See also: Privacy | Security | Communication



A multi-billion dollar industry that constantly works against privacy. Understanding surveillance is important as there is an over-abundance of information on everyone and their grandmother due to credit reports, background checks, and places like

It’s most familiar incarnation is on crass American talk shows like “Jenny Jones” when private investigators (The Watcher) following suspected disloyal spouses (The Mark). At its highest manifestation, major governments struggle keep tabs on one another, as well as other organisations and individuals.

For the purposes of this article, it is made up of only two forces: The Watcher and The Mark.

Historically to now

In the middle ages, Surveillance was a man on a horse who was called a “scout.” Now surveillance includes satellite imagery and aerial photography, sometimes from unmanned aircraft, and computer network hacking. Some more common, everyday surveillance techniques include eavesdropping, dumpster diving, video monitoring, and RFID. Due to billions more people than the middle ages, it is easy to get lost in the crowd, called security through obscurity.

Covert surveillance operations are always the best as the mark never knows to defend himself. If he cannot identify an attack on either his privacy, he will not react accordingly. It also assists in more accurate intelligence gathering. Governments have been aware of this for a very long time but recently authorities have been more blatant in their discussion of wide-ranging digital surveillance activities for purposes of national security. Example: the U.S. Total Information Awareness and The Patriot Act.

Intellgience and policing agencies compare lists to find particular identities that are then classified as suspect.


The process of foiling attacks to your privacy. Everyone should be aware of basic counter-surveillance:

  • Shredding documents and credit card offers
  • Keeping checks and important documents in a locked safe
  • Not giving out your social security number
  • Keeping an eye on their credit report / bank statements for unusual purchasing behavior

If someone is a likely target – such as a CEO, public official, or activist – they must practice counter-surveillance often:

  • Bug detectors
  • High-quality doors and locks
  • LCD screens (anti-Tempest)
  • Using a laptop at all times
  • Post-office box
  • Hard Disk Encryption

Paranoia vs Overall security

Obscure individuals who practice strong measures for privacy would be considered paranoid. Depending on how obscure The Mark is, being too paranoid is quite easy.

On the other hand, if everyone were to use high-security methods and encryption all the time, it would not raise any flags that an individual had anything to hide. This why many open-source projects making encryption more accessible.

Also, a profound difference between real-world and Internet survillance laws exist. For instance, opening postal mail is a felony while an employer reading his or her employee’s e-mail is perfectly within their rights.


A good use
for surveillance is to video monitor an often-robbed convinience store. The clerk wants the video camera in place to discourage thieves and doesn’t mind being watched.
A bad use
for surveillance is for the purposes of getting information on a person and then profiting from this information, also known as identity theft.
A worst-case-scenario
is the constant, continuous observation of an individual with an enforced, strict code of behavior. Many prisioners experience this, considered by many to be a violation of human rights.
  • Whenever an officer of the law justifies unreasonable search and seizure with: “if you don’t have anything to hide, what are you afraid of?”

Other terms

  • Big Brother is a term taken from George Orwell’s “1984” to refer to hyper-surveillance and has been an excellent watch-word and deterrent in the goal of many governments to watch every one of its citizens carefully. The term “Orwellian” has come to describe a choking absense of freedom through total surveillance.
  • Sousveillance – one option offered as surveillance inevitably becomes cheaper and more pervasive.
  • Echelon is the name of a computer and satellite system setup by the United States, Australia, United Kingdom and Canada. This is a monitoring system designed to reveal information on organized crime.

This network reputably monitors all e-mail telephone and fax messages. The European Union has recently been presented with a report on Echelon and encourages all business, institutions and users individuals to encrypt their communications.

The major problem with Echelon-type systems is, rather than actually stopping terrorist communications, the system is able to covertly monitor corporate exchanges in foreign countries. Such a system of monitoring would surely be used for political purposes and industrial espionage. Many governments have accused each other of such behavior.

In the US, the FBI places a computer system known as Carnivore at Internet service providers, and this has been aggressively pursued after the terrorist attacks Sep 11th, which have become a flashpoint for the champions of surveillance such as John Ashcroft and his Patriot Act.

Many are against the Patriot Act as well as its even more far-reaching Patriot Act 2 due to the FBI’s abuse of their surveillance power during the 1960s against war protesters and civil rights groups. Technical arguements against attempts to tap the Internet include that this behavior will slow it down and provide a central point of failure.

Related Topics

Related Links

  • Despite daunting numbers, government still holds ambitions to track everyone such as with the DARPA LifeLog.

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