November 6, 2005
MIT Network Tracks Users as a Feature
Sometimes when I search the Microsoft Knowledge Base I find articles that tell me the behavior I'm trying to remove is a design feature and not a program defect. Similar is the design of the MIT Campus wireless network, that not only maps connected users, but can identify them by name and track their movements from building to building. Some shudder that they can be so identified even as a blip on the screen. The advantage to this identification is the ability for users to see where the crowds may be working and either join them or go somewhere else. The disadvantage is the apparent lack of privacy. Information is updated on electronic campus maps about every 15 minutes or so. The design is sophisticated enough that 3D renditions can distinguish between floors in a building. Those who want to be identified by name on maps must opt into the system, otherwise the system identifies connections anonymously. CNN has the report here.
Contrast this to a nifty report in the Washington Post on how the FBI is using national security letters and other techniques to track movements of ordinary citizens who may be peripherally involved with a terrorist investigation. In the past, those rules involving data collection required data on innocent citizens to be destroyed once there was a determination of innocence. No more, says the story. Now the information is retained in government databases and may be freely shared with other government agencies. The FBI apparently collected data on well over 300,000 visitors to Las Vegas at the end of 2003 because of a possible terrorist plot aimed at the city. The plot obviously never reached fruition, if it existed at all. Imagine what the government could do with a wireless network tracking individual movements. With cell phones, laptops, cameras, RFID tags all spewing out information, who knows what controls will need to be in place to ultimately protect privacy?
November 6, 2005 | Permalink
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