Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Google Glass, the beginning of wearable surveillance

By Michael Chertoff, Special to CNN
May 1, 2013 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
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
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
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.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 23, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2231 GMT (0631 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT