CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 1 . . . . September 8, 2017
In our modern wired world, everyone is subject to electronic monitoring devices in schools, public spaces and through use of social media and everyday conveniences including cellular phones, loyalty and credit cards and applications on smart phones. The subtitle of Eyes & Spies clearly sets out the purpose of this book written by a prolific author for children and young adults. The book deserves a wide readership amongst pre-teens and young teens alike. Wuthrich's colour illustrations nicely complement the text and sometimes even expand upon it. For example, in a section called "The art of getting lost" that discusses how Irish kids and their mothers used cellphones, the illustration shows two kids looking out of a treehouse covered with aluminum foil that shields them from a parent's annoying call.
One of the strengths of the work is its use of real situations from around the world. This is also a weakness as the numerous short entries and a design format that makes extensive use of recurring features, including side panels, countless bold subheadings, and newsboxes featuring a couple of sentences on a topic presented as if a newsflash brought to the reader by a news-drone, give the book an overstimulating look and feel--not unlike some online news and entertainment sites. Kyi presents opposing viewpoints in her text and in side bars that summarize opinions of pro-security voices in contrast to pro-privacy opinions. Other recurring features are "Action Alerts" as shown in the example above, and "The Creepy Line" sections that highlight the subjective boundaries where a technology can exceed the benefit to become an invasion of privacy.
"Hallways and Monitors", the first of six chapters, raises issues such as the use of RFID tags in children's clothes or backpacks for tracking purposes, live streaming cameras at schools, drones to prevent the use of cellphones for cheating on exams and the introduction of biometry (fingerprints and hand scans) in schools based upon actual situations in Japan, Kenya, China, Britain, and the United States. In a Canadian example, a Toronto school principal wanted students attending the 2014 prom to take a Breathalyzer test before being admitted. Student representatives with support from a civil liberties organization took this to the Supreme Court that ruled that breathalyzers infringed on student rights. The issues are diverse and often complex. One theme does become obvious: students have a role in communicating with their parents and showing them that they can behave safely in the world.
A chapter on safety and privacy in the home includes a fascinating example of how western views on parenting and child independence evolved in one multi-generational family in the UK. Once, kids were free to roam and explore nearby woods, but gradually families changed so that kids today barely go outside of their own yard and are content to stay indoors playing video games. Is our world really that much scarier and less safe than a few generations ago? The security craze brought about baby monitors and even a creepy elf toy that parents could pretend monitored a kid's behaviour. A wi-fi enabled toy that had users register online proved problematic when the toy-maker's database was hacked and the registrants' personal data stolen. GPS tracking and monitoring by phones may be signs of mistrust and could actually stunt the growth of trustworthiness in individuals.
How does the presence of abundant security cameras in public spaces and private businesses and homes affect the way people live? This question is posed in the chapter called "Street Sense". When people are constantly being watched by cameras, does crime really decrease, or does it take new forms or move to new locations with less surveillance technology in place? Surveillance, when combined with the use of facial recognition software, sharply reduces privacy.
"Caught in the Web", the fourth chapter draws parallels between the introduction of the portable camera in the late nineteenth century and the loss of privacy that the public complained about and the modern equivalent of security cameras and social media that can be used for negative purposes. Kyi advises the reader that "The information we leave behind online is sometimes called our 'digital tattoo'. All that data is stuck to us forever, like permanent ink."
The chapter includes shocking examples of cyber abuse that led to fatal consequences. The Action Alerts for the chapter include important advice to anyone finding themselves cyberbullied and additional advice on smart practices in online communication such as never giving a stranger your full name, address and phone number, never sharing passwords, and never meeting an online friend in real life without telling your parents first. Internet safety tips include how to avoid phishing and click bait and thinking about how online activities can affect someone in other spheres, for example when they seek a job or apply for a volunteer position.
"Shop 'Til You Drop Data" is the fifth chapter. It raises issues about loyalty cards, credit cards, and customer surveys that all gather information about you—data that can be and is sold to other companies that want to market products to you. What you "like" on a social media site, or sites that you visit on the web can all be used in invasive ways. What are the implications of this tracking? How can the internet of things become a problem? The reader has lots to ponder.
The final chapter, "The Big Brother Bother", touches upon the scale of cyber monitoring by western countries and nations that North Americans generally regard as less then fully democratic.
To prove just how much personal information is collected and sold, Maclean's magazine journalists bought Canada's privacy commissioner's phone records. They purchased the list online from an American data broker for about $200 USD.
Monitoring and surveillance often goes beyond just the digital. Police use the practice of carding whereby they stop individuals, perhaps with no just cause, ask them for ID and enter this information into their computer systems. This data can stay on file forever. Sadly, practice shows that often the individuals stopped and asked for ID are members of visible minorities and are victims of social profiling.
Kyi concludes with the observation that privacy is important to every person. Rather than demonizing technology for its potential to invade privacy, she poses two questions:
1. How are societies going to use new tools?
2. And where do we, as human beings, draw the line between privacy and protection?
There are no easy answers.
Eyes & Spies includes a short list of age-relevant titles for further reading. Teachers, parents and more mature and curious readers can utilize the extensive list of selected sources that act like endnotes identifying the sources of studies mentioned in the volume. A helpful index is also included.
Val Ken Lem is a collections librarian at Ryerson University with liaison functions in the arts and social sciences.