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    USA Today: Hello, Big Brother: Digital sensors are watching us

    USA Today reports on surveillance technology being used by corporations to monitor the public. They mention issues we’ve discussed before, such as government camera surveillance and billboards that can watch you (also called “digital signage“).

    Odds are you will be monitored today — many times over. Surveillance cameras at airports, subways, banks and other public venues are not the only devices tracking you. Inexpensive, ever-watchful digital sensors are now ubiquitous. They are in laptop webcams, video-game motion sensors, smartphone cameras, utility meters, passports and employee ID cards. […]

    Several developments have converged to push the monitoring of human activity far beyond what George Orwell imagined. Low-cost digital cameras, motion sensors and biometric readers are proliferating just as the cost of storing digital data is decreasing. The result: the explosion of sensor data collection and storage. […]

    At the recent International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Intel and Microsoft introduced a prototype of an in-store digital billboard that can memorize your face. The technology soon could be used in billboards capable of keeping track of the products you’re interested in, much as depicted in the Tom Cruise sci-fi movie Minority Report. […]

    But before the blessings of pervasive monitoring can be fully realized, privacy concerns need to be addressed, says Chris Wolf, director of privacy and information management at Chicago law firm Hogan Lovells. “What’s new is the capacity for databases to share data and therefore to put together the pieces of a puzzle that can identify us in surprising ways — ways that really could be an invasion of privacy,” Wolf says. […]

    Lee Tien, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation advocacy group, believes government agencies and corporations will find it difficult to resist tapping deeper into sensor data. “If there’s money to be made or a mission to be accomplished by correlating this data, it’s the height of skepticism to argue that it’s never going to happen,” he says. […]

    Wolf, the privacy attorney, says the right to move through public places anonymously could be at risk. “We don’t have to tell everybody we pass on the street our name, phone number and address,” Wolf says. Losing the right to anonymity, he says, could “really have a chilling effect on where we go, with whom we meet and how we live our lives.” […]

    Still, in a world of pervasive sensors, troubling data correlations are cropping up in unanticipated ways. For instance, most consumers are ignorant about how smartphones equipped with GPS location finders routinely “geotag” photos and videos, embedding images with the longitude and latitude of the location shown in the image.

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