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Roger Clarke's 'Sci-Fi and Surveillance'

Surveillance in Speculative Fiction
Appendix 2: Person Location and Tracking

Version of 11 October 2009

This is an Appendix to the paper entitled 'Surveillance in Speculative Fiction'

Roger Clarke **

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This Appendix identifies and provides outline descriptions of techniques for locating people and tracking their movements. This may be done by detecting some aspect of the person, or of some artefact associated with them.

Bill Christensen's web-site identifies and documents a wide range of instances of surveillance devices depicted in the science fiction literature.

This document provides extracts from the site that relate to person location and tracking, in chronological order, oldest first. Relatively recent instances have been mostly omitted, unless they appear to add something of significance.

The sub-sections are:

1. Motor Vehicle as Proxy

This sub-section deals with circumstances in which a vehicle is used as a proxy for an individual.

Instantaneous Kodaks

"The policemen on duty also have instantaneous kodaks mounted on tripods, which show the position of any carriage at half-and quarter-second intervals, by which it is easy to ascertain the exact speed, should the officers be unable to judge it by the eye; so there is no danger of a vehicle's speed exceeding that allowed in the section in which it happens to be; neither can a slow one remain on the fast lines" - A Journey In Other Worlds, John Jacob Astor IV, Unknown Publisher, 1894

Traffic Control Camera

"She fumbled in the storage compartment on the instrument board and fumbled, apparently purposelessly. But the registration number which the traffic control automatically photographed as she left the controlway was not the number in which the car was registered" - Methuselah's Children, Robert Heinlein, Astounding Science-Fiction, 1941

Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR)

"ANPR was invented in 1976 at the Police Scientific Development Branch in the UK. Prototype systems were working by 1979, and contracts were let to produce industrial systems, first at EMI Electronics, and then at Computer Recognition Systems (CRS) in Wokingham, UK. Early trial systems were deployed on the A1 road and at the Dartford Tunnel. The first arrest due to a detected stolen car was made in 1981"

ANPR Lane-Markers

"Lane-markers that would track the number, make and colour of your car as it went by. When the system was complete, they'd be able to bug the exact movements of every vehicle" - Jonathan Raban, Surveillance, Picador, 2005

2. Iris Scanning

Public Iris Scanner

'A device that uses iris-scanning for identification, and does not require subject awareness' - Minority Report (Movie), Stephen Spielberg, Dreamworks, 2002

3. Attachments


A device is attached to a criminal suspect, ensuring that his whereabouts are always known. "...But if we do let you go, you must agree to carry tattletales with you at all times. Inquire of your attorney Mr. Sharp if that will be acceptable." "What the hell is a tattletale?" Joe Schilling asked. "A tracing device," Hawthorne said. "It will inform us where each of you are at all times" - The Game Players of Titan, Philip K. Dick, Ace Books, 1963

Christensen notes that "The first officially sanctioned use of ankle bracelets (or ankle monitors) occurred in 1983, under Judge Jack Love in Albuquerque, New Mexico".

4. Implantation


A quantity of substance that is injected into the shoulder, providing positioning and information about the subject - The Houses of Iszm, Jack Vance, Better Publications, 1954

The Ring

'A surgically implanted electronic monitor that automatically caused unendurable agony when a convict strayed from righteousness' - The Ring, Piers Anthony and Robert Margroff, Macdonald, 1968

Skull Bug

A small electronic device implanted in the cranium at birth; used for monitoring and control. "It's a bugged and drugged world. Ninety percent of the bods have bugs implanted in their skulls in hospital when they're born. They're monitored constantly. The air is crisscrossed with thousands of broadcasts" - The Computer Connection, Alfred Bester, Berkley Publishers, 1974

Chip Implants

The real-world invention turned out to be a device rather than a fluid; but it is injected; and in domestic animals the location of choice is the neck (for cattle, the ear; for humans, so far the teeth and the arm). Contactless-chips and now RFID-tags depend on microelectronics, which depend on transistors. What we now call a transistor was patented in 1947, but not manufactured until 1954. Predecessor patents were granted in 1925 and 1934.

Chip implantation in animals began at least as early as 1991. Yet in 1992, an air of disbelief was still prevalent: this author was challenged by a journal editor about text about human chip implantation included in a refereed article on identification. The first recorded recipient was Kevin Warwick in 1998 (in the fore-arm). The first attempt at commercialising human chip implantation was in about 2000 (in teeth), and the first attempt that achieved some success was in 2004 (also in the fore-arm?).

5. Brain Patterns

Cephalic Sniffer

Device can locate an individual using brain patterns - Clans of the Alphane Moon, Philip K. Dick, Ace Books, 1964

Cephalotropic Dart

A slim, short-range device that homes in on the brain wave pattern of the target - Lies, Inc., Philip K. Dick, Fantastic, 1964


Surveillance devices that will follow a subject and record speech or video - The Star King, Jack Vance, Berkeley, 1964

According to Vance, the stick-tight comes in at least five different variations:

Mechanical Cobra

'An assassination device; senses brain waves to find its victim' - Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny, Doubleday, 1967

ident darts

Track their prey for a circle-radius of a thousand miles, responding to unique enceph wave patterns - The Electric Ant, Philip K. Dick, Mercury Press, 1969

Author Affiliations

Roger Clarke is Principal of Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, Canberra. He is also a Visiting Professor in the Cyberspace Law & Policy Centre at the University of N.S.W., and a Visiting Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the Australian National University.

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