The Emergence of a Global Infrastructure for Mass Registration and Surveillance

The International Campaign Against Mass Surveillance has issued a report (dated April 2005): “The Emergence of a Global Infrastructure for Mass Registration and Surveillance.” It’s a chilling assessment of the current international trends towards global surveillance. Most of it you will have seen before, although it’s good to have everything in one place. I am particularly pleased that the report explicitly states that these measures do not make us any safer, but only create the illusion of security.

The global surveillance initiatives that governments have embarked upon do not make us more secure. They create only the illusion of security.

Sifting through an ocean of information with a net of bias and faulty logic, they yield outrageous numbers of false positives ­ and false negatives. The dragnet approach might make the public feel that something is being done, but the dragnet is easily circumvented by determined terrorists who are either not known to authorities, or who use identity theft to evade them.

For the statistically large number of people that will be wrongly identified or wrongly assessed as a risk under the system, the consequences can be dire.

At the same time, the democratic institutions and protections, which would be the safeguards of individuals’ personal security, are being weakened. And national sovereignty and the ability of national governments to protect citizens against the actions of other states (when they are willing) are being compromised as security functions become more and more deeply integrated.

The global surveillance dragnet diverts crucial resources and efforts away from the kind of investments that would make people safer. What is required is good information about specific threats, not crude racial profiling and useless information on the nearly 100 percent of the population that poses no threat whatsoever.

Posted on April 29, 2005 at 8:54 AM11 Comments


Steve L. April 29, 2005 9:49 AM

It looks like a great report – but will anybody listen? It seems to me the government is moving the other way towards global surveillance. Hopefully reports like these will be heard and make a difference.

Israel Torres April 29, 2005 10:12 AM

“The global surveillance initiatives that governments have embarked upon do not make us more secure. They create only the illusion of security.”

… as we are all illusionists in one way or another.

Israel Torres

Davi Ottenheimer April 29, 2005 3:16 PM

Global surveillance? Which is worse, countries sharing information to come to some common understanding or commercial entities collecting information on everyone in the world and competing to sell that information through extra-legal channels. I think the study is focusing on just one symptoms of the information age, when the real concern is s pervasive lack of data integrity and confidentiality controls. As information itself becomes the true asset (e.g. a database of credit card numbers is more vulnerable and more valuable than the cards themselves), security “requirements” need to reflect the core risks.

Arik April 29, 2005 4:00 PM

I think that privacy activists, Bruce included, are worried about the encroachment of this global surveillance infrastructure. And rightly so.

What I would like to add is that trying with all our might to prevent this system from coming into being might eventually prove impossible, and we should also give some thought to the flip side: How do we cope with the existance of this system.

IMHO, it is going to be an arms race. The powers that be will tighten the system, and privacy-hackers will find new ways around it – just like in the computer security field.

— Arik

Davi Ottenheimer April 29, 2005 5:35 PM

Yes, indeed. I do not think anybody is pro-encroachment. But there are certainly people who advocate for better detective controls.

The question still goes back to what and how data should be classified as private and/or confidential, and how you can establish integrity/trust.

The information age is a trickle of data that inevitably ends up in a big puddle surrounded by people with buckets. This raises many concerns beyond just privacy. The exposure warrants examination, but it also needs to be put in context of the overall shift in culture and technology. Sometimes the inevitability of exposure (through trust and openness) can have positive results that are factored into calculated risks. In addition other mitigating controls can help address sufficient privacy.

While the study is probably correct that presently deployed government surveillance technology does not make us safer, this certainly does not mean that surveillance technology is UNABLE to make us safer.

Consider that personal camcorders have been repeatedly lauded as an effective control to protect citizens against government abuse…so what’s the best path forward? Who gets to film what, when? And of course how will it be regulated?

Richard Johnson April 30, 2005 5:07 PM

This global surveillance regime makes perfect sense if you just ignore the ‘terrorism’ excuse. It’s not in the least about protecting anyone against terrorism.

Rather, the infrastructure is for greater control by and for the corporate entities who are setting it up. For example, those anti-WTO protests are -embarassing-. They have to be stopped.

Dr. Ratsinger May 1, 2005 1:15 PM


Snort two lines and have a lie down it will pass a Lot better.

Dr. R.

mjk May 2, 2005 2:00 PM

Jim Dermitt!!! I agree with you! We need to throw away this “DARPA” group, I mean they never spent money on anything useful ever! I mean why couldn’t they fund more useful things like, oh I dont know, THE INTERNET. Oh wait they did fund research into that. Hmm. ok, nevermind.

Moderator May 2, 2005 2:16 PM

Jim Dermitt, your recent comments have been removed. In the future, please limit yourself to a reasonable number of on-topic comments if you want to keep posting here. Thank you.

The Management

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