Privacy and the Internet of Things

In light of a recent statement made by James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence, it has been made apparent that United States government and intelligence agencies maintain a stranglehold on surveillant practices, despite use of encryption and recent backlash by citizens regarding government privacy infringements. As reported by the Guardian, Clapper confirmed that Internet of Things devices allow for surveillant practices by intelligence agencies.
“In the future, intelligence services might use the [internet of things] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials,” explains James Clapper at his annual “assessment of threats” against the US (Guardian 2016).
This includes law enforcement agencies which have increasingly requested court orders which request companies to provide data collected from citizens. As noted by Trevor Timm, companies such as Fitbit and Dropcam, have been requested or have provided user data to legal authorities (Guardian 2016). What should be noted, is the type of information gathered by IoT devices, which fuels privacy concerns. Billions of IoT devices currently exist, “each of which are designed to harvest, store, and communicate a wealth of data” (Maras 2015:102). This data provides real-time information regarding a user’s “health and finances, locations, contacts, habits, behaviours, and activities” (Maras 2015:102) essentially mapping “patterns of life” (Amoore 2013:109). Very simply, the collected information by Internet of Things devices is, in effect, big data. Although never mentioned in any related literature as such, upon analyzing the content that the Internet of Things collects and comparing them to contemporary definitions of big data, distinct similarities can be drawn since data that is collected, “is more information than any individual human or group of humans can comprehend” (Andrejevic 2014:1675). Not to mention, several of these devices are vulnerable to hacking and other exploits.
As a result, a landscape has been created in which private information is constantly collected, stored, analyzed and monitored, as well as shared with a variety of other IoT devices, users and third parties (Maras 2015:102). Yet, users are potentially left without a full understanding of the implications of such a massive gathering of data. This excessive amount of data collection has raised several questions and concerns regarding privacy and surveillance. Users are not made aware of who benefits from this data, to whom this data is collected by, who it may be given to, when this data is collected and the potential outcomes of data collection. More than this, user profiling and targeting as well as social sorting are amongst other negative consequences of mass data gathering.
Although James Clapper’s statement is not a surprising revelation within the academic community, its importance lies in increasing public awareness regarding surveillant practices used by government and surveillance agencies. It brings to light how big data and IoT devices, which may provide many practical benefits, may, in some circumstances, be used to monitor citizens, and ultimately infringe on their privacy.
This results in a paradox where privacy and the Internet of Things cannot completely coexist (Wiseman 2013:8). There is a trade-off. In exchange for better, more feasible and more reliable services, a user must relinquish certain details about themselves. But, it must be reiterated that privacy is sacrificed in exchange for the tangible benefits offered by IoT devices. With this, a double edged sword is presented. With each incremental piece of information provided to Internet of Things devices and services, the better these services become. Yet, through this constant dissemination of private information, the more privacy is lost. Wiseman expresses how a technology which may not have initially been intended to pervade user privacy, may easily be reconfigured to ‘creep’ its users. “The purpose of the IoT to realize a smooth functioning information society may (also) turn into the perfect tool to realize a surveillance society” (Wiseman 2013:2). With such a vast amount of information, it is easy to understand how seemingly useful technology may actually be used as instruments for surveillance (Wiseman 2013:9).
IoT devices are starting to gain popularity as they begin to penetrate households, cities and various other aspects of day to day life. Thus, this public announcement by Clapper serves to inform citizens of the potential nefarious traits embodied in convenient gadgets.

Amoore, Louise 2013 ‘Security and the claim to privacy’ International Political Sociology8(2) 108-112
Andrejevic, Mark 2014. Big data, big questions “The Big Data Divide”. International Journal of Communication, 8(0):1673-1689

Maras 2015. “Internet of Things: Security and Privacy Implications” International Data Privacy Law 5(2):99-104

Timm, Trevor. 2016. “The government just admitted it will use smart home devices for spying” The Guardian Retrieved February 24, 2016 (

Wiseman, T.H.A. 2013. “Purpose and function creep by design: Transforming the face of surveillance through the Internet of Things”, European Journal of Law and Technology 4(2)


Hope for Open Data and Transparency in Canada

The idea for my first Ubicity blog post was initially inspired by a piece I stumbled upon written by Brian Jackson, doctor titled ‘What does a Liberal government mean for Canada’s Technology Policy?’  Given Canada’s new leadership under Liberal party leader, Justin Trudeau, along with my current research interests, broadly being open data and open data initiatives, the timing was no more fitting for me to explore the Liberal party’s plan for openness, open data and government transparency.  My curiosity was piqued to examine the Liberal party’s action plan for a ‘fair and open government’, along with its aims and ramifications for openness and transparency.

My investigation of the Liberal party platform began with a trip to the Liberal party of Canada’s website.  Neatly laid out and easily accessible were three main categories which explain the party’s aims in different aspects of citizen life and political stances.  Among these was the category title, ‘Open, Honest Government’.  This section provides a brief summary of what openness and transparency entails according to the Liberal party.  Naturally, criticism of former Prime Minister, Stephen Harper’s approach to openness populates this section, but for good reason.  As witnessed over the past decade, expectations of Canadian citizens went unattended under Conservative leadership, and is an obvious place for adjustment under new leadership.

The Liberal party seems to place transparency at the forefront of their action plan.  They seemingly offer mutual trust and cooperation between government and citizen, and use inviting and inclusive words such as ‘us’ and ‘together’ in order to demonstrate the communal progress that will be made between both.  They their action plan to be, “…a sweeping agenda for change”, and provide an in depth outline of a diversity of adjustments to be made under new leadership.  These changes touch on many ways the Liberals intend on implementing “a fair and open government”.  Specific to my research interests were the sections discussing the Liberal government’s encouragement of government openness and transparency.  This agenda asserts that transparency will stand as a fundamental principle for the Liberal Party platform.

Policies regarding open data seem promising.  For instance, Access to Information will see rejuvenation, as data will be made available to Canadians by default.  Even more, this agenda seeks to “accelerate and expand open data initiatives”.  This is certainly exciting since the value of open data initiatives will possibly see its full potential.  Open data holds the potential to integrate citizen and government together in order to assist in the shaping and constructing of a smarter city, converting previously unconnected data into actionable information for usage in the urban landscape (Dodgson and Gann 20117:4), and enhancing city services including electrical and water consumption, waste management, or public transportation (Santoso and Kuehn 2013:2).  Within smart city promotional discourse, the city is seen as a system of systems which could benefit from extensive information management tools (ibid: 5), the promotion of innovation in the planning and management of cities (Naphade et alt 2011:1), encouragement of environmental stability (Harter 2010), as well as convivial living conditions.  With these accelerated initiatives, these potentialities may actually come to fruition.

In addition to these objectives, the Liberals plan for a revamping of Canada’s Access to Information Act and increased transparency of parliamentary plans and expenses.  Not only does this action plan stipulate that government data will be available to all Canadians, but it will also make also readily available citizen’s own personal information.  Upon reading these reforms, it becomes clear that this political party seeks to engage with Canadian citizens and ensure that government data and services will become more accessible.  It is a step in the right direction for Canadian governance as the Liberals seem to have interest in increasing openness and transparency in an effort to improve trust and accountability of government.

Note my wariness of the current government’s promises.  Although promises for openness and transparency have been made, one must keep in mind that this government is newly elected.  This is to say, it is too early to understand how effective the current government is at following its platform, tending to citizen’s concerns and whether or not the current government truly takes matters regarding openness, open data and transparency seriously.  On paper, the Liberal party appears to be optimistic about the possibilities of openness and transparency, and I too share the same sentiment, as the possibilities to be had with open data currently have yet to see their full potential.  With time it will be witnessed if and how the current government will instill this action plan.  In all, the liberal policy for a fair and open government seems quite promising, if all goes as stated.  With promises of encouraged collaboration between citizens and government, an acceleration of open data initiatives and a focus on openness and transparency, this platform is surely a refreshing breath for Canadians.


Work Cited

Dodgson, M. and Gann, D. 2011 “Technological Innovation and Complex Systems in Cities,” Journal of Urban Technology, 18(3): 101-113.

Harter, G. Sinha, J., Sharma A. and Dave, S. 2010. Sustainable Urbanization: The Role of ICT in City Development. New York: Booz & Co.


Jackson, Brian. 2015. “What does a Liberal government mean for Canada’s technology policy?” IT World Canada Retrieved October 22, 2015 (


Liberal Party of Canada. 2015. “Openness and Transparency” Retrieved October 22, 2015 (


Naphade, M., Banavar, G. Harrison, C. Paraszczak, J. and Morris, R. 2011. “Smarter Cities and Their Innovation Challenges,” IEEE Computer, June 2011: 32-39.


Santoso, S. and Kuehn, A. 2013. “Intelligent urbanism: Convivial living in smart cities.” iConference 2013 Proceedings: 566-570.