page highlights strategies and technologies of surveillance
and identification, drawing together more detailed information
elsewhere on this site.
It covers -
Authentication schemes can be summarised as falling into
three categories -
you know (eg a password or PIN)
you have (eg a key, a passport, a driver's licence)
you are (expressed through innate and individual characteristics
such as a fingerprint)
considering surveillance mechanisms we can use a similar
further differentiate by whether information is collected
and analysed on individual or mass basis.
Surveillance in ancien regimes was overt, unsophisticated
but often effective in achieving goals that included identifying
an individual's associates, accessing private communications
and deterring free expression. Being followed by a secret
policeman and having letters opened tended to foster self-censorship
and place the surveilled individual in a sort of quarantine.
It could however be spoofed or simply evaded; pre-1900
fiction and memoirs are replete with accounts of costume
changes, smuggled manuscripts or letters written in lemon
The emergence of electronic networks shifted the nature
of surveillance, with authorities (and other entities)
gaining access to mechanisms - such as the wiretap and
the bug - that were invisible and that by the late 1930s
were underpinned by recording technologies.
Subsequent years have seen a proliferation of mechanisms
for the capture of data and - more significantly - tools
for aggregating and making sense of that data. Thoe tools
include pattern recognition software, eg face and numberplate
recognition. They also include datamining that integrates
information held on disparate public/private sector databases
to build a picture - accurate or otherwise - of the activity
of specific individuals or ideal types.
In a networked economy it is difficult for individuals
not to leave traces on such databases and thus remain
outside what Christian Parenti characterised as the 'soft
cage'. Those databases are not going to disappear. The
challenge for policymakers and ordinary citizens instead
lies in achievement of a modus vivendi that provides appropriate
restrictions on the collection, exchange and misuse of
data by government agencies, business and individuals.
The identification of people on the basis of innate and
stable physiological or behavioural characteristics (eg
fingerprint, DNA, voice or retina pattern) traces its
origins to before the telegraph.
Biometric technologies and applications are discussed
in a separate profile elsewhere
on this site.
Some of the more zany conspiracy theories about RFIDs
feature claims that tags in currency will allow the 'invisible'
government to monitor the activity of every citizen in
advanced economies, receiving reports from automatic teller
machines and other devices.
Reality is more prosaic. The aspect of the soft cage embraced
by most Western consumers is electronic rather than paper
payments: the credit card, EFTPOS and monthly statement
from a financial institution.
The data is complemented by information provided to government
agencies, in particular taxation, income support and public
video and other cams
For CCTV see Surveillance, Closed Circuit Television
and Social Control (London: Ashgate 1998) edited by
Clive Norris and Policing, Surveillance & Social
Control: CCTV and Police Monitoring of Suspects (Cullompton:
Willan 2002) by Tim Newburn & Stephanie Hayman. Other
pointers are here.
vehicle tagging and imaging
Automated number plate recognition (ANPR)
systems, which convert images of vehicle registration
numbers into information for real time or retrospective
matching with law enforcement and other databases, are
discussed in detail elsewhere on this site.
phone and mail systems
A technological determinism has led some critics to emphasise
the dangers of new technologies of surveillance. It is
clear, however, that reading mail, listening to phone
calls and tracking who is calling whom remain of significance.
The extent to which postal
traffic is logged and audited in most countries is unclear.
Many regimes publish aggregated or agency by agency statistics
on the annual number of phone interceptions.
RFIDS and other technological fixes
RFID technologies and applications are discussed in a
separate profile elsewhere
on this site.
eyes in the sky
Observation by spy satellite - sometimes pictured as surveilling
individuals by reading their car registration plates or
peering through their windows - has been a feature of
and popular film over the past thirty years, an artefact
of Hollywood hyperbole and of government hype about military
Images from commercial satellites (eg the SPOT
system) of public and private buildings regularly appear
in the media and are available for purchase within the
means of many consumers. Access to such images is an extension
of aerial photography schemes, which fallen outside traditional
privacy protection and led some public figures such as
Barbra Streisand to seek restriction on overhead shots
of their property.
The emergence of cheap high-resolution digital cameras
and increasingly reliable drones means that such surveillance
will in future be directly available to individuals rather
than to specialist service providers.
public and other registers
Much of the literature over the past fifty years has centred
on licit/illicit surveillance by government agencies.
There has been less attention to surveillance by the private
sector, in particular by individuals. 'Stalking' is thus
a newly-discovered phenomenon, although it has occurred
One enabler of stalking
- and of commercial profiling
of individuals - is the transfer from paper to digital
media (in particular internet access) of public registers
that for example feature information about the names,
addresses and property of individuals.
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