In the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks, surveillance is becoming ubiquitous in our society. “Smart” surveillance technologies and assemblages (or combinations) of such technologies are emerging, supposedly to combat crime and terrorism, but in fact are being used for a variety of purposes, many of which intrude upon the privacy of law-abiding citizens.
Surveillance systems and technologies are no longer confined to law enforcement authorities, intelligence agencies and the military – modern information technology has manifested surveillance as an everyday phenomenon.
Already today, surveillance technology monitors traffic on our roads and passengers on the Underground; government services use surveillance technology to check who is really entitled to social services; employers monitor employee keystrokes, e-mails and phone calls; and Internet service providers inspect their customers’ data traffic to target them with behavioural or personalised advertising.
The European Union has recognised the problematic potential of smart surveillance technologies and claims that a balance must be struck between surveillance and control to minimise the potential impact of terrorist action, on the one hand, and respect for human rights, privacy, social and community cohesion and the successful integration of minority communities on the other.
“If ‘collective security’ demands the surveillance of all movements and all telecommunications and collecting the fingerprints and DNA of everyone living in the EU, there can be no individual freedom, except that sanctioned by the state,” says Michael Friedewald, head of the ICT research unit at the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI) and co-ordinator of the project. “EU policy should not foster the gradual move towards a surveillance society. We recommend that before public or private sector organisations adopt any new surveillance system, they should perform a technology and privacy impact assessment of the proposed system.”