(Eng)Dataveillance by Mark Nixon 21+C, [Australian Magazine]

The Anarchives (tao@lglobal.com)
Tue, 4 Jun 1996 16:37:25 +0000 (GMT)

From: an366601@anon.penet.fi (** CRAM **)
21+C, [Australian Magazine], February, 1996, pp. 30-36.


A global trend is emerging toward citizen surveillance.
While authorities speak of the need for data regulation and
people become digital shadows, watchdogs are doing some
monitoring of their own.

By Mark Nixon

George Orwell wrote presciently of the power of
tele-communications as an ever-present instrument of
surveillance But two-way television, the means of tyranny
in his fictional 1984, has so far only found a niche as
interactive entertainment. In its place, no-less-advanced
technologies are quietly emerging that have an
unprecedented potential to erode privacy and realize the
surveillance society that Orwell predicted.

In Britain, closed-circuit television (CCTV) is fast
turning public space into a contemporary version of Jeremy
Bentham's 19th century prison, the panopticon. In Europe
and the United States, intelligent transportation systems
threaten to imperil the anonymity of the road, subverting
freedom of both movement and association. Around the globe
biometric identification systems together with the growth
of networked personal data systems have the capacity to
render the actions of entire populations transparent once
and for all.

The current fervor for CCTV in Britain began as a means to
combat football hooliganism in the mid-1980s. The success
of the initiative caught the imagination of local councils
across the country. They saw it as a solution to the
growing fear of crimes like car theft child abduction and

The British Security Industry Association says there are
now about 150,000 CCTV installations across the country.
The number of actual cameras is difficult to estimate as a
single installation may comprise between one and 30
separate cameras. But one thing is for certain: The CCTV
business is booming. Turnover for the British companies who
make these systems has increased from L59 million to L129
million in the last four years.

Over 100 town centers now have integrated CCTV systems,
complete with police- or volunteer-run control centers. The
British Home Office recently reported that "the growth of
interest in CCTV is dramatic, and the next few years are
likely to witness schemes mushrooming in many towns."

The same report cites research indicating that up to 95 per
cent of the British public approve of CCTV. People regard
the cameras as a friendly eye in the sky and little concern
is expressed for civil liberties.

But safety comes at a price. One police officer in
Liverpool likened his local 20-camera system to having 20
officers on 24-hour-a-day duty constantly taking notes. The
analogy is as intimidating as it is reassuring. And
sleepless dedication is not the only quality that separates
these digital deputies from ordinary British bobbies.

Equipped with a powerful zoom lens, each camera can read
the wording on a cigarette packet at 100 meters. An added
infrared capacity can turn pitch black into virtual
daylight. And if one camera is attacked, another one will
swing round automatically and photograph the assailant.

In town centers with council-run CCTV, almost every corner
of public space can be monitored, according to Simon
Davies, the director general of Privacy International, a
London-based watchdog on surveillance by governments and
corporations. From the control center in Liverpool, he
watched as the police followed every step of a pedestrian
as he walked over two miles through town. The police could
see where he went, to whom he spoke, and even what he had
for lunch.

While Davies admits the technology has had some effect on
major crime, he remains skeptical of its long-term success.
In his view, CCTV is little more than a quick fix creating
an illusion of safety while pushing crime into low-rent
areas that can't afford their own systems.

At the same time police and local authorities are gaining
enormous control over the public environment. This is
having a disturbing effect, Davies argues. "It has been
successful in the policing of public morals and in the
pursuit of public order" he says.

Davies points to Kings Lynn, a small town in East Anglia
and the first to receive an integrated CCTV system.
Officially installed to combat assault burglary and car
theft these crimes make up only 30 per cent of the town's
CCTV arrest record to date. Instead, says Davies, the bulk
of arrests are for a range of minor offenses including
under-age smoking and drinking, parking-meter evasion,
littering and public urination. This included a man caught
relieving himself in a park at night -- despite the fact
that only the camera, with its infra-red capacity, was able
to see him.

As the market continues to grow Davies believes the scope
of CCTV will encroach even further into public space "It's
moving to a position where you can assume that the dividing
line between overt and covert surveillance will disappear,"
he says, and then explains how this will be allowed to

"Because the authorities have successfully argued that
there is no private right in a public space, therefore you
should assume that at any point you could be surveilled.
That is the public right, to surveil you. That extends
virtually everywhere. Suddenly. public space becomes
anywhere where another person stands."

This shift is already well underway. The cameras were
originally placed in full public view, accompanied by signs
which read "Smile, you're on 24 hour CCTV." Now they have
made their way into telephone booths, buses trains, taxis,
lifts, automated teller machines and even chocolate
dispensers. Soon they will be installed inside police
helmets and police-uniform buttons.

It is a frightening prospect, and one that grows more
alarming as the technology is improved. At the moment,
several companies around the world are developing
computerized face recognition (CFR) systems. Combined with
CCTV, this technology provides the ability to scan a crowd
at 20 faces a second and match images against a database of
up to one million photographs (from, say, drivers'

A CFR system is already in use at Manchester City football
ground to identify known hooligans. Major retailers are
also examining the possibility of using the technology to
identify known shoplifters even before they walk through
the doors. As CCTV and face-recognition technologies
converge the potential for pervasive and effective
surveillance of public space increases significantly.

In Europe and in the US, technologies of a different sort
are also converging, this time over the open road. Known as
intelligent transportation systems (ITS), they promise to
improve capacity and efficiency on public highways, enhance
driver safety, and provide a range of new services to

These 'smart roads' will depend on the widespread use of
digital wireless technologies to monitor, identify and
track both individual vehicles and larger traffic flows,
often in real time. The prospect is sparking fears that ITS
will pave over privacy and turn roadways into an
information snooper highway.

One ITS technology, automated toll collection. is already
well developed in the US. On New York's Tappan Zee bridge,
drivers no longer roll down the window to toss coins in a
bucket. Instead, they pass straight through the toll gate,
a computer scans an electronic tag located inside the
windshield, and the toll is deducted from a pre-set
account. At the moment, similar systems are used in nine
states to collect over 250 000 tolls every day, and a
further 12 states will soon put their own systems on-line.

It's easy to imagine the problems these systems could
cause. Linked to an ordinary bank account, these systems
can generate records that show a driver's name and address,
and the precise time and place where each toll is charged.
But toll collection is only the beginning. As envisioned
traffic management systems will warn of accidents and
traffic jams, while vehicle-to-vehicle communications could
alert drivers to each other's behavior. Inside vehicles,
CD-ROM-based route-finding systems linked to satellites
will pinpoint a vehicle's position and movement on a map
displayed on a dashboard screen. The system could help a
driver through unfamiliar territory and even find them a
vacant parking place.

Some of the more advanced ITS technologies have already
been harnessed in the commercial sector. Qualcomm's
OmniTRACS system for geo-stationary satellite-based
monitoring is used by freight-transport operators
throughout the US and Europe. It allows firms to track and
communicate with their trucks and provide their customers
with accurate delivery times. If the same systems are
carried over into the consumer sector they will provide an
almost limitless opportunity to track individual drivers
and create detailed databases of their movements.

In the US, the producers of ITS technologies are
represented by the non-profit organization ITS America.
Their role is to coordinate the national development of
intelligent roadware. In acknowledging privacy concerns,
the organization has tentatively laid out a set of fair
information and privacy principles. The European
Commission, for its part, is yet to raise the issue, even
though privacy concerns have already thwarted the
commercial success of one large-scale ITS initiative in the

One of the ITS America principles is that ITS systems
should not be used as a means of law enforcement. It is a
point the industry no doubt wants to make very clear. After
all, public acceptance will take a nose dive if driving on
smart roads is like having the highway patrol in the back
seat. But there is a loophole in the small print, which
allows individual states to legislate conditions under
which ITS information can be made available to police.

Phil Agre, a professor in communication at the University
of California, San Diego, has been concerned with the
privacy implications of ITS for some time. He suggests it
will only be a matter of time before policies are changed
to give law enforcement agencies routine access to ITS
information, possibly in the wake of a terrorist bombing or
a child kidnapping. Once that happens, he warns, the
consequences could be devastating.

"If it's possible to build a case that someone might have
been going to the meeting of a certain party or
organization -- through gaining access to records of where
people have been driving -- that begins to chill the very
important freedom of association that lies at the
foundation of a democracy," Agre says.

Information about where people drive would also be useful
for a wide range of marketing purposes. How would you react
to receiving junk mail from Jack's restaurant asking you
why you always eat at Joe's? Or maybe from a video-rental
company who think you might like to know that their new
store is right on your way to work? Some of these uses will
no doubt be harmless. But, as Agre points out, once the
information is made available, it becomes very difficult to
ensure that only people with benign intentions get their
hands on it.

Agre suggests that a satellite-based tracking system would
enable auto-insurance companies to offer low-risk discounts
to drivers who agree not to drive through dangerous areas.
"People who do not wish to be tracked in these ways will
have to be presumed to be in the high-risk category," he
reasons, "so that increasingly people begin to pay a very
tangible monetary cost for preserving their privacy."

The pattern of convergence inherent in ITS has become
common across many different information systems the world
over, according to Simon Davies. "You find that the flavor
of this time in the millennium is that no system, no
technology, should stand alone," he says. "Part of the
vortex that is created sucks the individual into the same

How? Biometrics.

Biometrics refers to the measurement of various physical
and difficult-to-alienate characteristics. In recent years,
efforts to establish more-accurate ways to identify
individuals have intensified. Using sophisticated
computer-scanning technology it is now possible to measure
characteristics including digitized fingerprints, the
micro-visual pattern of the retina, the geometry of the
hand, and even the genetic blueprint of DNA. These
techniques are beginning to replace conventional methods of

Starting in 1993, US immigration authorities at JFK and
Newark airports, and more recently at Vancouver airport,
have been testing a passport-replacement scheme based on
hand biometrics The system, known as INSPASS (Immigration
and Naturalization Service Passenger Accelerated Service
System) currently involves about 70,000 frequent fliers to
and from the United States and Canada. The trials also
involve cooperation with Britain, the Netherlands, Germany
and Bermuda.

A member of INSPASS who arrives at one of these airports
skips the main immigration line and enters a special kiosk.
Inside, a scanner records the contours of the person's
hand. The pattern is then compared to a template previously
encoded on a 'smart card' and carried by the member. If the
two patterns match, the green light flashes and the
passenger is free to go -- all in as little as 20 seconds.
Faster immigration processing is not the only advantage of
the technology. A biometric system like INSPASS promises a
far higher degree of integrity than collection of the
cards, documents and numbers we regularly use to identify
ourselves. For governments and corporations, biometrics
promise to reduce the costs and risks involved in daily
transactions with individuals.

In Ontario, there are 12 million identities in the health
system -- an alarming figure, considering the Canadian
province has a population of only 10 million people. To
address this problem, the provincial government has
proposed a biometric scheme based on a registry of thumb
scans. If the same thumbprint appears in the system under
two separate identities, it is instantly flagged.

A similar system for fingerprinting general-welfare
recipients has been in operation for over three years in
several counties in California. Intended to counter welfare
fraud, the system looks like being adopted in another three
states and extended to include other forms of welfare.

In the UK, the Department of Social Security has proposed
a computerized database of handprints for all 30 million
people currently receiving government benefits.

Elsewhere, biometric schemes are emerging in various
applications around the world. The Jamaican government
plans to use electronic thumbprinting to control elections,
while in Europe there are plans to include cardholders'
fingerprints on credit cards. Meanwhile, biometric systems
are already used by banking and retail organizations
worldwide for internal security.

Davies has been following the development of biometric
identification with increasing concern. He says the
technology creates a new form of intimacy between
individuals and information systems. "With the
establishment of biometrics you actually create a fusion
between flesh and machine. You create an identity pattern,
an identity process, which involves the machinery," he

Imagine your fingerprint, handprint or retinal pattern
scanned and mapped onto a few blocks of storage and
spinning endlessly inside a computer somewhere. Because of
its intrusive nature, biometric identification could result
in perceptions of a shift in the power of organizations
over individuals. But Davies believes that perception will
become reality if the high performance of a single system
creates the temptation to apply it across different
organizations -- thereby linking otherwise separate

Roger Clarke, an independent consultant and visiting fellow
in information systems at the Australian National
University, has been studying the use of such systems as a
means of surveillance for over 20 years. In 1988 he coined
the term 'dataveillance' to refer to the use of personal
data systems to monitor individuals.

Dataveillance is unlike most common forms of surveillance,
as Clarke explains: "What is being monitored is not the
individual themselves so much as a digital shadow -- model
or persona of the individual that is built up in a
restricted way from the data that is available about them."

Clarke points out that dataveillance is not in itself evil,
but it can very easily be used against the interests of the
individual. "The concern is that multiple organizations may
get together and pass information amongst themselves and
coordinate the way in which they deal with individuals," he
explains. "When they do that, they upgrade the power of
those institutions over the individual."

This is not a new concern. In the late '60s the US
government proposed creating a national data center. In
opposing the idea, the long-standing geographic dispersion
and fragmentary nature of individual information maintained
by governments and corporations were held up as essential
safeguards to privacy.

With the development of telecommunications networks,
geographic dispersion is no longer an obstacle. Nowadays
every computer-input device has become a potential recorder
of our actions. Networked together, these ever-wakeful
digital minions provide the capacity to compile dossiers on
various aspects of our lives from the data trails we leave.

It's this ability that led the director of the US Internal
Revenue Service to suggest that tax returns will soon be
made redundant. Instead, the authorities will track
everything a taxpayer earns and spends, and a computer will
generate a bill at the end of the year.

Simply networking databases together, however, is not
enough to realize such dreams of administrative ease.
That's because most organizations have developed unique and
often incompatible schemes for identifying their clients,
which makes it difficult to create a central databank. Up
until recently, that is. There are signs of a steady push
towards a single identification system in various

In the United States the originally single-purpose social
security number (SSN) is now used by organizations
including banks, phone companies, schools, hospitals and
insurance companies to identify their clients. This trend
known as 'function creep,' looks set to continue. Recently
proposed legislation, known as 'work-site verification,'
will create a computerized register based on the SSN,
designed to prevent illegal immigrants from gaining

And it creeps on. Welfare reform initiatives currently
before the US Congress represents perhaps the most explicit
form of legislated dataveillance to date. The proposals
will create or expand a series of national personal data
banks, linked by SSN, to track down parents who refuse to
honor child-support obligations. These so-called 'dead-beat
dads' avoid paying an estimated US$34 billion per year to
their ex-wives and children.

In Australia, an individual's tax file number can now be
used to cross-reference welfare payments, student fees and
grants, and child support. Most states in Western Europe
already have broad, multipurpose identification systems for
taxation, superannuation and health insurance. The British
government, meanwhile, has taken the direct approach and
plans to introduce a national identity card.

But cards and numbers, like other forms of conventional
identification, are open to fraud and misuse, as occurred
in the '40s and '50s when thousands of Americans adopted
the SSNs that appeared on sample cards inserted into new
wallets. Safeguards are not much better today.

This, of course, is the reason for the development of
biometrics. Whether or not the schemes being developed can
cope with the physical variations among large populations
remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it seems the push for
multipurpose or general-purpose biometric identification
will inevitably come, either from governments and
corporations or from the developers of the technology

Davies warns that the consequences of such a development
will be far-reaching "You are basically setting up this
once-and-for-all system across all agencies, and that begs
a whole lot of other questions about what sort of society
you are setting up for yourself," he says.

Such a system would provide instant and total recall of
many aspects of a person's life, all at the press of a
button. Furthermore, there are fears that lumping together
data generated in different contexts may create
misunderstandings and lead bureaucrats and system operators
to draw inaccurate conclusions. In the extreme, protecting
privacy would mean dropping out of organized society

Many of the privacy concerns relating to information
systems can be traced to the basic principles of
computer-system design. According to Agre, whose research
involves the representation of human activities by computer
systems, collecting information in an individualized form
has become a matter of routine design, regardless of
whether it is necessary or not.

This is one reason why, in the era of computerized
databases, privacy is regularly interpreted as either data
protection or data security. These concepts, while
perfectly legitimate in their own right, are predicated on
gathering individually identifiable information and then
regulating what happens to it.

"A different set of principles, starting from the principle
of anonymity, could begin to take much more seriously the
demands that privacy makes," Agre suggests. He adds that
technologies already exist that embody just such a set of

Chief among these is digital cash. As notes and coins go
the way of the gramophone, their electronic equivalent is
emerging as the technology of choice for conducting
transactions in total privacy. Based on public-key
cryptography, digital cash allows people to conduct all
kinds of transactions without adding another piece of
information to their data trails.

The same technology could also help protect privacy on the
roads In Dallas, one company has successfully tested a
digital-cash-based electronic toll-collection system at
highway speeds. In fact, Agre says, all the legitimate
applications of ITS systems so far proposed could be
accomplished either anonymously or by pseudonymous
techniques. The latter would enable authorities to
determine that the same car passed Point A in the morning
and Point B in the afternoon, without ever identifying
whose car it is.

The idea of pseudonymity is one that Clarke says could be
used for many day-to-day transactions between organizations
and individuals. He makes the point that organizations
often need only to authenticate that they are dealing with
the same person at each transaction. There is no reason why
they need to know that person's identity.

"There are now quite a few mechanisms available, all of
them based essentially on cryptography, which enable such
authentication to be undertaken without identifying the
individual," Clarke says. The membership of many sporting
and social clubs could be administered this way, as could
the increasing number of customer-loyalty schemes.

But these technologies face an uphill public relations
battle. Digital cash has already been widely accused of
providing money launderers, drug barons and other criminals
with the perfect means of continuing their activities. It's
the same argument that was used in the Clipper Chip debate,
in which the US government proposed a central encryption
software, and it will no doubt be directed towards
pseudonymous techniques as they emerge.

Davies is familiar with this type of argument. He says
there has been a change of political winds in recent years.
Where once privacy was used to protect individual freedoms,
it is now officially deemed by governments and corporations
to be an aid to criminals and a barrier to administrative
efficiency. "In a generation, we now have privacy as almost
like an ancient, forgotten wisdom," he says. Then he adds:
"The point that needs to be made very clear is that
technology has been misused. It always did have the
capacity, the capability, to be a friend to people.
Instead, it has become a potential tool of enslavement. And
it has rendered society vulnerable on a scale that has
never been seen before. It is technologists and politicians
and financiers who have misused the technology and should
be brought to account for it."

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