Benefits and Concerns of Surveillance

Many of us go about our day with little thought we are being watched. We take our privacy for granted. In some instances where we go or what we do is recorded by CCTV cameras. These little cameras housed in a black round domes seem to be everywhere hanging over our heads. Are they invading our privacy? Are they there to protect us? There is always a debate discussing the benefits and concerns of surveillance. What is surveillance? Surveillance is a French word meaning “watching over”.

It is also the monitoring of activities and behaviours of people usually individuals or groups from a distance. It is used by government agencies and law enforcement to maintain social control and prevent criminal activity. Surveillance come in other forms than a CCTV camera. There is computer surveillance, Telephone surveillance, Biometric surveillance, aerial surveillance and more. With the increasing speed of computers and the internet it is not only the government and private corporations watching us it is also ourselves. Our culture has changed dramatically over the past two decades.

It used to be personal hand held video cameras that recorded those family milestones such as a baby’s first step or a birthday. Now the personal video camera has now turned into the instrument to catch the unexpected, but not in our personal life but the public. So not only has surveillance invaded our privacy we have also made it a part of lives to use surveillance on others. There are many benefits and concerns to surveillance. The debate is what are the true benefits and concerns of surveillance in our society?

Audio & Biometric Surveillance Audio surveillance has been a major component in surveillance monitoring since wiretapping began on telegraph lines. Audio surveillance became more difficult with the introduction of the telephone, as the rate of information increased dramatically. Audio surveillance has become easier with the advancements in recording ability and computing power. Traditionally telephone calls had to be listened to live and transcribed to paper. Today human agents are not required to monitor calls. The first Speech-to-text machines was introduced in 1952, but was restricted to recognizing spoken numbers.

Almost sixty years later software now creates readable text from intercepted audio and is then processed by automated call-analysis programs (Charles Piller, 2002). Audio surveillance provides raw information for investigations and has been successful for many law enforcement agencies. In the united states agencies have million dollar contracts that require phone companies to keep all call records easily searchable and accessible (Singel, 2007). The private sector benefits in audio surveillance by using software programs in cal centers that isolate phrases used frequently.

These trends can be used by analysts to identify potential problems so actions can be taken. These early identifiers can help reduce call volumes, improve the bottom line, and greatly increase customer satisfaction (Wint). Software based audio surveillance provides a certain amount of privacy. The entirety of an audio recording might be available to listen to, but the huge amount of audio information being produced today means that software has to be used to search for key words. This helps introduce a level of privacy for the public and also gives the general public a higher level of safety.

Law enforcement agencies and direct their man power to calls with repeated illegal activity instead of jeopardizing the privacy of the public. With increased power comes increased responsibility. The software searching through audio is controlled by humans, this introduces concern on privacy. Operators could use these systems for their own benefit instead of the greater good of a company or nation. Biometrics is the study of measurable biological characteristics (Random House Dictionary). Biometrics is concerned with the analysis of biological data obtained from video, audio nd even physical data. Face, fingerprint, retina, signature, veins, and voice recognition are all examples of biometric identification schemes (Random House Dictionary).

Biometrics really helps to enhance current surveillance technologies. It allows for the automated identification of individuals. Automated identification is the major benefit and also the biggest concern. Currently biometrics is used to track and quickly identify targets and it’s argued that they are completely useless without a well constructed threat mode to track. (Biometrics: Who’s Watching You? 2003)

The biggest current threat with using biometrics is the assault on individuals to gain secured access with a biometric device (Biometrics: Who’s Watching You? , 2003). For example, in 2005, Malaysian car thieves cut off the finger of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class owner when attempting to steal the car. (Kent, 2005). Video & Electronic Surveillance After taking root in the late 19th century video surveillance started as an all analog video surveillance system, also known as closed-circuit television monitoring. The transmission distance was not too far and mainly used for small scale monitoring.

Today’s digital equipment has given birth to intelligent analysis technology that is able to provide more substantial results, such as motion detection, face recognition and target tracking with the capability to transmit over great distances in virtually any setting. Likewise the advancement in computer technology has opened opportunity for other means of electronic surveillance. One example is data tracking, sometimes referred to as data logging, which is the ability to capture information such as places of preferred visit, individual purchases, telephone activity, choice of TV programming and internet websites of interest to name a few.

Chuck Huff writes “with technology comes knowledge and with that comes responsibility”. So is today’s surveillance responsible or are we inadvertently stepping the boundaries of acceptable supervision? Yes one could argue the whole point of surveillance is to keep us safer from those in society who could potentially hurt us. Might it be a true statement to consider the fewer cameras there are, the higher chance of crime happening. Unfortunately surveillance cameras are not able to prevent the crimes or stop the criminals. Yes, cameras can make us aware but unfortunately don’t protect us.

Consider the privacy impact on both cameras and data logging. The laws that most affect the legality of using these types of surveillance are personal privacy laws that limit the collection, use and disclosure of individuals’ personal information, this law is PIPEDA (personal information protection and electronic documents act). Cameras in public areas like parks tend to make the laws outlined in PIPEDA seem opaque and unclear. If cameras are put in public areas doesn’t that now make it a private area because the whole idea of being watched is added in?

This is of course if we accept public areas defined as that which is open to all persons. So if we put more surveillance in a grocery store, does it become a private venue? No, it does not. In the same way, employers using cameras, blackberry surveillance software, listening to live calls, GPS tracking, secretly reading text messages and viewing call logs in the workplace doesn’t mean that it’s an invasion of privacy or illegal; it just means that the use of surveillance in the workplace is subject to restrictions.

In the end, just because people don’t like being watched doesn’t mean we sacrifice our inherent rights as a society to have safety, security and stability. Society must also consider the impact of surveillance on individual perception. There is the potential that added surveillance in a neighborhood will cause communities to lose money and possibly raise taxes, which makes the community less popular. Yet cameras and data logging violate the country’s Privacy Act, because it records the actions of thousands of people in public areas / spaces without there being any reasonable grounds that a criminal act is occurring.

Society can’t help but ask, when does surveillance inadvertently switch from supervision to “snoopervision”? Ultimately the use of technology has outpaced Canada’s privacy laws, especially in a post September 11th, 2001 world where security concerns threaten individual rights. Conclusion Surveillance technology compositions such as audio, video too much more complex system such as data tracking and biometrics offer great importance to national security, public safety and overall protection of people from harm.

These surveillance systems also neglect individual freedom and right to privacy. Surveillance technology protects society against child molesters, terrorist attacks and destruction. But at the same time these technology is used to neglects individual rights by tracking everyone’s actions which intern harms society because they do not protect people’s privacy. There are benefits and concerns of using surveillance system because different situation compels us to take measures that can protect or neglect society as a whole.

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