Überveillance | Think of it as big brother on the inside looking out

radiationLondon authorities have started forcing people convicted of alcohol related crime to wear ankle tags which monitor the alcohol content of their perspiration alerting the offenders probabation officer if they drink. Meanwhile in a healthcare and by extension health insurance context. Proteus digital health have developed a system where  wearable and ingestible sensors work together to gather information about treatment compliance. (The system uses technology similar to the ingestable password pill that Motorola have been developing as reported by allthingsd back in 2013).  Meanwhile wearables are increasingly being used for monitoring employees in the workplace , including as part of corporate wellness programs.

The upshot of all this is that we are seeeing the mass market application of something academics have been warning about for some time: Namely the use of wearable, ingestable and implantable surveillance technology to segregate and enforce behavioural compliance for the purpose of efficient population management. Given that we are already seeing the use of wearable monitoring devices for both healthcare and criminal justice applications it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to imagine tags or implants being used by a rightwing government to distingush between ‘deserving‘ and ‘undeserving‘ recipients of wealthfare or healthcare at which point the uberveillance society will have well and truely arrived:

M.G. Michael and K. Michael. “Towards a State of Uberveillance” IEEE Technology and Society Magazine (2010).

We are living in a period where chip implants for the purposes of segregation are being discussed seriously …We will almost certainly witness new, and more fixed forms, of “electronic apartheid.” … The next generation will view this technology as super “cool” and convenient and opt-in without comprehending the full extent of their compliance

Also see:

Gagnon, M., Jacob, J.D. & Guta, A., 2013. Treatment adherence redefined: a critical analysis of technotherapeutics. Nursing inquiry, 20(1), pp.60–70.

We understand that technotherapeutics (as many other health technologies) may be initially welcomed by many of those they are intended to help. These technologies may provide individuals who are chronically ill with a sense of identity and even ‘empowerment’ about their adherence.

…… As has been observed historically, these technologies may ultimately become divisive and serve to differentiate the ‘good’ from the ‘bad’, or, in a bio-political sense, to differentiate those worthy of life (ongoing treatment and support) and those who the state should ‘let die’ (denied future medication or insurance coverage).

Overall, we understand technotherapeutics as serving to both discipline individual bodies and also to regulate whole groups of people deemed to constitute a threat to the collective body. In this sense, we consider that adherence work is above all a political project that endeavors to achieve optimal disease management (through surveillance and discipline), reduce the financial burden of treatment non-adherence on healthcare systems, and serve to further marginalize and differentiate ‘at-risk groups’ because of their unwillingness or inability to conform

#CyborgUnplug pre-orders are now available at https://plugunplug.net

 Cyborg Unplug can now be pre-ordered at https://plugunplug.net

Cyborg Unplug is an anti wireless-surveillance system for the home and workplace. It detects and kicks selected devices known to pose a risk to personal privacy from your wireless network, breaking uploads and streams. Detected wireless devices currently include: wearable ‘spy’ cameras and microphones, Google Glass and Dropcam, small drones/copters and a variety of popular spy devices disguised as familiar objects.instruction03

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StealthGenie the app “expressly designed for use by stalkers and domestic abusers”

Ars reports that the chief executive officer of a mobile spyware maker was arrested over the weekend, charged with allegedly illegally marketing an app that monitors calls, texts, videos, and other communications on mobile phones “without detection,”

Can we look forward to `Sandy’ Pentland, Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos,  Riccardo (Candy crush) Zacconi, and whoever the CEO of PassTime is, being arrested next? After all they collect even more personal and location data.

Unfortunately not – they were smart enough to get you to agree to a privacy policy you didn’t read or understand in order to get a job, buy a car, talk to your friends or play some addictive game. This guy was stupid enough to advocate putting it on other people’s devices without their permission. If he had marketed it as a “fun program“, “a system for ensuring your children are safe” or “advanced find my phone” rather than advocating surreptitious installation it would still be in the app store.

Microsoft research paper : courtesy protocol for wearable cameras

Interesting approach by Jaeyeon Jung & Matthai Philipose from Microsoft research. The basic idea is to turn off wearable cameras like Autographer when people are detected by a low res far-infrared imager unless those people have expressed consent.


Small and always-on, wearable video cameras disrupt social norms that have been established for traditional hand-held video cameras, which explicitly signal when and which subjects are being recorded to people around the camera-holder. We first discuss privacy-related social cues that people employ when recording other people (as a camera-holder) or when being recorded by others (as a bystander or a subject). We then discuss how low-fidelity sensors such as far-infrared imagers can be used to capture these social cues and to control video cameras accordingly in order to respect the privacy of others. We present a few initial steps toward implementing a fully functioning wearable camera that recognizes social cues related to video privacy and generates signals that can be used by others to adjust their privacy expectations.


read the full paper here


Civil Rights, Big Data, and Our Algorithmic Future

The key decisions that shape people’s lives—decisions about jobs, healthcare, housing, education, criminal justice and other key areas—are, more and more often, being made automatically by computers. As a result, a growing number of important conversations about civil rights, which focus on how these decisions are made, are also becoming discussions about how computer systems work.

The September 2014 report on social justice and technology begins to answer the question “How and where, exactly, does big data become a civil rights issue? “


Read the report here


The report is generally very good and provides real concrete examples. However they claim on the basis of sparse anecdotal evidence that ‘Body-worn cameras are poised to help boost accountability for law enforcement and citizens’. We beg to differ – life as always is more complicated than that.

There is no such thing as ‘technology.’

Anyone who views critics of particular technologies as ‘luddites’ fundamentally misunderstands what technology is.There is no such thing as ‘technology.’ Rather there are specific technologies, produced by specific economic and political actors, and deployed in specific economic and social contexts. You can be anti-nukes without being anti-antibiotics. You can be pro-surveillance of powerful institutions without being pro-surveillance of individual people. You can work on machine vision for medical applications while campaigning against the use of the same technology for automatically identifying and tracking people. How? Because you take a moral view of the likely consequences of a technology in a particular context.

…. More

There is no such thing as ‘technology.

Brookings Institute report on cyborg law and policy.

Brookings Institute report on cyborg law and policy.

In June 2014, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Riley v. California, in which the justices unanimously ruled that police officers may not, without a warrant, search the data on a cell phone seized during an arrest. Writing for eight justices, Chief Justice John Roberts declared that “modern cell phones . . . are now such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.”1

This may be the first time the Supreme Court has explicitly contemplated the cyborg in case law—admittedly as a kind of metaphor. But the idea that the law will have to accommodate the integration of technology into the human being has actually been kicking around for a while.

Speaking at the Brookings Institution in 2011 at an event on the future of the Constitution in the face of technological change, Columbia Law Professor Tim Wu mused that “we’re talking about something different than we realize.” Because our cell phones are not attached to us, not embedded in us, Wu argued, we are missing the magnitude of the questions we contemplate as we make law and policy regulating human interactions with these ubiquitous machines that mediate so much of our lives. We are, in fact, he argued, reaching “the very beginnings of [a] sort of understanding [of] cyborg law, that is to say the law of augmented humans.”


The report is interesting and thoughtful. It asks exactly the kinds of questions we need to consider as a society.

Read the full report here


Since we are cited as an example twice we need to briefly clarify our views:

(1) The report states

How exactly we will mediate between the rights of cyborgs and the rights of anti-cyborgs remains to be seen—but we are already seeing some basic principles emerge. For example, the proposition that individuals should have special rights with respect to the use of therapeutic or restorative technologies appears to be so accepted that it has prompted a kind of intuitive carve-out for those who otherwise oppose wearable and similar technologies. Such is the case with Stop the Cyborgs, an organization that emerged directly in response to the public adoption of “wearable” technologies such as Google Glass. On its website, the group promotes “Google Glass ban signs” for owners of restaurants, bars and cafes to download and encourages the creation of “surveillance-free” zones.76 Yet the site also expressly requests that those who choose to ban Google Glass and “similar devices” from their property to also respect the rights of those who rely on assistive devices.77

This is  true (it refers to our section on ‘Disability rights & assistive devices‘) but our stance is a little more nuanced than implied in the report. The core issues are agency and coersion rather than some normative conception of what a human should be.

If the cyborg’s extended body includes components that they do not fully control such as:

  • Remotely controlled devices
  • Closed source devices
  • Cloud services or data storage
  • Hackable or remotely updateable networked devices

Then the cyborg does not have control over there own extended body and are in a vunerable position. They are potentially subject to external surveillance, coersion and control. Further because they are carriers of external forces they may subject those arround them to external surveillance, coersion and risk. Because their extended body comprises networked technical systems they cannot reassure people that they are not going to do X because they do not control their own extended body. Thus cyborgisation forces us to replace behavioural requests “please turn your camera off and leave it outside” with the exclusion of particular extended bodies “you cannot come in to the Tibetan dissidents meeting because your body is a camera which automatically syncs with Baidu“.

Cyborgisation threatens the idea of individual agency and responsibility.

Depending on the situation it may be the cyborg themselves or those arround them that suffer most. Further depending on the situation the degree of choice that the cyborg has about using the device may differ. In the case of assistive devices the user may have little choice. All available devices may subject the wearer and those arround them to external monitoring but because the consequences of not being able to see, or hear, move or otherwise function as huge they have little choise but to accept. Similary some people may be coersed by their insurers or employeers into wearing or being implanted with a device. Then finally we have people like glassholes or lifeloggers who have freely choosen to wear a device.

Where the cyborg is subject to coersion our sympathies are with them. If a technical part makes up your extended body then you should control it not some corporation but unfortunately the majority of medical and assistive devices are closed propriety systems. Further no-one should be coersed by people, corporations or indeed wider economic or social forces into wearing or being implanted with any device. However it is clear that many people unfortunately are.

In the case of glassholes, lifeloggers or views are clear. The loss to these people of removing their device is minimial and even if they have embedded a camera in their head – noone and no circumstance forced them to do it.

Cyborg Unplug – Plug to Unplug


Cyborg Unplug is a wireless anti-surveillance system for the home and workplace. ‘Plug to Unplug’, it detects and kicks devices known to pose a risk to personal privacy from your local wireless network, breaking uploads and streams. Detected devices currently include: Google Glass, Dropcam, small drones/copters, wireless ‘spy’ microphones and various other network-dependent surveillance devices.

Cyborg Unplug will be available for pre-order September 30, 2014. Subscribe to ensure you are kept up-to-date with the launch and to receive other low-volume information about the project.