The Expansion of Surveillance Techniques in Society
The Expansion of Surveillance Techniques in Society
Surveillance refers to the close observation of a person’s behavior or activities. The acts of surveillance are used for different purposes, in different environments. It may be used in workplaces, international borders or even on city streets. In workplaces, surveillance techniques are used to monitor employee productivity. Surveillance may also be used to monitor theft in warehouses. In borders, government agencies may use various means of surveillance to monitor illegal immigrations by people from other countries. On streets, government agencies may use various tools to monitor criminal activity, or social unrest before or as it happens. However, surveillance is not limited to only that. Healthcare institutions use disease surveillance techniques to monitor the spread of an ailment in a community.
There are different tools used in surveillance. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, relative to the application in question. First, there is computer surveillance; it involves the use of electronic media, to detect what is happening. Telephone calls may also be monitored. Cameras are also used to monitor people’s activities, through CCTV systems. Drones are used in aerial surveillance. In another instance, people’s biometric details such as fingerprints and DNA are collected. The development of satellites has been applied in surveillance of people’s activities. This technology is implemented through imaging of areas. Finally, Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology is being applied in the field of surveillance.
Governments have extensively used various surveillance techniques in the recent past. The increased efforts are attributable to various reasons. First, the danger of terrorist attacks has escalated through the years. For instance, the 9/11 attacks on the United States prompted for the development of the Patriot Act. This legislation enhanced the federal government agencies’ powers in surveillance. Secondly, there have been increased illegal immigrations into developed countries, by people from poor nations. This has called for increased surveillance of borders by governments. Finally, there has been increased criminal activity over the years, in different countries. To avert and minimize this phenomenon, governments have resorted to increased surveillance of their people’s activities, through their agencies. The improvements in technology have provided a platform for monitoring.
Despite these reasons, governments have come under fire for these surveillance activities. Civil Society has condemned this rise of ‘Surveillance states’. Surveillance of people in a society has adverse consequences. First, it encroaches on people’s rights to privacy and freedom. This is seen through efforts to tap into people’s phones and emails. Surveillance by cameras has been proven to displace crime. It is important to note that such surveillance technology is placed in wealthier areas, where economic benefits outweigh the costs of installation. As a result, crime shifts to poorer areas where such systems are not present. This results in increased stratification, in different societies. Massive Government surveillance has an impact on people’s right to free speech. Protestors are usually photographed, and arrests or court injunctions may be imposed on them (Koskela, 2003).
Various societies have seen increased efforts in massive government surveillance. This is especially true in countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Russia and China. The UK is the country with the most cameras per head, in the world. A 2011 report states that the country had around 1.85 million cameras in operation. The UK government’s response to increased social disorder and crime rates in the country has been the adoption of the latest technology. This has seen the country grow its surveillance networks exponentially since 1994. This essay seeks to discuss the expansion of surveillance in society, and the techniques used.
Various forms of technology are used in governments’ surveillance efforts. Photography has a strong relationship with government efforts to curb criminal activity. The use of CCTV systems portrays this. The term CCTV refers to Closed-circuit television. These systems involve the use of cameras, still or motion picture, to transmit images of what is happening in a remote location. The transmission of CCTV is different from that of broadcast television. It involves the transfer of information in a point-to-point manner, through communication links such as the internet. CCTV has been used in various applications such as banking halls, high-end residences and city streets. It is important to note that all these applications are related to security needs (“The Growth of CCTV: a global perspective on the international diffusion of video surveillance in publicly accessible space,” 2004).
Governments have used CCTV in various ways during surveillance. First, the systems have been used for crime prevention and detection. In such applications, CCTV cameras are placed in strategic locations such as street interchanges, parking lots and on public transportation vehicles. The use of CCTV has been proven to reduce crime. First, their application resulted in a 51 percent decrease, in criminal activity. In public transport vehicles and trains, a 23 percent decrease was recorded. Applications in public areas such as street corners saw a 7 percent overall dip in crime. Government agencies use CCTV in monitoring of traffic. For instance, the British Highways Agency has a network of over 1200 CCTV cameras on the UK’s motorways. Such systems are used to detect congestion on roads and accidents that may obstruct other drivers on roads. They may also be used to detect traffic offences such as speeding and infractions (CCTV User Group, 2011).
CCTV cameras have evolved with technological development. Today, they spec high-definition sensors in their cameras, as well as features such as infrared and Video Content Analysis (VCA). Through VCA, CCTV systems automatically compare live footage with images stored on databases. As a result, law enforcement is informed of a prospective crime, before a criminal carries it out. VCA technology also assists in monitoring unrest and anomalies in crowd behavior. CCTV systems also feature facial recognition systems. This feature enables the system to identify people from live footage. This is done through analysis of facial structure, in relation to images stored in the system’s database. CCTV systems also feature expansive storage. This enables them to store swathes of footage involving people’s activities.
There has been an expansion of CCTV surveillance in Europe. For instance, “Across Europe, 29% of…publicly accessible institutions used some form of video surveillance (“The Growth of CCTV: a global perspective on the international diffusion of video surveillance in publicly accessible space,” 2004).” Publicly accessible institutions include spaces such as banks, restaurants and shops. Various factors have accelerated this rise. In France, privacy laws were relaxed in 1995. This enabled the French government to deploy such systems in public spaces. In the Republic of Ireland, the Justice Minister announced a major expansion of the country’s open street CCTV surveillance infrastructure. Around two-thirds of Italian sports stadiums feature video-surveillance systems. This is a requirement for premises hosting over 20,000 people during sporting events. Furthermore, Italy’s Interior Ministry installed such surveillance systems in 50 of the country’s largest cities (Koskela, 2003).
The United States has seen an increased uptake of CCTV in its institutions. This effect is attributable to a decline in costs and advancements in technology. The 9/11 attacks further heightened the need for such systems in institutions such as airports. A report states that around 80 percent of American law enforcement bodies had used CCTV surveillance. Such agencies have used video surveillance through street cameras in public housing schemes and parks. In the streets, mobile units are also used. The City of Chicago has the most extensive video surveillance infrastructure in the country. It holds around 10,000 cameras in operation, in its streets.
In Australia, the number of CCTV systems increased from 13 to 33 in under a decade of operations. The use of video surveillance is apparent in Australian transport infrastructure. The state railway of New South Wales features over 5000 cameras at around 300 train stations. Similarly, the state’s bus company has surveillance systems on its fleet of approximately 2000 buses. In New Zealand, there are 11 cameras operating in the Wellington city centre. Nine other cities are also developing their video surveillance infrastructure. However, the implementation of CCTV has been slower in New Zealand, due to strong laws on personal privacy. South Africa has implemented video surveillance extensively. In Cape Town, there are over 100 open street cameras. The city of Johannesburg features over 300 street cameras in operation. The country also features extensive coverage of its railway infrastructure. There are four cameras in each of the 4,500 train carriages operated by the South African Railway Commuter Corporation (“The Growth of CCTV: a global perspective on the international diffusion of video surveillance in publicly accessible space,” 2004)..
China has been slammed for its stringent laws on human rights. The country implemented a national surveillance project known as the ‘Golden Shield.’ As a result, Hangzhou developed a system covering 1000 cameras. Similarly, the city of Shanghai features over 200,000 CCTV cameras. Russia has seen extensive use of CCTV. At Moscow’s Central Station, there are over 70 cameras in operation. Similarly, there are CCTV cameras in all of the Moscow Subway System’s carriages. As a result, it is seen that there has been an increase in efforts to implement video surveillance by Governments.
The World has seen increased adoption of the internet among its peoples. The internet provides a platform for people to share information freely, amongst themselves. This is facilitated through websites, emails or instant messaging. Governments have been threatened by this free flow of information. For instance, dissidents may use the internet as a platform for sharing information on plots against governments. As a result, there has been increased surveillance of internet traffic in the world. This is especially true for the United States. In the US, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act allows for all forms of internet communication to be monitored by Federal agencies in real time. To achieve these obligations, Governments have established cybernetic police on the federal level. Organizations such as the FBI and DHS portray this. For the United States, the information collected is too vast for manual analysis. Automated systems, which sift through the collected data, have been developed. Automated analysis is done through a search for trigger words on review of whether a suspect has viewed certain websites. An example of such a system is ECHELON.
The Private Sector has conducted surveillance of internet users. To finance most websites, the owners allow third parties to post advertisements on their pages. However, third parties know little about the site’s viewers, limiting the advertisement’s effectiveness. To determine a person’s interests, websites store tracking cookies in that person’s computer. A tracking cookie is a text file that stores a user’s browsing history. These files are usually stored on a discreet temporary folder. As a result, websites feature advertisements that are related to a person’s web browsing history.
Google Maps is a revolutionary platform. It enables users to access the world’s geographical information at no cost. Similarly, it allows marketers a great source of information. Google Maps features tracking of its users. As a result, marketers are able to determine where a user is located. They are, therefore, able to target web users from different countries in an appropriate way. A person’s location may be used to determine their level of economic empowerment. Marketers are, therefore, able to streamline their promotional material to people of different economic levels.
Telephones are an indispensable tool in communication. Thanks to the development of technology, they have evolved into mobile phones and smartphones. Phones offer communication to users through SMS, calls or access to the internet and email. In the United States, law requires that all telephone communications be available for law-enforcement agencies to tap. To facilitate this, institutions such as the FBI send out ‘National Security Letters.’ These documents order phone companies such as AT&T and Verizon to give information relating to call metadata to them. To monitor such calls, Federal agencies use speech-to-text systems that provide a written outline of the call (Lianos, 2003).
Surveillance of mobile phones is common throughout the world. In Germany, law requires that mobile communications operators, such as T-Mobile, should maintain extensive user meta-data. Such meta-data includes the number called, the time of call, its duration, the networks used and the geographical locations of the two parties (Leistert, 2012). To determine the geographical location of a mobile phone, a technique known as multi-alteration is used. It involves the calculation of difference in time for a call to reach its destination and back. A more effective tool is silent SMS, also referred to as ‘ping’. The German authorities have used silent SMS to determine people’s locations. They also use it to determine whether people’s phones are in an on or off state. However, the silent SMS does not inform the phone’s owner of its existence (Andrejevic, 2006).
Social Media refers to platforms used by people to interact and share information, on a personal and public scale. Examples of such platforms are Facebook and Twitter. Social media has proven effective in sharing of information in a society. The Arab Spring protests provide a good instance of this. As a result, authorities have put more focus in monitoring dissidents through these sites. To enable this, governmental agencies have carried out social network analysis. In this process, the institutions create maps of social networks and user’s interactions. They then carry out data mining, to isolate useful information from unnecessary details. This enables law-enforcement agencies to identify distinct groups such as dissidents or even activists.
Data mining is the process of studying data from different sources and compiling the sources into useful information. The corporate world has used data mining extensively. Financial transactions have necessitated storage of large amounts of data such as credit card records and purchases. Any transaction carried out by an electronic device is stored in a server somewhere. The government also stores large amounts of data through its agencies. Information stored may be related to tax returns, criminal records or court records. As a result, parties with access to such records may carry out data profiling. Data profiling enables one to establish a person/group’s traits, based on behavioral patterns (Blanchette, 2002).
There has been increased use of biometric surveillance over the years. For instance, some companies require biometric information before allowing people into their premises. This is similar for sensitive State installations in various countries. Furthermore, biometrics has enabled State actors to have better control over society. Using fingerprinting and fingerprint databases, law enforcement can identify a person who was at a specific location. This is also true for DNA fingerprinting. CCTV cameras now feature facial recognition features. As a result, law enforcement agencies are able to identify people participating in protests and other offences. Advances in technology have enabled the development of scanners. Such tools can identify vehicle registration plates give up their owners. Various Governments have invested in behavioral biometrics. In consequence, Government agencies are able to discover a person’s emotional state at a particular time. This is done through image capture by cameras and facial processing by advanced systems.
A drone is an unmanned aircraft that is operated by a person on the ground. Drones are usually small in nature and feature cameras or even arms. Such vehicles have proven themselves effective in the discreet monitoring of targeted individuals, by Governments and their agencies. America’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uses a fleet of drones to monitor critical infrastructure, and the US population. Similarly, the United Kingdom is building a fleet of surveillance drones. Their drones will be used by their police forces in combating criminal activity. The private sector has also embraced drone surveillance techniques. In 2013, Deutsche Bahn, a German railway operated deployed surveillance drones in various railway stations. The private sector does this for mostly security purposes, such as protecting their infrastructure.
There are numerous satellites orbiting the earth at any instance. Some of these are Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites. These devices enable law enforcement and private entities to track people’s locations. For instance, smartphones with GPS can be tracked using applications such as Google’s Latitude on the Android platform. Similarly, vehicles fitted with GPS receivers can be tracked by their owners. For instance, GPS satellites track cash in transit vehicles. Satellites also enable imagery of the earth. They provide high-resolution images that penetrate clouds. Such images can also detect built-up areas and presence of chemical substances (Burns, 2007).
Use of identification cards is one of the oldest forms of State surveillance. Other documents that may be used are passports, driver’s licenses or social security cards. With the development of technology, identity cards have featured magnetic stripes and electronic chips. Before entry into some institutions, people are required to give their ID or social security numbers. As a result, the institutions can keep track of who entered their premises. RFID tags are small electronic devices that are used for tracking products, or people. They are read using radio waves from a proximity of a few meters. For surveillance needs, the private sector has tagged some of its workers. These tags are used for identity verification as well as access control. However, human rights activists have argued that RFID tags are a breach of human rights.
The Internet has established itself as a platform for surveillance. A file posted on the internet is hardly erasable. As a result, people may search the internet for information related to background checks. Similarly, the Private Sector has turned surveillance into an industry. Companies such as Choice Point hold confidential information related to people. As a result, such companies provide prospective employers a terrific tool for background checks on job applicants.
Due to efforts, by States, to monitor their societies, there has been a rise in complaints citing breach of the right to privacy. As a result, people in various countries have adopted various techniques to counter increasing state surveillance. Because of the large number of CCTV cameras in Britain, dissidents are vandalizing such infrastructure. Their efforts have been relatively successful in decreasing State surveillance. Because of internet restrictions, especially in countries like China, people are turning to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) for uncensored access. People use software like Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) or the Tor Browser to view restricted content. Such software enables them to bypass State internet restriction and surveillance tools (Leistert, 2012).
Because of frequent tapping of their phones, people are turning to alternative platforms to make calls. Dissidents in Syria and Iran use Skype and Viber to make calls to each other, therefore, escaping the State’s dragnet. People, concerned about their safety, are moving away from text-messaging services. Activists and dissidents, in countries like Bahrain, have switched to secure platforms such as Blackberry messenger (BBM) and WhatsApp to send messages. Such platforms are hosted securely on foreign soil, therefore, limiting state access to the message contents (Leistert, 2012).
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