Camera Surveillance and Privacy:
Legal, Technical & Psychological Considerations
Maynard Riley - December 3, 2006
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Legal Considerations
Technical Considerations
Psychological Considerations
Technical Considerations
      The maxim, "technology outpaces law", applies to surveillance, auxiliary tracking methods, and, the associated databases and networks. Surveillance cameras, coupled with auxiliary tracking methods such as cell-phones, financial transactions, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips, and Global Positioning Systems (GPS), enable the tracking of almost anyone in public. Today, there is insufficient legal protection to prevent the onset of a panoptic society. Camera surveillance technologies enabling a ‘total-surveillance’ future are evolving quickly and include:
  • Face-recognition software; there is government sponsored competition amongst vendors to develop robust face recognition software (FRVT, n.d.).
  • Cameras exist that are able to track a person seamlessly by handing off an individual’s image from camera to camera as they move (Princeton Instruments, 2005).
  • Very Large-Scale Integration (VLSI) of face-recognition mobile devices that access remote databases with response times of under one second are being developed (Nagel, 2005).

Sun Microsystems’ CEO Scott McNealy promoted their "Jini" software as a way to interconnect any and all devices, from cameras to computers, as long as that device has its own unique identifier (Biegel 2001). Taken together, cameras are an integral component of a networked 'surveillance society.'
      In the future, as in the past, military technologies are likely to migrate from military to civilian applications. An example would be infrared surveillance cameras and the more futuristic ‘pan-spectral’ devices. Instead of video recording in the visible spectrum, pan-spectral cameras will gather ‘images’ using a broad range of the electromagnetic spectrum. (Ball, 2003). This is a shift from the ‘Panopticon’ to the ‘Panspectron’ view of a spied-upon society. These advanced sensors are already implemented in satellite imaging and are being developed in both academia and government laboratories. One such a sensor is the Hyper-spectral Imaging Sensor, developed at MIT. As reported by Shaw and Burke (2003, page 16) "...the number and variety of applications for hyper-spectral remote sensing are potentially quite large." The sensor scans the earth’s surface using a broad spectrum of electromagnetic energy. The captured image is not immediately capable of being interpreted visually, rather, a hierarchy of software processing categorizes image areas into background and areas of interest. Additionally, temporal comparisons may be made to detect target (people) movement. Drones (aircraft without pilot), have been used by the military for years in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US military operates 3,500 drones, 700 of which are in USA. Drones have also been considered for border monitoring (Levin, 2006). Their use is being tested by the Los Angeles Police Department to, "give officers a bird's-eye view of a break-in or a lost child" (AP, June 19, 2006).
      A company by the name of Akela Inc. has developed a through-the-wall radar that can detect people at 12 meters through three normally constructed walls. Their technology also detects people through reinforced concrete at lesser distances (Hunt, n.d.). Akela’s target market is both military and police. Hunt also claims the technology is rapidly ‘changing’ (iterpret as improving).
      When a company collects marketing information on its customer’s buying habits, it may evoke angst in some people, but there is little harm in it except for the junk mail it generates, unless the information is sold, compromised, or appropriated by a federal agency. The danger is not that a business entity stores a customer’s personal information, the danger is in the networking with the entire info-sphere. "Both UK and US governments have huge ambitions concerning the integration of personal information of the population." (Ball, 2003 page 147). Consider the Federal Office of Information Awareness’ Total Information Awareness (TIA) program. The program had as a goal the removal of barriers between commercial and government databases. This would give the government access to medical records, travel patterns, banking and purchasing histories, and telephone calls made and to whom (Healy, 2003). Congressional funding was withheld because of public outcry in September 2003. The program has predictably reemerged as a classified program elsewhere in the secret federal bureaucracy having the name "Tangram" (Schneier, October 2006).
      Secrecy-oriented government agencies such as the NSA, FBI, CIA, BATF and DARPA, were historically independent interests and operated within their own silos. Many divisions of these agencies are cloaked in secrecy, accountable to no one, and consider themselves above investigation because of national security. The vision of a ‘Total Awareness’ program, whatever it be called, is to funnel all intelligence information into one vast data machine. Intelligence would come from all available sources, governmental and commercial. This is depicted in Diagram 1 below.
data flow