Are You Being Watched?
WHEN Elizabeth arrives at work each day, a camera tracks her movements. As she enters the building, one camera zooms in on her face. During the day numerous other cameras keep her under constant surveillance. This level of scrutiny is understandable because she works for a company that handles millions of dollars in cash each day.
Elizabeth knows she will be closely watched at work; it was clearly explained to her when she took the job. For millions of other people, however, the amount of surveillance they are subjected to each day may not be as clearly defined.
Living in a Surveillance Society
Are you under surveillance while at work? Worldwide, millions of employees have their Internet and E-mail use constantly monitored while working. The annual American Management Association Survey for 2001 found that “nearly three-quarters (73.5%) of major U.S. firms . . . record and review their employees’ communications and activities on the job, including their phone calls, e-mail, Internet connections and computer files.”
Governments invest millions of dollars in surveillance equipment. A report submitted to the European Parliament on July 11, 2001, concluded that “a global system for intercepting communications exists, operating by means of cooperation . . . among the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.” Through a global network of satellite receiver stations, a system known as ECHELON, these governments are reportedly able to intercept and inspect satellite-relayed telephone, fax, Internet, and E-mail messages. The Australian newspaper claims that when governments use this system, “specific faxes and emails can be singled out, and if the system has been trained to recognise a particular voice, phone calls by those people can also be singled out.”
Law-enforcement agencies also rely on modern surveillance techniques. In the United States, the magazine BusinessWeek reports that the FBI has a technology known as Carnivore and uses it “to monitor e-mails, instant messages, and digital phone calls.” Meanwhile, in Britain new legislation will allow law-enforcement agencies secretly to “watch thousands of people using phones, fax machines and the net,” reports the BBC News.
Candid Cameras and Detailed Data Bases
Even when a person is not communicating by phone, fax, or E-mail, he may still be under surveillance. In the Australian state of New South Wales, people using the train system are monitored by over 5,500 cameras. In the same state, some 1,900 government-owned buses are also outfitted with surveillance cameras.
Britain reportedly has the most surveillance cameras per capita in the world—1 for every 55 people, according to one study. In 1996, there were only 74 towns or cities in the United Kingdom with surveillance cameras monitoring public places. By 1999, 500 towns and cities had installed such equipment. New computer programs are being linked to surveillance cameras to give the camera the ability to pick out a particular person’s face, even if he is in a crowd at an airport or in a public plaza.
As never before, your private life can be tracked without your knowledge. Simon Davies, director of the human rights group Privacy International, says: “There has probably never been a time in history when so much information has been amassed on the population-at-large. Details of the average economically active adult in the developed world are located in around 400 major data bases—enough processed data to compile a formidable reference book for each person.”
What steps can you take to protect your privacy?