Growing Horizons of Electronic Monitoring

Dr S.S. Verma is a professor at Department of Physics, Sant Longowal Institute of Engineering and Technology, Sangrur, Punjab

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Monitoring of human and animal behaviour, activities or other changing information for the purpose of influence, management, direction or protection has been in practice since long. This includes observation from a distance by means of electronic equipment or interception of electronically transmitted information.

However, what makes the present situation unique is the sheer scale of monitoring; the extent to which the overseer is unobtrusive and capabilities of the modern technology for storage, analysis and reporting of the gathered information.

Electronic monitoring provides structure, control and accountability of people. It can also provide an extra layer of supervision with the goal of enhancing public safety in the community. Electronic tagging, on the other hand, is a form of surveillance that uses an electronic device fitted to the person or animal.

In the last few decades, the scope of electronic monitoring has widened greatly in terms of devices and applications. It can now be used for employees at workplace, crime control, drug de-addiction, animals (on land, in air and in water), vegetation, environmental and climate change, social amenities (health, banking, traffic, sports, air quality, etc), adventurers and work seekers in remote and risky areas, etc. Electronic devices such as CCTV cameras, biometric registers, sensors, radio-frequency (RF) and global positioning system (GPS) bracelets, phones and e-mails are becoming integral tools of monitoring everywhere to improve efficiency.

Electronic monitoring devices

The technology behind electronic monitoring devices continues to evolve. While once these just used radio signals to detect whether someone was home, now many devices use GPS and cell tower signals to give precise locations. Monitors can detect blood-alcohol levels through a person’s sweat. However, the system has flaws. Devices can send false alerts. Sometimes, these send so many alerts that officers can’t carefully look into all of them.

Researchers believe electronic monitoring can even predict whether someone is about to commit a crime. At the workplace, electronic monitoring runs from keystroke counting; telephone service observation whereby statistics are gathered on the duration, time between and number of calls; telephone call accounting; peeking on to workers’ computer screens and into electronic mail; and the use of active or magic badges that can keep track of an employee’s movements and locations. Increasingly, computers are being used to set tasks and performances for all levels of workers. Employers may view employees on closed-circuit TV; tap their phones, e-mail and network communications; and rummage through their computer files with or without employees’ knowledge or consent-24 hours a day.

Electronic identification and monitoring are important tools within the management of animal husbandry systems. Rumination activity is an indicator of animals’ health status and production. Remote monitoring of animal behaviour in the environment can assist in managing both the animal and its environmental impact. GPS collars that record animal locations with high temporal frequency allow researchers to monitor both animal behaviour and interactions with the environment.

Tracking migrations is an important tool to better understand and protect species. Scientists today still attach tags, such as metal bands, to track animal movements. Metal bands require re-capture of animals for the scientists to gather data; data is thus limited to the animal’s release and destination points.

Recent technologies have solved this problem. Electronic tags give scientists a complete, accurate picture of migration patterns. Some electronic tags give off repeating signals that are picked up by radio devices or satellites, while other electronic tags could include archival tags (or data loggers). Using RFID technology or satellites, scientists can track the location and movement of tagged animals without recapturing them. These electronic tags can provide a great deal of data.

Telemetry, in general, involves the use of a transmitter that is attached to an animal and sends out a signal in the form of radio waves, just as a radio station does. Scientists may place the transmitter around an animal’s ankle, neck, wing, carapace or dorsal fin. Alternatively, they may surgically implant it as internal radio transmitters, which have the advantage of remaining intact and functioning longer than traditional attachments, with protection from environmental variables and wear.

Geolocators or geologgers technology utilises a light sensor that tracks light-level data at regular intervals in order to determine a location based on the length of the day and the time of solar noon. Receivers can be placed in Earth-orbiting satellites, and networks (or groups) of satellites used to track animals. Each satellite in a network picks up electronic signals from a transmitter on an animal. Together, signals from all satellites determine the precise location of the animal. Satellites also track the animal’s path as it moves. Satellite transmitters fitted to animals can also provide information about their physiological characteristics (temperature) and habitat use. Satellite tracking is useful especially because scientists do not have to follow the animal or recover its tag to get data on its whereabouts.

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