Your Digital Footprint

John Brooks on Flickr

Surveillance cameras, satellites, RFID tags, and social media activities all create unique digital footprints.

Put on a pair of boots and walk through soft snow. No snow around? Mud works too. Or get your shoes wet and walk along a paved sidewalk. If you want a more permanent imprint, wet cement might be a better choice. But if you really want to leave a mark, well you may already have one: your digital footprint.

Surveillance Cameras

Most Americans have cell phones, and most cell phones have cameras. So it is no surprise that a lot of pictures are being taken, and that many of us are photographed just about every day (both intentionally and unintentionally). What might come as more of a surprise is that we don’t just get recorded with cell phone cameras, but also with surveillance cameras found throughout both suburbs and cities. In some cases the goal is to help identify terrorists, while in others cities hope to prevent more common crimes including vandalism and car theft.  

Perhaps the hardest place to remain off of camera is the car. Police cars, road signs, traffic signals, and bridges all frequently have cameras recording license plate numbers, and the date, time, and location of each scan. In some cities we might be recorded while taking the bus or the subway. In others, while we swing on a play structure or rest under a tree. Even when cities themselves do not heavily invest in surveillance technology, private businesses do. Some record what happens between their own walls, while others place cameras just outside and monitor those passing by.

Does anyone actually have time to watch all this video? Probably not, but fortunately (or unfortunately if you don’t want to be found) they don’t have to. If a car was broken into on 5th and Broadway between 2:00-4:00 PM, and a witness describes the suspect as a white male wearing a green hat heading toward 6th street, there is software to search the video efficiently.


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