A 24/7 Wireless Tracking Network
It’s at MIT:
MIT’s newly upgraded wireless network—extended this month to cover the entire school—doesn’t merely get you online in study halls, stairwells or any other spot on the 9.4 million square foot campus. It also provides information on exactly how many people are logged on at any given location at any given time.
It even reveals a user’s identity if the individual has opted to make that data public.
MIT researchers did this by developing electronic maps that track across campus, day and night, the devices people use to connect to the network, whether they’re laptops, wireless PDAs or even Wi-Fi equipped cell phones.
WiFi is certainly a good technology for this sort of massive surveillance. It’s an open and well-standardized technology that allows anyone to go into the surveillance business. Bluetooth is a similar technology: open and easy to use. Cell phone technologies, on the other hand, are closed and proprietary. RFID might be the preferred surveillance technology of the future, depending on how open and standardized it becomes.
Whatever the technology, privacy is a serious concern:
While every device connected to the campus network via Wi-Fi is visible on the constantly refreshed electronic maps, the identity of the users is confidential unless they volunteer to make it public.
Those students, faculty and staff who opt in are essentially agreeing to let others track them.
“This raises some serious privacy issues,” Ratti said. “But where better than to work these concerns out but on a research campus?”
Rich Pell, a 21-year-old electrical engineering senior from Spartanburg, S.C., was less than enthusiastic about the new system’s potential for people monitoring. He predicted not many fellow students would opt into that.
“I wouldn’t want all my friends and professors tracking me all the time. I like my privacy,” he said. “I can’t think of anyone who would think that’s a good idea. Everyone wants to be out of contact now and then.”
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