Origin of Surveillance Technology and its Unforseen Consequences in Society

The rapid increase of surveillance technologies during the Cold War, which was stimulated by national security’s preoccupations, did not bring a hoped-for superior social order. Instead, it helped to bring about the rise of a surveillance state in which Orwellian telescreens in every room might soon become a new reality.

The Origins of the First Surveillance Systems

An image depicts a side profile of the head and various Soviet and American technology of the Cold War era, which represents it as a techno-scientific conflict.
Credits: Behance, https://www.behance.net/search/projects/?search=Cold%20War

Since the 1940s, the scope of surveillance, increasingly aided by sensors, software applications and computers, has drastically shifted from individual focuses “to an undifferentiated persistent stare over entire populations across vast dimensions of space and time.”[1]

The generalized anxiety over security and safety was reinforced on August 29, 1949, when the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb. Thus, under the circumstances where the enemy’s objective was world domination “by whatever means and at whatever cost”[2], the U.S. ‘had to survive’ by developing effective espionage and counterespionage services.

In fact, the advent of the Soviet nuclear threat incentivized scientists to distinguish between meaningless signals and those which could have been potentially threatening, since only when data is collected and algorithmically converted into information it is possible to attain some valuable knowledge.[3]

It was thus imperative to develop a system able to quickly detect, sort and track possible threatening signals if one was to pre-empt the Cold War turning ‘hot’.

Thus, the Cold War became a techno-scientific conflict in which operational research was used to alter strategic and tactical military balance.

This revolutionary transformation of attitude toward the research- generation and understanding of its importance for national security can be understood when the 1930 and 1947 U.S. national budgets’ allocations to research and development in military circles are compared- an increase of more than 27 times.[4]

The SAGE Network

The photograph represents a man with a light gun using one of the computers of the SAGE network.
The (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) system was the largest computer project of its time that integrated radar, communications and computers designed to track and intercept hundreds of incoming aircraft. Thus, it was an air-defense system which became a landmark in the history of both radar and computing. It was built in the United States in the 1950s and used radar on land, at sea, and in the air, as well as became a major advance in telecommunications. The first test of SAGE—directing an interceptor plane to a target—occurred on 20 April 1951. But, it was not until 1 July 1958 that the first SAGE center went into regular operation, while becoming fully operational by 1963. 
Credits: ETHW, https://ethw.org/SAGE_(Semi-Automatic_Ground_Environment)

This influx of funds enabled the Strategic Air Command to launch in 1958 the first defence system prefiguring the large

The photograph of George E. Valley, Jr. looking at the camera.
George E. Valley, Jr.(1913-1999).He was named a National Research Fellow in nuclear physics in 1940 and was Project Supervisor and senior staff member of the Radiation Laboratory at MIT from 1941 to 1945. He was one of the founders of MIT Lincoln Laboratory, and Chief Scientist of the Air Force in 1957-58. His areas of research included: Artificial Radioactivity, Mass Spectroscopy, Cosmic Rays, design of Radar Systems and invention of the SAGE Air Defense System.
Credits: APSphysics, https://www.aps.org/programs/honors/prizes/valley-bio.cfm

complex of real-time connection between computers, known as the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) network. This invention was truly revolutionary, since in 1950 there were only a few radars which only had a very restricted

detection range, no computing technology able to process expansive volumes of real-time data, and it was not possible to transmit data from one computing device to another.[5] Thus, flows of signals were left largely unexposed.

However, in 1950, George Valley– physicist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who established in 1949 an Air Defense Systems Engineering Committee (ADSEC) aimed at the investigation of the automated air defense problem- encountered the Navy-funded highly-classified project at Servomechanisms Laboratory which was creating “a real-time computerized flight simulator.”[6]

The photograph of the Whirlwind computer elements: core memory (left) and operator console (right). .
“Whirlwind computer elements: core memory (left) and operator console. Whirlwind I was a Cold War-era vacuum tube computer developed by the MIT Servomechanisms Laboratory for the U.S. Navy. Operational in 1951, it was among the first digital electronic computers that operated in real-time for output, and the first that was not simply an electronic replacement of older mechanical systems.
It was one of the first computers to calculate in parallel (rather than serial), and was the first to use magnetic-core memory. Its development led directly to the Whirlwind II design used as the basis for the United States Air Force SAGE air defense system, and indirectly to almost all business computers and minicomputers in the 1960s, particularly because of short word length and speed.
Credits: Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whirlwind_I

This simulator, known as Whirlwind, was unique, since it was digital, solved computations in real-time, used stored programs and “synchronized all of its internal operations by a clock.”[7]

Valley thus saw the prospect for the Air Force to implement Whirlwind into air defence.[8]

However, there were three main obstacles.

  • 1) Since Whirlwind was designed with vacuum tubes, it could not have quickly processed large amounts of data from radars and it could not have coordinated that data with other data sets on civilian flights.[9]
    • Thus, engineers had to invent fast internal memory by merging the electromagnetic properties of ferrite rings, the phenomenon of hysteresis, and the logic matrix’s design that corresponded to binary data values (on/off) in order to allow that kind of processing.[10] This enabled the core memory’s first installation in 1953.
  • 2) Another obstacle was Whirlwind’s inability to quickly synchronize data for all events to be evaluated equitemporally and normalized for errors.[11]
    • This required the application of algorithms which can only be implemented with software.
    • The first software firm- the System Development Corporation (SDC)– was established in 1955 and it thus became responsible for the invention of SAGE applications, so that in three years 7,000 pages of written English instructions were “reduced to a thousand pages of mathematical formulas and translated to 3,000,000 punch cards.”[12]
The photograph of the Situation Display console and other parts of the AN/FSQ-7. The computer had 100 system consoles, including the OA-1008 Situation Display (SD) with a light gun. .
Situation Display console and other parts of the AN/FSQ-7. The computer had 100 system consoles, including the OA-1008 Situation Display (SD) with a light gun.
Credits: Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AN/FSQ-7_Combat_Direction_Central
  • 3) The final obstacle was the construction of “thirty-two ‘bomb-hardened’ facilities”[13], each containing two 250-tons-weighting massive computers AN/FSQ-7 which could have processed 75,000 instructions per second to “track up to four hundred enemy aircrafts and automatically direct their interception by fighters or BOMARC missiles.”[14]

Eventually, when those obstacles were overcome, it finally led to the first SAGE installation in 1958, followed by the establishment of 22 additional direction centers, which enabled the collection, sorting and identification of data “that started as radio signals on a distant border and was transformed into actionable information (knowledge).”[15]

Therefore, the SAGE personified the “first proof of the value of real-time data analysis”[16] and became a model for future large-scale surveillance.

The Significance of the SAGE for Future Large-Scale Surveillance

The photograph of Air Force ordnancemen loading a dispenser with seismic sensors during the Vietnam War..
A photo depicts Air Force ordnancemen loading a dispenser with seismic sensors during the Vietnam War. 
Credits: Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Igloo_White

The SAGE justified the allocation “of remote sensors and their networked connection to real-time computers”[17] and the translation of those sensors’ analog signals into digital data, which can be incorporated with third party sources and simulated into “actionable information.”[18]

For instance, the Operation IGLOO WHITE, which was conducted from 1968 to 1973 during the Vietnam War, imitated the design of the SAGE system.

It reemphasized the advantages of sophisticated surveillance technologies for an asymmetric war-waging– a war fought at the expense of one’s inferiority of military knowledge and technologies- which can alter the qualitative and quantitative border’s characteristics “by shortening its perimeter or increasing the vulnerability of the interior.”[19]

However, instead of radars, over 20,000 sensors were air-dropped “to detect sound, heat, vibrations, or uric acid along key

The photograph of a man deploying a sensor from a helicopter during the Battle of Khe Sanh, Vietnam, 1967. .
Gravity deployment of a sensor during the Battle of Khe Sanh, Vietnam, 1967.
Credits: Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Igloo_White

segments of the trail.”[20] If those sensors detected something, they sent a radio alert to observation planes spinning above target areas, as well as to the Infiltration Surveillance Center (ISC), which was designed upon the SAGE air defense center.[21]

The ISC’s combat direction team then sorted that data and executed air strikes against suspected areas around the triggered sensor’s location.

Therefore, IGLOO WHITE was the first case of an ‘electronic battlefield.’[22]

Besides, most of the modern mass surveillance systems, which are aimed at “seeking certainty from the flow of possibilities”[23] deriving out of a field of meaningless signals, and which can thus intercept and ‘mine’ data from cell phones, satellites or Internet traffic, were modelled by MIT’s Lincoln Lab– an organization established to build SAGE.[24]

The Negative Implications of Surveillance

The image of the apothecary scale depicting the Preamble to the United States Constitution in one scale and an engineer equipped with surveillance technology in the other scale, thus depicting the liberty vs. security debate of today.
Credits: https://www.trumanlibrary.gov/public/Government-Spying.pdf

However, the positive implications of surveillance for the needs of national security should not be exaggerated.

Historically, its use by the various intelligence agencies, such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or the National Security Agency (NSA) during times of national security preoccupations, was not for the purposes of creation of a superior and safer society.

Surveillance was instead used to aid the executive in overriding the legislative branch and in furthering the violation of the rule of law under the guise of upholding national security.[25]

In fact, by the 1970s, under the pretext of national emergency, “the American President had become on issues of war and peace the most absolute monarch among the great powers of the world”[26], and many decisions of national importance, which were based on information gained by covert means and available only to the executive branch, were made in secrecy, without the Congress’ approval.[27]

What is worse, the invocation of a national security label blurs the distinctions between national and foreign affairs and this permitted the intelligence agencies to use surveillance to direct the highly intrusive practices against virtually anyone.[28]

  • The Cold War was marked by the 1947 presidential order that authorized loyalty reviews of government employees “in the interests of national security”[29];
  • By the 1950-54 witch hunt was facilitated by the 1950 Internal Security Act that authorized the imprisonment of anyone who might have been suspected of committing espionage.[30]
  • In the 1970s, the Senate exposed the CIA-undertaken covert actions against the Chilean president Salvador Allende (1970-1973), the Watergate affair(1972-1974), as well as a series of other governmental constitutionally-elected regimes’ overthrows abroad.[31]
The photograph of the second tower of the World Trade Center being engulfed by flames after being struck by a hijacked airplane, September 11, 2001.
The second tower of the World Trade Center is engulfed by flames after being hit by a hijacked airplane, September 11, 2001.
Credits: Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/news/picture/defining-images-from-the-9-11-attacks-idUSRTS2Q0UX
The image of two men describing different values of their times to each other. When in 1775, the main motto was "give me liberty, or give me death!", since 2006, it became "give up your liberty, or we are all gonna die!". !
The USA PATRIOT Act, or the Patriot Act, was an Act of the United States Congress, signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. USA PATRIOT stands for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”(Wikipedia). Its goal was to significantly tighten American national security, particularly relating to foreign terrorism. The act encompassed three main provisions:
“1) expanded abilities of law enforcement to surveil, including by tapping domestic and international phones;
2) eased interagency communication to allow federal agencies to more effectively use all available resources in counterterrorism efforts; and
3) increased penalties for terrorist crimes and an expanded list of activities which would qualify someone to be charged with terrorism.”(Wikipedia)
Credits: Pinterest, https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/535224736942338855/

Despite the end of the Cold War era, illegal actions by the U.S. government did not come to a stop.

In fact, since the bloodiest terrorist attack on American soil, which occurred on September 11, 2001, frictions between the executive and legislative branches arose due to an unprecedented rise of the imperial presidency at the expense of Congress under the guise of the protection of national security.[32]

When, in 1999, Congress opened an investigation regarding the NSA’s illegal interception of electronic messages of private individuals, two years later, antiterrorist measures led to the installation of the terrorist surveillance programme that was to intercept telephone communications and e-mails to foreign countries “without prior approval from the special court set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978.”[33]

Edward Snowden’s Revelations

The photograph of Edward Joseph Snowden looking at the camera.
Edward Joseph Snowden (born June 21, 1983) is a former computer intelligence consultant known for leaking highly classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013 when he was an employee and subcontractor for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). 
Credits: Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Snowden

Furthermore, the revelations provided by Edward Snowden of the disclosed documents on the inner working of the NSA community have completely exposed the cover of the U.S. government by confirming that “mass surveillance is carried out by government agencies on US persons.”[34]

In 2013, Snowden handed to journalists 58,000 clandestine NSA files that exposed the organization’s three top-secret activities.[35]

  1. The first is its interception of data-in-transit through the Upstream programs, such as Fairview, which enables the NSA to get hold of the 55,000 miles of internet data-carrying optical cables that lie between the U.S. and other countries, thus facilitating the surveillance of millions of citizens.[36]
  2. The second is its access to stored data through the Prism program, which is a data-mining program that taps directly into the servers of famous American internet companies such as Facebook, Skype, YouTube, Apple and Microsoft to accumulate, identify and store various emails, telephone calls, photos, videos and IDs.[37]
    • Despite the fact that the program is aimed at foreigners, it also targets American citizens who converse with “foreign targets”.[38]
  3. The third is its installation of spyware on personal computers– a practice known as Computer Network Exploits(CNE)– which is achieved through the Quantum Insert program that, besides capturing data-in-transit, also covertly injects malware into users’ computers.[39]
    • Thus, any device owned by an average American can be infected with spy agencies-reporting malware.
The political cartoon of the NSA agent sitting behind the desk and shouting "Snowden secretly stole private information using the excuse that he was protecting the American people! Who does that traitor think he is? Us?"
Credits: Self Deprecate Political Humor, http://selfdeprecate.com/2013-political-cartoons/nsa-spying-drones/

The fact that besides foreigners and suspected criminals average Americans are also daily monitored, has led to the acknowledgement of innocent people’s loss of liberty as well as of government-stimulated encroachment upon the rule of law and human rights.

Blind Faith

The image depicts a man with a dog looking at the police surveillance camera and thinking "Big Brother is Watching You!", while another camera, which is labelled "thought police", is monitoring his thoughts.
“Big Brother” police cartoon showing surveillance cameras. “One surveillance camera is monitoring a person while the other surveillance camera is monitoring the person’s thoughts. That camera is labelled ‘thought police‘.
A cartoon about freedom of thought, George Orwell’s 1984 dystopia, dystopian societies, oppression, oppressive regimes, thought crimes, liberty, tyranny.”
Credits: Chris Madden Cartoons, https://www.chrismadden.co.uk/cartoon-gallery/big-brother-thought-police/

On the other hand, it is the faith of Americans in the presidency, together with their hesitations about the ability of democracy to counter the terrorist threat, which enabled this rise of an imperial presidency.[40]

In fact, “what keeps a strong presidency constitutional is the watchfulness of the nation”[41], since national fear about the probability of another terrorist attack has made average Americans open to mounting levels of state intervention in their civil liberties.[42] Most Americans have become indifferent to having their personal e-mails and phone messages investigated by the NSA; they have also accepted the fact that anything they purchase on a credit card (along with their financial information) can be added to the NSA database.[43]

When asked in a 2006 poll if they were to allow the NSA to keep track of their every phone call for the purposes of detecting terrorist activities and fighting the war on terror, two-thirds of polled “were willing to accept such an invasion of privacy, notwithstanding that it was illegal, for the sake of preventing another terrorist attack.”[44]

It seems like the Orwellian mantra of ‘Big Brother is Watching You’ will not just become a new reality, but also an increasingly accepted one.

However, it should be understood that “in this climate of unblinking acceptance of a pseudo-war on terror[45] Americans risk consenting to more and more invasions of their privacy, while the government finds more innovative ways- always under the guise of citizens’ protection- to control the means of public information.

Despite of what Americans were indoctrinated to believe, the war on terror is not a conventional war, since it does not have either a beginning or an end, it is not reduced to the set battlefield, it is not waged against a particular state which ‘warriors’ have a recognized state uniform and it does not obey the conventions of the international humanitarian law.

But without this cover of fighting the ‘conventional’ war on terror, the Total Information Awareness (TIA) network, which was created to collect detailed personal information about people by integrating transmitted videos with other federal databases, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) biometrics database, will be defused.[46]

The image of a woman being petrified by the amount of surveillance cameras directed at her.
Credits: Slane Cartoons, http://www.slane.co.nz/cctv.html

Ironically enough, however, as much as terrorism fails to meet the war convention due to its blurred distinctions between civilian and military targets, a program of warrantless, mass surveillance of American citizens aimed at fighting a war on terror also fails to meet this convention.

The U.S. breaches Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights[47] which guarantees the right of civilians not to be spied on and thus not to be used for military aims.

While it may be argued that civilians tacitly consent to such surveillance in public, it is also true that surveillance cameras have become pervasive and cannot be avoided. It is the silent nature of surveillance cameras that makes it hard for society to scrutinize them.[48]

The photograph of a NYPD officer watching surveillance cameras' footage in the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative facility in New York on the 1st of September, 2011.
A New York Police Department officer watches surveillance cameras’ recordings in the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative facility in New York on the 1st of September, 2011. The Lower Manhattan Security Initiative (LMSI) is a New York City Police Department initiative overseen by the Counterterrorism Bureau to increase surveillance efforts in Lower Manhattan of New York City. The LMSI covers a 1.7-mile area from Canal Street to Battery Park, including the New York Stock Exchange, World Financial Center, the former World Trade Center site, and numerous financial institutions.
Credits: Insider, https://www.businessinsider.com/crime-predictive-policing-chicago-police-2016-9

Systems such as the “Lower Manhattan Security Initiative” in New York City, which spans a 1.7-square-mile area and includes a network of around 3,000 television cameras, as well as chemical, radiological, biological sensors and license plate readers, and the “Ring of Steel”, which surrounds London and consists of a network of thousands of surveillance cameras which can identify faces, are increasingly pervasive.[49]

Such systems, by capturing average citizens on camera, are able to learn their daily private behavioral activities, notwithstanding the fact that everyone has secrets which he/she does not want to be monitored by state authorities.[50]

Moreover, besides public cameras, the New York Security system also incorporates private security cameras.[51]

The image of the cyber-surveillance company NSO Group's logo, which consists of the three big letters "N" "S" and "O" written above the company name "NSO Group".
NSO Group Technologies is an Israeli technology firm whose Pegasus spyware enables the remote surveillance of smartphones. It was founded in 2010 by Niv Carmi, Omri Lavie, and Shalev Hulio. While NSO claims that it provides authorized governments with technology that enables them to combat terror and crime, according to several independent reports, Pegasus was used in targeted attacks against human rights activists and journalists around the globe. In October 2019, instant messaging company WhatsApp and its parent company Facebook sued NSO under the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).
Credits: Wikipedia,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NSO_Group

Besides the New York and London Security systems, there is another major player in the shadowy surveillance industry- cyber-surveillance. For instance, Israeli cyber-surveillance company NSO Group[52] and its Pegasus spyware has been employed in some of the worst digital attacks, since when it’s secretly  installed on a person’s phone (usually through a missed call or a strange text), it allows an attacker to gain full access to virtually everything on the device, including a phone’s messages, emails, camera, media and contacts.[53] The access to camera and microphone also enables real-life surveillance.

What is worse, such surveillance also enables real-life physical violations. For instance, Pegasus-related digital violence is often accompanied by break-ins, arrests, lawsuits, and can inflict emotional stress on the hacking victims.[54]

A recent incident involving the indictment of four former executives of the French surveillance firm Nexa Technologies for its alleged complicity in war crimes and torture in Libya and Egypt is another example of this phenomenon.[55] It has been argued that between 2007 and 2014, the company supplied surveillance technology to the authoritarian regimes of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, which “used the tools to identify dissidents and activists, read their private emails and messages, and, in some cases, kidnap, torture, or kill them.”[56]

The image of the world map portraying the amount of major cyber attacks around the globe.
Credits: Visual Capitalist, https://www.visualcapitalist.com/cyber-attacks-worldwide-2006-2020/

Digital violence also transcends geopolitical boundaries, as surveillance companies like Pegasus and Nexa Technologies give “its users the power to terrorize almost anyone, anywhere.”[57] For instance, Pegasus spyware has been used in at least 45 countries worldwide since 2015.

It should be noted that criminal indictments against digital violence, as in the case of Nexa Technologies, are extremely rare, since international markets for exporting surveillance technologies are very unregulated and most surveillance companies frame their tools “as being used for countering terrorism.”[58]

A Surveillance State

The image of the transparent house surrounded by various surveillance technologies titled "expanded surveillance powers". A man and a woman in the house are shown watching TV, while a man says "when the President promised more transparency, I thought he was referring to government".
Credits: Quick Take, https://quicktake.wordpress.com/tag/police-state/

Thus, since surveillance is not limited anymore to public areas, the validity of the American democratic regime is under question, since it is now described as a surveillance state“a total breakdown of boundaries between the state, the economy, and society”[59], where the liberal ideal for a need of the protected realm of individual autonomy has long vanished.

In fact, giving the federal authorities power to spy on law-abiding citizens in the course of their daily activities leads to a serious possibility of abuse.

  • For example, recordings of citizens in private areas can be posted to the Internet without their permission.
  • Moreover, those who are watching behind the cameras are in fact human beings who might become bored and implement their “awesome spying power”[60] for things unconnected to tracking terrorists.
    • This power might become even more pervasive if new military technologies, which, with the use of sound waves are able to record three-dimensional images through walls, are attached to mass surveillance systems.[61]
  • Furthermore, once the boundaries between public and private areas are breached, there will be no constitutional barriers left to prevent the intrusive progression.[62]

Most importantly, for multiple reasons, the networks of surveillance cameras do not guarantee the effectiveness of

The image of two security guards laughing, while one of them says "They don't prevent crime, but the videos make great blooper reels".
Credits: Slane Cartoons, http://www.slane.co.nz/cctv.html

averting future terrorist attacks.

  • First, terrorists who are savvy enough to execute a terrorist attack will be conscious of the existence and vulnerabilities of the surveillance cameras and thus will find ways to work around them.[63]
    • For instance, the facial recognition system (FRS) will be useless if the suspect has undergone plastic surgery, covered up or detached any identifiable [64]
  • Second, such cameras may be more efficient in delivering information after an incident of a terrorist attack.
    • For example, 500,000 “Ring of Steel” cameras proved to be useful in tracking down four terrorists who set off bombs killing 50 and wounding 700 on July 7, 2005 in London.[65] Since those terrorists were not on any government watch-lists, the FRSs, which are connected with the database that contains biometric information of known criminals, could not have been useful in preventing the bombing.[66]
  • Third, unless surveillance cameras are pervasive, terrorists can always target a spot where such cameras are not installed.
    • On the other hand, as mentioned before, the creation of the surveillance state, where everything is monitored by security cameras, is extremely unethical and illegal.
  • Fourth, the FRSs are subject to error, being accurate only 54 percent of the time.[67]

The Dangers Posed by the FRSs

The image of a man's face being identified by the Facial Recognition System.
Credits: The Newsroom, https://newsroom.cisco.com/feature-content?type=webcontent&articleId=1938827

Since many security analysts and forums see the FRSs as the ideal surveillance technology to fight against the terrorist environment, it opens up the possibility for political repercussions.[68]

Due to the fact that FRSs are pretty accurate (70-85% accuracy rate) in ideal circumstances, many security analysts rely too extensively on them and even override their own judgements since they think that “the system under such high conditions of operating must ‘see something’ that they do not.”[69]

However, the fact that FRSs performance degrades drastically in a ‘face-in-the-crowd’ environment and during a situation “where there is an elapsed time between the database image and the probe image”[70] is not always accounted for.

Such ‘unideal’ conditions might lead to two possible outcomes:

  • First, the operators might become ‘too’ used to false positives and thus will treat all alarms likewise, thereby leading to the uselessness of the system.
  • Another way of dealing with the system’s ineptness is for operators to increase the identification threshold by
    The image depicts a surveillance camera's footage showing a man and a woman, where a man is being compared to another photo and is portrayed as having 67.2% similarity with that photo.
    Credits: Articul8te, http://articul8te.com/demo.php?article=MC4wMTc3NTE0NzkyODk5NDE=

    requesting the system to reduce false positives. However, this might likewise increase the number of false negatives, since an “increased threshold of small differences in identifiability”[71] will lead to a greater probability of alarm triggering by African-Americans, Asians and elderly people who are easier identified by the algorithms[72], and thus again render the system useless.

    • Subsequently, due to the high trust in FRSs by security officials, these innocent bias groups (who are false positives) would be subjected to disproportionate scrutiny, creating the ‘digital divide.’[73]
    • Plus, given the human inclination toward unfair discrimination, it would be naïve to assume that security officers would not be prone to target a person as ‘looking suspicious’ by solely relying upon his/her racial characteristics, especially at times of “the hunt for terrorists by officers of a culture at ‘war’ against terror.”[74]

One instance at the Fresno Yosemite International Airport in 2002 echoes this idea. According to statistics, FRS installed at the airport generated approximately one false positive for every 750 passengers, however, shortly after installation it was set off by “a man who looked as if he might [have] [been] from the Middle East.”[75]

That man was later detained by the FBI and was set free only the following day.[76]

Thus, the system operated with a very restricted false positive rate, which caused operators to believe that “an alarm must [have] [meant] something.”[77]

Moreover, the fact that a man was allegedly from a ‘Middle Eastern’ origin only stimulated the FBI to detain him more thoroughly than needed, despite the fact that he was obviously a false positive.

Therefore, some minor digital biases can have significant negative political implications, especially for the innocent bias groups and especially during times of national emergency.

Safer Alternative Surveillance Technologies

To be sure, there are some alternative surveillance technologies that may provide protection against terrorist attacks without curtailing civil liberties.

For instance, both “Ring of Steel” and New York surveillance systems include sensing technologies that can detect possible terrorist attacks without leading to privacy curtailments to the extent associated with the networks of surveillance cameras.[78]

Such sensors, in fact, may also be attached to surveillance cameras that could switch on only when sensors are triggered by a particular chemical or biological agent and only within the proximate area of that agent in question.[79]

However, in designing the New York and London networks of surveillance cameras, federal officials did not make any efforts to balance citizens’ right to privacy against whatever security these surveillance networks might offer.[80]

Possible Ways of Resistance

Since “mass surveillance has been turned [even] against those who blithely believe they really inhabit a free society”[81],

there is a need for resistance.

There are many different ways of resistance to the invasion of privacy.

The photograph of the computer camera being covered by a piece of paper that has "no spy" written on it.
Credits: windowsreport, https://windowsreport.com/webcam-cover-sticker/

For instance, resistance might entail the refusal of using stores with loyalty cards or completing warranty forms, the utilization of another person’s identity card, ‘masking’, by wearing a low hat or using a made-up name to access a website, or the disablement of the surveillance camera through spray-painting.[82]

People might also resist by employing techniques such as encryption, private servers, or even sticking a piece of paper in the optic eye of the computer.[83]

In the end, it is up to everyone to decide how to withstand “such grotesque exploitation of unquestionably horrid violence”,[84] but it is imperative for everyone to resist this encroachment upon fundamental rights to privacy.


The initial intention behind the development of surveillance technologies was aimed at distinguishing between meaningless and threatening signals during times of national emergency.

However, the executive branch, which was aimed at capitalizing its power excesses, later learned to manipulate the labels of national security for unlimited access to surveillance technologies which are now turned against ordinary citizens, notwithstanding the fundamental human right to privacy.

Today, the means of surveillance have fully converged themselves in people’s daily activities, turning the U.S. into the surveillance state.
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[1] John MacWillie, “From Keyhole to Big Brother: The Legacies of Early Cold War Surveillance,” Surveillance and Society 16 (2018): pp. 203-218, https://ojs.library.queensu.ca/index.php/surveillance-and-society/article/view/7000, 203.

[2] Armand Mattelart, “The Cold War and the Religion of National Security,” in The Globalization of Surveillance, trans. Susan Taponier and James A. Cohen (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010), pp. 49-64, 50.

[3] MacWillie, Ibid, 212.

[4] Mattelart, Ibid, 54.

[5] MacWillie, Ibid, 213.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] MacWillie, Ibid, 214.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] MacWillie, Ibid, 215.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] MacWillie, Ibid, 212.

[20] MacWillie, Ibid, 216.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Mattelart, Ibid, 56.

[26] Donald R. Wolfensberger, “The Return of the Imperial Presidency?” The Wilson Quarterly , 2002, https://www-jstor-org.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/stable/40260602?pq-origsite=summon&seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents.

[27] Mattelart, Ibid, 58.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Mattelart, Ibid, 57.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Mattelart, Ibid, 58.

[32] Wolfensberger, Ibid.

[33] Mattelart, Ibid, 59.

[34] David Lyon, “Snowden Storm,” in Surveillance after Snowden (Polity Press, 2015), pp. 15-42, 16.

[35] Lyon, “Snowden Storm,” Ibid, 17.

[36] Lyon, “Snowden Storm,” Ibid, 18.

[37] Lyon, “Snowden Storm,” Ibid, 19.

[38] Lyon, “Snowden Storm,” Ibid, 20.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Wolfensberger, Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Elliot D. Cohen, “Big Brother Is (Literally) Watching You: The Manhattan Security Initiative,” in Mass Surveillance and State Control: The Total Information Awareness Project (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), pp. 101-136, 129.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Cohen, Ibid, 101.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Cohen, Ibid, 107.

[47] Article 17 ICCPR, https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx.

[48] Lucas D. Introna and David Wood, “Picturing Algorithmic Surveillance: The Politics of Facial Recognition Systems,” Surveillance and Society 2, no. 2/3 (July 2004): pp. 177-198, https://search-proquest-com.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/docview/38014955?accountid=14771&pq-origsite=summon, 184.

[49] Cohen, Ibid, 131.

[50] Cohen, Ibid, 132.

[51] Cohen, Ibid, 130.

[52] “New Investigation Shows Global Human Rights Harm of NSO Group’s Spyware,”Amnesty International, July 3, 2021, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/07/investigation-maps-human-rights-harm-of-nso-group-spyware/.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Taylor Dafoe, “Art Collective Forensic Architecture Has Teamed Up With Edward Snowden to Investigate a Shadowy Global Spyware Company,” Artnet, July 9, 2021, https://news.artnet.com/art-world/forensic-architectures-new-project-charts-elusive-development-digital-violence-1987403.

[55] Sidney Fussell, “French Spyware Executives Are Indicted for Aiding Torture,” Wired, June 23, 2021, https://www.wired.com/story/french-spyware-executives-indicted-aiding-torture/.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Dafoe, Ibid.

[58] Fussell, Ibid.

[59] Bernard E. Harcourt, “Surveillance State? It’s so Much Worse,” The Chronicle of Higher Education 62, no. 14 (November 29, 2015), https://www.chronicle.com/article/A-Mad-Frenzy-of-Disclosure/234338.

[60] Cohen, Ibid, 134.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Cohen, Ibid, 132.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Cohen, Ibid, 133.

[67] Cohen, Ibid, 134.

[68] Introna, Ibid, 191.

[69] Introna, Ibid, 192.

[70] Ibid.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Ibid.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Cohen, Ibid, 134.

[75] Introna, Ibid, 193.

[76] Ibid.

[77] Ibid.

[78] Cohen, Ibid, 134.

[79] Cohen, Ibid, 135.

[80] Ibid.

[81] Lyon, “Snowden Storm,” Ibid, 24.

[82] David Lyon, “Struggles over Surveillance,” in Surveillance Studies: An Overview (Polity Press, 2007), pp. 159-178, 168.

[83] Harcourt, Ibid.

[84] Ibid.

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