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Money and Power: the motivations of surveillance

Posted by on November 2, 2014.

When we go shopping, would we accept someone with a notebook following our every footstep and making notes on where we stop at every counter in every shop, what we buy and when? And if we challenged that stalker, would we accept the argument that he is doing it for our own good so that he could tell us what other shops and what other products we are interested in? Or that he is doing it for everyone’s good, in case we are child abusers, money launderers, simple thieves or terrorists?

I think not. So why should those marketing companies and law enforcement agencies think this behaviour is acceptable online? Why should law enforcement consider it reasonable to assume we are all guilty and need to prove our innocence by measurably innocent behaviour?

We had marketing long before we had the internet. Not knowing how many people actually read newspaper adverts, nor what products every individual is interested in ever stopped newspaper or magazine advertising; nor prevented good companies with good products from being successful.

We have had intelligence-led policing for as long as we have had police; and it has always been very successful. Indeed, physical intelligence is arguably more accurate and effective than cyber-intelligence which is frequently distorted and drowned by cyber-noise. The distinct danger in cyber-surveillance is that it is costly; it diverts resources from effective physical intelligence gathering into ineffective dragnet cyber-surveillance; and it has the side-effect of assuming we are all criminals.

How bad has surveillance become?
The following are three examples from last week. First, a new avenue for the collection of our private data.

The spy in the home
Michael Price bought himself a new smart TV. “The only problem is that I’m now afraid to use it. You would be too — if you read through the 46-page privacy policy.”

The amount of data this thing collects is staggering. It logs where, when, how, and for how long you use the TV. It sets tracking cookies and beacons designed to detect “when you have viewed particular content or a particular email message.” It records “the apps you use, the websites you visit, and how you interact with content.” It ignores “do-not-track” requests as a considered matter of policy.

It also has a built-in camera — with facial recognition…

More troubling is the microphone. The TV boasts a “voice recognition” feature that allows viewers to control the screen with voice commands. But the service comes with a rather ominous warning: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.” Got that? Don’t say personal or sensitive stuff in front of the TV.

You may not be watching, but the telescreen is listening.
I’m Terrified of My New TV: Why I’m Scared to Turn This Thing On — And You’d Be, Too

The spy in the wires
Second, further confirmation that intelligence agencies are out of control. During legal proceedings brought by human rights groups challenging GCHQ’s surveillance practices, the UK listening station was forced to admit something we already knew but until now could not prove: the Five Eyes use each others’ facilities to get round their own national laws.

Details of previously unknown internal policies, which GCHQ was forced to reveal during legal proceedings challenging their surveillance practices in the wake of the Snowden revelations, reveal that intelligence agencies can gain access to bulk data collected from US cables or through US corporate partnerships without having to obtain a warrant from the Secretary of State. This position seems to conflict with reassurances by the Intelligence Services Committee in July 2013 that whenever GCHQ seeks information from the US a warrant is in place.
Privacy International

What this means in practice is that GCHQ can take surveillance from any other country (remember that NSA has no restrictions on surveilling ‘foreigners’ — such as Brits) and can then search through that personal data with no concern about British law. PI explains,

No democratic oversight is required, nor review by the Commissioners, still less a warrant from the Secretary of State. This is an extraordinary position, given that a warrant would be required if the data was sought under a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (“MLAT”). A narrow and targeted MLAT request would need a warrant. If GCHQ solicits bulk “unanalysed” intercept, which involves a far greater intrusion into privacy, no warrant is needed.

The spy — everywhere
And thirdly, a frightening vision of the future, especially if business collection and intelligence agency spying combine: the massive voice recognition database being built by the banks. ACLU explains:

The Associated Press ran a story (along with two sidebars) this week on the use of voiceprints by big banks and other institutions. Those companies say they are using the technology to fight fraud, but in the process they are apparently compiling large databases of voiceprints without customers’ knowledge or permission.

ACLU highlights five dangers in this: effectiveness, consent, security, anonymous speech and tracking.

effectiveness: “It could well be effective enough to increase banks’ profits, but still have a high enough error rate that particular individuals get unfairly treated due to false-positive matches with fraudsters. In the national security context, the consequences of false positives could be much more serious—including in some circumstances even death.”

consent: “The AP obtained an internal document that recommended that “this call may be recorded” notifications be supplemented with “and processed” to cover the collection of voiceprints—hardly genuine notification.”

security: “What if a fraudster figures out how to spoof your voice and empties your bank account? And possibly lands you on a blacklist to boot.” [There is no doubt that cyber criminals will discover ways to defeat voiceprints.]

anonymous speech: “When an individual calls a radio talk show, their caller ID may be apparent to the station, but they are not generally identified by full name on the air. The possessor of a giant voiceprint database listening to the radio, however, could identify those callers, and gather information about their opinions. If people lose faith that they can be anonymous in various contexts, that will create chilling effects that will impoverish our society.”

tracking: “A database of voiceprints is in some ways just another compilation of valuable personally identifiable data, and is susceptible to the full range of uses to which such databases are often put. One can imagine its use to identify shoppers as they chat in the aisles, for example.”

Why is this happening?
These three examples are all taken from just last week. Imagine what else is happening that we don’t know about.

The reason is actually very simple. It reflects the structure of society and the two great motivations: money and power. Society is a pyramid, with the people at the bottom and the owners at the top. (We’re not talking about Victorian-style factory owners, but rather those few families that own the world’s wealth and everything in it. Some call them ‘lizards’; others call them the ‘illuminati’ — but the reality is they are simply ‘the owners’.)

The structure of society

The structure of society

Personal data is collected by business as a fundamental method of channeling wealth from its many producers (the people) to the few owners.

Personal data is collected by intelligence and law enforcement agencies as a means of applying control from the few over the many.

The problem and danger is that there is little possibility of this ever changing without a fundamental revolution.


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Submitted in: Expert Views, Kevin Townsend's opinions | Tags: , , , , , ,