Review: Surveillance, Data Protection and More

Group Members: Colin Rothgang, Julius Schneider, Bishwa Thapa, Yufei Liu

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[Picture Credit: The Daily Blog]

Although the dire future Orwell depicted did not take place in 1984, the world unfortunately is slowly but steadily moving towards the unfathomable tyranny of global surveillance. Some people are willing to give up part of their privacy because surveillance systems will presumably protect them from crimes which upright citizens will never commit. However, the problem is, we never know when such tools will be used against what they are supposed to protect.

Surveillance is the monitoring of peoples’ behavior or activities. Surveillance can be used for various reasons such as national security, public safety or crime prevention. In recent years there have been public disclosures by whistleblowers of massive strategic surveillance programs by many countries’ secret services including NSA and GCHQ. These disclosures as well as ongoing debates on the installation of new surveillance systems have induced more and more public awareness about surveillance. More or less this is a trade-off between (presumably) better security and privacy concerns. As security is among the most basic human needs and privacy is among the most important human rights, there is no obvious choice.

In class we discussed some approaches to increase public safety, e.g. WEA (Wireless Emergency Alerts) and video surveillance systems (see VQiPS and Chicago LTE). Among those technologies equipping the policemen with body cameras seem to be one of smaller-scaled surveillance. And there is a history behind it: In the USA, the idea of equipping policemen with body cameras came from a response to the killing of Michael Brown and in general the high level of discrimination in law enforcement. By such means, it becomes easier to see if a police officer made the right decision under the circumstances. We also discussed the costs and potential benefits of installing CCTVs in specific locations, including our university. Apparently, no one would agree to install cameras everywhere, but some people indeed wish to have a certain degree of surveillance covering the campus due to potential threats such as theft and sexual harassment.

Furthermore, we discussed the term “right to be forgotten”, which primarily arises from ruling in some European courts. One of the biggest concerns when people use social network such as Facebook is the security of their personal data. In this case, the right to be forgotten is simply to have the option to permanently delete the personal data a person no longer wishes to share. Unfortunately, deleting data from a single website is simply not enough. There are potentially other websites storing the same information (sometimes without your permission) and to find all the occurrences is often difficult.

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6 thoughts on “Review: Surveillance, Data Protection and More

  1. I have the feeling that “right to be forgotten” cannot be accomplished anymore =(
    So we should very carefully what kind of data we provide to the World Wide Web!

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    1. I partially agree, but I would at least like to have a protection against the data other people provide about me on the web and a right to control that information.

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  2. Another aspect which is indirectly related to the “right of being forgotten” is from my perspective the database of Google Maps. Satellite pictures taken at certain time points intentionally just showing a map of a region of interest for e.g. travelling, can turn out to be an invasion of the privacy as on the photographs one can have a look into private gardens from above. To protect this data from being publically accessible one has to complain formally to the company and request a deletion of the private data from the public server. Nevertheless, already with the next pictures taken of the region the request is being nullified and one has to send a new complaint because the deletion request has been for “other” data.
    The function of Street View and the associated methods have already lead to issues before: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2010/may/15/google-admits-storing-private-data

    Thinking of technological developments like Google glasses, the type of surveillance reaches a new level. At any second wearing those glasses an active microphone can potentially collect data of every conversation someone is having and GPS can be used to track the location. Finally, the integrated camera is capable of saving visual content, potentially even without asking for personal permission. This bares high risk of endangering an individual´s privacy.
    http://www.nytimes.com/video/technology/100000002116018/googles-future-fight.html

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “At any second wearing those glasses an active microphone can potentially collect data of every conversation someone is having and GPS can be used to track the location. Finally, the integrated camera is capable of saving visual content, potentially even without asking for personal permission. This bares high risk of endangering an individual´s privacy.”

      -And the same problem might even get much more interesting, when considering that it is (probably) only a matter of time until google finally support face recognition apps on google glasses (or they start applying it to the collected videos). We could easily end up being filmed more or less all day.

      Another interesting aspect is the potential of crackers stealing the information collected by google glasses. These information could not just be sold or (mis)used privately, but they also offer the opportunity to blackmail quite a lot of people. As Cardinal Richelieu pointed out: “If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged.” Watch someone long enough, and you’ll find something to arrest — or just blackmail — with.

      “potentially even without asking for personal permission”
      -Otherwise it would be very hard to use this technology at all.

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  3. I think one of the reasons why there appears to be no consensus with the question of privacy and security is that this is a personal choice issue. So it is one in which every individual usually has a very specific trade-off point between privacy and security. So what could work for me and make me comfortable would be completely unacceptable to another individual, which makes agreement on this issue extremely hard.

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