The French philosopher Michel Foucault suggested that societies have a tendency towards observation, discipline and normalising behaviour. According to his theory, all hierarchical structures, like those found in the army, in hospitals and in factories, behave like prisons where man, upon feeling himself observed, usually normalises his behaviour. Later, George Orwell, in his novel 1984, also envisaged the surveillance culture in his creation of a world in which people are constantly controlled and watched by totalitarian governments. Today, this vision could easily be enforced, if it was desired, due to technologies used by governments and companies to monitor citizens and employees.
Street lamps that watch you and talk to you
Street lamps now can be turned into spies. A series of street lamps installed in American cities such as Detroit, Chicago and Pittsburgh now have the ability to give instructions to pedestrians. Installed with “IntelliStreets” technology, they can also record conversations that can be sent to a central headquarters by Wi-Fi. The company behind their development says they can also be used in places such as universities and sports stadiums.
Be careful what you say while on public transport, as buses can now be installed with devices to record your conversations. The technology is designed to filter out background noise and clearly record passengers’ voices. The aim is to prevent crime, such as robberies and even terrorist attacks, and theoretically the recordings could be used as evidence in court. A number of American states such as Maryland and Oregon and the city of San Francisco are considering installing such devices on buses.
Normal marketing techniques are increasingly proving futile due to the sensory bombardment that consumers around the world suffer on a daily basis. Therefore, some clothing brands and department stores in the United States are investing in creating mannequins that are designed to showcase more than just clothes. The technology, known as EyeSee, has been developed by the firm Almax. It allows shops to see who is attracted to items in the shop window and to study potential buyers. A special camera scans the faces of shoppers and the software reveals information such as age, gender and race. It also gives statistics on the number of people who have walked past the window and the time they have spent looking at the items displayed.
Surveillance at work
Most workplaces are ideal for surveillance and monitoring. Your boss wants you to work harder and for longer. However, you, of course, might have other ideas. For that reason, biometric clocks were created to control and identify the number of hours each employee works in the office. They can also be used to monitor the amount of time taken during scheduled or unscheduled breaks. Some technologies use the employee's fingerprint to control movement in and out of the office, while others use applications like FaceIn which are based on face recognition.
Parents have long used harnesses and reins to protect their toddlers in the street. However, with the advance of technology it is now possible for parents to be aware of their children’s movements right up to the time when they become adults. Microchip technology means children can be given bands, bracelets or key rings that send out radio frequencies. Their movements can then be calculated and monitored on a computer. Demand for child locators has grown with the increased fear of child abductions within modern society.
Sensors that betray your movements
The Kinect sensor is a technology created by Microsoft that allows movement to be detected via a video camera. This device is currently used for entertainment purposes, for example, in the XBOX 360 game console. However, Microsoft has also sought to patent its use in offices. In a patent application to the United States government, the company said: “Organisational behaviours may be monitored, analysed, and influenced via multi-modal communication sessions.” This technology could be used to monitor employees, as well as analysing their verbal communication and gestures. Any unusual movement would lead to security personnel or the human resources department being informed.
Software exists that can be used to record the key strokes that take place on computer keyboards. Any information that is typed and then deleted is also recorded by this technology. Such programs can be manually placed on a computer or they can even be remotely installed through a virus. The case of Nicky Scarfo Junior, son of an Italian mafia boss, illustrated how the FBI had already used this technology in fighting crime. Agents manually installed a program on his computer to unveil a series of passwords, allowing them to access incriminating information.
Google, an information bank
Google, owner of the email server Gmail, reported in its latest transparency report that it received almost 8,000 requests from the United States government to gain access to personal email accounts in the first half of 2012. The company said that had complied with the requests in 90% of the cases. However, these requests are not only limited to the United States government. Mexico's government made 71 requests for data regarding the details of 136 email accounts. In that case, Google complied with 45% of applications either fully or partially.