Last weekend the New Scientist reported on the harrowing developments in the world of surveillance technology. The week before, the Home Office announced plans to give law-enforcement agencies, local councils and other public bodies access to the details of people’s text messages, emails and internet activity. New technology has been developed by Seimens to ensure this kind of absolute surveillance can be integrated into one system.
This software is trained on a large number of sample documents to pick out items such as names, phone numbers and places from generic text. This means it can spot names or numbers that crop up alongside anyone already of interest to the authorities, and then catalogue any documents that contain such associates.
Once a person is being monitored, pattern-recognition software first identifies their typical behaviour, such as repeated calls to certain numbers over a period of a few months. The software can then identify any deviations from the norm and flag up unusual activities, such as transactions with a foreign bank, or contact with someone who is also under surveillance, so that analysts can take a closer look.
The system has been sold in 60 countries and 90 phone call “monitoring centres”, developed by the joint-venture company Nokia Siemens Networks, are already being used around the world, although we don’t know which countries are using it.
Whatever the level of accuracy, human rights advocates are concerned that the system could give surveillance-hungry repressive regimes a ready-made means of monitoring their citizens. Carole Samdup of the organisation Rights and Democracy in Montreal, Canada, says the system bears a strong resemblance to the Chinese government’s “Golden Shield” concept, a massive surveillance network encompassing internet and email monitoring as well as speech and facial-recognition technologies and closed-circuit TV cameras.
I’m more worried about its use by non-repressive regimes.
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Filed in: Civil liberties,Technology,Terrorism