Ramblings on having privacy in public spaces

Monday, October 1, 2007

This is a story about a father and his daughter

I Imagined a scenario where there is a strong conflict between to-watch and to-not-watch, and have attempted to solve the crisis.

A father loves his 18 year old daughter very much who is his only source of support, and his only reason to live. The daughter loves her father very much and would do anything for him. In this wonderful relationship comes a few storms once in awhile, as the family is threatened by some killers. The father begins to worry that he might lose his daughter.

One day in the paper he reads about this small tag that he can get injected into his daughter’s shoulder. Then every time the daughter passed by a mobile phone, it would transmit the information of her locations to the satellite and he would get to know where she is, through his mobile or on his email. He bought her a mobile phone, which would constantly tell him where she was and how she was, as it could analyze her voice. Then he took her to the hospital and said “Daughter, I know this is going to be a little painful, but I love you, and I can’t let anything happen to you. I am doing this for you” She smiled to her father and said” yes father, I know what you are doing. I promise never to break your heart”.

The next morning both, father and daughter’s lives changed dramatically. The father looks at his phone, and it maps out his daughter’s location. “What the wonders of technology can do to you! “ he muttered, as his daughter was safe in school now. With that he left for work to his room. From his home computer he attended virtual meetings, and discussed business plans with his colleagues. Meanwhile, at the bottom of the screen, a small map keeps pointing to his daughter’s position and her condition, as to whether she is stressed or upset.

Meanwhile the daughter is attending her classes, unaware that her father is still watching her from home. She decides to bunk a class with her friends and catch up on the latest Sharukh Khan movie. After the movie, daughter goes out to Mc donalds, and then instead of taking the school bus, is dropped at home by her friend.

When daughter meets father, he sits her down calmly and asks her why she bunked her class. Daughter is astounded, “Everyone does it once in awhile, and besides, the teacher was absent today”. Father looks at daughter sternly and says “No more bunking classes for you, now go to your room and work!”.

Daughter is freaked that her father knew about this and stares at her shoulder, where she knows the tag is placed. She wants to remove it, but cant. Then she realizes why her father did all this, because he was worried for her. But the technology gave him much more access than was necessary, so daughter looks at the mirror and decides to talk things out with her father.

“Father, I know you love me, but this is terrible, she says, I cant believe, that you would actually monitor me throughout my day. I am old enough to handle my life. If you want to make sure that I am okay and not kidnapped by some stray robber, which is probably a small chance, then I need to make sure that that’s all you know about me at that point of time. So instead of you being able to monitor me all the time, I am going to make a system in which we can communicate that I am ok and that you are ok. Father looks at her and smirks “Okay then, you give me a solution and I will see if it can work”.

The daughter spends weeks on her computer trying to understand the technology behind the tag, and the systems it involves. Whatever she thought of would have to be simple and allow her control over communication. And then an idea hit her head. She proposed it to the father. He looked at her and said, “Hmmm, okay, that seems like it will work”.

The next day they walk in to meet the tag-makers at their office and place their request. The tag-maker agrees, “Its quite simple, let me know if this system works for you guys” he said.

This is how the tag works. A tag is activated when the mobile reader sends it a signal,( until this, it cannot send out any signal). The tag uses the energy from the signal and sends another signal back to the reader. This action is so fast it almost doesn’t happen, like how we don’t see light traveling, but see it around us, because light travels so fast. What daughter proposed was that the tag would not activate on the energy of the mobile reader alone. It would need the energy of a human hand-touch. In other words, the circuit in the tag is incomplete until a hand touches it. This means that the mobile reader constantly keeps asking the tag to reply, but only when daughter touches the tag, will the tag be able to receive the reader signal and send a signal back. This way, daughter will tell her father where she is, when she wants to,( that is when she is kidnapped or when she is in trouble).

She may even communicate with her father through the number of signals she sends back. For instance, one signal (a tap on her shoulder) could mean “im ok”, two signals (two taps on her shoulder) could mean “I miss you, can you call me now?”, three signals (three taps on her shoulder) could mean “help!”. And at every signal, the father gets her location, her condition, on his mobile and email, which is sufficient information for him.

This way the father and daughter solve their arguments, and both are considerably happy in their lives. And in their experiment, they had created a new way of communication.

Moral of the story: In this story we see how people have come to an understanding in the way they use technology, by understanding what is important and what is not, without any compromises. Today we see offices wanting to tag their employee’s ID Cards in order to keep log of their entry to the office. But by employing RFID tags, they can obtain much more information about the employee’s work patterns. This is not only an invasion of privacy, but also a task that dehumanizes the employee into a laboratory rat. If the tag is made readable, only at the employee’s discretion, or when absolutely necessary, such as entering a highly restricted area, the employee has better privacy.