Spot the Desires

28 Jun 2012

It has often been said in our IMPRINTS team meetings that depictions of identity management taboos usually have desires embedded in them. The following narrative of Alice’s day is one of the most vivid answers I received from one of my expert interviewees when I asked them to indicate spaces and contexts in which an imaginary person’s identity could be managed in 2025.  This is the complete and unabridged version of the answer - with a couple of potentially offensive phrases deleted. It shows an interesting day for Alice, but what do we think? Even though the interviewee focused on the taboos, can you spot the desires?

 “Alice wakes up, goes to bathroom for ablutions, goes to kitchen for breakfast.

The "Smart Meter" snooping on the characteristic appliance-use profiles on each electricity circuit in the house uploads this data to the Electricity company, which can tell exactly when Alice switches on/off the shower, the cooker, the Television etc.

The fact the shower was used twice indicates that perhaps Alice is not living alone as a single occupier as when she filled in the latest Census. Will the Council Tax police descend on her from the Local Council, to whom the Electricity company have sold (or passed on) this data?

 Alice's Sky digital television Digital Video recorder notes her choice of breakfast television channels, and uploads this to Sky who sell this to advertisers (together with her post code location details).

Alice leaves for work.


On her way to the bus stop, she passes 5 CCTV cameras, which passively monitor the time and location of her journey, but do not immediately and positively attempt to identify her immediately. However, Alice is carrying a "Smart Phone" tracking device, which betrays her position and the progress of her journey to

a) Her primary Mobile Phone network - which has access to the SIM Card phone number details and the IMEI of the handset and has cross linked databases with her name, home address and credit card (which she used to pay for the phone) and bank account details (monthly direct debit details) to pay for the contract.

b)Her secondary Mobile Phone network, which shares 3G coverage with her primary Mobile Phone Network - this has the same details as above, but getting hold of her personal details from the Primary Mobile Phone Network takes an extra bureaucratic step or two.

c) Since this is a "Smart Phone" set to connect to Alice's home broadband internet router gateway [e.g.] or her WiFi gateway at work, through DHCP, it continues to try to do so throughout her journey to work, trying to establish contact with any WiFi Access Point with the same (default) SSID name as her home WiFi router (e.g. NetGear).

The fact that Alice's "Smart Phone" has passed over a dozen domestic and commercial WiFi Access Points between her home and the bus stop is invisibly logged by all of them, but is actively logged by a couple of them, which record the usually unique MAC address of the WiFi chip / radio software in her "Smart Phone".

Alice is also listening to music on her "Smart Phone" via BlueTooth connected earphones.

The time and location and usually unique MAC address of her "Smart Phone" is deliberately logged by an Interactive "Smart" Advertising Billboard near her bus stop, which uploads this information to its advertising sponsors.  If she has a "profile", or she has neglected to protect her "Smart Phone" the "Smart" advertising billboard will bombard her phone with "personalised" adverts / special offers i.e. spam.

Alice boards the bus (and is captured on half a dozen CCTV cameras) and has her journey history profile updated when she pays for the bus fare with her Oyster "Smart" travel card.

This tracking information, together with her associated registration details is handed over to the Metropolitan Police "in bulk, in real time" for secret data mining of the travel patterns of innocent people, in the vain hope of finding patterns of travel by terrorists.

Since this data has been made exempt from [deleted potentially offensive phrase] the Data Protection Act 1998, it is also prone to be leaked by corrupt insiders to their former colleagues working as private investigators and information traders, selling it to tabloid newspapers or abusing it for personal, stalking and harassment reasons.

Alice arrives at work, after further monitoring on CCTV cameras on buses and railway / Tube stations and trains (adding to her Oyster travel card transaction history).


The office building where she works uses a biometric fingerprint scanner for its door entry system. Apart from the extra risk of spreading infectious diseases like influenza or cholera, by forcing hundreds of people to touch the same unsterilised scanner every day, the system is not that reliable and painfully slow, especially for a minority of the people who use it, who, due to age or ethnic origin, have thin skin and faint fingerprint ridges.

The technicians have suggested tweaking the pass / fail criteria for this minority of people to a lower level than the majority. The management of the building are in a quandary about this, because that would effectively be institutional, mechanised racial discrimination. This could be tolerable for a building entry system, but it should be politically impossible for any national scale fingerprint biometric system of British people (foreign visitors and immigrants and asylum seekers already get treated with contempt by….. anyway).

Alice logs on to her desktop computer at work, using a "Smart Card" which contains Digital certificate logon credentials, where the Private Key has been generated by the individual Smart Card itself, and is not stored on any central database. These credentials are unlocked by a personally assigned PIN code. There is another individual PIN code to reset the Smart card to its defaults. Both of these PIN Codes are stored in a centralised LDAP based Identity Management system.
Dilbert comic strip:
Pointy Haired Boss: "My keyboard is broken, it only types asterisks for passwords"
Dogbert's technical support: "Try changing your password to 5 asterisks"
Pointy Haired Boss: "I hope I can remember it"

Alice's work rate / "productivity" using her computer is monitored by her employers e.g. number of keystrokes an hour, which interval applications and web pages she visits, which external websites she visits etc.


On the journey home, Alice's mobile phone App, blabs about her current location to her FaceBook account, so that her "friends" can see if she is in their neighbourhood, as can stalkers or criminals who are interested in knowing that the coast is clear for burglary as she is not at home or not at her office.

When Alice gets home, in the evening, she drives her car to Heathrow Airport to pick up her mother, arriving from a holiday abroad.

There is ANPR in car park which is cross referenced with her Credit / Debit card payment for the ticket.
Alice sends and receives SMS text messages to/from her mother as she lands and proceeds to the baggage hall.

The high concentration of micro and femtocells in the airport (to catch lucrative foreign expense account roaming phones) means that Alice and her mother's physical movements are trackable within a couple of metres within the terminal.

There happens to be a serious organised crime gang member on a flight landing at Heathrow within half an hour of Alice's mother's flight, who parks in the same ANPR controlled car park.

All people waiting in arrivals are treated as suspects and have their mobile phone Communications Traffic Data trawled through, without their prior permission, or post facto notification.

The fact that there wasn't total CCTV coverage of the route from Arrivals to where Alice's car and the criminal suspects car were parked, means that Alice will be under extra Comms Traffic Data analysis and scrutiny - did she receive anything e.g. drugs  or money etc. from the criminal suspect?

Unfortunately the Police [potentially offensive phrase deleted] believe that "criminals travel in convoys" so the criminal smuggler's vehicle when passing any ANPR camera system linked to the Police National Computer, will also add "suspicious" flags to the records of innocent vehicle number plates.

Alice's vehicle number plate is now tagged with a "suspicion" score by the data mining software ("guilt by association").  If this score increases beyond a certain level, her vehicle will itself trigger ANPR alerts itself, with potentially dire consequences for Alice and her passengers.

This listing will then also trigger "fishing expedition" trawling of Alice's Mobile Phone and Oyster card records ("just in case...").

So did you spot the desires?

                                                                                                                                                     Jasmine Harvey