Sunday, January 28, 2007

Unions and "Geoslavery"

It looks like the use of Biometrics has union members in a tizzy. They are beginning to object to being scanned and tracked.

The use of hand geometry and other biometric data is being used to log in people's time and attendance at the workplace. Now New York City government agency workers are complaining of "geoslavery" and are asserting that technology which has been developed for security purposes will be used to track, label and control workforces.

Folks are objecting to the invasion of privacy, and the taking of very personal measurements, in order to track you wherever you go. Some say that the biometric systems being installed are now giving the city a license to obtain personal, uniquely identifiable data to track workers.

One chilling comment made in this article:
"On the one hand I think people might all agree that if you put a GPS system in ambulances then that's a good thing. On the other hand you have an employer in Ohio who has demanded that two of his employees have chips implanted in their bodies."
"If these are the extremes, the question is where does the line get drawn?".
Clearly, people are starting to get a bit annoyed at this; enough so that the term "geoslavery" has emerged in our lexicon. It refers to a sophisticated form of slavery, where everyone is tracked via Global Positioning or other methods all the time. Science fiction? Apparently these union members in NYC are starting to see it as science fact.

I have read articles that suggest that we are not far away from technology that would realize combining geographic information systems (GIS) technology with a global positioning system (GPS) and a radio transmitter and receiver, so that someone easily can monitor your movements with or without your knowledge. Add to that a transponder -- either implanted into a person or in the form of a bracelet -- that sends an electric shock any time you step out of line, and that person actually can control your movements from a distance. That's technology that has an application in our prison system.

Consider that some of these technologies have already been used on animals. Of course there is "electric fence". The dog gets a shock if they get too close to the perimeter of their outdoor space. People also can implant RFID chips into their dogs. It's convenient if they stray and are picked up; no collar needed. Just bring them to the local vet and voila, they can be identified and returned to their owner.

Kids can be tracked as well. RFID chip technology is already being considered and used by school systems by placing them in kids' book bags or clothing. It's also being marketed to parents who wish to implant RFID chips into their kids for fear that their child might be abducted. Although the GPS part of it has not been implemented yet on RFID chips, we are for sure seeing the sale of cell phones which allow parents to track where their kids are.

Adults are being tracked as well. As it is - others can track your speed and which exits you enter and leave the highway when using "E-Z Pass" toll technology. It is quite possible that if you go from point A to point B on the highway within a certain amount of time, that you just might get a speeding ticket mailed to you automatically. "On-Star" can remotely lock or unlock your doors. Your car can also be started or stopped remotely.

The technology is being introduced slowly, and we all are getting accustomed to it in some way, shape or form. The article regarding union objections goes on to give these statistics:
In 2004, U.S. employers reportedly spent $9 billion on monitoring devices for the workplace, while a 2005 survey by American Management Association and The ePolicy Institute found 76 percent of companies monitor workers Web site use.

The survey of 526 U.S. companies also showed 36 percent of employers track computer content, keystrokes and time spent at the keyboard, while half store and review employees' computer files and 55 percent retain and review e-mail messages.

Only 5 percent used GPS in phones and 8 percent used GPS in company vehicles, while fingerprint scanning only accounted for 5 percent, facial recognition 2 percent and iris scans 0.5 percent.
Maybe it's not a lot, but it is setting up infrastructure, trial testing, and something that future technology can be built upon. Right now the full use of biometrics is not being realized because of cost to employers and businesses, but you can bet that once the cost comes down and it is shown to improve the bottom line it'll be used more.

Now tell me - What will you do if you cannot buy a car that cannot be tracked, and even controlled, remotely by others? How will you feel knowing that your movements going from place to place can be tracked? What would you do if your employer said - scan a body part for us, or get chipped, or be fired? Tough choice for some. What is your threshold for giving up your privacy and freedom?
They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
- Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759
Can you be led to believe that these technologies will insure your security and safety? Will technology like this really enhance security and stop terrorism? I'm not so sure.

I think some of this technology is wonderful. It can even be useful in some situations, like preventing Alzheimer's patients from straying. However, we all know that technology can also have a dark side, and my hope is that we will still maintain our freedom and our privacy even as these technologies emerge. My feeling is that just because we can do something, like tracking and controlling human beings,that it also doesn't mean that we should.