The following text is copyright 1998 by Network World, permission is hearby given for reproduction, as long as attribution is given and this notice is included.

It's not dark yet

By Scott Bradner

In yet another area, technology is outpacing societys ability to
understand and deal with its ramifications.

Yes, it is getting easier for technology providers to keep track of their
users. Consider these developments of the recent past:

The cashier at the airport records your license number as you exit,
"for inventory purposes.''

Automatic toll-collecting machines keep track of when you pass by
so they can provide you with a detailed bill (and someday perhaps a
speeding ticket if you take too little time to go from entrance to exit).

Swisscom, the Swiss telephone company, has records detailing
every move that a million of its cellular phone users have made over
the past six or more months, accurate to within a few hundred meters.

A U.S. luxury car manufacturer advertises that with a call to its
24-hour help desk you can get directions from where you are to where
you want to go. The company doesn't happen to mention that the car
is using satellites to keep track of where it is and can, upon a request
via radio, report its location.

The FCC is requiring all U.S. providers of cellular phone service to
be able to accurately report on the location of the origin of any cell
phone call to help support 911 emergency call centers.

Fortune magazine reports that NTT in Japan has a prototype system
with which the company can report, on request, the location of any
cell phone in NTT's system that is turned on, down to the floor of the
building the phone is on.

Many U.S. trucking companies use radio tracking systems to
monitor the location of their vehicles.

This all is more Orwellian than Orwell ever was.

Who is the keeper of all this tracking data? In almost all cases it is
private industry, a group that has not shown much restraint in
exploiting any information it might have on individuals.

This is not an area where we should be complacent and trust the good
intentions of the business community. Specific and strict legislation
should be quickly passed to restrict the distribution of this type of

I doubt that Congress would be willing to do the right thing, which is
to require that the data be destroyed as soon as the use for which it
was obtained has been fulfilled.

The law enforcement people will like the idea of being able to track
everyone's movements far too much for that to happen. But they
should at least require a search warrant and prohibit all other
distribution of the data under threat of large fines and jail time.

Who needs to know?

Meanwhile, there is a desire for even more location data. I was at a
meeting recently where the "need'' to know the physical address of all
Internet users was brought up - so that the right locality could tax each
user's electronic purchases.

As a balladeer recently sang, "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there.''
Unfortunately, one does not need eyes all that good to see the
darkness approaching.

Disclaimer: Harvard is not immune - it records who enters its parking
garages - so the above dim view is my own. (One awareness point if
you know who the balladeer is.)