The end point of surveillance

A starting point:

The federal government is making progress on developing a surveillance system that would pair computers with video cameras to scan crowds and automatically identify people by their faces, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with researchers working on the project.

(via Facial Scanning Is Making Gains in Surveillance – NYTimes.com)

There are very few technical limits connected to surveillance. If a government wanted to, it could monitor every electronic communication you have. It could recognise your face, your car, your clothes and follow you around the physical world. It could recognise every person you meet, track every transaction you make. None of this is rocket science, and within ten years it will be available to every government on the planet. [1]

Turning away from technical capabilities isn’t going to work. Some government, somewhere, is going to do it and gain a huge advantage over others. They won’t limit themselves to surveilling their own people: any way they can hack into the systems used by others will be used, because knowing what the citizens of other countries are up to is a massive advantage too.

Knowledge is power.


  1. And ten years after that, it will be available to every individual on the planet.  ↩

  • http://www.snell-pym.org.uk/alaric/ Alaric Snell-Pym

    I’m not sure if we will need to wait twenty years for it to be available to every individual; there’s already growing interest in wearable cameras to record one’s life, and it won’t be long before we have the processing power to recognise faces and number plates and so on that we happen to see (or that our cameras see; they may well have 360 degree vision, unlike us), giving everyone the ability to ask their computers “When did I last see this person?”, and maybe even have metadata about what we saw them doing; eating, staring at us, passing us in the distance in the street…

    What will be interesting is how we share this data. What if we share our timeline data with others? What if we make it entirely public? Then the question “Who last saw Dave?” can be answered automatically! Ok, the public reaction against Google Glasses suggests that many would object to such continuous sousveillance, but it might end up being accepted “in public” if not “in private”, and the definition of “public” may forever creep forwards; starting with “in the street” to “in the office” and then “at parties with more than five people attending” and “hanging around at home, but in the lounge or kitchen” and…