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Source: Daily Mail
Thousands of Britons’ movements have been covertly tracked by scanners placed in streets, pubs and offices for a technology experiment.
The Cityware project run by the University of Bath has secretly placed scanners around the Somerset city, with the first 10 installed 2006. The scanners pick up bluetooth radio signals transmitted from mobile phones and laptops.
In a scene reminiscent of the Will Smith thriller Enemy of the State, it has allowed researchers to map the journeys of individuals without their knowledge or consent.
The data is being used in a project called ‘Radio City’ to survey the ‘mobile computing landscape’. The researchers hope it will help them understand how and why people move around urban environments.
As many as 3,000 Bluetooth devices are tracked every weekend and one recent study monitored the movements of 10,000 people around Bath.
On the Cityware website, the researchers said the survey would cover ‘all phenomena associated with the carrying and use of mobile devices.’
This includes where and why users make mobile phone calls and even how people orientate their laptops in cafes.
The leaders of the £1.6million initiative claim their study looks at the city as a whole and the scanners do not have access to the identities of those they track.
‘The notion that an agency would serious consider Bluetooth scanning as a surveillance technique is ludicrous,’ Cityware director Eamonn O’Neill told The Guardian.
However, pedestrians are not being told their mobiles and laptops could be creating a permanent record that will be stored on a central database.
Privacy campaigners have attacked the project as a ‘moronic used of technology’.
Director of pressure group Privacy International, Simon Davies, said: “For Bath University to assert that there aren’t privacy implications demonstrates an astonishing disregard for consumer rights.
‘If the technology is as safe as they claim, then all the technical specifications should be published and people should be informed when they are being tracked.
‘This technology could well become the CCTV of the mobile industry,’ he went on to The Guardian.
‘It would not take much adjustment to make this system a ubiquitous surveillance infrastructure over which we have no control.”
Cityware’s software has since been made available on the internet sites Facebook and Second Life and there are now more than 1,000 scanners across the world.