Mobile surveillance looks like a grand idea, on the surface. However the implications for individual privacy are too horrific for words. But before I get carried away, let’s look at the good stuff about mobile surveillance.
Vodacom’s service, Look4me, enables people to track the cell phones of others, their own cell phone for the monthly subscription fee of R11.13. This service has many benefits. If your bag is stolen, you can simply track the mobile phone to see where it is. If you are worried about your rebel teenage son, or want to know where exactly you husband is at 11 o’clock at night, then that can easily happen.
Mobile surveillance may help to also decrease crime, as anyone, anywhere can capture just about anything on their mobile phone. In England a new initiative called Stop Crime has emerged and it is a community project to help combat crime by using your cell phone. You sign up for the service, and the police will send you text messages about any incident that has occured in your area. You are then free to send them any information that you may have that could be used to solve the crime, whether this be an sms, a video or an audio clip.
Cell phone records can be pulled, with a subpoena and used as incriminating evidence against criminals. Mobile surveillance has also been used by the FBI to track New York crime families. This was done by remotely activating a mobile phone’s microphone and using it to eavesdrop on nearby conversations. This is a technique called the ‘roving bug.’
Police in Australia have also admitted to using the mobile phone network to keep track of known criminals using signals emitted by the criminals’ phones that were being picked up by local base stations. This proved to work effectively as cell phones emit data every half an hour, whether they are turned on or off.
To know that we are constantly being watched or could be found anywhere is alarming. We come under the panopticon gaze, we know we are being watched, but we don’t know who by, when and why.
Socially, the implications of mobile surveillance is phenomenal. Do we change the way we behave because we know we are being watched? And while we may be uncomfortable with being watched, are we as uncomfortable doing the watching?