Open Source Sensing Initiative

This is an open source-style project with the goal of bringing the benefits of a bottom-up, decentralized approach to sensing for security and environmental purposes.

The intent of the project is to take advantage of advances in sensing to improve both security and the environment, while preserving — even strengthening — privacy, freedom, and civil liberties.

We have a unique opportunity to steer today's emerging sensing/surveillance technologies in positive directions, before they become widespread.


Showing privacy and security in four quadrants


In the U.S. and other countries, concerns regarding terrorism are driving massive new centralized surveillance systems, with little or no regard for their potential effect on civil liberties. However, unlike nuclear weapons delivered by ICBMs, terrorism is inherently a bottom-up, distributed challenge, requiring a similar response. Open source software provides a useful model for a set of technologies that address security concerns in a distributed way, with the added benefit of relatively fast response time.

We can use open source techniques, combined with the latest in sensing technologies, as an alternative to centralized surveillance. Such technologies could also build trust when used in arms control applications, potentially heading off "wars of forced inspection" such as the recent war in Iraq.


Inexpensive and highly sensitive sensors will be crucial in efforts to improve the environment, but such sensors may be opposed if communities feel that privacy concerns have not been properly addressed. This has already begun: some environmental sensing efforts have already been blocked.

Again, open source approaches can be used to design projects that collect and handle environmental data in agreed-upon ways, so that communities are reassured that only specific information is being gathered, and that it is being processed correctly.

Taking security & environmental goals seriously

If closed, proprietary technologies are used for security or environmental sensing and surveillance, citizen fears will delay or block important projects. These fears can take the form of a generalized concern for privacy and civil liberties, or worries regarding discovery of recreational drug use. If we want progress on either security or environmental monitoring, we need to separate these clearly from other more controversial uses of sensing technologies, and enable to public to know exactly what data — on real security or environmental threats — are being collected, who precisely has access to this data, how it will be used, and when it will be discarded. This is what we hope to achieve with Open Source Sensing.

Name and history of project

Your suggestions for an improved name for this effort are welcome.

For a quick intro, see this keynote from OSCON, the O'Reilly Open Source Convention:




Your participation is requested

As an open source-style project, Open Source Sensing needs your support. A variety of ways to help are listed below. We hope that you'll scan the list and see which opportunities best match your skills and time availability.

If you see a match, send us an email with your ideas to Chris Peterson at . Mention any relevant skills and experience, and please coordinate with us before you start work — some tasks may have already been assigned.

If you are pressed for time, just send any comments you may have, and consider supporting the project with a financial donation instead. Use the secure form, and in the comments box type "Open Source Sensing". Donations are tax-deductible in the U.S. as charitable contributions.

Opportunities to help the project

Information technology (coordinate with Foresight CIO and webmaster)

• Set up opensourcesensing.org with Drupal (Miron Cuperman)

• Set up wiki on that site or an existing wiki service

• Set up blog on that site or an existing blog service

• Set up mailing list, if possible integrated the Foresight database in Filemaker Pro

• Help set wiki procedures: who can edit? etc.

• Ongoing management of wiki



• Help Chris Peterson record audio for short and long slideshows

• Make OpenSensing short video, possibly also longer video (Paul Hynek)


Best Practices drafts

• Open source software for sensing: what models exist?

• Open source hardware (community electronics) for sensing: models?

• Open source data handling procedures for sensing: models?


Policy drafts

• Policy document on OpenSensing and security/terrorism

• Policy document on OpenSensing and environment

• Policy document on OpenSensing and civil liberties/privacy


Face-to-face meetings

• Offer to host

• Offer to provide travel funds

• Offer to create (or fund) documentation of meeting results



• Obtain funds for one or more meetings

• Obtain funds for video project

• Obtain funds for edited volume of OpenSensing papers

• Obtain funds for single-author book on OpenSensing

• Write grant proposals to foundations for the above



• If your time is limited, delegate the work to us by making a donation

• Donations up to $1000 can use "Donation" section of the secure form

put "Open Source Sensing" in the comments field

• Major donations: please email to discuss your interests and how to make the donation