Location & Security

8:10 AM -- I recently attended a conference where one of the speakers, an IT guy from a hospital, was talking about WLAN-based location technologies.

Many people don’t know this, but it’s possible to determine the location of a client with pretty good accuracy (within three meters or so) using unmodified WiFi hardware and no special software, at least on the client. I think this technology is particularly valuable in many applications, and we’re bound to see more of it.

Companies like Newbury Networks build the systems, and one can even purchase specialized WiFi tags, akin to RFID tags but bigger and more expensive, from firms like PanGo Networks Inc.

Well, the IT guy was telling this story about how they had trouble locating a particular resident at the hospital, so they slipped a WiFi tag into his lab coat. Laughs all around, but is this legitimate, or even legal? I have no idea. One could argue that hospital staff need to be easily located a lot of the time, and the residents’ employment agreement might allow it. Regardless, should there be informed consent before such technologies are applied in this way? An entry in the personnel manual? Something?

Perhaps this story was just designed to be humorous; that’s the way I took it. But we will probably need to come to terms with this technology as a society in the near future. There are always unintended consequences from any new high technology, and the political elements of these should not be underestimated.

— Craig Mathias is Principal Analyst at the Farpoint Group , an advisory firm specializing in wireless communications and mobile computing. Special to Unstrung

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