be targetting.
What happens though when it goes beyond a marketing exercise? Have a look through the Acxiom website, especially the Products and Services > Government Solutions section. There are some services and tools in there provided to governments that have potential to utilise the above in a rather scarily big brother kind of way. Did you see under “Investigation and Identity Solutions”?
“Comprehensive and up-to-date data resources that allow investigators to search for current and historic information on people, property and connections.”
It doesn’t sound so bad when you read more, but at the same time, there is serious potential for this sort of data aggregation to be misused.
Maybe I sound a little paranoid, but considering how freely many of us now tell the world what we are doing, thinking, eating, saying, watching, reading, where we are going and more on the internet using tools like Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, Brightkite, Delicious, Digg, Reddit, personal blogs and many, many others, there really is a huge amount of data out there on everyone. Granted, things like Free Flowing E toll, Go cards and other smart cards as well as credit and debit cards make life much easier (not to mention the ease of mobile phones for communications almost anywhere), I’m not denying that at all, I use all of the above! It’s just a scary thing to consider that there is so much data about you that you probably don’t even know people have.
What do you think?