The State of Surveillance

Business Week cover story on "The State of Surveillance."

And here's my essay on "The Future of Privacy."

EDITED TO ADD (9/6): The cover story is from August 2005.

EDITED TO ADD (9/7): CIO Insight on the death of privacy.

Posted on September 6, 2006 at 7:05 AM • 56 Comments

Comments

Mr PondSeptember 6, 2006 7:47 AM

An interesting article. One problem I have with it is that the autrhor uses the charectarisation of a "polcie state". A very quick bit of research will reveal that we're not even close. The owords "police state" conjures up images of Nazi Germany or Warsaw pact.

The author also frequently mentions the problem of intrusion. As I've mentioned before - if a person is in a very public place, such as a busy shopping street, then what form of privacy can they expect exactly?

I don't think anyone would disagree with using cameras and other emerging technology to catch criminals, whether they are of a traditional variety or are bent on acts of unspeakable terror.

Lastly, CCTV is primarily a reactive tool. Pro-active use of CCTV is both difficult and time consuming. Whether investigating normal crime or indeed terrorism the primary tools are (and hopefully always will be) talented investigators and intelligence types.

Let's be brutally honest about this - despite vast advances in technology "we the people" can't have our cake and eat it: either we have CCTV and other types of surveillance (with the associated checks and bvalances) OR we have poor investigative capabilities and a heap of undetected crimes.

MathFoxSeptember 6, 2006 8:20 AM

When CCTV is employed in a place that usually means that safety has gone down because human presence is replaced with remote monitoring. I prefer human oversight, as humans can provide the hands to act on the spot when needed. Furthermore human ears can be used to gather additional valuable intelligence.

Surveillance has both beneficial sides (it allows us to catch criminals easier) and dangerous sides (a government can use it to suppress its population). The East German secret police (Stasi) had type proofs of all typewriters sold in the country... to catch critical minds. The disclosure that printer companies in the USA put identifying codes on each page printed on their printers makes me shiver... You never know how such a feature will be abused.

AnonymousSeptember 6, 2006 8:32 AM

>>> the autrhor uses the charectarisation of a "polcie state". A very quick bit of research will reveal that we're not even close. The owords "police state" conjures up images of Nazi Germany or Warsaw pact.

Not only are we close, we are already half-way in. It is only more clandestine than what the Nazis did. Police, agencies, and aspiring dictators remain invisible while they spy every last aspect of your lifes and bodies. That means most people will not realize the truth until the next holocaust has begun. And all the surveillance that is in place today will guarantee that no single person on the list will survive.

>>> if a person is in a very public place, such as a busy shopping street, then what form of privacy can they expect exactly?

I expect to be treated with respect and decency. If I would be peeped at by ruthless voyeurs on that shopping street then I won't go there. The surveillance state is a prison, even more embarrassing than a prison.

If you believe you have the right to point directional microphones, backscatter scanners and odour analyzers at me to spy on my conversations, see my crotch, or know when I last had sex, then I demand that you be locked up in an institution.

>>> I don't think anyone would disagree with using cameras and other emerging technology to catch criminals

I certainly do disagree. The cost in lost privacy and freedom is much too high.

>>> Lastly, CCTV is primarily a reactive tool.

To what, exactly, do the cameras, tapes, and face trackers "react" while recording my private affairs? My privacy and the secrecy of my personal data are violated, even though I am not doing something "wrong". That is clearly an offensive attack that harms my life.

First show me the government, or the management of a large corporation, that would agree to be recorded while planning strategical moves.

>>> Whether investigating normal crime or indeed terrorism the primary tools are (and hopefully always will be) talented investigators and intelligence types.

I agree, for the first time. And you just explained why surveillance is by far not useful enough to outweith the damage to freedom and democracy.

Remember: There is no democracy without freedom. And there is no freedom without privacy.

>>> either we have CCTV and other types of surveillance (with the associated checks and bvalances) OR we have poor investigative capabilities and a heap of undetected crimes.

Wrong. Either we have CCTV and other types of surveillance and end up in a kind of peep show prison controlled by the most power hungry (call it evil) dictators, with no chance to orgnize a revolution.

OR we have the same investigative capabilities we always had, and people are free to negotiate a sane balance between freedom and safety.

ScatmanSeptember 6, 2006 8:40 AM

"The fingerprints of Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield were erroneously matched to those of a suspect in the Madrid train bombing last year. This cast a cloud over the innocent man for weeks."

I'd rather say such can destroy the innocent man's life until he dies.

ScatmanSeptember 6, 2006 8:46 AM

"Fujitsu Ltd. has just installed palm scanners that read vein patterns at Mitsubishi bank ATMs."

Of course criminals now will cut off hands instead of stealing PINs. Cram a simple device with a heating and some blood pump into the hand and you're set.

Making body parts valuable for others is the fastest way to get them amputated.

tommySeptember 6, 2006 8:57 AM

Makes me sick that those people steal my money and then use it to steal my data.

Can somebody explain how staring at my prick would help to find out if I plan to poison the groundwater? Ridiculous.

Fraud GuySeptember 6, 2006 9:10 AM

I think that most of these technologies are pushing through the boundaries of the 4th amendment:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Something that can detect and analyze my scent, heat profile, body form, and genetic structure, without my consent or a specific court order, should definitely be considered a violation of my constitutional rights. I do not care whether I am in public or not; such investigative measures violate our "persons" with "unreasonable searches".

derfSeptember 6, 2006 9:52 AM

Information is getting easier and easier to obtain and transmit. It's only a matter of time before cameras will blanket all public space.

The really important question is - who will be in control of the information those cameras produce? Will the police use them proactively similiar to that goofy Tom Cruise movie to stop crimes before they happen or only for gathering evidence of a crime already committed? Will courts tap the cameras to settle lawsuits on a regular basis? Will journalists get even more lazy and just show clips from public cameras? Will pedophiles, rapists, or other criminals use the public cameras to profile their next victims? Will papperazzi become useless since camera clips from public locations will be all over the net? Will the IRS use camera evidence to question your tax return? Will police tap public cameras to issue speeding tickets or other vehicular violations?

There are a lot of questions about how public camera data can or will be used, and few answers. As far as I know, there is no prohibition on recording public space or any limits on what can be done with the data. Basically, you don't have a right to privacy outside of your home or the bathroom. And, of course, cameras never lie (at least according to Reuters).

Mr PondSeptember 6, 2006 10:04 AM

@ Anonymous:

"...It is only more clandestine than what the Nazis did.."

How exactly? Do people disappear in the middle of the night, never to be seen again? Are people randomly tortured on teh basis that their views are not those of the current government? No to both.

"If you believe you have the right to point directional microphones, backscatter scanners and odour analyzers at me to spy on my conversations, see my crotch, or know when I last had sex, then I demand that you be locked up in an institution"

Well if a private citizen was doing this then they may well ought to be locked up. However, if the police or other agencies have sufficient evidence for a duly constituted court to issue a warrant for that surveillance then it most certainly should happen.

"...My privacy and the secrecy of my personal data are violated, even though I am not doing something "wrong". That is clearly an offensive attack that harms my life."

Again, ow exactly does this harm your life? If the individual watching the camera has no interst in you, then no interferance will occur. Random collecting of random information on members of the public purely in order to keep it for a 'rainy day' just does not happen. Unless a particular person is of interest to law enforcement, said organisations arn't even remotely interested in joe public.

"There is no democracy without freedom. And there is no freedom without privacy."

Whilst we could argue the finer points of this sentiment ad nauseum, personally I disagree totally. Define democracy, freedom and privacy. Someone once said that the only true freedom is the freedom to accept the consequences of one's actions. It is upon this that all other freedoms are based.

@ Fraud Guy:

Yes, I'd agree that based on the text of the 4th amendment, some of the emerging technologies discussed in the article would have to be carefully legally examined in order for them NOT to breach this amendment.

JimSeptember 6, 2006 10:13 AM

I like the idea of plants that can sense chemicals and change colors. Large plant groupings can be monitored with satellites to watch large areas of land or water.

GregSeptember 6, 2006 10:13 AM

How do you think Nazi Germany came to be? It did not happen over night, it happend one step at a time. One freedom at a time.

AnonymousSeptember 6, 2006 10:19 AM

@ Mr. Pond:

"Do people disappear in the middle of the night, never to be seen again? Are people randomly tortured on teh basis that their views are not those of the current government?"

The US forces in Iraq did exactly these kind of things... People in the US are (were) held on the basis of secret grand jury decisions. The US government uses "Security letters"? in secret investigations.
Add the "secret" warrantless phone taps and the data mining of phone call data... The picture of US government doesn't improve. Go back to the Scorecard story of yesterday: the conviction rate of suspected terrorists is in the lower single digit percents. Anti-terrorism is a dragnet that destroys more innocent lives than I feel comfortable with.

MathFoxSeptember 6, 2006 10:20 AM

@ Mr. Pond:

"Do people disappear in the middle of the night, never to be seen again? Are people randomly tortured on teh basis that their views are not those of the current government?"

The US forces in Iraq did exactly these kind of things... People in the US are (were) held on the basis of secret grand jury decisions. The US government uses "Security letters"? in secret investigations.
Add the "secret" warrantless phone taps and the data mining of phone call data... The picture of US government doesn't improve. Go back to the Scorecard story of yesterday: the conviction rate of suspected terrorists is in the lower single digit percents. Anti-terrorism is a dragnet that destroys more innocent lives than I feel comfortable with.

jayhSeptember 6, 2006 10:26 AM

@mr pond:Well if a private citizen was doing this then they may well ought to be locked up. However, if the police or other agencies have sufficient evidence for a duly constituted court to issue a warrant for that surveillance then it most certainly should happen.

But it's NOT with a court order. It's a general purpose surveillance, ongoing and continuing. The whole point of the 4th amendment is to limit intrusion to ONLY times where there is SPECIFIC reason to do so.


@mr pond: Random collecting of random information on members of the public purely in order to keep it for a 'rainy day' just does not happen.

Wrong. Data is recorded, may or may not be eventually deleted but it is there. This is very different from the 'cop on the street' where everything that happens, even in his view, passes on down the memory hole.

Why did the 4th exist at all, except as recognition that privacy is a deep emotional need for humans? One cannot feel free if one is being watched constantly.

a key component, too of the Constitution is the recognition that the state must NOT become too powerful, because corruption would inevitably ensue (imagine the fate of our founding fathers if King George had this technology)

Elena MendezSeptember 6, 2006 10:35 AM

To the fourth poster:
> OR we have the same investigative
> capabilities we always had, and people
> are free to negotiate a sane balance
> between freedom and safety.

Freedom and safety are not diametrically opposed. Quite the contrary.

You can be free an unsafe, but not safe and unfree. Freedom is a prerequisite to safety because only the free can protect themselves. Those who promise to protect you but take your freedom away will, sooner or later, exploit the fact that you now cannot protect yourself from them any longer. Even if they don't then their successors will for sure. Hence you are only safe when free.

Giving up freedom means giving up safety as well. This makes freedom the most important thing to protect. And of course, nothing harms it more than taking it away!

There is no balance "between freedom and safety" other than true freedom, because every time you impair freedom, you impair safety (the ability to protect you and your freedom) as well, so you will lose both in the end. Clearly, that is not balance.

I am not talking about rules that protect basic freedoms of one person from very abstract freedoms of others, like speed limits or the ban on theft and murder. Those don't take your general freedom away, because they won't stop you from doing anything else. I am talking about the real thing: free speech, free elections, and the freedom to keep secrets.

The latter is important for another, very basic freedom: freedom of the people to convene in private and plan how to replace a corrupt or repressive government while that government (of course) forbids to do so.

The Nazis could not be overthrown by the german people because their surveillance infrastructure was already too strong, and had taken away the freedom to keep secrets. That was 60 years ago. People were captured for concentration camps, and those camps managed, with punchcard computers made by IBM. Now imagine how today's technology would help clever and wealthy Neo-Nazis in key positions to "google" and discredit or kill their potential opponents.

You see, freedom is even necessary to protect freedom. Once it's lost it's lost forever, because technology allows a regime to suppress any change.

We are not cattle. We are humans.

BobSeptember 6, 2006 11:14 AM


I'm less worried about the government and more worried about the individuals that constitute it.

I know some of the people that may be assigned to watch your local camera feed. They're human like the rest of us, have friends and enemies, good and bad moods.

It is not inconceivable that these people mis-identify someone, or worse see someone they dislike on a bad day and decide to get their own back by interpreting what they see in the worst light possible.

The biggest problem with this is then that once some data has been recorded on a computer it is treated as gospel and can be easily taken out of context by even the most well meaning of officers.

JimSeptember 6, 2006 11:18 AM

People are going to engage in risky activities. You can't protect people from themselves, let alone fanatics determined to attack regardless of consequences. It's a dangerous world.

JimSeptember 6, 2006 11:22 AM

The biggest problem with this is then that once some data has been recorded on a computer it is treated as gospel
BULLSHIT!

AnonymousSeptember 6, 2006 11:25 AM

@Mr. Pond:

>>> "...It is only more clandestine than what the Nazis did.."

>>> How exactly? Do people disappear in the middle of the night, never to be seen again?

No, because there are more powerful ways to accumulate power and money. Forging electronic elections. Putting senators on no-fly lists just before an acclamation. Accidents. Kill your opponent and fake recordings so another of your opponents looks guilty. Change the law so your crimes are legal. That is clandestine.

>>> if the police or other agencies have sufficient evidence for a duly constituted court to issue a warrant for that surveillance then it most certainly should happen.

That depends on the underlying law. If that targets certain groups (like the Nazis targeted the jews), or the data is not sufficiently protected, or the surveillants not sufficiently supervised, then unjust things will happen. Driving while black. Breathing while arab. Politicians and other famous people exposed or denounced. The public will believe whatever the press or the government controlling it wants them to. Pictures from bedroom surveillance will end up on porn videos. Your envious neighbour, or maybe he is interested in your wife, may work at the truth agency, and search your life until he finds something to blame you. Do I need to go on?

>>> Random collecting of random information on members of the public purely in order to keep it for a 'rainy day' just does not happen.

Tell this AOL, Google or the NSA. I am sure they don't even wait for "rainy days".

>>> Again, ow exactly does this harm your life? If the individual watching the camera has no interst in you, then no interferance will occur.

Often enough, those individuals or organizations do have such interest. Humans are natural voyeurs. Thousands of criminals want my passwords, credit card numbers, or data they could anonymously blackmail me with. Now imagine what happens to celebrities or politicians.

>>> Unless a particular person is of interest to law enforcement, said organisations arn't even remotely interested in joe public.

Yeah, that's why they buy millions of cameras, record all road and internet traffic and telephone conversations, and fund any kind of odd surveillance technology. All with our tax money.

Do you want to talk about corporations and how they would like to mine every breathe I take for directed marketing, decision support for employers and insurances, and so on?

>>> Define democracy, freedom and privacy.

I had links to wikipedia, but that seemed to trigger Bruce's spam traps, so I only cite the beginnings of the articles.

"Democracy (literally "rule by the people", from the Greek demos, "people," and kratos, "rule")..." necessarily requires that people can learn the truth about, favour, and vote for one party or political representative, without fearing repressive consequences. This requires the freedom to do so, and the privacy to avoid the consequences.

"Political freedom is the right, or the capacity, of self-determination as an expression of the individual will." This requires that I am not watched while doing so. The only exception: when one person's freedom impairs more important freedoms of others.

"Privacy is the ability of an individual or group to keep their lives and personal affairs out of public view, or to control the flow of information about themselves." Clearly a requirement for secret elections, respect, and decency.

>>> Someone once said that the only true freedom is the freedom to accept the consequences of one's actions.

Who decides about the consequences of my actions? If someone can exert enough power to impose any consequences on me, I am effectively enslaved. Technology, especially surveillance (extended eyes and ears), weapons and organized police/military (extended arms) makes it possible that a small group, or even a single person, can enslave all others.

Therefore power must be divided.

JimSeptember 6, 2006 11:35 AM

Power is always divided. Sometimes it's multiplied. That's why you have 50 states and many counties. Consolidate it all and you have total corruption. It's all top heavy and falls over easily.

TomSeptember 6, 2006 11:35 AM

The Business Week article is dated August _2005_ ... it's still highly relevant, and the above comments continue to be true.
The article begins with references to the "recent London bombings" - so it seems it's really from last year. I'm curious if anyone has an updated perspective relative to last year - i.e. what 'advances' have actually been made - aside from 1000s of additional surveillance cameras.

marcelSeptember 6, 2006 11:40 AM

| | The biggest problem with this is then that once some data has been recorded on a computer it is treated as gospel
| BULLSHIT!

Jim, I think Bob has a point. People have a habit to believe what they read, or think to see on a video.

If some unfavorable information about you, be it true or not, has entered the network (and I don't mean the internet only), it will be infinitely replicated, and is impossilble to completely erase. Trying to correct it can be like fighting windmills.

A single information can cause serious problems for you. The more information there is, the higher the probability for problems.

bobSeptember 6, 2006 11:47 AM

I agree with Bob, if a record shows up in a police computer saying (falsely) you are a sex offender because your id number was 1 digit off of the person who was supposed to be flagged as such and they caught you in your own front yard which is directly across from the middle school, you would be years getting yourself untangled from the mess, if ever, and your reputation would be irretrievably smeared. Not to mention what happened or your estate to you while you languished in jail. And you would have to PROVE you were NOT the person in question, and of course you can't prove a negative.

Concerned CitizenSeptember 6, 2006 11:52 AM

@Elena Mendez

Good post.
I would like to pick up your comment about freedom "Once it's lost it's lost forever".

Personally, I think that the relationship between the state and the citizen is being changed by advances in modern database technology and communications. All the recent advances in security technology e.g. identification by DNA, automatic number plate recongnition, facial recognition and so on depend upon IT for day-to-day operation.

Perhaps as recently as a generation ago, it may have been possible to live a fairly normal life with minimal (perhaps none?) personal information held by legal and government authority; now that is nearly impossible.

If history is any guide and the technologies that Bruces discusses in his article are widely deployed then we will be more exposed to personal scrutiny than at any time in history. Can our future leaders be trusted not to misuse this ability? I'd rather not give them the chance but the current hysteria about terrorism seems to be pushing us into a new age of indiscriminate monitoring.

Those of you have have not heard about the recent AOL data exposure screw up may find this intersting: http://www.aolpsycho.com/
This is a good illustration of how exposed your "private" data can be.

By the way, here is a wonderful quote I came across today from William Pitt the elder, an 18th Century British statesman:

“The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storm may enter, the rain may enter - but the King of England cannot enter; all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!��?

http://www.privacyinternational.org/article.shtml?cmd[347]=x-347-83802

When did you last hear words like that from a modern politician?

marcelSeptember 6, 2006 11:53 AM

Mr. Pond tries to distract from the fact that both governments and corporations have strong motivations for "collecting of random information on members of the public":


>>> Random collecting of random information on members of the public purely in order to keep it for a 'rainy day' just does not happen.

Tell this AOL, Google or the NSA. I am sure they don't even wait for "rainy days".


Another example: Choicepoint.

Information is power, and the interests of people using it almost always differ heavily from the interests of the observed. The design of hidden or dome-style cameras, which try to observe people without them knowing, proves this.

RealistSeptember 6, 2006 12:24 PM

Is the Business Week article a reprint? Some of the comments attached to it at the Business Week website are almost a year old...

cmillsSeptember 6, 2006 12:24 PM

The thing that bothers me is that once something is implemented, even with much controversy, it is almost completely socially acceptable within a few years. As our nation's population grows, the general public becomes more and more apathetic towards such matters that effect everyones lives. The government keeps adding "security measures" that only intrude on our privacy only a little more than than pre-existing measures do, so people think "that's not so bad when you look at the big picture." Think about why so many Americans fall into debt so easily. It's our whole mindset. We are sweeping up cobwebs, while the spiders still run around multiplying and making more webs. The public is educated and incapable of mustering the conviction to disagree with their percieved master. Us who are capable of doing so must exploit the system to obtain our own freedoms as individuals. It would be paradoxical however, for any mass of people to do this, as history and human nature has taught us. Freedom is defined by the individual.

cmillsSeptember 6, 2006 12:46 PM

“The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storm may enter, the rain may enter - but the King of England cannot enter; all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!��?

This supports and basically sums up my philosophy of freedom.

Practical GuySeptember 6, 2006 12:47 PM

Bruce writes, "And the only way to successfully deal with it is to pass laws..."

The U.S. government ignores existing laws limiting surveillance. Why would it pay attention to new ones?

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 6, 2006 1:32 PM

I have to say I was really surprised to hear that a grade school in the US is now pushing biometric authentication for its lunch lines without parental consent. Their reason appears tied to replacing another system (PIN-based) that was found to be inefficient and prone to error (is it worse if a student forgets their pin or gives it away?)

Sorry for yet another shameless plug, but in the interest of brevity here's more info on the system and controversy:

http://davi.poetry.org/blog/?p=681

Spooky stuff (pun intended).

NicSeptember 6, 2006 1:42 PM

@Mr Pond

>>How exactly? Do people disappear in the middle of the night, never to be seen again? Are people randomly tortured on teh basis that their views are not those of the current government? No to both.

Umm, apparently yes actually, and our president will admit to it shortly see Bush 'to transfer terror figures'http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/5321606.stm

NicSeptember 6, 2006 2:19 PM

@Mr Pond

>An interesting article. One problem I have with it is that the autrhor uses the charectarisation of a "polcie state". A very quick bit of research will reveal that we're not even close. The owords "police state" conjures up images of Nazi Germany or Warsaw pact.

Umm, again not entirely true. You may want to check out the letters section of pretty much any US photography magazine to see how photograhers are being treated. (Popoular Phootography is my mag of choice, unfortunately the letters are not online). The local police in many cities seem to be looking to the Warsaw Pact for inspiration and are acting not unlike the Stasi.

MichaelSeptember 6, 2006 4:24 PM

This article got me started on my senior thesis last year. It's funny how many ways video surveillance doesn't work. In my research I found out that video surveillance here in Amsterdam only managed to displace crime to the alleyways. In one case, a stubborn drug dealer resorted to carrying big pieces of cardboard around to hide behind when dealing...
But the general will definitely seems to be to make surveillance as invisible as possible, a big change from traditional human and video observation, but not at all necessarily a good change since we lose the accountability factor (see wiretapping, etc.)

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 6, 2006 6:12 PM

"only managed to displace crime to the alleyways."

Why classify that as not working? If your goal is to create a safer space in a particular area (as opposed to *all* space), and you manage to transfer risk elsewhere (as opposed to eliminate it everywhere), are you really unsuccessful?

CunningPikeSeptember 6, 2006 6:38 PM

"I'll take the heap of undetected crimes over losing any privacy."

As will the people who perpetrate those crimes. Taken to its logical conclusion, that argument means that no crime can ever be detected - which is exactly what people on the other side of the law want.

Concerned CitizenSeptember 7, 2006 2:02 AM

@CunningPike

"Taken to its logical conclusion, that argument means that no crime can ever be detected ..."

This is semantic quackery. Let's take it to the other logical extreme:

-> The police can do anything they want any time in the name of law enforcement

I hope you agree that would be a bad thing.
At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, security is all about choice and trade-offs. One of the themes of this blog topic is that the nature of the security choices that we need to make is changing due to emerging technologies. I also argue that the relationship between citizen and state is changing without scrutiny or discussion.

Now it's my turn for an extreme argument:

-> Western society is sleepwalking into a digital prison from which there will be no release.

MathFoxSeptember 7, 2006 4:34 AM

"Western society is sleepwalking into a digital prison from which there will be no release."

Comparing East (communist) Europe with current trends in "Western" society I can say that current Western governments are quickly surpassing their former enemies in surveillance of their own citicens. I am aware of the danger and voice my opinion; like the people warning against Hitler in the 1920 and 30s. I hope that we can prevent a similar mess.

marcelSeptember 7, 2006 4:39 AM

| | In my research I found out that video surveillance here in Amsterdam only managed to displace crime to the alleyways.

| Why classify that as not working? If your goal is to create a safer space in a particular area (as opposed to *all* space), and you manage to transfer risk elsewhere (as opposed to eliminate it everywhere), are you really unsuccessful?

I argue that it is not only unsuccessful, but also does more bad than good.

First, the state should aim to increase security everywhere. Improving things only at a few selected places is favoritism, and steals money from those being harmed in places where the crime goes, and spends it for those living mostly in places that the crime leaves. I understand it if you spend your own money to move crime away from your own house, but the state is not entitled to do so. Also it is a waste of money overall, as the crime rate remains the same. Better have real policemen actually catch or discourage criminals so they harm *nobody*.

Second, surveillance makes the "protected" place less useful for ordinary people as well, as many (like me) will prefer not to be watched. It's like forbidding parking at places where the parked cars would not disturb anyone: the place is wasted, and it costs our money still.

AnonymousSeptember 7, 2006 4:50 AM

Out of 40 posts on this page, 37 (92.5%) fear surveillance and wish it would stop.
But gov and corps do it nonetheless. They don't care what the people want.
So there is not only security theater. There is democracy theater, too.

jeromeSeptember 7, 2006 5:03 AM

"The East German secret police (Stasi) had type proofs of all typewriters sold in the country... to catch critical minds. The disclosure that printer companies in the USA put identifying codes on each page printed on their printers makes me shiver... You never know how such a feature will be abused."

Then don't buy from US vendors. Samsung (corean) printers are safe if I recall correctly.

Also, I am curious what would happen if owners of such stasi-type printers sued the manufacturers because of danger to their lifes in case of political change, and because the printers are defective and ruin all printouts with ugly yellow points.

AnonymousSeptember 7, 2006 5:06 AM

"the autrhor uses the charectarisation of a "polcie state". A very quick bit of research..."

Mr. Pond, you typed so hastily (hoping to be the first commenter?) that you have 4 typos in one short sentence. I bet your "very quick bit of research" was not all too deep, right?

HulluSeptember 7, 2006 5:08 AM

"Out of 40 posts on this page, 37 (92.5%) fear surveillance and wish it would stop. But gov and corps do it nonetheless. They don't care what the people want. So there is not only security theater. There is democracy theater, too."

Sadly, readers and commenters on this blog do not represent the average slice of the populations of the 'western' countries. The average Joe seems to want surveillance since he thinks it will make him safer(it probably does) and he thinks he does not need his privacy(this is where he is wrong). And that is scary.

7383September 7, 2006 5:44 AM

The more sophisticated these surveilance systems become the more sophisticated the criminals who cause these to be put in place become as well. And we all know the criminals are always a step beyond law enforcement. Look let's not kid ourselves if someone needs to change their eyeballs a dozen times like portreyed by minority report they will do so, it's no big deal. It's just gross, but who ever thought a criminal was a pansy?

Fraud GuySeptember 7, 2006 11:19 AM

@ Mr Pond

Unfortunately, when any issue is "examined carefully", it means that a lawyer or other legalistic mind will try to determine how to avoid any interpretation that will prevent the company promoting the technology from losing its investment, or how to allow the government official wanting to invade privacy to "protect" citizens to find an "exception" to the Constitution.

The saddest thing is that the true criminals will develop methods to avoid these technologies, while it is the hapless pedestrians, impulse criminals, and legally unprotected (either by law or by legions of lawyers) who will be caught in the information dragnet.

Clive RobinsonSeptember 7, 2006 1:35 PM

@Fraud Guy

"The saddest thing is that the true criminals will develop methods to avoid these technologies, while it is the hapless pedestrians, impulse criminals, and legally unprotected (either by law or by legions of lawyers) who will be caught in the information dragnet."

It can be shown that this is allready happening in the UK.

In London children and minors (ie under 16) can travel on buses and trams for free. The catch is they have to carry an Oyster card (based around the Phillips MiFare RFID).

Not only is every journy logged in a central database, the card it's self stored the info on the last 25 Journies made.

The London Police are starting to use the Oyster cards as a form of ID and in atleast one case that I know of they have accused a minor of being upto no good simply because they did not have there Oyster card on them.

There are also (apparently) moves to make this DB available to the Police without warrent etc (to aid in anti-terror, but we all know about mission creep).

Now it requires no great leep of the imagination to see the Police (in order to be more cost effective) Searching the DB for all probables in the area around the time a crime was reported.

Now you can imagine the senario a fairly inocent minor has the Police knock on their door and come into their house (yup they are allowed to do this in the UK if they have reasonable suspicion).

The Police then ask the minor in front of an adult a series of questions based around the crime (of which the minor probably has no knowledge).

The Police will as they usually do put the question in a manor that is likley to get the minor to say they where not in the area at the time. Which is the answer the Police are looking for, as they have trapped the minor in an obvious lie.

At which point the minor is sunk. All the Police need is a dodgy Identity parade (and as testing has shown the majority are) and that's another crime solved (esspecially if they bring in ple barganing)....

Now as most parents know minors lie about being somewhere as an almost automatic response to avoid further questions, it in no way means that they have done anything (criminaly) wrong.

The real criminal however would either have not used the card or will have a ready answer.

However as people in London are becoming well aware the Police are not interested in solving crimes (ie actually finding the real criminal) just clearing them up (getting anybody convicted for it or getting it taken into consideration).

derfSeptember 7, 2006 1:43 PM

As security people working for a corporation, would you rather have surveillance (i.e. IDS/IPS, web monitoring, email monitoring, access logging, and cameras in/outside the datacenter) or not? This is a tricky situation, since we (the security professionals) are often the ones recommending corporations use this stuff to protect the company's intellectual property and provide due diligence to protect from another major threat to privacy and security - lawyers. Most major security policies have the user sign away pretty much all privacy rights when it comes to data on company systems.

Is it OK for corporations but not governments? Where does that line get drawn?

Clive RobinsonSeptember 7, 2006 2:09 PM

@Anonymous

""Democracy (literally "rule by the people", from the Greek demos, "people," and kratos, "rule")..." necessarily requires that people can learn the truth about, favour, and vote for one party or political representative, without fearing repressive consequences. This requires the freedom to do so, and the privacy to avoid the consequences."

Sadly part of this is wrong,

True democracy does not involve intermediaries that you "vote" for to act on your behalf, that you have no control over once you have selected them, even if you can prove they have deliberatly lied.

Churchill made a comment once about democracy being the worst form of government except for all the others...

Well one of the side effects of all the technology behind modern survalence is that it should be possible to implement true democracy as envisaged originally.

The question is, which politician would be mad enough to let it happen (self interest being what it is).

AnonymousSeptember 8, 2006 6:19 PM

They're looking for a gun who cut his way out of jail with a can opener up in New York. One guy is eluding hundreds of law enforcement officers. Surveillance can be beat. Chances are the guy will get caught not because of satellites but the old fashioned way, with dogs. All these cameras and a good bit of this high tech stuff is a lot of bullshit. People are making a buck, so what the hell, it's a living They are using bluegills to monitor water supplies. Cool Army technology! Facebook is watching you. I feel better about people watching fish, watching our water.

anonymous cowardSeptember 8, 2006 7:35 PM

Interesting trade-off. The courts recently ruled that IR imaging of a person's home was invasive and constituted an unreasonable search under the 4th amendment, even though they never viewed the inside from the inside.

I suspect many of these technologies will be ruled upon similarly.

It's an interesting trade-off though. I like how grocery stores have monitors near the front showing what the CCTV cameras are showing. At least that way I can choose to not shop there (though what happens when all grocers do this is a good question too).

My very brief experience working as a government contractor showed me that a well-regulated agency performing surveillance can be trusted, but when supervision is lax and the leaders inexperienced and the pay very low, and all recognition is for negative things, bad things happen. OTOH, at the place I worked, people were very careful to follow laws like the privacy act. As long as there is someone who can keep abuses in check, like our famous checks and balances, then it mostly works. When it's the guy at the top authorizing the abuse, things can get bad.

Just recently I read about how a company fired >100 workers for inappropriate access to customer data, but for the life of me I don't know where I read it. I think the company was is Australia... and the information came from passport applications IIRC. It turns out the hourly workers there had plenty of voyeuristic interest and looked up friends, co-workers, significant others, and so on.

I suggest that these people be bonded like bank tellers to a specific code of conduct, and that the companies employing them have personnel allocated specifically to monitor compliance (perhaps chosen by the bond agent). And then over them government investigators who have the capacity to test and audit them for compliance.

If you have a technology that is inherently ripe for unaudited abuse, then hiring low-pay people is a formula for failure. If OTOH, the technology is such that abuse is very difficult or impossible, then spend the money on the technology, and conduct random audits for insider abuse, and establish a mood such that abuses are reported instead of swept under the carpet.

AnonymousSeptember 8, 2006 9:14 PM

They caught the guy from New York tonight in a Pennsylvania cornfield. You get tired of running I guess. It's amazing he made it so far.

solinymSeptember 10, 2006 12:19 AM

To get away from politics and into security technology for a bit, I want to point out that some of this technology may be useful for the reason that dogs are useful in physical security. It's not that the dogs have superior senses overall, but that their senses are _different_ than the humans. We have good color vision, they have good noses. My friends with dogs say that sometimes dogs can sense things before the humans can, and I recently read about a dog that some soldiers in the IDF brought into battle because it was able to sense the approach of a plane using RADAR before the most expensive counter-EW equipment could.

Basically, the pair (human-dog) are better off than two of either one.

On the other hand, humans have no experience or intuition about the sensors they are using, and so interpretation might be difficult. It takes good UI design to translate one kind of sensing into another, and time for the operator to get used to its error rate and typical readings, so that they can detect anomalies. It's also important that they understand how the device works, so that they can evaluate it in context.

This reminds me of something that happened while I was working at a nuclear fuel manufacturing site. There was a CO2 laser in one room, and a sticky mat near the doorway to reduce the amount of particles you tracked in/out. There was also a geiger counter by the door, and you passed it over your shoes before leaving. I did, and it was clicking at a decent rate. The employee with me said, "that's normal", and I was at a loss for how to react. I was totally unequiped to evaluate his statement, so I had to accept it (uneasily of course). Ionizing radiation, like electromagnetics, is just one of those invisible phenomena that can't be understood without some theory and some experience.

Incidentally, the longer the half-life, the less dangerous it is (at least, the less ionizing radiation it gives off). Also, how radioactive everyday things are depends primarily on how long they spend in the sun. I hear brazil nuts in particular are far more radioactive than small quantities of uranium or plutonium. Particulate heavy metals are dangerous to breathe for the same reason your lungs aren't happy with sand in them, and the water-soluble compounds of them are quite poisonous. But in low densities, they are not particularly radioactive.

elegieSeptember 10, 2006 11:35 PM

Sometimes, whether or not privacy protection is important may depend on whose privacy is actually at stake. In 2003, a bill to increase financial privacy in California was defeated. Afterwards, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights obtained the Social Security numbers for the legislators who had not voted in favor of the bill. The Foundation published the first four digits of each SSN on a Web site. Not surprisingly, a number of the affected individuals were quite displeased as a result. See http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2003/06/19/MN127207.DTL

(The article is also mentioned in footnote 39 on the page http://www.epic.org/privacy/ssn/testimony7.10.03.html )

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