Spying with Maps: Surveillance Technologies and the Future of Privacy / Edition 1

Spying with Maps: Surveillance Technologies and the Future of Privacy / Edition 1

by Mark Monmonier
Pub. Date:
University of Chicago Press
Pub. Date:
University of Chicago Press
Spying with Maps: Surveillance Technologies and the Future of Privacy / Edition 1

Spying with Maps: Surveillance Technologies and the Future of Privacy / Edition 1

by Mark Monmonier
$26.0 Current price is , Original price is $26.0. You
    Qualifies for Free Shipping
    Check Availability at Nearby Stores

    Temporarily Out of Stock Online

    Please check back later for updated availability.


Maps, as we know, help us find our way around. But they're also powerful tools for someone hoping to find you. Widely available in electronic and paper formats, maps offer revealing insights into our movements and activities, even our likes and dislikes. In Spying with Maps, the "mapmatician" Mark Monmonier looks at the increased use of geographic data, satellite imagery, and location tracking across a wide range of fields such as military intelligence, law enforcement, market research, and traffic engineering. Could these diverse forms of geographic monitoring, he asks, lead to grave consequences for society? To assess this very real threat, he explains how geospatial technology works, what it can reveal, who uses it, and to what effect.

Despite our apprehension about surveillance technology, Spying with Maps is not a jeremiad, crammed with dire warnings about eyes in the sky and invasive tracking. Monmonier's approach encompasses both skepticism and the acknowledgment that geospatial technology brings with it unprecedented benefits to governments, institutions, and individuals, especially in an era of asymmetric warfare and bioterrorism. Monmonier frames his explanations of what this new technology is and how it works with the question of whether locational privacy is a fundamental right. Does the right to be left alone include not letting Big Brother (or a legion of Little Brothers) know where we are or where we've been? What sacrifices must we make for homeland security and open government?

With his usual wit and clarity, Monmonier offers readers an engaging, even-handed introduction to the dark side of the new technology that surrounds us—from traffic cameras and weather satellites to personal GPS devices and wireless communications.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226534282
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 04/01/2004
Edition description: 1
Pages: 250
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Mark Monmonier is a Distinguished Professor of Geography in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. He is the author or coauthor of twelve books, including most recently Air Apparent: How Meteorologists Learned to Map, Predict, and Dramatize Weather and Bushmanders and Bullwinkles: How Politicians Manipulate Electronic Maps and Census Data to Win Elections, both published by the University of Chicago Press.

Read an Excerpt

Spying With Maps: Surveillance Technologies and the Future of Privacy

By Mark S. Monmonier

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2002 Mark S. Monmonier
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0226534278

Maps That Watch

Privacy and mapping are two words that rarely share the same sentence. After all, what do most of us have to hide that anyone would want to map? But toward the end of the last century, cartographers added privacy to a growing list of policy issues that includes copyright, liability, and public access. Mapping, it turns out, can reveal quite a bit about what we do and who we are. I say mapping, rather than maps, because cartography is not limited to static maps printed on paper or displayed on computer screens. In the new cartographies of surveillance, the maps one looks at are less important than the spatial data systems that store and integrate facts about where we live and work. Location is a powerful key for relating disparate databanks and unearthing information about possessions, spending habits, and an assortment of behaviors and preferences, real or imagined. What's more, these electronic maps are becoming increasingly detailed and timely, if not more reliable. What gets into the system as well as who can use the data and for what purposes makes privacy in mapping a key concern of anyone who fills out surveys, owns a home, or registers a car or firearm.

I could write this book tofrighten readers, but I won't. However odious the threat of rampant snooping or a new holocaust, fear founded on mere possibility is less helpful than wariness grounded in understanding. Informed skepticism about cartographic surveillance should encourage the vigorous yet vigilant application of this ambiguous technology that, like the bulldozer and the chemical plant, can--if controlled--do far more good than harm. If this ambiguity is disconcerting, get used to it. A jeremiad that capitulates to gloom and doom would be no better than an equally naive celebration of trouble-free progress.

A Luddite rant would also ignore some fascinating stories of fortuitous discoveries and unintended consequences. As the following chapters reveal, there are multiple cartographies of surveillance, some concerned primarily with integrating databases, some involving satellite imagery or satellite-based location tracking, and some narrowly focused on specific needs, like growing crops or controlling crime. Although all applications examined here use monitoring to control human behavior--that's the definition of surveillance --the behaviors in question range from the predations of war and crime to economic decisions about when to plant and where to spread fertilizer. Big Brother is doing most of the watching, at least for now, but corporations, local governments, and other Little Brothers are quickly getting involved.

If you don't see the danger, think integration. The threat to personal privacy lies mainly in the imminent ease of linking a large number of databases rapidly and reliably in order to track shipments, pollutants, lost children, potential terrorists, campaign contributions, or anyone walking around with a cell phone. An invasive system would not only monitor location in real time but also store the data indefinitely to reconstruct an individual's movements during, for example, the weeks before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Or on that embarrassing day you ------------------------. Given your name, a really intelligent surveillance system could even fill in the blank.

Much depends, of course, on who's in charge, us or them, and on who "them" is. A police state could exploit geographic technology to round up dissidents--imagine the Nazi SS with a GeoSurveillance Corps. By contrast, a capitalist marketer can exploit locational data by making a cleverly tailored pitch at a time and place when you're most receptive. Control is control whether it's blatant or subtle.

Surveillance cartography exploits diverse technologies, the most basic of which is the geographic information system, or GIS, defined as a computerized system (naturally) for storing, retrieving, analyzing, and displaying geographic data. This Spartan definition covers a variety of approaches, including overlay analysis and address matching. Around 1990 the GIS replaced the paper map as the primary medium of map analysis, and government mapping agencies like the U.S. Geological Survey shifted their focus from making maps to compiling electronic data. This change was equally apparent in higher education after GIS replaced traditional cartography as the most popular techniques course for geography majors, and disciplines like forestry and urban planning began to o¤er their own GIS courses.

Overlay analysis is a straightforward concept, easily visualized as a cartographic sandwich with two or more layers called coverages. As figure 1.1 shows, each coverage represents a separate topic or landscape feature, such as forest cover or soil acidity. Because the layers share a common geographic framework, the user can readily retrieve data for a particular point or define areas with a particular combination of characteristics. Overlay analysis is especially useful in exploring associations between environmental factors and in assessing the suitability of land for development.

A related GIS operation is buffering, described in figure 1.2. Planners wary of adverse effects on nearby residents or wildlife look closely at buffer zones around building sites, proposed landfills, and transportation corridors. Bu¤ering is also helpful to emergency management officials, who need to delineate hazard zones such as those around active faults, toxic waste dumps, chlorine tanks that might rupture, and railroads and pipelines carrying hazardous materials. To explore the threat of a particularly risky shipment, an analyst defines a hazard zone around the proposed route and overlays this buffer on a detailed population map. A more advanced form of buffering called dispersion modeling can track airborne releases of radiation or lethal gasses and predict the advance of groundwater plumes fed by leaky underground storage tanks.

A more potentially invasive kind of GIS deals with street addresses, road networks, and census data. An application familiar to most Internet users is the Web site that converts an address into a detailed neighborhood map like the example in figure 1.3. The process depends upon a massive database that links addresses like "302 Waldorf Parkway" to the geographic coordinates of intersections at opposite ends of the block. Names of the city and state expedite the search by differentiating this Waldorf Parkway from all the other Waldorf Parkways in the country. The database contains each block's low and high addresses, which the GIS uses to find the specific block. If the even-numbered addresses range from 300 to 312, the lot at 302 is close to the block's low end. Assuming all the lots are equally wide and numbered sequentially, the GIS can easily calculate 302's location between the intersections and plot its position on the correct side of the street. The GIS then fleshes out the map by adding other streets in the vicinity. Knowing where you live is a starting point for probing your environment and interactions.

Some address-to-map Web sites also find the shortest route to another address and print out an itinerary. Because the computer knows which streets converge at each intersection, it can keep track of distances, construct and compare trial routings, and compile a list of driving directions like "Go 3.4 miles to State Highway 17, turn left onto Broad Street, and continue 0.6 miles to Main Street." A hybrid itinerary supplements these verbal instructions with small maps of the area around each turning point. Given accurate data, the system can also provide exit numbers for expressways, avoid sending motorists the wrong way down one-way streets, offer a choice between the shortest and the quickest routes, and show motels, gasoline stations, and fast-food restaurants. A particularly rich database can help motorists avoid high-crime neighborhoods and dangerous highways. Some Web sites also o¤er maps describing recently reported accidents and their e¤ect on traffic--a genre of surveillance cartography I examine in chapter 6.

The prominence of commercial address-to-map Web sites supported by chain restaurants and other advertisers obscures the technology's origin as a tool for tabulating census returns. In the late 1960s, the U.S. Bureau of the Census devised a coding scheme now called TIGER (for topologically integrated geographically encoded referencing) to automatically compile block-level counts for urban areas where households received a mail-back questionnaire. The process is straightforward. An optical scanner converts each completed questionnaire to an electronic record so that a computer can match the address with the corresponding block and add the household's responses to the running tallies for various categories of age, race, and sex. Each block has a unique number as well as separate counters for each category. For example, if a home is in block 517 and its only occupants are a forty-year-old white female and an eight-year-old white male, the computer adds two each to block 517's counters for "all persons" and "white persons," and one each to the counters for "adult white females" and "white males under eighteen." Block counts are essential for congressional redistricting because the federal courts tolerate only small differences in population.

TIGER files also help retailers send catalogs and coupons to receptive homes. Ever wonder why a move to a better neighborhood triggers a different mix of junk mail? It's probably because TIGER-based address matching indicates that you're now in a more affluent census tract with a different demographic profile. Data for census tracts, which contain about four thousand persons and perhaps twenty blocks or more, include a richer variety of socioeconomic indicators than block-level data, based on the "short-form" questions the government asks all households. Age and family structure are equally relevant. If many of your new neighbors are in their fifties or sixties, ads pitching condos in Florida and long-term care insurance will be common. If most area families have young children, expect mailings that tout toys and summer camps. And direct-mail retailers who use geospatial technology to compile their own censuses from sales records can easily send you a catalog when a neighbor places an order.

Illegal aliens as well as citizens worried about privacy have little to fear from the Census Bureau. By law, the bureau cannot divulge information about individuals, even to other government agencies, and must keep their questionnaires confidential for one hundred years, after which a household's responses are of interest only to historians and amateur genealogists ferreting out ancestors. Neighborhoods are a different matter: although block-level data are comparatively innocuous tabulations pigeonholed by age, sex, race, Hispanic origin, home ownership, and residents' relationship to the household, the bureau publishes increasingly rich categorical data for block groups, census tracts, cities and towns, counties, and states. Planners and policymakers depend on these data, as do companies seeking advantageous locations for stores and restaurants. But if an area's population is so small or an individual's circumstances so unique that summary statistics might reveal sensitive information such as the income of a particular person or household, census officials suppress the summary statistics at the tract or town level. And to promote consistency, the Census Bureau has developed software that can scan tabulated data and identify numbers that, if released, would violate the nondisclosure rule. Computer-assisted enforcement of the bureau's privacy restrictions is a wise strategy that saves time and avoids charges of favoritism or malice.

Criminal records are another matter. Some states disclose the addresses of convicted sex o¤enders, often to the chagrin of individuals who pose little threat to the community. Although fear of rapists and child molesters is understandable, some registries include persons whose only crime is public urination. Notification practices also vary. For example, New York, which used to release information only through a pay-per-inquiry 900-number telephone service, started posting addresses and photographs of high-risk o¤enders on the Internet in mid-2000. Like Web sites maintained by Arizona, North Carolina, and several other states, the New York State Sex O¤ender Registry allows searching by name, county, or ZIP code. Intended to warn parents about pedophiles in the neighborhood, sex-offender registries depend upon self-reporting and are often error-ridden and incomplete. In addition to questioning the reliability of databases and the value of community notification, civil liberties advocates reject the posting of maps and addresses as an invasion of privacy and a barbaric form of shaming.

Less controversial are the property-tax assessment registers with which neighbors and real estate agents can find out how much you paid for your house and how many rooms it has. In states that base property taxes on fair market value, the local assessor must disclose recent sale prices and other information useful in challenging assessments ostensibly out of line with those for neighboring properties. Although publicly available assessment records are not new, a search typically required a visit to the assessor's office, which files its data by lot number, not address. Maryland and several other states now o¤er assessment data online by street address at a GIS-supported Web site (fig. 1.4). Several years ago, when I sold my dad's house outside Baltimore, the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation's online search system was especially helpful in setting an appropriate asking price. An online map showing neighboring properties even told me which property numbers to enter for other lots in the neighborhood. With a sense of selling prices in the area, I was better able to deal with real estate agents and potential buyers.


Excerpted from Spying With Maps: Surveillance Technologies and the Future of Privacy by Mark S. Monmonier Copyright © 2002 by Mark S. Monmonier. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1. Maps That Watch
2. Overhead Assets
3. Eyes on the Farm
4. Tinder, Technology, and Tactics
5. Weather Eyes
6. Wire Loops and Traffic Cams
7. Crime Watch
8. Keeping Track
9. Addresses, Geocoding, and Dataveillance
10. Case Clusters and Terrorist Threats
Epilogue: Locational Privacy as a Basic Right
From the B&N Reads Blog

Customer Reviews