Surveillance Technology: How it Paves the Way to a Crime-free Society

In today’s world of convenience and speedy transactions, where identity it defined not by genes but by strings of zeros and ones, it would appear that privacy is a luxury only a hermit living in a cave can enjoy.These days, you can find out anything and everything at a click of a button. Technology is advancing at breakneck speed. The internet has made communication easier, opening channels that bring people closer to each other even without physical interaction. Emails, cellphones, instant messengers, VoIP — communication is easy and cheap these days — and so is spying on people’s conversations, and indirectly, people’s private lives.Occasionally, messages would pop-up on my instant messenger inviting me to try a service called “chat detectives.” They claim to be able to monitor people’s conversations over the internet, so people who are unsure of their spouse’s faithfulness can use their service to find whether their spouse is cheating or not.I had also already been victimized by spam mail flooding my mailbox. But little did I know then that such events were consequences of surveillance systems that I had unknowingly enlisted myself into.It is the nature of human beings to be curious. It was curiosity that led us to this age of modernization. And I often wonder if curiosity, too, would lead to our downfall. After all, even with its nine lives, curiosity still killed the cat.Surveillance is but an expression of our curiosity. As defined by Wikipedia, it is the monitoring of behavior. The word “surveillance”, literally means “watching over” in French, and is now used to pertain to all forms of observation and monitoring, and not just visual observation. “Systems surveillance is the process of monitoring the behavior of people, objects or processes within systems for conformity to expected or desired norms in trusted systems for security or social control.” (Wikipedia)The public or common conception of surveillance is that it is “observation from a distance by means of electronic equipment,” such as eavesdropping, telephone tapping, directional microphones, covert listening devices, closed-circuit television, GPS tracking, electronic tagging, CCTV Images, and many others. (Wikipedia)Surveillance is actually a daily practice of human beings, albeit unconsciously. Even far flung communities that cannot be reached by modern technology practice the habit of observing each other’s lives. Neighbors spy on each other and spread unjustified rumors about each other. This is the most common form of surveillance, of which almost every human being is guilty of.Why do you think the “Big Brother” show is so popular? What is so entertaining about a show that records the daily activities of people living together in one house for a few months? It is because we are often intrigued by the events that happen in other people’s lives. When we find nothing of interest in our own lives, we turn to the lives of others for entertainment. Advantages of Surveillance Technology1. National SecuritySince the 9/11 terrorist attack on USA, the level of surveillance conducted by the government had increased. The national governments have the most powerful surveillance systems, because they are entitled to it by the law. They have access to a variety of information from various sources including private entities such as corporations that have data about their clients stored in their databases. They can immediately draw up profiles of persons or groups who they suspect are plotting acts of terrorism.The government believes it is necessary to perform surveillance on various entities suspected of planning or organizing terrorist acts. The government justifies that threats are everywhere and so preventive steps must be taken to counter organized acts of terrorism such as the attack on the twin towers. In this design, the government pre-empts terrorist movements and acts accordingly before the citizens are placed in danger. (Wikipedia) 2. Crime Prevention“Besides fighting terrorism, digital security systems installed in public places, buses, or retail centers can deter crime, provide the police with leads, help citizens feel safer, and improve the economy of a crime-stricken area,” Alice Osborn writes in an article for the Video Surveillance Guide.Public Video Surveillance is the primary tool that most European countries nowadays use to monitor population movements and prevent terrorism. According to some research, the camera surveillance systems in the UK prevent crimes through panopticism. The citizens, aware that they are being monitored, are discouraged from committing crimes simply because the surveillance systems can easily identify them. (Nieto, 1997)“Public video surveillance in the UK began very unassumingly in 1986, on a single square mile industrial estate outside the English town of King’s Lynn. Three CCTV video surveillance cameras were used and their impact was immediate. In the years before the cameras were installed, there had been 58 crimes (mostly vandalism) recorded on the estate. In the two years following the installation, there were no crimes reported. Subsequently, cities and towns across Great Britain began using this crime prevention measure. By 1994, over 300 jurisdictions in the country had installed some form of public video surveillance,” Nieto writes.This is perhaps one of the reasons why UK enjoys one of the lowest crime rates in the world.Through the psychology of the panopticon, surveillance technologies become a useful tool for crime prevention. Although they might not always be seen, people “think” that they will be seen, so they perform self-monitoring and the incidence of crimes are lowered.;3. Corporate Management and GovernanceEmployee monitoring and surveillance is a growing trend nowadays. Many companies and organizations now find this technology beneficial to their businesses. Companies employ surveillance technology as a means of protecting the company’s as well as the client’s interest. Some objectives for implementing surveillance measures include: maintenance of security and confidentiality of client records; protection against internal and external threats to the security and integrity of such records; and protection against unauthorized access or use of client records or information that could result in substantial harm or inconvenience to the client. (Wakefield, 2004)Although such regulations bring up “trust” concerns, companies stress that “trust is not the issue—client information privacy and security are. Data security laws have effectively elevated the privacy and safety of client information above the privacy expectations of employees. Furthermore, legal experts advise that firms should remove all expectations of privacy in the workplace. They have to, or they risk being found noncompliant with security laws and exposed to other costly litigation. Legal compliance and liability are two of the top three reasons why managers are monitoring employees.” (Workplace Monitoring and Surveillance Report, 2001)Companies can employ two types of monitoring systems, network surveillance and email monitoring. In network surveillance, internet activity is logged and recorded. Some companies even go as far as installing invisible “keyloggers” that record the keystrokes made into a computer. Email monitoring software scans emails sent to and from the employees for keywords that would signal unacceptable or illegal messages. “In one recent incident, the New York Times relates that a sexual harassment suit at Chevron cost the company US $2.2 million when an employee sent coarse messages over the company e-mail system.” (Wakefield, 2004)“Workplace monitoring and surveillance is a sensible means to comply with federal data security statutes. It also provides additional liability protection for the firm. Monitoring promotes the personal protection of employees by reducing or eliminating instances of workplace harassment. Balancing monitoring and employee privacy is achievable with minimal stress when organizations inform employees of the purpose of monitoring activities, set privacy expectations and create reasonable monitoring policies. Firms that use electronic monitoring and surveillance to comply with the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act may find that the added benefits (i.e., protecting organizational assets, preventing misuse of company resources and protecting the firm from legal liability) are worth it.” (Wakefield, 2004)Of course, there is a lot that a company has to gain from monitoring its employees, but whether such actions step on the boundaries of individual privacy rights is still a subject for further debate. The bottomline is, employees should know well enough that the information that they come across in their work as well as the equipment that they use to access the internet and send emails are not their own, and so this fact gives their employer some right to monitor their actions.;4. Economic ExchangeNowadays, many companies lawfully trade information about clients or prospective clients. Many businesses have thrived on information coming from market surveillance. Companies buy information from agencies that collect data. These companies often use the data they acquired for marketing and advertising purposes. (Wikipedia)I often wonder why websites that need registration require so much information. They ask about individual’s personal information, interests, and lifestyle. People often give these information freely in exchange for the services the websites have to offer. The websites, in turn use the demographics they obtained to further broaden their business. Market trending becomes easier and new businesses and opportunities become easier to identify.;5. Parental monitoringToday’s technology allows for retrieval of information at a single click of a button. There are no restrictions as to what kind of information can be found on the internet. And these information are freely available to our children. Not all information on the internet is safe for our children. Our children might be exposed to inappropriate material such as can be found in porn sites.It is a sad fact, but the internet is not a safe place for children. Chat molesters are known to frequent chat areas and arrange meetings with unsuspecting children. (Magid, 2003)With surveillance software, parents can monitor the websites that their children visit as well as the people they connect with online. In this way, parents can ensure that their children do not stray into harm’s way.;6. New Trends – Inverse Surveillance TechnologyInverse surveillance stems from the idea that ordinary citizens can monitor the actions of other people, especially those in power. Inverse surveillance is “practice of reversalism on surveillance, e.g., citizens photographing police, shoppers photographing shopkeepers, and passengers photographing cab drivers who usually have surveillance cameras in their cabs.” (Wikipedia)This is also the mechanism behind the success of many environmental organizations in stopping activities that threaten the environment. One example is the Transport Canada Dash 8 pollution surveillance aircraft introduced late last year. The aircraft is equipped with state-of-the-art surveillance equipment that could better detect marine polluters. The new technology covers broader areas of observation even in challenging weather conditions. This technology is not only useful for detecting oil spills but can track those who should be held responsible for polluting the waters as well. Such technologies further strengthen Canada’s commitment to “protecting its marine wildlife and ocean environment.” (Transport Canada; Government of Canada)Indeed, surveillance technology can be used to promote our social, cultural, and environmental responsibility.;Disadvantages of Surveillance Systems1. Extreme Government ControlThe main argument of antagonists to the use of surveillance systems is that these technologies blur the line that protects privacy. By allowing government systems access to our private information, we are granting them control over our lives and thereby relinquishing our right to privacy.“New technologies are radically advancing our freedoms, but they are also enabling unparalleled invasions of privacy,” laments the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).Surveillance technology is not fool-proof. There had been many cases of people being wrongly arrested because of mistaken identities or erroneous data from surveillance technologies.Technology is not the problem though, the EFF argues, “rather, the law has yet to catch up to our evolving expectations of and need for privacy.”“Privacy rights are enshrined in our Constitution for a reason — a thriving democracy requires respect for individuals’ autonomy as well as anonymous speech and association. These rights must be balanced against legitimate concerns like law enforcement, but checks must be put in place to prevent abuse of government powers.” (EFF)Again, this is a trust issue. Can we trust our government to not use the information they can obtain to gain absolute power? Can we trust our privacy and security to systems that covertly acquire information about us and store the data for government use?As dictated by the law, the government can acquire any information from any source in the name of national security. Even private corporations are obliged to provide their clients’ personal information to the government when required by the latter.Surveillance has two faces. “It can act to curtail rights through, for example, reinforcing divisions within society, or it can be a vital tool in preventing and detecting crime. For citizens to accept and consent to certain forms of surveillance, that is to say its positive face, the state should be accountable for its actions. It cannot be left with an unfettered discretion to determine why and where it carries out surveillance on, and on behalf of, its citizens, without some form of legal responsibility. The governors and the governed should be subject to the law.” (Taylor, 2002)To prevent the abuse of power, we, as citizens of a free country, must remain vigilant. Power can be abused only if we allow it to be. There must be a check-and-balance mechanism in place that curtails the abuse of authority, especially in the usage of surveillance technology. The government is not the all-powerful and intimidating entity we perceive it to be. It too has its flaws and holes just like any organization. The government is still bound by the law that protects individual’s rights, and if an individual feels that his/her rights had been violated, there are various institutions ready to step in and provide assistance, institutions that are independent from the government’s control. 2. Identity Theft“Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States. Criminals are using readily available personal information to steal billions of dollars, and make life miserable for hundreds of thousands of Americans. It’s a crime that can be easy to commit, and very difficult to solve.” (Gunderson, 1999)Identity theft, in internet-based definition, is the assumption of another person’s financial identity by obtaining a person’s personal information such as name, address, date of birth, social security number, credit card number, and employer. (Hole, 2007)Nearly 10 million Americans were victims of identity fraud for the first 9 months of 2003 alone. (Hole, 2007)Identity theft is not a new thing. In the movie “Catch Me If You Can”, a 19-yr old Frank Abagnale, Jr. devised an ingenious method of identity theft. He forged checks and assumed people’s identities for his personal exploits. The movie is loosely based on real events that transpired in the 1960s. Back then, methods for identity theft were limited, there were no complex gadgets and technologies to pinpoint the true identity of a person.Nowadays, cyber technology has made identity theft such an easy crime to commit. Information about us is readily available from various institutions and databases. There are “phishing” technologies that allow perpetrators to pose as legitimate websites asking for your personal information such as bank account and credit card numbers.Spyware can be installed in your PC, tracking your transactions in the internet and storing information that can be used to steal your identity.Identity theft is one of the top spreading crimes nowadays. Anybody can do it without even leaving their homes or hiding places. This is one of the disadvantages of the information superhighway.Consumers must protect their personal information and make sure that they are giving it out to legitimate individuals or entities when they perform financial transactions online.The convenience that we enjoy from modern technology does not come without a price. We can buy merchandise online and save time and effort in not having to go to stores, but in exchange, we might get into bigger trouble if we transact with illegitimate websites.;3. Invasion of PrivacySex scandals abound the internet. Many of those seen in these videos did not even know that they are being filmed. Film stars are hounded by the paparazzi and their every action is recorded. These acts constitute invasion of privacy, and modern surveillance technologies such as high-end cameras serve to simplify and proliferate these invasions of privacy.Most people are unaware of the dangers of storing private information in their technological gadgets. PDAs and cellphones, for example, are used to store nude pictures and video recordings. If these gadgets get stolen, then the risk of public exposure becomes greater.The right information in the wrong hands can prove devastating to the owner of the information. Surveillance technologies make it harder for ordinary people to protect their right to privacy.But privacy, in itself, is a vague concept. There is even no definitive mention of it in the constitution, just mere allusions to the context.What is really lacking is accountability. The design and functions of new communication systems must be able to put up and protect itself from external or third-party manipulations leading to criminality.“The standard reaction to the problem of surveillance is to demand the protection of privacy. This article, however, argues that the conventional notion of privacy, based, as it is, on the separation of the individual from his/her environment, is no longer useful in the context of ubiquitous electronic communication. Rather than defending ever shrinking areas of privacy, we should refocus our efforts and demand accountability from those design and employ the new communication systems.” (Stalder, 2002);Do Surveillance Technology Work?Yes, I believe it does, but not always. Like all human inventions, surveillance technology cannot be 100% efficient. The technology is only as efficient as the people or organizations who wield it.Britain’s 4 million video cameras monitoring the streets may not have prevented the London bombings, but the derived footages did serve to bring the perpetrators to justice. (Yang, 2005)“Tomorrow’s surveillance technology may be considerably more effective. But each uptick in protection will typically come at the cost of more intrusion into the privacy of ordinary people. For now, the public seems to find that trade-off acceptable, so scientists around the world have intensified efforts to perfect the art of surveillance, hoping to catch villains before they strike.” (Yang, 2005)Safety does not necessary have to come at the cost of privacy but in today’s society, we must face the fact that not everyone can be trusted. Surveillance technology, in the hands of criminals, can be a dangerous tool, but when wielded by responsible hands, it can pave the way to a crime-free society.After all, surveillance technology is a double-edged sword. What can harm us can also be our redemption. All we have to do is be vigilant and smart about our actions and protect our valuable information as much as we can.As Howard Rheingold aptly puts it:“We’re being watched. In an age of theft-control, targeted marketing, and ubiquitous anti-terrorism surveillance, there’s precious little we can do to stop being observed wherever we go. But we can watch back. What will that do? Maybe we can’t know until we try.”;


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