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Harsh Kapoor aiindex at mnet.fr
Thu Aug 21 23:23:54 IST 2003

Business Line [India]
July 30, 2003
Opinion - Security

Beware, Big Brother is watching

Jayanthi Iyengar

THERE was a furore some years ago when it became public that the 
Internet had the capabilities to track the movement of Web-surfers 
and that Web site owners, including employers, could store a lot of 
personal information regarding the surfing habits of the people.

September 11 and the consequent homeland security concerns in the US 
and elsewhere have today made the presence of the Big Brother even 
more pervading. Starting 2004, the US government proposes to 
introduce the ubiquitously named US Visit - United States visitor and 
immigrant status indicator technology. US Visit would identify and 
track immigrants and non-immigrants who came to work, visit or live 
in the country.

The US government proposes to use a combination of biometrics and 
smart card to create this immigrant and non-immigrant tracking 
system. It will fingerprint, photograph and scan the passport of 
legitimate entrants to the US. The new system will replace the 
existing national security entry exit system programme and integrate 
the student and exchange visitor information system programme to meet 
the congressional requirement of automated entry exit system.

At the core of such tracking systems are of course the smart cards 
and radio frequency tracking systems. The smart card is a card with a 
chip that stores and transacts data between users. The data is 
associated with either a value or information or both. It is stored 
and processed within the card's chip, through a memory or 
microprocessor. The card data is transacted via a reader that is part 
of a computing system.

Smart card-enhanced systems are in use today throughout industry, 
including healthcare, banking, entertainment and transportation. With 
the e-commerce estimated to cross $320 billion worldwide at the end 
of 2003, the smart cards, which offer security and portability, are 
expected to find greater use.

Already, global smart card use has grown five times within six years 
and is now estimated to be in the range of 2 billion. In Asia, India 
is considered to hold maximum potential for smart card adoption, 
after China and Japan.

Radio frequency tracking systems track the movement of people and 
vehicles over a large area, such as a geographical territory or 
within well-defined locations, such as a building. Thus, you could 
have an employer tracking the movement of an employee the second he 
enters the official premises till he leaves it. Manufacturers of such 
systems hawk them as being immensely useful for tracking the movement 
of employees (and the unauthorised) after office hours, but they 
could be as useful to track employee and outsider movements during 
the work hours.

Radio frequency tracking systems combined with the capabilities of 
the chip today have the ability to document a huge amount of personal 
information about an individual, including their personal details, 
fingerprints, photographs - which could be reduced to a barcode and 
read off the card like the price of sardines off a packet - financial 
details and buying habits.

Individual movements within a defined geographical area on foot and 
within vehicles can also be tracked.

Interestingly, the US is not alone in creating such people-tracking 
networks. After the attack on Parliament two years ago, the Indian 
government set aside Rs 100 crore for reinforcing security of the 

This project is being handled by the Cabinet Secretariat and the 
Government is looking for the right vendor to commission this project.

The Home ministry is working on a national ID card programme, which 
would arm every citizen with a unique ID card. The Election 
Commission is proposing to introduce smart cards for voters.

It has already issued voters ID cards to about 60 per cent of the 640 
million people on the electoral rolls.

These are ordinary cards, but it is planning to issue smart cards 
with biometric features - these would store fingerprints of the voter 
- to the rest of voters, starting 2004. That is, roughly 350-odd 
million people over 18 years of age who would be going around with 
their unique personal identification details stored on a chip and 
available to tap on the government database.

The government is not alone in creating tracking systems for the public.

Organisations across the country are installing such systems within 
offices. The security agencies, including IB, RAW, NSG, BSF, CRPF and 
the police are at the helm in equipping their premises with security 
tracking systems, but private organisations are not far behind.

Several residential colonies are adopting private systems, while the 
police track citizens within their jurisdiction using vehicle 
tracking systems and through the issue of smart card-based driving 

Service providers such as telecom companies too are equally active. 
With the GSM SIM card users estimated to double within two years, 
that is a lot of smart cards going around tracking the movement of 
users round the clock.

The Employees Provident Fund is proposing to issue smart cards to its 
40 million users, with capabilities to store financial and 
identification information on them.

The credit card companies are following suit, gradually replacing the 
credit card with debit cards, which have chips imbedded in them.

All this brings to the fore the issue of privacy of citizens. Most of 
the security systems are being put into place to protect the life and 
property of people, but in the end the potential for abuse is as 
high. This is one issue that policy-makers need to address when they 
work out systems for betterment of the life of the people. Otherwise, 
we could well be reliving an Orwellian nightmare.

(The author is a freelance writer and can be contacted at 
jayanthiiyengar1 at yahoo.com)  

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