For the London Free Press – July 22, 2013 – Read this at lfpress.com
Imagine being able to take pictures, check e-mail, follow a map and monitor your vital signs — all without having to take out your phone or use your hands. Wearable computers now make this possible.
Wearable computers come in various forms. Head-mounted displays are gaining exposure due to the highly publicized Google Glass.
Smart clothing and wristwatch-type gadgets that monitor and store a user’s vital signs are also getting attention, as their role in the health field expands.
Some computers are being implanted beneath the skin.
As inventors promise a more seamless, immediate interaction with the devices, brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) or brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are being developed, integrating humans and machines.
Electrodes implanted in the body to interpret neural signals are starting to enable people with paralysis to control devices with their thoughts or enable amputees to control artificial limbs.
With the line between human and computer becoming increasingly blurred, curiosity is rising — but so are anxieties about the effects of such technology.
Questions about reliability, safety, security, control and loss of independence are often posed.
It’s logical to question where the data from these devices is stored and how it will be used. Similar concerns are expressed about smartphones; however, as computers become wearable and integrated with the body, it is more difficult to know when or control how data is collected.
And the type and volume of data being collected is increasing.
Because technological innovation moves faster than the legal system, many legal questions have yet to be answered.
One fundamental question when computers are implanted in our bodies is whether the legal focus should shift to the person rather than on the device?
What about our expectation of privacy? Is it reasonable for people in today’s technological era to expect privacy or has that effectively vanished? Do we have a right not to be photographed by the person wearing Google Glass in the grocery store?
The privacy debate is a particularly heated one, with some arguing that these devices help create a surveillance society where our every move is recorded and stored whether we like it or not.
Described as the “father of wearable computing,” Steve Mann turns such privacy concerns on their head and takes the position that these devices actually empower users, serving as a counteracting force against the “watchers.”
From this perspective, the ability to make our own recordings and collect our own data is a way to take back the power that government, corporations, institutions and media have over us.
This may seem like an idealistic view, but recent news stories about citizens recording police excesses and arrests suggest Mann’s theory of empowerment may have merit.
It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of the wearable computing trend — and it is indeed an exciting one. Whether your outlook on wearable computing is positive or ridden with fear, it is important to consider the legal and ethical issues that come with them.