Author Archives: startmodezero

Talking About Dolphins, Habitat, and Wearable Technology

I was intrigued to learn recently that the first dolphin conversation has been observed. We have long known – though many might dispute it – that we are not the only intelligent or indeed conscious animals on Earth. Depending on how it is measured we may not even be the most intelligent life form currently inhabiting this planet. We really cannot even be absolutely certain that there have not been other life forms on earth that were or are more intelligent than we consider ourselves to be. Whatever factors lead to the development of  intelligence other factors such as attrition due to the destruction of habitat,  predation, or a pandemic can wipe out a sustainable population of any geographically specific species in a short period of time and probably have done thousands of times perhaps leaving a few survivors to seek out or be discovered by others who might find enough genetic similarities to breed or provide ahandy meal.

What is certain is that our own species of hairless apes has relatively recently begun engaging in activities that are rapidly destroying the habitats that our fellow life forms rely on to survive and this behaviour cannot be considered intelligent as it will impact on us too. It is a great shame that at a time when we appear to have the means to live sustainably and in relative harmony with the planet that progress is seemingly only possible if the environment is damaged and little consideration is given regarding the impact of our activities, and the way we choose to live, on other species and the overall well-being of the planet. Of course if we all agreed to stop harming the planet and respect life and the environments that sustain it then that would be a huge step forward.

The dystopian future that H. G. Wells portrayed in his book ‘The Time Machine’ often haunts me. A world where technology is present and used but not understood and where our species has merely become a source of food for a stronger species

I think wearable technology has a role to play in that it might be adapted to help us to measure the impact we have on the environment in a variety of ways. For example our food choices might be monitored and we might be advised to make decisions about what we eat that are better for the environment. We might be advised regarding transport that has less of an impact or interact with intelligent home environments that maximise energy efficiency and help us to minimise harmful waste. We might for instance live in greener cities that use renewable energy resources and our wearable technology will enable us to make smarter choices living in them helping to keep us fit, healthy and safe.

We don’t have to plunder and damage the planet if we share resources and only use what we need being sure to take into account the impact of what we do and replant, replace, and renew as we go.

Permanent or Biodegradable Implantable Electronic Monitoring Technology 

Permanent or Biodegradable Implantable Electronic Monitoring Technology 
The existence of viable and potentially useful technology of this type is a relatively recent development and already there is talk that it could potentially have a number of applications including those useful for medical, military, criminal justice purposes and produce an increasing number of data sources that could be used in an increasing number of ways. Activity type monitoring collecting data on heart rate, respiration, location, temperature, and alcohol use are just the beginning. 

In the future our bodies may well be equipped with a fairly standard set of tiny networked sensors and other subdermal electronic devices that are designed to be permanent and may provide a variety of services including real time information (perhaps a bit like some cars that can be connected to computers to provide an ever increasing amount of diagnostic and information that can also be used to predict future problems) monitoring our status and any changes in normal functions. 

We may also have additional sensors implanted monitoring specific areas perhaps as a result of being assessed to be at higher statistical risk of developing certain congenital/hereditary) health problems. If this is likely to be necessary for only a short time period for example following surgery or because of other diagnostic information then the sensors could be made biodegradable in the same way that some sutures are simply dissolve or are absorbed over time. 

The main driver for the widespread use of this technology may well prove to be the health/life insurance industry with lower costs for those who are considered to be lower risk and much higher costs for those who are assessed as being at higher risk leading to a form of social sorting on the basis of health/life expectancy and lifestyle. 

There is therefore a slightly worrying element to the development of these technologies that may appear to be on the one hand a useful and beneficial use of technology but may also prove to be used in such a way as to become socially divisive and potentially open to abuse. Would we really want for example for our lifestyle choices to be precisely monitored and those that choose to lead riskier or indeed sedentary lives (poor diet, drinking, smoking, high adrenaline sports etc) to be compelled to pay more for healthcare than those who are in low risk occupations and don’t take risks and take every precaution in order to evidence that they have acted at all times within approved and safe parameters? 

Society may eventually be divided between those considered deserving of healthcare and those considered less deserving based upon their respective lifestyle choices. 

We may well ask how will society will treat those who might be considered to have been reckless with their health or who are predicted to be expensive to treat in the future but are without the resources to pay for the treatment of anticipated health problems? Who will own or have access to our data that might make predictions possible? Would data collected when for instance we were being monitored for alcohol use (that might include other unrelated biometric data) following a drink driving conviction be sold on to an insurance or finance company and used to assess our risk when we apply for life/medical insurance or if we apply for a loan?

The potential to place biodegradable devices inside the body that can monitor chemicals associated with pain and respond accordingly by administering precise doses of drugs (either internally or via external devices) might assist with the management and treatment of medical conditions and illneses but might also open up possibilities for control and manipulation. For example precisely controlled hormonal implants to treat medical conditions might also be used to attempt to control/treat undesirable impulses or behaviours in sex offenders. 

Implants might also be developed to administer pain, nausea, or other discomfort if someone was doing something or going somewhere that was prohibited. Implants might also be developed to manipulate or control people in different ways such as keeping them awake, relaxed or sleepy in order to remotely manage those in an institution such as a prison or indeed to respond in a variety of ways if certain substances were detected. 

Military applications of this technology are fairly obvious with the the real possibility of producing enhanced soldiers that might be precisely monitored and controlled. Implants that simply melt away might for example be mission specific. 

As is usual the technologies that are becoming available are being developed ahead of the ethical discussion and although much is now becoming possible that was previously science fiction we may have to consider fairly quickly what permanent and biodegradable implantable technologies are desirable and what are not and think carefully about how this technology might be used/abused and how it might be regulated.

‘Prisoners on parole to be fitted with alcohol detector tags’

Quite puzzled by an article in The Sunday Times today with the headline

‘Prisoners on parole to be fitted with alcohol detector tags’

This is certainly news to me and quite possibly to the rest of the electronic monitoring community.

The article starts off stating that ‘Criminals will be banned from drinking alcohol when they are released from prison’. However, the article neglects to say how this will be accomplished. Present legislation has allowed Transdermal Alcohol Monitoring tags (TAMs) to be piloted in London by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. These are not GPS enabled as the article suggests nor are they currently authorised for use as part of parole supervision or indeed as part of supervision for those serving sentences of less than 12 months.

We do know that the government plans to expand the use of electronic monitoring in a bid to reduce the prison population but largely due to incompetence and changing the goal posts/obligations for suppliers etc the roll out of the long awaited GPS tags has been delayed and delayed. We may still have to wait until much later in the year until anyone other than MoJ staff are actually fitted with one.

The article suggests that tomorrow UK PM David Cameron will announce the authorisation of something that does not currently exist ie a GPS enabled alcohol monitoring tag to be used with groups of offenders ie Parolees for which legislation does not currently exist to make wearing these tags a condition of their licence. It therefore beggars belief that this is what Cameron will do and if he does announce this it is highly unlikely he will be able to deliver it anytime soon.

Even if everything was in place to roll out a system that as the article suggests would mean that ‘Thousands of prisoners will be fitted with tags and told to stay away from drink as part of the terms of parole’ how is that even remotely practical to enforce? Even monitoring 111 people through an 18 month pilot took a large number of dedicated people putting in some very hard work indeed to produce ‘proof of concept’. A small scale pilot to produce proof of concept is a long way from a national roll out and expansion to totally different groups of offenders.

Such a measure would not be about treatment or rehabilitation but be about restriction of liberty and punishment. It would impact disproportionately on the poor and persons with particular lifestyles whether or not alcohol had featured in their offending. The alcohol monitoring tags are larger and hence more visible than standard RFID tags and, for instance, you would have difficulty wearing work boots (or for women in particular to wear work boots or calf length boots) and you cannot take a bath with one on. This may well make getting a job and even undertaking work safely such as labouring or indeed getting clean afterwards a lot more challenging.

During the pilot suitability for the tags was carefully assessed and most of those found suitable were people who had committed drink drive offences. They are not suitable for those who are alcohol dependent.

There is also mention in the same article of ‘Smart Tags’ that are lauded as a means to ‘reduce the number of babies born and raised behind bars’. I am at a loss to know how this will be achieved. Are male and female offenders to be tracked like tagged wild animals in a breeding project and somehow kept apart to prevent sexual relations taking place?

The article also mentions the use of mobile phones in prisons that I have always thought is a security issue as unmonitored calls related to illicit activity are the problem. The suggested solution is for mobile phone companies to cut off their signal to prisons. This is technically very problematic and would almost certainly mean that prisons and the area surrounding prisons would become mobile phone dead zones. This would be very inconvenient for anyone living near a prison and could itself cause a security risk with communications limited to landlines alone.

I await Cameron’s speech and hope it makes more sense than this article does.

What’s all the fuss about global navigation satellite systems?

The ability to know your exact location and also the precise time at that location has become increasingly important to those who rely on a range of technologies that in turn rely on satellite systems to facilitate navigation, monitoring, and tracking. For example commercial operations are increasingly reliant on satellite aided systems to ensure that goods get to where they are supposed to. When the U.S. Air Force successfully launched new GPS satellites via an Atlas V rocket this was reported extensively in China.(1) China happens to be one of several countries that is now vying for new business in this important area.

However, it is  perhaps prudent to consider the fact that the US GPS network, that most of us increasingly rely on for navigation, is primarily a military system owned and developed by the US Air Force and paid for by the Pentagon and was not originally conceived as having a civilian role. It is one of the systems that that is known to be used to assist military hardware, such as UAVs, to pinpoint targets. The civilian signal that most of us use with our SATNAVS and increasingly on our smartphones is freely accessible to anyone with suitable equipment but that service can just as easily be reduced or taken away. the loss of this service might mean I am embarrassed to arrive 10 minutes late for a meeting until I can find the information I need via an electronic street map but to a motorcycle paramedic on the way to the scene of an accident the service can mean the difference between life and death.

It is realised that there has been an exponential increase in reliance on the global positioning system to work reliably and in recent years the Pentagon have come under increasing pressure from the multi-agency National Space-Based Positioning Navigation and Timing (PNT) Advisory Board and others to agree that they will not reduce the accuracy, degrade, or switch off civilian access to the system. The main arguments are that to do so could potentially endanger life and disrupt commercial activities as this would have a global economic impact that is somewhat difficult to calculate but potentially catastrophic.   Although not life threatening to the persons concerned disruption of the service would also interfere with electronic monitoring systems such as those in security industries or those increasingly used in the criminal justice system to track offenders resulting in a loss of confidence in their use. Such systems have in any case only been viable since 2000 when, in a popular move, President Clinton ordered that the US military switch off selective availability (SA) thus substantially  increasing accuracy.

Analysts believe that it is highly unlikely that the GPS signal would be used to thwart threats to US or their allies national security as the fallout from such action would be potentially too unpredictable and harmful.  GPS however remains a potentially powerful weapon that continues to attract public interest not least as a tangible benefit resulting from a considerable investment in the space programme but also as a very real reminder of the US’s reach beyond its borders as a global power. Any hint therefore that the service might be used in a different way without the involement of democratic process is therefore of concern. President Bush, commenting on US GPS policy in 2004, said that the US would ‘improve capabilities to deny hostile use of [satnav], without unduly disrupting civil and commercial access to [GPS] outside an area of military operations, or for homeland security purposes…’ presenting the possibility that in certain circumstances SA might be used defensively or offensively to counter perceived ‘threats’. However, it would be naive to assume that those with hostile intent who are sophisticated enough to make effective use of GPS to achieve their aims would not also have access to fairly advanced technical resources that could be used to overcome any temporary limitations and quite possibly used against civilian populations by hostile groups seeking to cause disruption and gain publicity.

Not surprisingly other countries who have the necessary access to the technology to do so have been keen to develop their own systems. These countries are very clear that they do not want to rely too heavily on what is essentially a US military system that they realise could well be used strategically to disrupt the activities of others not acting in what the US may at any time to consider its interests (either military economic or political). The Russian military have developed GLONASS as have the military in China who have their own independent satellite navigation and positioning systems and a growing number of countries that prefer not to use the US system such as Pakistan, Thailand, China, Laos and Brunei use the Chinese system, for a variety of reasons, not just cost but also as a result of a web of treaties and understandings. It may be for example that one country’s military may well be wary of buying into a system that could well mean that the US can use this technology in combination with others in order to monitor and map over time the movements of their vehicles and personnel. They might suspect that the same system that is used to remotely to pilot drones towards selected targets could also be turned against them. The global navigation satellite systems can therefore be used.

The EU GALILEO global navigation satellite system (part funded by China) is a bit different from other systems as it is not only under full civilian control (we hope it will not be used to gather data on users without their knowledge) but also accurate to within a few centimeters whereas the US GPS network is only accurate within a few meters. The Galileo system is compatible with both the US and Russian systems but importantly it will enable a far wider range of applications, such as use with driverless cars, improved air traffic control systems, and in tests has proven more accurate than other systems that tend to struggle to maintain accuracy in urban areas. The EU system is even able to pinpoint the precise location of individuals within buildings if wearing suitable devices opening up new possibilities for those developing monitoring technologies.


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Dear All

Welcome to the newly revamped

We are now a dot com and will probably end up selling t-shirts and badges etc before too long.

In the weeks and months to come I hope to post as many links as I can under the umbrella of surveillance technologies of control and punishment including Electronic Monitoring in all its various forms.

Please bear with me as I get started and be sure to come back soon. I look forward to your comments in due course.



David A Raho