Saturday, January 24, 2009

Watch out children: Big Mother is watching

http://www.smh.com.au/


It is advertised as the perfect marriage between a child's freedom and a parent's peace of mind.

To a child, it's just a watch. But to a parent, it is a GPS locator that allows them to track their children's movements via the internet, set up predetermined virtual fences or "safe zones", and receive notification via their phone if it is ever removed.

It is also waterproof and dermatologically tested, and has an accuracy of three metres (with the location of the child shown on the Google Maps street directory).

Called the Nu.M8, it is the latest advance in child surveillance available for sale online.

Evan Penn, chief executive of GPS monitoring company Ezy2c, said similar devices would be here soon.

"It's an area we will evolve to as the market develops," he said. "To get to the price point that we're looking at to make it really affordable and achievable on a mass market scale, I think you're looking at 12 to 24 months."

Civil liberties groups are concerned about the gadget, which was developed in Britain and launched last week in the US.

With personal tracking devices already available here, NSW Council of Civil Liberties vice-president David Bernie said the rapid development and declining cost of technological surveillance was outstripping any debate about the implications for society.

The manufacturers' instructions, which said the Nu.M8 was activated as soon as the strap was fastened and could not be removed without logging onto the internet, were of particular concern, he said.

"This would be exactly the type of ankle-type restriction put on somebody who had been charged and was on bail, or had been convicted and was on parole," he said.

"But it's not what you would expect what parents would do to children."

Tom Murray, who sells surveillance devices, said the market was growing but agreed the strap function was taking it too far.

Personal trackers were already used by employers when their staff worked alone, he said, and were something parents could already buy for about $700, plus a $200 annual subscription.

"It helps with working parents," he said. "They could just jump on the computer at a quarter past three just to see that the kids got home, or are they on the bus when they said they'll be, because the device updates every minute or two minutes."

NSW Parents and Citizens Associations spokeswoman Sharon Johnson said as well as privacy concerns, the device had the potential to lull parents and children into a false sense of security.

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