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Types of Surveillance

Surveillance is the monitoring of the behavior, activities, or other changing information, usually of people and often in a surreptitious manner.

Types of Surveillance

Computer Surveillance

The vast majority of computer surveillance involves the monitoring of data and traffic on the Internet. In the United States for example, under the Communications Assistance For Law Enforcement Act (, all phone calls and broadband Internet traffic (emails, web traffic, instant messaging, etc.) are required to be available for unimpeded real-time monitoring by Federal law enforcement agencies.

There is far too much data on the Internet for human investigators to manually search through all of it. So automated Internet surveillance computers sift through the vast amount of intercepted Internet traffic and identify and report to human investigators traffic considered interesting by using certain "trigger" words or phrases, visiting certain types of web sites, or communicating via email or chat with suspicious individuals or groups. Billions of dollars per year are spent, by agencies such as the Information Awareness Office, NSA and the FBI, to develop, purchase, implement, and operate systems such as Carnivore, NarusInsight, ECHELON to intercept and analyze all of this data, and extract only the information which is useful to law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Computers are also a surveillance target because of the personal data stored on them. If someone is able to install software (either physically or remotely), such as the FBI's "Magic Lantern" and CIPAV, on a computer system, they can easily gain unauthorized access to this data.

Another form of computer surveillance, known as TEMPEST, involves reading electromagnetic emanations from computing devices in order to extract data from them at distances of hundreds of meters.
The NSA also runs a database known as "Pinwale", which stores and indexes large numbers of emails of both American citizens and foreigners.

Telephones & Mobile Telephones

The official and unofficial tapping of telephone lines is widespread. In the United States for instance, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act requires that all telephone and VoIP communications be available for real-time wiretapping by Federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies Two major telecommunications companies in the U.S. -- AT&T and Verizon—have contracts with the FBI, requiring them to keep their phone call records easily searchable and accessible for Federal agencies, in return for $1.8 million dollars per year. Between 2003 and 2005, the FBI sent out more than 140,000 "National Security Letters" ordering phone companies to hand over information about their customers' calling and Internet histories. About half of these letters requested information on U.S. citizens.

Human agents are not required to monitor most calls. Speech-to-text software creates machine-readable text from intercepted audio, which is then processed by automated call-analysis programs, such as those developed by agencies such as the Information Awareness Office, or companies such as Verint, and Narus, which search for certain words or phrases, to decide whether to dedicate a human agent to the call.

Mobile phones are also commonly used to collect location data. The geographical location of a mobile phone (and thus the person carrying it) can be determined easily (whether it is being used or not), using a technique known multilateration to calculate the differences in time for a signal to travel from the cell phone to each of several cell towers near the owner of the phone. A controversy has emerged in the United States over the legality of such techniques, and particularly whether a court warrant is required. Records for one carrier alone (Sprint), showed that in a given year federal law enforcement agencies requested customer location data 8 million times.

Surveillance Cameras

Surveillance cameras are video cameras used for the purpose of observing an area. They are often connected to a recording device, IP network, and/or watched by a security guard/law enforcement officer. Cameras and recording equipment used to be relatively expensive and required human personnel to monitor camera footage. Now with cheaper production techniques, it is simple and inexpensive enough to be used in home security systems, and for everyday surveillance. Analysis of footage is made easier by automated software that organizes digital video footage into a searchable database, and by automated video analysis software (such as VIRAT and HumanID). The amount of footage is also drastically reduced by motion sensors which only record when motion is detected.

Social Network Analysis

One common form of surveillance is to create maps of social networks based on data from social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter as well as from traffic analysis information from phone call records such as those in the NSA call database, and others. These social network "maps" are then data mined to extract useful information such as personal interests, friendships & affiliations, wants, beliefs, thoughts, and activities.

Many U.S. government agencies such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are currently investing heavily in research involving social network analysis. The intelligence community believes that the biggest threat to U.S. power comes from decentralized, leaderless, geographically dispersed groups of terrorists, subversives, extremists, and dissidents . These types of threats are most easily countered by finding important nodes in the network, and removing them. To do this requires a detailed map of the network.

AT&T developed a programming language called "Hancock" which is able to sift through enormous databases of phone call and Internet traffic records, such as the NSA call database and extract "communities of interest" -- groups of people who call each other regularly or groups that regularly visit certain sites on the Internet. AT&T originally built the system to develop "marketing leads", but the FBI has regularly requested such information from phone companies such as AT&T without a warrant, and after using the data stores all information received in its own databases, regardless of whether or not the information was ever useful in an investigation.

Some people believe that the use of social networking sites is a form of "participatory surveillance", where users of these sites are essentially performing surveillance on themselves, putting detailed personal information on public websites where it can be viewed by corporations and governments. About 20% of employers have reported using social networking sites to collect personal data on prospective or current employees.

Biometric Surveillance

Biometric surveillance refers to technologies that measure and analyze human physical and/or behavioral characteristics for authentication, identification, or screening purposes. Examples of physical characteristics include fingerprints, DNA, and facial patterns. Examples of mostly behavioral characteristics include gait (a person's manner of walking) or voice.

Facial recognition is the use of the unique configuration of a person's facial features to accurately identify them, usually from surveillance video. Both the Department of Homeland Security and DARPA are heavily funding research into facial recognition systems. The Information Processing Technology Office ran a program known as Human Identification at a Distance which developed technologies that are capable of identifying a person at up to 500 ft by their facial features.

Another form of behavioral biometrics, based on affective computing, involves computers recognizing a person's emotional state based on an analysis of their facial expressions, how fast they are talking, the tone and pitch of their voice, their posture, and other behavioral traits. This might be used for instance to see if a person is acting "suspicious" (looking around furtively, "tense" or "angry" facial expressions, waving arms, etc.).

A more recent development is DNA fingerprinting, which looks at some of the major markers in the body's DNA to produce a match. The FBI is currently spending $1 billion to build a new biometric database, which will store DNA, facial recognition data, iris/retina (eye) data, fingerprints, palm prints, and other biometric data of people living in the United States. The computers running the database will be contained in an underground facility is about the size of a football field.

Data Mining & Profiling

Data mining is the application of statistical techniques and programmatic algorithms to discover previously unnoticed relationships within the data. Data profiling in this context is the process of assembling information about a particular individual or group in order to generate a profile — that is, a picture of their patterns and behavior. Data profiling can be an extremely powerful tool for psychological and social network analysis. A skilled analyst can discover facts about a person that they might not even be consciously aware of themselves.

Economic (such as credit card purchases) and social (such as telephone calls and emails) transactions in modern society create large amounts of stored data and records. In the past this data would be documented in paper records and would leave a "paper trail", or simply not be documented at all. Correlation of paper-based records was a laborious process—it requires human intelligence operators to manually dig through documents, which was time-consuming and incomplete, at best.

But today many of these records are electronic, resulting in an "electronic trail". Every use of a bank machine, payment by credit card, use of a phone card, and call from home, checked out library book, rented video, or otherwise complete recorded transaction generates an electronic record. Public records—such as birth, court, tax and other records—are increasingly being digitized and made available online. In addition, due to laws like CALEA, web traffic and online purchases are also available for profiling. Electronic record-keeping makes data easily collectable, storable, and accessible—so that high-volume, efficient aggregation and analysis is possible at significantly lower costs.

Information relating too many of these individual transactions is often easily available because it is not generally not guarded in isolation, since the information, such as the title of a movie a person has rented, might not seem sensitive. However, when many such transactions are aggregated they can be used to assemble a detailed profile revealing the actions, habits, beliefs, locations frequented, social connections, and preferences of the individual. This profile is then used, by programs such as ADVISE and TALON, to determine whether the person is a military, criminal, or political threat.

In addition to its own aggregation and profiling tools, the government is able to access information from third parties — for example, banks, credit companies or employers, etc. — by requesting access informally, by compelling access through the use of subpoenas or other procedures, or by purchasing data from commercial data aggregators or data brokers. The United States has currently spent $370 million on its 43 planned fusion centers, which are national network of surveillance centers that are located in over 30 states. The centers will collect and analyze vast amounts of data on U.S. citizens. It will get this data by consolidating personal information from sources such as state driver's licensing agencies, hospital records, criminal records, school records, credit bureaus, banks, etc. -- and placing this information in a centralized database that can be accessed from all of the centers, as well as other federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Corporate Surveillance

Corporate surveillance is the monitoring of a person or group's behavior by a corporation. The data collected is most often used for marketing purposes or sold to other corporations, but is also regularly shared with government agencies. It can be used as a form of business intelligence, which enables the corporation to better tailor their products and/or services to be desirable by their customers. Or it the data can be sold to other corporations, so that they can use it for the aforementioned purpose. Or it can be used for direct marketing purposes, such as the targeted advertisements on Google and Yahoo, where ads are targeted to the user of the search engine by analyzing their search history and emails (if they use free webmail services), which is kept in a database.

Identification & Credentials

One of the simplest forms of identification is the carrying of credentials. Some nations have an identity card system to aid identification, whilst many, such as Britain, are considering it but face public opposition. Other documents, such as driver's licenses, library cards, bankers or credit cards are also used to verify identity.

If the form of the identity card is "machine-readable," usually using an encoded magnetic stripe or identification number (such as a Social Security number) that corroborates the subject's identifying data. In this case it may create a document trail when it is checked and scanned, which can be used in profiling, as mentioned above.

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