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"The ability to track objects and people brings all kinds of applications to mind, but it also
creates concerns about privacy and civil liberties. "There have been suggestions that Galileo
will be like Big Brother," says Alistair Scott"
Write a discussion on the arguments in the article and your own point of view on surveillance.
(min. 300 words)
The power to follow your every move
JACK is running late, but he daren't risk speeding - the satellites are watching and he can't afford
another fine. It's not as if he could drive much faster anyway, not in this traffic. His in-car traffic
navigation system warns of a snarl-up ahead and recommends an alternative route, but Jack asks for
another suggestion. He knows that if he drives through that area at this time of night his "pay-as-
you-drive" insurance premiums will go through the roof.
Meanwhile, he can see on his phone's built-in location tracker that his girlfriend has already arrived
at the restaurant. At this rate he's going to be at least half an hour late. When his phone rings he
assumes it's her, but instead it's a video clip - an advert from one of the shops in a nearby retail park.
As he deletes it another pops up, and then another. Cursing the day he signed up for those alerts, he
switches his phone off.
Few of these services are available today, but all are possible. The basic technology already exists in
the form of the Global Positioning System, a constellation of 24 satellites orbiting the Earth while
continually emitting time signals that can be picked up by receivers on the ground and converted
into a precise location - longitude, latitude and altitude. If you own an in-car navigation system or a
GPS receiver for activities such as mountaineering, these are the signals you are tapping into.
But even though GPS has been up and running since 1989 and the signals are freely available,
commercial exploitation has been sparse. The system is owned and operated by the US military and
this has acted as a major barrier to civilian uses. For one thing, the signals made available to the
public are less accurate than those used by the military, which means that GPS positions are
inherently unreliable. Also, receivers must be able to see at least four satellites simultaneously to get
a good fix, which is often impossible in built-up areas. What is more, the US reserves the right to
switch off the system at any time. So with the exception of a few specialised markets such as sailing
and mountaineering, the only thing close to a mass-market GPS device is the car navigation system.
But this is all about to change.
Later this year the first four satellites of a rival system called Galileo will be launched. Galileo is a
European project set up by the European Commission and the European Space Agency, and is
designed to be more accurate, powerful and reliable than GPS, with more satellites - 30 in total -
stronger signals and a range of commercial services for different needs. Galileo will also
incorporate GPS signals, almost doubling the size of the system. The most significant difference,
however, is that Galileo will be a purely commercial enterprise.
The imminent availability of a reliable, fast and accurate satellite positioning system dedicated to
commercial users brings the scenario outlined above much closer to reality. This week specialists
from areas as diverse as academia, security, surveying and government will meet at the UK's
National Physical Laboratory in south-west London to discuss the social implications of Galileo
once it goes live in 2008. And while it's impossible to know what the "killer application" will be,
the consensus is that Galileo will finally allow satellite positioning to fulfil its potential. It could,
some say, have as big an impact on the world as cellphones, PCs or the internet.
Some of the applications proposed so far include fitting TVs and other expensive equipment with
location-sensitive immobilisers to act as a deterrent to thieves. Similarly, it may be possible to
ensure that certain electronic documents can only be opened at secure locations. And at least one
company is experimenting with pay-as-you-go car insurance.
Initially, the main applications are likely to be in the freight transport industry, to monitor drivers
and vehicles. "This is not to know where people are, it's to save money," says Phil Derry of
Trackaphone, a company in Northumberland, UK, which provides a locating service via the
cellphone network. If you know where your entire fleet is you can deploy people far more
efficiently, he says.
Galileo will also make it possible for aircraft and ships to exploit satellite positioning, something
the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Maritime Organization currently
forbid because GPS is not reliable or accurate enough for essential systems. "If I switch it on it can
be 3 to 5 minutes before it gives a fix," says Nigel Porter of Hidden Technologies, a tracking
equipment company based in Surrey, UK. In contrast, Galileo will allow near instant fixes and can
give an indication of how accurate the position is. It will even sound an alarm if you are in danger
of losing the signal.
The ability to track objects and people brings all kinds of applications to mind, but it also creates
concerns about privacy and civil liberties. "There have been suggestions that Galileo will be like
Big Brother," says Alistair Scott of satellite manufacturer EADS Astrium. But the idea that the
satellites are watching you is a misconception. In reality all they are doing is emitting time signals.
If you choose not to carry a receiver, you're invisible.
Much more likely is that private individuals will start spying on one another - overprotective
parents keeping tabs on their teenage children, for example. But tracking people isn't inherently a
bad thing, says Ian Miles, a specialist in technology and social change at the University of
Manchester UK. Most people would probably agree that a device that sounded an alarm if a toddler
wandered too far would be helpful.
There's always the possibility, of course, that governments will force people to carry receivers under
certain circumstances. The UK's Department for Transport has already said that it would like to use
Galileo to track motorists so it can levy road tax based on where and when they travel.
There are also proposals to use the system to keep an eye on dangerous criminals. GPS is being
trialled as a way of tracking convicted paedophiles and violent offenders, alerting police if they
violate their parole by entering forbidden areas such as playgrounds. But the poor coverage of GPS
in built-up areas and the fact that it does not work indoors means there are places where GPS
tracking is impossible. Under these circumstances the system has to resort to tracking people using
cellphone antennas, which is much less accurate.
"The UK's Department of Transport wants to use the system to track motorists so it can levy road
tax based on where and when they travel"
Galileo ought to solve many of these problems. Having 30 additional satellites in orbit will reduce
the number of areas without a signal. And its more powerful signals mean it will sometimes be
possible to keep track of offenders while they are indoors.
A more realistic worry for law-abiding citizens is that the services may be intrusive and irritating.
One idea, for example, is to offer people with Galileo-enabled cellphones discounts and other
benefits in return for permission to keep track of their location. Companies could send messages to
potential customers when they are near a store where their product is on sale.
Are people likely to put up with such annoyances? Miles thinks so. "My gut feeling is that the
individual benefits will be so high that most people will be prepared to sign up," he says.
Something for Everyone (from above)
Whether you need to keep track of a small child, send a distress signal from the bottom of a
crevasse or know the precise location of your mine-hunting robot, Galileo, a more powerful and
reliable system than GPS, should be able to help. Its developers are set to provide a range of
services that will cater for the individual and government agency alike:
Open service. Free to all, like GPS, but because it combines both Galileo and GPS signals will be
quicker and more reliable. Suitable for in-car navigation devices
"Safety of life" service. Designed for safety-critical systems in aircraft and ships. Has an inbuilt
warning system that tells users when its accuracy is deteriorating
Commercial service. An ultra-accurate system for business use with a potential resolution of a few
centimetres. Comes at a price
Public regulated service. Designed for government agencies such as the police and ambulance. The
service uses a separate signal from the open service and has an anti-jamming feature built-into it
Search and rescue service. A two-way system that transmits distress calls along with the us