Surveillance Technologies

Surveillance is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it is necessary for security, safety, and a multitude of other reasons. On the other, it is a sinister tool ripe for abuse. Surveillance intersects with peoples’ lives in many ways. The three main intersections include in the workplace, as a consumer, and through the government. There are a number of surveillance techniques available to be used by these entities. These techniques are not mutually exclusive. However, certain techniques are more common to certain venues. Some of the more common techniques for each venue will be discussed. Surveillance is not restricted to any particular geographic location. Surveillance is commonly practiced around the globe to varying degrees. One of the countries that have higher rates of surveillance, Malaysia, and one that has a lower rate, Italy, will be explored. After a clear understanding of the current state of surveillance and surveillance techniques are presented an attempt to project into the future of the field will be discussed. All of this information will lead to possible implications that may be created as a result of the future state of surveillance. In the end, it should be obvious that surveillance serves many useful purposes, but seems to be heading towards an extreme throughout the world.

            Businesses have increasingly been concerned with the activities of their employees. It is in any businesses best interest to maintain the highest level of efficiency in an effort to reach maximum profitability. Surveillance in the workplace can be used for many purposes including asset protection and dispute resolution. In an effort to achieve these goals, industry has gone to great lengths to implement many surveillance measures. Originally, workplace surveillance was mostly for the purpose of asset protection. However, an increased measure of surveillance was onset by the introduction of computers in the workplace. From that point in history it was important for employers to make sure their employees were actually using this new tool for work purposes. The increasing role of surveillance in the workplace has continued to reach new heights. Currently in the workplace there are five main types of surveillance of employees. First, employees are continuously monitored through their work computers and telephones. Computer monitoring is largely accomplished through the use of specialized software. Software of this type can enable employers to remotely view what an employee is viewing on their computer screen, can allow access to the contents of an employees hard drive, can monitor keystrokes (number of strokes and/or keys pressed), can retrieve deleted data, can view e-mail messages, and monitor the amount of time an employees computer remains idle. Telephone monitoring is a little more legally complicated, but can usually be accomplished to some extent under the guise of quality control. Telephone usage is monitored via real-time listening (most difficult legally) or through the use of a pen register to record numbers dialed and length of calls.[1] Second, employers use video surveillance. Video cameras, both overt and covert, are commonly used in the workplace for asset protection. However, this type of surveillance is sometimes used to review employee productivity, aide in dispute resolution, and for tragedy prevention.[2] Third, employers commonly require DNA samples as a condition for employment. This is usually gathered through a urinalysis or a hair sample. The purpose of this DNA gathering is mostly to monitor for illegal drug use.[3] However, there have been cases where employers have used this to test for current medical conditions such as pregnancy. Fourth, employers are requiring employees to carry work access badges. These work badges may monitor the movement of employees inside the building and upon entrance or exit. The final main method of workplace surveillance is for employees that use company vehicles. Many companies are outfitting their vehicles with Global Positioning Systems (GPS).[4] These GPS systems are fairly sophisticated with the ability for an employer to view the vehicles movement on computerized maps.

            Surveillance of the average citizen is being performed by governments. This is accomplished through actively seeking information on citizens or through “the creation of junctures in life where citizens have no choice but to identify and document themselves”[5]. Surveillance that focuses on the “junctures in life” is so ingrained into societies that it goes unnoticed. Examples of this type of surveillance include things that are usually considered common everyday activities that are documented. Governments documents marriages, deaths, births, property ownership, taxes levied, issued passports, issued drivers licenses, and issued social security cards[6]. All of these documents are integrated into the system of society are made to be necessary for one purpose or another. However, they also are solid government record snapshots of people’s lives ranging from birth to death. A government actively seeking information on their citizens is usually more secretive. This may take the form of electronic eavesdropping, searching library records, reviewing cellular phone logs, or obtaining medical records. One example of a highly secretive mechanism for actively seeking information is Project ECHELON. Project ECHELON is believed to be a data interception tool run by the National Security Agency (NSA). This project is headed by the United States of America in conjunction with the governments of the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. This project is constructed by strategically placed satellites and satellite interception stations. It has been speculated that Project ECHELON has the capability to monitor cellular phone traffic, ground telephone line chats and faxes, telexes and satellite communications links, and e-mail on a global scope for further processing.[7]

             As a consumer, people are subject to the surveillance practices of corporations. The surveillance camera is commonplace in many shopping areas. However, this technology has increased in sophistication for use by retailers. For example, some systems have the ability to create color-coded outlines of a person’s image on the surveillance monitor if they remain in one location for a specified period of time. Data mining is the other major surveillance tool aimed at consumers. Corporations make the argument that this surveillance is performed to provide customers with the desired consumer experience. Others argue that “consumers are [the] subject of efforts aimed at directing their buying behavior and educating them in consumer skills”[8]. The commercial data industry is a global multi-billion dollar business. Traditionally, data mining was used for one of the two previously mentioned purposes by “combining socio-economic with geo-demographic data”[9]. In modern times, some of this information is obtained through major credit reporting agencies. Some of the data that is collect through this method is highly controversial: “such reports, containing names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and credit history, [etc.]”[10]. Many have argued that valid reasons for corporations obtaining Social Security and driver’s license numbers for the purpose of better serving their customers is ludicrous.

            Surveillance trends around the globe vary widely. For the most part, the same technologies are available for use by any country. The only constraints that occur are legal, financial, or technological know-how. To give examples of the range of surveillance trends around the globe a country with severe restrictions (Malaysia) and a country with more personal protections against intrusion (Italy) will be explored. However, it should be noted that there are virtually no countries that are the polar opposite of severe restrictions.

            Malaysia is one of the worst countries in terms of being a surveillance society. The constitution of Malaysia does not specifically recognize a right to privacy, but does include a conclusive list of fundamental rights. These fundamental rights include freedom of speech, assembly, and movement. These fundamental rights were implemented in 1956 resulting from the treat of Communist influence. However, in resent years the government has effectively reduced the effectiveness of these fundamental rights by law or practice in the name of anti-terrorism. Data protection is currently wishful thinking in Malaysia. A Personal Data Protection Bill has repeatedly been introduced to the Malaysian Parliament since 1998 and has yet to be adopted. One of Malaysia’s most controversial laws is the Internal Security Act (ISA). The ISA allows police to enter homes and conduct searches in the name of national security without a warrant. Judicial review of arrest made under ISA is limited. In this case, authorities are not required to produce evidence or detailed charges. Police regularly use the ISA to search homes and to make seizures, monitor conversations, and take persons into custody without a warrant. Persons arrested under ISA can be held for sixty days without being charged. However, the internal security minister can extend detention for up to two years, renewable indefinitely. In addition, the ISA does not require that detainees be informed of the accusations against them or that they have the right make an appeal to the advisory board every six months. Other laws with implications for privacy include the Anti-Corruption Act, the Companies Act, and the Penal Code. The Anti-Corruption Act empowers the Attorney General to authorize the interception of any messages sent or received through any means of communication and wiretapping of telephones in corruption investigations. The Companies Act grants the Registrar of Companies broad powers to block or disband organizations deemed to threaten to national security or the national interest. This authority has been used to prevent international human rights organizations from establishing domestic operations. Section 509 of the Penal Code provides criminal penalties for insulting “the modesty of any person or intruding upon the privacy of any person by uttering any word, sound or gesture, or exhibiting any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen by such person.” A new anti-terrorism amendment to the Penal Code gives the government broader authority to secretly install surveillance devices on private property. Most government agencies plan to implement Oracle Corporation’s citizen data hub. This database would include information on individuals including background, UN flags photoeducational achievements, and health records. In 2005, the government began implementing a biometric system to keep records of foreigners in the country. In 2004, the government decided to install closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras in major cities. Currently, additional temporary cameras are being installed in less populated areas. In 1999, Malaysia was one of the first countries in the world to use a chip-based identification card that is also a multipurpose smart card. The card, named MyKad, incorporates both photo identification and fingerprint biometric technology. MyKad currently has seven functions other than mere identification: driver’s license, passport information, health information, e-cash function, toll payment, automated teller machine, and public key infrastructure. Rights pertaining to freedom of information do not exist in Malaysia. Due to the absence of this right, the government has sometimes directly restricted the release of information deemed embarrassing or prejudicial to national interests. For example, the government has had a policy of prohibiting public disclosure of air pollution readings and deaths due to dengue fever.[11]

            Italy is in the middle of the road when it comes to a surveillance society. The Italian Constitution, adopted in 1948, has several limited provisions relating to privacy. Article 14 states, “(1) Personal domicile is inviolable. (2) Inspection and search may not be carried out save in cases and in the manner laid down by law in conformity with guarantees prescribed for safeguarding personal freedom. (3) Special laws regulate verifications and inspections for reasons of public health and safety, or for economic and fiscal purposes.” Article 15 states, “(1) the liberty and secrecy of correspondence and of every form of communication are inviolable. (2) Limitations upon them may only be enforced by decision, for which motives must be given, of the judicial authorities with the guarantees laid down by law.” The Privacy Code relating to the protection of personal data was enacted by a Legislative Decree of 30 June 2003. The Code creates more protections for personal data. The Code consist of three sections with the first containing provisions dealing with the rules applicable to the processing of personal information in the public and private sector; the second dealing with “special requirements,” which would apply to specific sectors, such as debtors or the health sector; and the third concerning administrative and judicial issues. Violators of the Code may face harsh administrative or criminal penalties. Wiretapping is regulated by Articles 266-271 of the Penal Procedure Code and may only be authorized in the case of legal proceedings. Government interceptions of telephone and all other forms of communications must be approved by a court order. The law on computer crime includes penalties on interception of electronic communications. Interception orders are granted for 15 days at a time and can be extended for the same length of time by a judge. The judge also monitors procedures for storing recordings and transcripts. Any recordings or transcripts that are not used must be destroyed. The conversations of religious ministers, lawyers, doctors or others subject to professional confidentiality rules can not be intercepted. In light of these limited protections a number of abuses in communications surveillance have occurred. In 2005 the Italian police placed a backdoor into an Internet Service Providers (ISP) server, and monitored all transactions of the ISP’s 30,000 subscribers. Another example includes Telecom Italy which collected thousands of files on stars and influential people.[12]

            Considering all of these future trends, what is the future of surveillance technologies? Given the inherently secretive nature of surveillance it is difficult to determine what is on the horizon, especially over the next thirty years. However, there are a few future surveillance technologies that are often mentioned. These future technologies often are the result of the miniaturization or improvement of current technologies.

            One possible future surveillance technology is iris scanning capabilities. This technology is already possible for identity purposes. However, this technology is in its infancy. It remains limited in the sense that the subject must be relatively close to the scanner and must remain still.  In the future it has been speculated that iris scan will be used for a number of applications. An iris scanner may be more practical in the future by only requiring a light to be flashed in a subject’s direction[13]. Once a scan is obtained the information available about that individual could be endless when instantly cross referencing an informational database. In a moments glance, the surveillance person administering the scan can know your personal information, criminal history, consumer habits, financial status, and the list goes on.

            A future technology being explored is small flying surveillance devices. These devices may be as small as the tip of a person’s finger. Due to their size, they may be able to fly around and collect data undetected not receiving any more attention that a flying insect.[14]  In fact, that is another possibility, cyborg insects. This possibility is being explored by researchers using moths. The idea is: 1) scientists harvest moth eggs 2) when it reaches the PUPA stage a scientist will implant a microchip into its thorax which will serve as the information hub for directional controls and external surveillance equipment. 3) a video camera, GPS system, and air sampler (to identify explosives signatures) are mounted to the adult moth. 4) The completed cyborg is operational at a range of one half mile.[15]

            Another surveillance technology poised for future development is Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). This can be used in a number of surveillance capacities from military to police use. These UAV would hover wirelessly in the sky monitoring everything below.[16]

            CCTV cameras are being studied and improved for the future. Some of these improvements include identification without a facial image. This type of CCTV camera will assess your height, weight, the way you walk, and other elements to instantly determine your identity. Another CCTV camera idea being explored is cameras that use radio waves to determine if anyone is on the other side of a wall. These types of cameras will even be able to determine your breathing and heart rates. It has even been speculated that these cameras will advance to the point of being able to read thoughts.[17]

            Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is another promising future surveillance tool. RFID is already being implemented in a number of ways. The main uses at this time are related to inventory management. The future idea of RFID is that everything and everyone will have an RFID tags embedded (subcutaneously, in clothes, in products, etc.). This embedded tag has a unique number association which will identify anything it is attached to. These tags can be so small that even if the traditional idea of using RFID is not accepted it could have future covert applications.[18]

            What are the implications of the development of all of this surveillance technology? The biggest argument is over security versus privacy. Americans tend to believe that privacy is an American concept. The truth is that privacy is a valued human right the world over.[19] Many constitutions have privacy provisions implemented in the text. Many other countries have privacy element established through case law. When the threshold of the people for the tolerance of surveillance photosurveillance is crossed what may happen? One main implication can be linked to the judicial system. If surveillance succeeds in becoming so powerful the enforcement agencies, courts, and prisons may be overstretched to the point of uselessness. On the other hand, if public outcry over surveillance societies becomes dominate what may happen? This may lead to a breakdown in the whole social structure resulting in an anarchical movement. Unintended consequences are another serious impact of increased surveillance. For example, professional data mining companies are perfect targets for identity thieves. There are a number of other possible implications related to freedom, trust, choice, opportunity, and problem solving. The issue of most concern is where will it all end?

            Given all of this information it should now be obvious that surveillance is heading towards an extreme that may be commonly abused to the detriment of mankind. Humans are already under surveillance in nearly every facet of their lives from birth to death. Yet, surveillance technologies are being explored to further the degree of monitoring. This is a trend around the world. Countries are increasing their surveillance practices from year to year that is leading to a bleak outcome for its citizenry. This trend provides a bevy of ammunition for possible negative implications in the future.

Works Cited

Cvrk, Luka. Iris Scan Technology Sees Me Through My Eyes. 24 Sep. 2007. Surveillance World. 10 Mar. 2008. <>.

David, Lenord. Project Echelon: Orbiting Big Brother?. 21 Nov. 2001. Imaginova Corp. 19 Mar. 2008. <>.

Lane III, Frederick S. The Naked Employee. New York: AMACOM, 2003.

Lyon, David. The Electronic Eye. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994.

Millar, Megan. “The Cyborgs Are Coming!.” Outside Magazine. Jan. 2008.

N.A. Employee Monitoring: Is There Privacy In The Workplace?. Feb. 2006. Privacy Rights Clearinghouse / UCAN. 17 Mar. 2008. <>.

N.A. PHR2006 – Malaysia. 18 Dec. 2007. Privacy International. 24 Mar. 2008. <[347]=x-347-559517>.

N.A. PHR2006 – Italian Republic. 18 Dec. 2007. Privacy International. 24 Mar. 2008. <[347]=x-347-559525>.

N.A. World’s Smallest and Thinnest RFID Tag is Powder Made By Hitachi. 24 Mar. 2008. 31 Oct. 2007. <>.

Polmar, Norman. Army Embarks On Ambitious UAV Plan. 19 Mar. 2008 Military Advantage. 19 Mar. 2008. <,14632,Soldiertech_MAV,,00.html>.

Rule, James B. Privacy In Peril. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Weiss, Rick. “Dragon Fly or Insect Spy? Scientists At Work On Robobugs.” Washington Post 9 Oct. 2007, A03.

Years, Stephen. Future Surveillance Technology Can Tell How You Feel. 17 Sept. 2007. Futurismic. 24 Mar. 2008. <>.

[1] N.A. Employee Monitoring: Is There Privacy In The Workplace?.

[2] Lane III, The Naked Employee, 16 – 20.

[3] Ibid, 165 -79.

[4] Ibid, ix.

[5] Rule, Privacy In Peril, 58.

[6] Ibid., 46 – 48

[7] David, Lenord. Project Echelon: Orbiting Big Brother?.

[8] Lyon, 140.

[9] Ibid., 142.

[10] Ibid.

[11] N.A. PHR2006 – Malaysia.

[12] N.A. PHR2006 – Italian Republic.

[13] Cvrk, Luka. Iris Scan Technology Sees Me Through My Eyes.

[14] Weiss, Rick. “Dragon Fly or Insect Spy? Scientists At Work On Robobugs.”

[15] Millar, Megan. “The Cyborgs Are Coming!.”

[16] Polmar, Norman. Army Embarks On Ambitious UAV Plan.

[17] Years, Stephen. Future Surveillance Technology Can Tell How You Feel.

[18] N.A. World’s Smallest and Thinnest RFID Tag is Powder Made By Hitachi.

[19] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 12.

Photo by miss_rogue

Photo by zigazou76

Photo by