Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Google Glass, the beginning of wearable surveillance

By Michael Chertoff, Special to CNN
updated 10:26 AM EDT, Wed May 1, 2013
Google co-founder Sergey Brin wears a pair of Google Glass.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin wears a pair of Google Glass.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Michael Chertoff: A world in which drones fly overhead 24/7 is a chilling thought
  • Chertoff: Imagine wearing the equivalent of a surveillance drone on your head everyday
  • He says instead of wearable drones, we will have wearable glasses or watches
  • Chertoff: These devices can record and store valuable data about us; will we lose privacy?

Editor's note: Michael Chertoff, secretary of Homeland Security in the George W. Bush administration, is chairman and co-founder of The Chertoff Group, a global security advisory firm.

(CNN) -- Imagine a world in which every major company in America flew hundreds of thousands of drones overhead, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, collecting data on what Americans were doing down below. It's a chilling thought that would engender howls of outrage.

Now imagine that millions of Americans walk around each day wearing the equivalent of a drone on their head: a device capable of capturing video and audio recordings of everything that happens around them. And imagine that these devices upload the data to large-scale commercial enterprises that are able to collect the recordings from each and every American and integrate them together to form a minute-by-minute tracking of the activities of millions.

That is almost precisely the vision of the future that lies directly ahead of us. Not, of course, with wearable drones but with wearable Internet-connected equipment. This new technology -- whether in the form of glasses or watches -- may unobtrusively capture video data in real time, store it in the cloud and allow for it to be analyzed.

The pros and cons of surveillance cameras

Michael Chertoff
Michael Chertoff

Some will say these new devices are no different from existing technology, like handheld video cameras or iPhones with audio recording functions. But there's a huge distinction.

The emerging new technology is not designed with significant storage capacity. Instead, its default mode is for all data to be automatically uploaded to cloud servers, where aggregation and back-end analytic capacity resides.

So, who owns and what happens to the user's data? Can the entire database be mined and analyzed for commercial purposes? What rules will apply when law enforcement seeks access to the data for a criminal or national security investigation? For how long will the data be retained?

Why spend $1,500 for these glasses?
2012: Google develops 'smart glasses'

As some members of the Supreme Court recognized last year when they considered the use of only a single stream of data -- GPS location -- creating a life stream of data points paints a mosaic picture of a person's actions and habits. Who owns that mosaic?

Service providers may argue that the terms of service approved by customers will set limitations on how their collected data can be used. But even if customers can truly make informed decisions about the storage and handling of such data, they have no right to consent to the use of data that is collected about passersbys whom they record, intentionally or not.

Snap a photo by winking your eye?

Ubiquitous street video streaming will capture images of many people who haven't volunteered to have their images collected, collated and analyzed. Even those who might be willing to forgo some degree of privacy to enhance national security should be concerned about a corporate America that will have an unrestricted continuous video record of millions.

What is to prevent a corporation from targeting a particular individual, using face recognition technology to assemble all uploaded videos in which he appears, and effectively constructing a surveillance record that can be used to analyze his life?

Opinion: Surveillance state no answer to terror

Concerns like this have motivated at least one bar owner to ban Google Glass from the premises. The proprietor thinks that continuous observation of patrons in the bar will strip them of their anonymity and put a damper on their spontaneity. In other words, why go to a bar when someone there is wearing a device that may be recording your every bad joke after you've had too many drinks?

Maybe the market can take care of this problem. But the likely pervasiveness of this type of technology convinces me that government must play a regulatory role.

Before we get too far down this road of ubiquitous surveillance, real-time upload and comprehensive analytics by cloud providers, we should pause to consider the implications. We need to consider what rights consumers have, and what rights nonparticipant third parties should have.

We need to be judicious in how to balance innovation with privacy. The Federal Trade Commission and Congress need to take a look at this new technology before it becomes common. The new data collection platforms right in front of us are much more likely to affect our lives than is the prospect of drones overhead surveilling American citizens.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Michael Chertoff.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT