Cityware - Open Source Urban Surveillance With Bluetooth

The Cityware project was originally designed to "develop theory, principles, tools and techniques for the design, implementation and evaluation of city-scale pervasive systems as integral facets of the urban landscape."

Critics charge that the Cityware project intrudes on the privacy of thousands of people, and is a model for the surveillance society that is taking over in Britain.

According to the Cityware website, a program called Digital Footprints is used to gather information on how people use urban spaces; the information is mapped on Google Earth:

Urban spaces are frequently populated by tourists with a very different agenda to those that live there. The different seasons of the year show rises and falls in the number of visitors to the city. This means that the influence tourists have on urban spaces can change. Understanding more about how tourists move through a city provides a vital part of understanding the relationship between urban spaces and people. Digital technology can help us monitor, and possibly serve, that relationship.


(Digital Footprints on Google Earth)

At first, the city of Bath was used as a test site. Tourists were given small devices that mapped their steps and placed this record of their activities in a permanent database. However, the scanners can also pick up Bluetooth signals from cellphones and laptops.

Although initially confined to Bath, Cityware has spread across the planet after the software was made freely available on the internet sites Facebook and Second Life. Thousands of people downloaded the software to equip their home and office computers with Cityware scanners.

More than 1,000 scanners across the world at any time detect passing Bluetooth signals and send the data to Cityware's central database. Those with access to the database admit they do not know precisely how many scanners have been created, but there are known to be scanners in San Diego, Hong Kong, Australia, Singapore, Toronto and Berlin.

In Bath alone scanners are tracking as many as 3,000 Bluetooth devices every weekend. One recent study used the scanners to monitor the movements of 10,000 people in the city.

About 250,000 owners of Bluetooth devices, mostly mobile phones, have been spotted by Cityware scanners worldwide.

The concerns about the use of Cityware technology are summed up on the following alarming graphic from the Daily Mail.


(Bluetooth Big Brother - the Cityware project)

Vassills Kostakos is a former member of the Cityware project who is now doing Bluetooth experiments on buses in Portugal for the University of Madeira; he has some interesting comments on the use of this technology.

"If a person's phone is talking to a scanner, then they should be told about it. Any technology can have good and bad consequences. In many ways, I think the role of a scientist is to point out both. I agree this is complex and I agree there are harmful scenarios."

"I recently tried to look at people's travel patterns across the world, and we [saw] how a unique device which showed up in San Francisco turned up in Caracas and then Paris."

For Americans who like to get their news years in advance from sfnal movies, Gene Hackman provides a good summary of the concerns about intrusive monitoring of civilians in the 1998 film Enemy of the State, with ethical commentary by the incomparable Jason Robards.


(Best surveillance comments from Enemy of the State video)

Here's another interesting sci-fi twist. I don't want to give away any plot details, but it turns out that the Batman has an interesting hack to take advantage of data from cellphones in the new movie The Dark Knight, which he monitors via cool data goggles built into his headgear. The ethical commentary is by Morgan Freeman (sorry, no clip - this movie just appeared in theaters).

Read more in the these articles: Bluetooth is watching: secret study gives Bath a flavour of Big Brother and Bluetooth Big Brother uses mobiles and laptops to track thousands of Britons. See also the Cityware website, in particular the Digital Footprints page. Thanks to Moira who suggested this story and some of the references.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 7/24/2008)

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