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Surveillance And Dataveillance in governments

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Information Systems
Wordcount: 2762 words Published: 24th Apr 2017

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It has become very common practice for the Governments to keep and use public data for the betterment and quality of services provided. Different information systems are in custom which involve data about the people. For better use of public data, it is necessary to reliably associate the data with specific persons. An effective and efficient identification system should be established and maintained. Information technology has remarkably progressed in human identification system. It is very easy to identify and monitor a person with the help of modern IT tools.

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They key challenge for the supervising authorities is to develop identification and monitoring program which should be practicable and economic to address the issues. These programs should have high integrity to solve the problems faced by the governments regarding human identification and monitoring. The special concern in this regard is the threat to personal privacy that the human identification and monitoring programs presents. If these programmers are introduced energetically, the reaction of social fabric may be threatened.

Surveillance and dataveillance

What is surveillance?

Surveillance involves keeping constant watch over individuals or a premise, the purpose of this activity can be to spy, supervise or to control. It assists in collecting information about the individual’s movement, contacts and activities (Clarke 1988, p.499).

The main form of surveillance is known as physical surveillance which is ultimately watching and listening. The current technologically advanced world assists greatly in surveillance, as it provides top monitoring devices such as infrared binoculars, field glasses, light amplifiers satellite cameras, and sound amplification devices like directional microphones to easily monitor from a greater distance and at any time of the day. There are also some well-known ways such as communications surveillance which involves taping the phone or bugging a premise, which allows you to listen and be aware of the individual’s whereabouts and their associates and intended plans (Clarke 1988, p.499).

Surveillance these days provide profound insight into one’s life and by collecting data from other sources as well a complete history of past and present of that individual can be created. This gives the holder of this information such as the government or an agency great control over the individual (Clarke 1988, p.499).

What is dataveillance?

Surveillance involves the monitoring of an individual through watching and listening using modern technology. Dataveillance on the hand is monitoring by accessing and reading through personal and confidential data of an individual by using advanced information technology tools. This involves accessing their bank account details, credit card purchases, GPS on their cars and mobile, emails and internet browsing to get an insight into their personal lives. Dataveillance is the result of evolution of technology, as we become more and more dependent on technology it is creating an opportunity for others to invade our privacy and monitor our every move (Clarke 1988, p.499).

Government agencies often use dataveillance to prevent terrorist attacks and other heinous crimes. There are two types of dataveillance that are common:  personal and mass dataveillance (Clarke 1988, p.499).

Personal dataveillance its benefits and dangers

Personal dataveillance is the monitoring of a targeted individual for a particular reason. This can involve monitoring by a government agency like the police or tax department to find evidence of crimes committed or where stolen money is hidden. This evidence can be then be used in court to prosecute the individual. This form of dataveillance is valuable to the authorities as it provides them with evidence and information that cannot be easily obtained through manual investigation and interrogation techniques. (Clarke 1988).

Dataveillance is used heavily in chasing fugitives, prosecuting criminals and tracking terrorists. A current example is how dataveillance was used to eliminate Al Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden. While Osama Bin Laden was aware of dataveillance techniques and avoided all activities that would’ve led to him being tracked, his associates used technology and were able to be tracked. That is how one of his couriers was tracked when he made phone calls on behalf of the Al Qaida leader. This led to his demise and highlights the importance of dataveillance in tackling terrorism.  From identifying terrorist cells around the globe to using high tech drones to monitor Afghanistan for terrorist activities, it is a valuable ally to the government. It also helps local authorities hunt down cyber predators and bullies as well as identity fraud. This was the case in America when a high earning Wall Street employee was caught for insider trading.

Dataveillance not only is used by authorities but also by businesses and individuals. Businesses can track employees’ activities such as internet usage and time checks to ensure employees are working efficiently. It can also be used in risk management to detect and prevent errors and fraud to better safeguard their business. Individuals can also use dataveillance to a degree such as using GPS on a car to see where a family member has travelled and what websites the kids are browsing. It offers families a form of security and control.

Businesses and individuals will not all use the personal dataveillance in the right manner. Personal dataveillance is also a powerful weapon that can be used to gain power over another entity. Confidential secrets can be uncovered and be used to blackmail an individual. It can be used to stalk a particular person or locate someone to hurt physically. In the wrong hands it can becomes a great tool to continuously have access to the intended target and that thought alone is frightening (Clarke 1988).

Since dataveillance is more in terms of monitoring data then the actual person, it provides room for wrong identification.  If wrong identification isn’t detected then an innocent person may be prosecuted or much worse if there were bad intentions for monitoring that individual.  If there are errors in the personal dataveillance technique then it would lead to ill-informed decisions (Clarke 1988).

Dataveillance can be used negatively by business in certain areas such as hiring employees. Sometimes to better know the candidate, they can view social network sites such as Facebook to understand the candidate. This can lead to a false reading of their character and can result in not being hired. Facebook is used by millions of people and it has access to each of their personal details and lives. If this database isn’t protected someone can come in and access these valuable information and exploit them at will. (McIntosh et al). An example is that of Julian Asange who had used dataveillance techniques to monitor and retrieve high level government documents and made them public.

Furthermore personal dataveillance of an individual without their consent is illegal. While the government agencies are excused as they perform these monitoring techniques to ensure our safety. However for businesses and individuals if caught tracking an individual without their consent, it can be punished by law as it is a breach of one’s privacy.

Mass dataveillance its benefits and dangers

Mass dataveillance is monitoring of a certain large group in order to identify an individual who belongs to that certain group. It is controversial as it is a form of profiling based on race, gender and religion and all are targeted, even though there is no suspicion to justify monitoring them. It involves identifying members of the entire population that belong to a specified group and then using techniques similar to that of personal dataveillance except all data trails despite them being not important are followed up in the hope it could lead to someone of interest. (Clarke 1988).

The benefits of this form of surveillance is that it is most likely that the person of interest will belong to that group hence monitoring just that group will be more efficient then looking through the entire population. It is used by authorities such as the government and police as well as some businesses.

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Mass dataveillance can be summed up as a witch hunt while personal dataveillance is more targeted to an individual and does not affect other people. Mass dataveillance leads to discrimination and false accusations. Businesses may target a certain group of their employees as they suspect they could be up to some wrongdoing. Individuals can be closely monitored simply for the fact they belong to certain group of people.

This type of surveillance has been used heavily in certain eastern countries but now it is also seen in western countries as a result of increased terrorism. However this shows how one’s privacy can be invaded if necessary by higher authorities even when they maybe innocent. Instead mass dataveillance is used to arise suspicion rather than monitor individuals of suspicion like personal dataveillance. (Clarke 1988).

The first and far most threat of dataveillance is to the privacy and identity of individuals and as a society as a whole. Mass surveillance has been criticized on many grounds like violation of privacy rights, illegality and for prevention social and political freedom.

Importance of Privacy

Privacy can be defined as a person’s right to be left alone and one of the most valued right by free people (Craig 2006). Privacy is people’s right to make their own decisions regarding private matters and it is people’s right to live their lives secluded from public inquiry (Craig 2006). Privacy is important for different perceptions. They are

  • Philosophically – This is the concept of human dignity and integrity, as well as the notions of individual autonomy and self-determination. This is the notion and importance of Human rights.
  • Psychologically – The people’s need for private space.
  • Sociologically – The people’s need to behave freely and to communicate with other people without having the threat of being observed.
  • Economically – The people’s need to invent without surveillance.
  • Politically – The people’s need to be free to act, think and argue without surveillance.

(Clarke 2006)

Broadly interpreted privacy is an individual’s integrity and therefore includes every characteristics of an individual’s social need (Clarke 2006). Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs privacy can be illustrated in the following categories (Clarke 2006):

  • Privacy of the person – It is also known as ‘bodily privacy’. It is the integrity of a person’s body and comes under the Physiological and Safety needs in Maslowian Hierarchy. It is broadly known as a person’s freedom from torture and his right to medical treatment.
  • Privacy of personal behaviour – It is also known as ‘media privacy’ and comes under belonging and self-esteem needs in Maslowian Hierarchy. It relates to people’s personal lives and not to be observed.
  • Privacy of personal communications – It is also known as ‘interception privacy’ and comes under belonging and self-esteem needs in Maslowian Hierarchy. It is an individual’s right to communicate with other people without being observed.
  • Privacy of personal data – It is also known as ‘data privacy’ and comes under belonging, self-esteem and self-actualization needs in Maslowian Hierarchy. It is an individual’s right to control over his data even in the hands of a third party.

(Clarke 2006)

All means of dataveillance deter the concept of privacy of individuals and society as a whole. One cannot perform well if he is being watched all the time. People do not feel themselves safe as this watch over can be used in a negative way. Dataveillance can harm the privacy and identity of the individuals and the society in the following ways

1. The main and direct threat of dataveillance is that no actual people are always observing our data. It is mostly computer systems that collect and link the relevant data. Also it is very likely that computer systems can make mistakes and give information that is incorrect. These mistakes are mostly overlooked as there are no people monitoring this data. This can create a range of other problems like identifying wrongly people into different categories according to his data collected. For example a person using his personal computer to research on terrorism for a project can be categorised into a group of highly watched individuals. In this example the individual is incorrectly identified and will have problems trying to oppose being branded as a terrorist.

2. The next threat of dataveillance is the quality of the data. Currently there are no standards concerning the quality of the data that are collected in the dataveillance systems. People or companies that collect data usually use cheap and easy forms dataveillance technology to reduce their costs. This is due no standards on the technology used for dataveillance. The data collected by these cheap technologies are usually low quality data and therefore may contain many errors and could put an individual in unnecessary dangers. Also most individuals are unaware that their data is collected and therefore will not be able to oppose these facts.

3. Another important threat is that the data collected on an individual can be misinterpreted and is more likely if all the relevant data is not thoroughly checked. People or a computer system is not going to do extensive research as to whether the data collected is correct in that circumstance and therefore will only show the immediate facts. These days online marketing technology instantaneously collects, enhance and aggregate the data. This creates lots of problems for consumer privacy.

(Donahue, Whittemore, Heerman)


Dataveillance has two sides; on one side, it apparently offers speed, security, and safety; on the other, it unnecessarily exposes individuals to potential threats for privacy. Privacy is a privilege that most people take for granted. It is simply thought of as a source of God given right that we, as human being, are entitled to, the right to have our own space, to be safe, and to be left alone. The increased use of dataveillance has been found very useful on many occasions and no one regret the positive aspects of dataveillance. For example as mentioned above it was most probably dataveillance techniques that led to the killing of Osama Bin Laden which reflects the positive highlights of dataveillance. However the main concern for the use of dataveillance technology is that it has no standards or regulations. In addition, because of its perceived benefits, the worrisome aspects are usually overlooked. This perhaps sheds light on why resistance is often lacking or simply fails. It is important in the early stages of 21st century, for citizens to ask collectively whether the negative aspects of dataveillance are likely to be mitigated or eliminated if present trends continue. If as a concerned citizen, we feel the negative effects of dataveillance will not be mitigated if we continue on the current path; then we must move collectively away from trying to maintain an ever-weakening illusion of privacy, and shift to offensive, by demanding accountability of those whose power is enhanced by dataveillance. Therefore it is only when standards and regulations are adopted will individuals be able to enjoy privacy and freedom.


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