Wi-Fi surveillance: Wollongong council wants to track your movements

The council is watching: An expansion of Wollongong's free WiFi and new wireless monitoring capabilities are being considered by the council. Picture: Adam McLean.
The council is watching: An expansion of Wollongong's free WiFi and new wireless monitoring capabilities are being considered by the council. Picture: Adam McLean.

Wollongong shoppers and city workers, pedestrians and CBD residents – Wollongong City Council will be watching you.

Under a new plan, anyone who enters Wollongong’s city centre could soon have their movements logged and tracked by the council using the city’s free Wi-Fi network.

In a report to councillors to be debated on Monday, staff said the council should use Wi-Fi to monitor city visitors and analyse their movements through the CBD.

The “current Wi-Fi positioning technology” means anyone who carries a wireless device – even if it’s not in use – can be logged by the council’s system, the report says.

This reveals when new visitors enter the city, how many individuals are in a certain place and how long they spend there, and helps the council to “heat map” where people spend time.

“This would enable the assessment of overall movement of people (who have wireless devices on them but do not necessarily use them) to assist with planning of activation initiatives as well as assessing attendance levels,” the council report said.

In addition to the new surveillance, the council has recommended councillors spend an extra $27,000 a year as well as a one-off $24,000 to expand the free Wi-Fi network.

This means it would cover Corrimal Street, between Market and Burelli Streets, and Keira Street, between Smith and Crown Streets, in addition to the existing Crown Street service area.

Using Wi-Fi to track people’s movements is not new: universities around Australia have been tracking students through their mobile phones using wireless routers for some time. 

And in its 20 year future plan released last year, the University of Wollongong revealed it was already receiving reports on where students were on campus based on wireless technology.

“New developments in the university’s wireless network are enabling the provision of reports on the number of wireless devices in a building, on a floor-by-floor basis,” the plan said. 

“They can tell us how many people visited that area, how many used the wireless network, and for how long.”

The university also said this would be “extended to a campus view” to allow “the tracking of how people come on to campus, what is the preferred paths as they move through campus, where bottlenecks occur and at what times do they occur, and when and where people leave campus”.

The council’s proposal for Wi-Fi tracking and an expansion of the free inner city network will be deabted by councillors on Monday night.