I’m far from the only academic studying smart cities and big data-driven urbanism. One of the people who’s most inspired my work (in many ways) over the years, is Rob Kitchin – sometimes I even spell his name right! Rob has this fantastic new book, The Data Revolution, coming out in September from Sage, and very helpfully he has put the bibliography, and a lot of other stuff, online. This is the way scholarship should be. Too many of us still guard our ‘secret’ sources and keep our work-in-progress close to our chests. But if we want people to read what we do, think and take action, then more open scholarship is the way to go.
According to Wired’s Threat Level blog, Google is taking a rather tougher stance towards the US federal government when it comes to requests for cloud-stored data for investigations. The company is now, it says, asking for judicial warrants from state organisations. As Wired points out, even though this might seem ethically sound, it is dubious legal ground as the US Electronic Privacy Communications Act allows the federal government access to such documents without a warrant. And yet, no court challenge has yet been made by the government to Google’s stance.
So what is going on here? Is Google serious about taking on ‘the feds’ in favour of users? Is this new pro-user line by Google merely contingent and once something ‘really important’ is demanded, the company would cave in? Is there some other kind of backroom deal? Is Google actually being rather cynical because the company knows that the NSA can access everything they have anyway (and probably by arrangement – after all, the NSA helped Google out a lot in its battle with China’s authorities)? I suspect there is much more to this apparently casual revelation…
Bruce Schneier has a nice little piece which is saying similar things to what I’ve been saying over the last couple of years on the subject of ‘crowdsourcing’ or opening closed-circuits of surveillance. He critiques the Internet Eyes scheme and Texas Border Watch and others. This is also the subject of the paper, ‘Opening Surveillance?’ that Aaron Martin of LSE and I presented at the S&S conference in London in April, and which will hopefully be coming out in the journal’s conference special early next year…
Marketing site, Brandchannel, reports on a US Army program, the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS or ‘Jitters’), which they say is going to crowdsource video surveillance on the battlefield. Actually, if you watch the embedded video piece from the US Army itself, you’ll see that the program is much more fundamental than this, it is about integrating different radio systems and trying to make the best use of scarce EM bandwidth in order to allow all kinds of more efficient communications – which would of course include video surveillance data or any other kind of data sent over wireless.
However, all is not what Brandchannel thinks. According to Global Security, the JTRS program was already in trouble back in 2005 and rumours of its demise continued to circulate – Wired’s Danger Room reported on this back in 2007. It is still in existence but has been scaled back, the contractors have switched and the costs have risen to more than $1Bn.
The latest bit of boosterism, and claims from the JTRS people that the system will include the ability for troops to access surveillance images from military UAVs and could be in place by 2014, comes therefore in this context, and also in the context of the hacking of US military surveillance drones by insurgents using cheap Russian TV downloading software. One of the really interesting things about this is how the context of military expertise is changing: one of the key justifications for all this is the concept that US troops will already be familiar with handheld devices and streaming video etc. Network-centric warfare turns out to be no different from kids using their iPhones to watch movies… if, of course, it ever actually works.
I missed putting this up last week, but MIT’s Technology Review blogs had a good summary of a talk by Intel’s Justin Rattner, who was arguing for a new era of more ‘friendly’ surveillance. By this he means an emphasis on ubiquitous computing and sensing technologies, or what the Europeans call ‘ambient intelligence’, for personal and personalized assistance and support. He is quoted in the piece as saying “Future devices will constantly learn about you, your habits, how you go about your life, your friends. They’ll know where you’re going, they’ll anticipate, they’ll know your likes and dislikes.” Rattner himself was wearing some new ‘intelligent socks’ (well, sensors in his socks) during the talk, which can sense whether the wearer has fallen or experienced some other unexpected movement. Of course, the problem with this, apart from the issue of whether we want even our socks to anticipate our movements and more, is that the constant stream of data needed to inform the intelligent systems has to go somewhere, and that ‘somewhere’ is ‘the cloud’, i.e. the most intimate data about you, whatever level of security is in place, would be just out there and far more accessible than the forms of biomedical information currently held by, for example, our doctors.