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Does Google Creep You Out?

posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 08:49 AM // June 18, 2007 // General

CNET reports:

Saturday, the British activist group Privacy International released a scathing report that said the company is "hostile to privacy" and ranked it the lowest out of nearly two dozen major Web sites when it comes to privacy issues.

Google Maps Street View was singled out. "Techniques and technologies (are) frequently rolled out without adequate public consultation (e.g. Street level view)." Google also has a "track history of ignoring privacy concerns," the report said. "Every corporate announcement involves some new practice involving surveillance."

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Taking it to the Streets

posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 09:55 AM // June 01, 2007 // General

It seems rather futile to report on the latest developments out of Google. In Internet time, the launch of Google Maps Street View has already been relegated to the archives of Boing Boing and the like. So it is that I can do little but sit back in awe of the technology like the day I first received a Sega Genesis. As a law & technology student, my enlightened, techno-savvy critique has been essentially limited to: "Look Ma, I can see our house!"

But what say the privacy advocates? Not surprisingly, they've promptly cried FOUL. Still, Google's predictable response falls back on tried and true techno-rhetoric:

Street View only features imagery taken on public property,” the company said. “This imagery is no different from what any person can readily capture or see walking down the street.(NY Times Link)

Yes, its true, assuming we were God, Street View, presents little improvement over what is already possible. Just your average ability to look at any location within the city without leaving your desk. This development merely confirms what has become increasingly clear "In Google we Trust."

I for one, am done playing the skeptic. Yes, there are privacy concerns at every twist and turn, but... "Look, there's my favorite Burrito Joint."

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Reasonable Expectation of Privacy Workshop Movies

posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 02:10 PM // May 23, 2007 // Computers, Freedom & Privacy Conference (CFP) | General | TechLife

The IDTrail Team produced two short films exploring the "reasonable expectations of privacy". They were used at the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy (CFP) 2007 conference in Montreal, Canada. The short films were produced and directed by Max Binnie, Katie Black and Jeremy Hessing-Lewis with contributions from Daniel Albahary, Ian Kerr, and Jane Bailey. They are available for download under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 license after the jump.

The first film, "Tessling-Just the Facts", is a brief dramatization of the facts that gave rise to R. v. Tessling [2004], a criminal case which addressed the concept of the "reasonable expectation of privacy" with respect to forward-looking infrared (FLIR) technology.

Download Tessling-Just the Facts (Save As...))
Format: .mov[Quicktime],Duration: 4min22sec, Size: 9.53MB.

The second film, "CFP-Interviews", is a documentary that provides the viewer with a taste of various public interest perspectives on how to conceive of "reasonable expectations of privacy". It features short interviews with the following experts in the field of privacy, civil rights and law, in order of appearance:

Starring (in order of appearance):
Clayton Ruby, Ruby & Edwardh
Andrew Clement, University of Toronto
Peter Jordan, Engineer (ret.)
Chris Hoofnagle, Samuelson Clinic, UC Berkeley
Eugene Oscapella, Lawyer, Foundation for Drug Policy
David Sobel, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
Pippa Lawson, Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC)
Jim Karygiannis, MP Scarborough-Agincourt
Marc Rotenberg, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)
Cindy Cohn, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
Marlene Jennings, MP Notre-Dame-de-Grâce -- Lachine
Deirdre Mulligan, Samuelson Clinic, UC Berkeley

Download Public Interest Perspectives (Save As...)
Format: .mov[Quicktime], Duration:25min52sec, Size: 54.8MB.

Creative Commons License

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Remember when we could forget?

posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 12:39 PM // May 15, 2007 // Commentary &/or random thoughts | General | TechLife

CBC's "The Current" ran an excellent piece on the Internet's memory (available in podcast HERE). The broadast began with an interview with Michael Fertik of ReputationDefender.com. Fertik notes:

"We've never had to live before with our momentary mistakes in judgment for the rest of our lives, which is sort of a global tattooing machine."

The Internet's memory is then discussed by Brewster Kahle, creator of The Internet Archive, and Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, of Harvard University and author of Useful Void: The Art of Forgetting in the Age of Ubiquitous Computing. These commentators draw attention to the simultaneous social necessity of both forgetting and remembering and how these natural functions are being skewed by network computing.

On the one side, Mayer-Schönberger notes that forgetting is a natural cognitive process that has yet to be re-learned by information technologies. He gives the example of Google's storage of every search query by every user and every result that they clicked-on since the start of the service. In other words, Google never forgets. In his paper, Mayer-Schönberger writes:

For millennia, humans have had to deliberately choose what to remember. The default was to forget. In the digital age, this default of forgetting has changed into a default of remembering.
His response is to reintroduce the concept of time by introducing expiry dates associated with data. For example, Google's Gmail service should give users the ability to wipe data after a certain period.

In contrast, Kahle describes the importance of archiving the web in order to fulfill the library's role of creating a "memory institution" in order to give reference to what people have seen before. Without such a service, he suggests that we live in an Orwellian universe where we are locked in the "perpetual present."

Kahle concludes: "How do you select what should be kept and what shouldn't be kept?" For example, we as a society may want to hold corporations accountable for statements made in the previous quarter. He adds that the really scary aspect is less the published content and more of the usage data such as the Google searches.

We are left with an awkward computing architecture where information is both fleeting and permanent. Users are left trying to remember when we could forget.

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posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 08:53 AM // April 05, 2007 // Digital Identity Management | General

In the world of digital cash, not all news is bad news for privacy researchers. The Economist has an article April 4th detailing the emergence of a new generation of payment cards to give Visa and Mastercard a run for their money (pun intended). Among them is Gratiscard, a system that can be used as Credit, Debit, or Prepaid and can be used anonymously:

Taking aim at both of these flaws is GratisCard, a new payments system backed by Steve Case, the founder of AOL, launched later this month. The card, which can function as a debit, credit or prepaid card, is entirely anonymous. A thief who steals one will not find a customer's name or account number on it, nor will a hacker find anything to decode in the card's magnetic strip. Instead, customer data are stored in GratisCard's data centre in Florida and sent to the till only as needed. GratisCard will be the first to use the internet to zip data among merchants and banks. This allows it to side-step the big payment networks and their stiff interchange fees. Merchants that accept GratisCard simply pay a processing fee capped at 0.5% of a transaction.

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posted by:Julia Ladouceur // 09:08 AM // April 02, 2007 // General

The Student "I": A student conference on privacy and identity
University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law
October 25, 2007

Graduate and undergraduate students from all disciplines are invited to submit an abstract for The Student “I” , a student conference on October 25, 2007 at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, Canada.

Preceding the Revealed “I” conference hosted by researchers from On the Identity Trail, this day long student conference brings together students from around the world, selected through a peer-review process, to present research relating to identity, privacy, anonymity, technology, surveillance, and other related topics engaged by the On the Identity Trail project.

Abstracts should not exceed 1,000 words (including notes and citations). Successful abstracts will seek to make an original contribution. Inter-disciplinary submissions are encouraged. Abstracts should be accompanied with a short bio, which should include the student’s program and institution of study, and an email address for correspondence. The deadline for abstracts is July 1, 2007. Send to:

Julia Ladouceur
University of Ottawa
Faculty of Law, Common Law Section
57 Louis Pasteur Street
Ottawa, ON K1N 6N5
Email: anonplan@uottawa.ca

Successful applicants will be notified at the email address provided no later than August 1, 2007. Successful applicants who are unable to obtain funding from their home institution may apply for a student bursary to cover expenses relating to travel and accommodation.

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Someone has their identity stolen every 4 seconds

posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 03:31 PM // March 23, 2007 // Digital Identity Management | General

The Economist has a sponsored article on Identity Theft. Quoting:

A complete identity package, including a permanent resident card (or green card) and a social security card, goes for $150 and takes about 40 minutes to deliver. Armed with those, an illegal immigrant can apply for a driving licence, acquire a bank account, rent an apartment and get a legitimate job.

Full article available HERE.

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Anonymity on Wikipedia: Strength or Weakness?

posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 10:04 AM // March 16, 2007 // Digital Identity Management | General

The Economist.com reports on the recent revelation that one of Wikipedia's top contributors, Essjay, proved to be a 24 year old college drop-out rather than a professor of religious studies. Still, anonymity lends itself to a meritocratic system despite its potential for misuse. Quoting:

That anonymity creates a phoney equality, which puts cranks and experts on the same footing. The same egalitarian approach starts off by regarding all sources as equal, regardless of merit. If a peer-reviewed journal says one thing and a non-specialist newspaper report another, the Wikipedia entry is likely solemnly to cite them both, saying that the truth is disputed. If the cranky believe the latter and the experts the former, the result will be wearisome online editing wars before something approaching the academic mainstream consensus gains the weight it should.

Complete article available HERE.

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In summary...(The Economist's Technology Quarterly)

posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 03:06 PM // March 15, 2007 // Commentary &/or random thoughts | General | Walking On the Identity Trail

This blog, at its best, can be an excellent distillery. As part of a multidiscilplinary project, the idea is to influence each other by sharing incremental developments in our respective fields. Unfortunately, time constraints often narrow our academic focus down to headlines. This academic gap is mended by forced confrontation during workshops and conferences. The blog operates in-between these encounters as a distillery producing a palatable exchange of soundbytes. In light of this raison d'etre (accents are difficult in MovableType), let me offer a distilled techno-update drawn from The Economist's Technology Quarterly.

The full report is available HERE. Distilling after the jump....

1. Call and response
Next generation call-centres with sophisticated "speech analytics" to be deployed as chatbots.

Dr Brahnam has also found that the appearance of the chatbot's on-screen persona, or avatar, has signficiant impact on how much abuse is leveled at it. "My study showed that you get more abuse and sexual cooments with a white female compared with a white male," she says. Black female avatars were the most abused of all.

2. Working the crowd
New start-ups allow for users to install tracking software that tracks online habits. This information can then be sold through a data market with a commission going to the software vendor. This is essentially Google's business model but for entrepreneurial individuals.

In effect, Google users trade personal information in return for free use of Google's online services. But some people think this is a bad deal. They think the personal information is worth far more than the services that Google and others offer in return. Seth Goldstein, a serial entrepreneur based in San Francisco, believes that the personal information contained in users' click trails, online chats and transactions is something they ought to take hold of and sell themselves, generating direct payback. “Attention is a valuable resource, and we're getting to the point where it can be parsed in real time,” he says. So he has co-founded a new venture called AttentionTrust.

3. Big brother just wants to help
Government agencies applying data mining techniques to improve the delivery of public services.

Dr Paul Henman from the University of Queensland, who has written extensively on the subject, raises a rather more philosophical objection to government data-mining: that the technology starts to transform the nature of government itself, so that the population is seen as a collection of sub-populations with different risk profiles—based on factors such as education, health, ethnic origin, gender and so on—rather than a single social body. He worries that this undermines social cohesion.

4. Go with the flow
Mobile photo data is being used to map human activitiy in urban centres.

WHERE is everybody? Being able to monitor the flow of people around a city in real time would provide invaluable information to urban planners, transport authorities, traffic engineers and even some businesses. Bus timetables could take account of hourly or daily variations; advertisers would be able to tell which billboards were most valuable.

5. How touching
How haptic (touch) technology is being deployed on consumer electronics. Get your minds out of the gutter, this article is mostly about mobile phones (see e.gl. iPhone).

Dr Hayward's idea is that such switches could be used to convey information to the user without the need to look at the device. Skin stretch could be used to present the tactile equivalent of icons to the user, rather like a simple form of Braille.

6. What's in a name?
Bureaucratic glitches arising from converting foreign languages. This is in itself a matter of national security. Software is being applied to databases that "enriches" the names with cultural information.

Credit-card companies use the software to spot recidivists applying for new cards under modified names. (Names are cross-referenced with addresses, dates of birth and other data.) Developers and users are hesitant to discuss costs. But OMS Services, a British software firm, says government agencies pay a lot more than commercial users, who pay about $50,000 for its NameX programme.

7. Watching the web grow-up
Sir Tim Berners-Lee's three trends to watch (beyond the hype of Web 2.0): 1)mobile devices, 2)technology's growing social and political impact, 2)the semantic web.

These examples may not sound like a revolution in the making. But doubters would do well to remember the web's own humble origins. In 1989 Sir Tim submitted a rather impenetrable document to his superiors at CERN, entitled “Information Management: A Proposal”, describing what would later become the web. “Vague but exciting” was the comment his boss, the late Mike Sendall, scribbled in the margin.

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Username and Password: Repeat ad infinitum

posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 07:22 PM // March 03, 2007 // Commentary &/or random thoughts | Digital Identity Management | General | TechLife | Walking On the Identity Trail

The Globe's Ivor Tossel has a nice little piece on online identity management entitled: Who do you want to be?.

Tossel writes:

It's a problem that's older than the Web itself. One of the Internet's basic weaknesses is that there's no central way of keeping track of who you are. In real life, we have one identity that we take everywhere (it's the one on your passport, assuming you can get one these days). But there's no virtual passport in cyberspace: People change names online more often than they change underpants. Every time you go to a new website, you have to start the process of identifying yourself all over again.

Interestingly, I spent 45 minutes trying to find my username and password so that I could login to make this blog post.

I also broke my usual prohibition on reading comments and was delighted by the following reader wisdom:

B H from Toronto, Canada writes: 'It's not a bug, it's a feature.'

Well said my friend.

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EPIC Contributions

posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 11:46 AM // February 06, 2007 // Commentary &/or random thoughts | Digital Identity Management | General | Walking On the Identity Trail

Three IDTrail students have recently returned from an EPIC retreat in Washington, D.C. The 2nd year law students, Jena McGill, Felix Tang, and myself (Jeremy HL), completed a January term internship at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) where they completed Freedom of Information Act requests, electronic privacy news updates, and a passionate yet well-reasoned comment to the FTC on Identity Theft.

The comment borrows an analysis from the environmental movement and argues that the costs of identity theft should be internalized upon data collectors through technology investments and reductions in overall data collection. A complete copy of our comments is available for download HERE.

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Article on new UK passports

posted by:Carlisle Adams // 10:39 AM // November 17, 2006 // General

Here's a link to an article from the Guardian on the new UK passports:


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Billy Bragg Challenges User Agreements

posted by:jennifer barrigar // 09:04 AM // September 27, 2006 // General

In May 2006, Billy Bragg removed his music from MySpace.com because of concerns that the language of the user agreement appeared to confer overly broad rights over content to the company (see http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/31/business/media/31bragg.html?ex=1311998400&en=47cf184652d2e263&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss).
In June 2006 MySpace clarified the language of its agreement, though they made no reference to Bragg or his concerns (see http://collect.myspace.com/misc/terms.html?z=1)

Now Billy has a new target -- MTV Flux (see http://www.flux.com/). Click here http://www.billybragg.com/ to see Billy's challenge to MTV over its user agreement language

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German Tor nodes seized -- Wo ist meine Zwiebel Router?

posted by:James Muir // 01:27 PM // September 11, 2006 // General

Back at the last project team meeting, I spoke about IP-geolocation technology and the related subject of how an end-user might conceal their IP address while surfing the Internet. A particular topic I mentioned was the experimental anonymizing network Tor (The onion router).

Tor is a practical, functioning network of about 800 volunteer servers (or nodes) which anyone can use to tunnel their Internet traffic through. The volunteer servers are contributed by various end-users and institutions in different countries throughout the world. Because of its practicality and use, there are a number of pertinent interdisciplinary questions (technological, legal, philosophical) that we can ask about Tor.

One question I suggested some time ago was the following: What are the potential legal consequences or risks of participating in the Tor network for Canadian citizens or institutions? The Tor web page has a Legal FAQ which gives some good background on this topic, but its not clear how the answers to those questions might change for Canadian citizens. Note that at least one Canadian university has decided against participating in the Tor network because of the legal risks they perceived.

Some recent reports have appeared that motivate the above question even more. Germany authorities have seized a number of Tor-nodes (more precisely, Tor exit-nodes) during an investigation related to child pornography; see the links below.

Other than having your computer temporarily seized, I wonder if there anything else that the owner of a volunteer Tor-node needs to worry about.


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"Girls Gone Wild:" Just As Bad As it Looks

posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 04:23 PM // August 08, 2006 // Commentary &/or random thoughts | General

LA TImes has published an excellent article on Joe Francis, the man behind the Girls Gone Wild films. The article was written by staff writer Claire Hoffman, for whom the title "intrepid reporter" is certainly well-deserved. I think the sections on public exhibitionism and hyper-
sexualized gender are particularly relevant to the IDTrail project. Hoffman writes:

Francis has aimed his cameras at a generation whose notions of privacy and sexuality are different from any other. Nursed on MySpace profiles and reality television, many young people today are comfortable with being perpetually photographed and having those images posted on the Internet for anyone to see.

link (thanks Boing Boing)

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When Personal Space is Nothing but Trouble

posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 11:52 AM // July 17, 2006 // General | Surveillance and social sorting

Microsoft has withdrawn a free program that would have allowed users to create password protected folders. Private Window 1.0 would have allowed users to create privivate areas within user accounts that could protect sensitive data.

Unfortunately, the tool was set to cause chaos for IT departments accross the land. Companies don't like not being able to access parts of their own network. Moreover, the tool would have taken password recovery help to epic levels. The uproar caused Microsoft to retract the software within two days.

Although its too bad that the tool will no longer be available to individuals, it serves as an excellent example of Microsoft trying to balance corporate enterprise economics with personal data security.

Read more on CNET here.

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We Have the Technology

posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 03:48 PM // July 10, 2006 // Commentary &/or random thoughts | General | TechLife | Walking On the Identity Trail

Said the Gramophone, a particularly good MP3 blog, has posted a copy of We Have the Technology by Peter Ubu. I'll leave the explaining to the Gramophone, but I believe that this song is perfectly relevant to the IDTrail project.


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From the "Sign of Impending Doom" Department

posted by:Angela Long // 10:52 PM // June 29, 2006 // General

The president of Applied Digital Solutions, the makers of the implantable RFID device called VeriChip, suggested that the VeriChip be used to track migrant workers and immigrants in the US in a television interview last month. A sign of the impending right wing apocalypse, perhaps, or just an enterprising entrepeneur capitalising on his nifty invention?? Is the VeriChip a digital angel? Digital devil is more like it...

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Identity Exchange

posted by:Angela Long // 12:49 PM // June 21, 2006 // General

Listening to CBC Radio this afternoon, I heard an interesting interview with a performance artist named Nancy Nisbet, whose name I remembered from an article I pulled on RFID technology. She is interested in ideas about how RFIDs affect our personal identity. In order to further her research, she had not one, but two RFIDs implanted into her body (in her hands), which actually gives her two separate digital identites. This is something I hadn't thought about before...what if we implant more than one RFID into our bodies? How does this affect our identity and our privacy?

She is currently undertaking a North American performance tour that aims to engage the public in a discussion about identity issues. Check out her website here.

You can also check out Wired Magazine's article about her RFID implants, which includes a cool video of the implantation procedure.

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Call For Papers: Graduate Student Symposium @ NYU

posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 01:58 PM // June 19, 2006 // Digital Activism and Advocacy | General | Walking On the Identity Trail

Identity and Identification in a Networked World: A Multidisciplinary Graduate Student Symposium

Increasingly, who we are is represented by key bits of information scattered throughout the data-intensive, networked world. Online and off, these core identifiers mediate our sense of self, social interactions, movements through space, and access to goods and services. There is much at stake in designing systems of identification and identity management, deciding who or what will be in control of them, and building in adequate protection for our bits of identity permeating the network.

The symposium will examine critical and controversial issues surrounding the socio- technical systems of identity, identifiability and identification. The goal is to showcase emerging scholarship of graduate students at the cutting edge of humanities, social sciences, artists, systems design & engineering, philosophy, law, and policy to work towards a clearer understanding of these complex problems, and build foundations for future collaborative work.

In addition to presenting and discussing their work, students will have the opportunity to interact with prominent scholars and professionals related to their fields of interest. The symposium will feature a keynote talk by Ian Kerr, Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law & Technology at the University of Ottawa.

Submission Information:
We invite submissions on the function of identity, identifiability and identification in the following general areas:

# Media & communication: DRM systems, e-mail & instant messaging, discussion forums
# Online: Identity 2.0, web cookies, IP logging, firewalls, personal encryption
# Social interaction: online social networks, blogging, meetups
# Consumer culture: RFID product tags, reputational systems, commercial data aggregation
# Mobility: electronic tolls, auto black boxes, RFID passports, SecureFlight, V-ID cards
# Security: video surveillance, facial recognition, biometric identification systems, national ID cards

Please submit abstracts, position pieces, demos or full papers for a 10-15 minute presentation to michael.zimmer@nyu.edu by July 5, 2006. Include contact and brief biographical information with your submission. Notification of submission acceptance will be given by July 17, 2006. Limited travel stipends will be available for presenters. Students in need of travel funds should indicate so with their submission.


Program chairs:
Tim Schneider, JD student, New York University School of Law
Michael Zimmer, Ph.D. candidate, NYU Steinhardt Department of Culture & Communication
Faculty advisor: Helen Nissenbaum, NYU Steinhardt Department of Culture & Communication

New York University Coordinating Council for Culture and Communications, Journalism, and Media Studies
New York University, Steinhardt School, Department of Culture and Communication
New York University Information Law Institute
New York University School of Law

For more information, visit the Symposium's Site Here.

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Surveillance Goes Mainstream

posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 02:02 PM // June 14, 2006 // Commentary &/or random thoughts | General | Surveillance and social sorting | Walking On the Identity Trail

While researching how the major telcos are bundling their products, I was somewhat surprised to see that Telus has now added retail sales of consumer surveillance products to its online store. There are at least three immediate observations to be made about this development.

1. Web-based video surveillance is now mainstream. While similar products have been available for years, Linksys (a division of Cisco Systems) is a major market player with a variety of high-volume retail distributors. Telus is also prominently marketing these products through the main products page of their online store.
2. Web-based video surveillance is easy to use. Unlike the James Bond surveillance of years past, the Linksys models are ready to run out of the box. According to the product description, the Wireless G Video Camera contains its own web-server and does not require a computer. Just provide power and a nearby wireless network connection and the camera will stream live video (with sound) straight to any web-browser. For mobile monitoring, the camera can notify a cell-phone, pager, or e-mail address whenever the motion sensor is triggered. When operating in "Security Mode," the camera can be configured to send short video clips to up to 3 e-mail addresses.

3. Web-based video surveillance is cheap. Telus offers two models. The cheaper version retails for $99.95 and contains all the basic functionality. For $274.95, the deluxe version includes a motion sensor and microphone.

Such products will likely have significant privacy implications. Their ease-of-use and low-cost will allow a much broader market of users than have previous versions. It is foreseeable that many of these users will devise illicit uses beyond the "home monitoring" described by Telus. As these products continue to shrink in size and wireless capabilities improve, the threat is only likely to increase.

We are left with the recurring question: Does the democratization of surveillance equipment present a threat?

One might argue, as has Steve Mann with the concept of sousveillance, that providing such tools to citizens counterbalances the powers of otherwise one-sided surveillance. I consider this to be somewhat of a "right to bear arms" argument and am forced to wonder whether such a state is at all desirable. Are many weapons preferable to a single weapon?

In contrast, one might also see Telus' foray into video surveillance as part of the surveillance "arms race" that will inevitably be a race to the bottom (the always enjoyable skeptic's position).

Alas, I fear this moral debate will only be resolved by the great oracle of our time... the market.

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.:privacy:. | .:contact:.

This is a SSHRC funded project:
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada