Uncounted Problems Accompany the Promise of New Surveillance Technologies
Modern technology has greatly expanded potential applications in every sector, from virtual office management eliminating the need for physical office space to distance monitoring of your child’s internet activity. Positive benefits of these applications are often made obvious by their designers, but ethical concerns tend to be overlooked until there are problems.
Two new trends in surveillance technology are being hailed for their potential in medicine and security. As with other technological innovations, they are being adopted with a focus on the promised benefits. Concerns about potential problems stemming from wholesale adoption gain only a brief mention by the press and designers. Unfortunately, treating these potential problems as afterthoughts is an invitation to misuse and abuse of technology.
Individual Health Monitoring
The latest technological trend in medicine is toward personalized monitoring of vital statistics and electronic imaging of internal organs. New sensors are making it possible to monitor brain waves during sleep, obtain 3D images of organs, count triglycerides and blood sugar, and follow a vast amount of other information as it occurs.
Sensors can help improve posture by warning when it is misaligned. They can help cardiac patients by showing the immediate or delayed effects of eating certain foods or raising their tone of voice. Biofeedback has also helped people lose weight and recognize previously unknown chronic diseases, such as low-grade Crohn’s disease. It is far more efficient and cost-effective than sending off lab tests or purchasing testing equipment every month.
Pioneers are currently sharing the information via online groups dedicated to health. It is no great leap to consider that employers, already purchasing credit reports on potential hires, might also be interested in purchasing the intimate details of an employee’s health status. Insurance companies would have a similar motivation. Public health authorities have been stymied thus far in micro-managing individual health, but their efforts could be enhanced greatly by this technology.
Advanced Facial Recognition Software
It’s already possible for law enforcement to rapidly compare a suspect’s face with a known pool of potential suspects, but this has been taken to the next level and expanded by the latest surveillance technology from Hitachi Kokusai Electric. Soon, this software will be integrated into store surveillance systems, municipal security cameras, and mass transit security systems.
Some applications seem to hold a lot of promise. Missing children could be reversed search by linking security systems across areas where they are suspected to have been taken. Violent criminals could be quickly identified and located before causing more damage. Military and law enforcement targets could be more accurately pinpointed to reduce injury and death of innocent bystanders.
Regulators have not begun to count or address potential problems. Government and corporate surveillance of peaceful protest groups has increased in recent years, and advances in facial recognition will be sure to aid their efforts. Surveillance has always had a chilling effect on free speech. There will also be an increased tendency for government and private intelligence agencies to collect images and information for all citizens on the internet, which could quickly lead to abuse of civil rights on a level Stalin could only dream of.
New technology always brings new problems, and it is generally impossible to see these problems accurately beforehand. This is the purpose for the precautionary principle in science. The benefits of these new technologies are real and desirable, but it is worthwhile to keep in mind the fact that potential costs are rarely a serious consideration.
Michael Muhammad is a private investigator and freelance blogger. There are a lot of tools in the information age to help you learn what you need to know. One of his favorites is the very useful Reverse Phone directory reversephonelookup.org.
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