Surveillance and NITs

On Monday we discussed surveillance and the surveillance society. Today we will take that discussion a bit further to consider surveillance and some of its connections to New Information Technologies.

In this course we have examined how the features of NITs are things individual users can take advantage of. Digitized, networked, interactive technologies can empower individuals and develop community. We can communicate quickly, widely, and inexpensively using email and digital voice technologies. Weblogs give us inexpensive publishing platforms. Wikis allow for collaboration across distance and time.

But the features of NITs can also easily be used to:

  • Record and monitor what we do with our computers or in any communications we engage in that travel through computers
  • Gather, collate, process and share data about us
  • Efficiently manage physical surveillance systems
    • Data Brokering: Computerized databases are used to store large amounts of information about people. Markets have emerged in which companies buy information in order to collate it and provide complex profiles of individuals.
    • RFID: Radio Frequency Identification Devices are used to store and deliver information that can be retrieved over distance (through radio signals).
    • Keystroke Monitoring Software: Special software can be used to record every keystroke on a computer keyboard.
    • Online Video Surveillance Networks: Online networks allow for easy monitoring and management of video, audio, and other surveillance systems.
  • Some examples:

    In Canada, Michael Geist, a legal scholar who focuses on internet issues, has written about the controversy over the nation’s largest ISP, Bell Sympatico, altering its user agreement to allow for surveillance of subscriber activities online. (Bell Controversy Puts Spotlight on Net Surveillance)

    A Canadian NGO recently published a report showing how “data brokering” makes it possible for private companies to gather and merge information on individuals to create complex personal profiles. (On the Data Trail) The Royal Canadian Mounted Police reportedly used such data in conducting anti-terror investigations. (Where’s Waldo? Spotting the Terrorist Using Data Broker Information)

    Surveillance now is not just for governments and big corporations, however. As the technologies used in surveillance become less expensive, individuals are able to purchase their own surveillance systems. This may give individuals some additional social power, but it presents moral dilemmas if we consider the ways such technologies might be misused. (Surveillance Goes Mainstream)

    Griffid Systems maintains this list of live public webcams.

    The Eyes of Laura is a “web cam and street culture blog,” purportedly run by a (now former) Vancouver, Canada security guard named Laura. But apparently the site is actually an artwork by Canadian artist Janet Cardiff.


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