As part of my research into voyeurism I wanted to look deeper into the various ways that we are being tracked, by who and how.
There are 3 major groups that wish to record our lives and build up large portfolios on us. The Government, Police and other security services and Large Businesses (Cellan-Jones 2014).
As we moved into the new millennium plans were being put into place to issue the police with wide sweeping powers to permit them to engage in direct surveillance of public. Known as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 you would expect such broad and intrusive powers to be controlled and require a court order before being granted permission but its is frightening to discover that there are no such restrictions and the police are free to authorise the own use and act at will. (National Archives 2000)
Since its introduction the number of authorisations has steadily increased. Statistics from big brother watch who produced a report in October 2014 shows that there were 27,115 authorisations between 2010 and 2012, that’s one every hour of everyday. (Big Brother Watch 2014)
The methods involved include direct surveillance and the use of bugging equipment. This is not all but when requested the police refused to supply further information about their methods and there is no legislation forcing them to comply.
With no plans to regulate this then the surveillance will continue to increase, eroding your right to privacy and breaching your civil liberties.
Government Communication Head Quarters are considered to be the most intrusive organisation who are largely unregulated and seek to pry into our lives at every opportunity.
Since whistle-blower Edward Snowden released thousands of sensitive documents about the activities of the NSA and GCHQ then numerous legal actions have been taken by various organisations. One recent such undertaking forced the British Government to reveal the level of snooping they are currently involved in around social media websites and search engines (Ackerman and Ball 2014). There are laws in the UK preventing the arbitrary collection of personal data but this does not apply to data from overseas. The vast majority of servers belonging to global giants such as Facebook and Google are situated in the USA and as such qualifies the British Government to intercept communications at will, A loophole which it exploits regularly to spy on its citizens by keeping a log of all Facebook status updates, Tweets and Google Searches.
Perhaps one of the most disturbing reports was unearthed this year when GCHQ admitted to capturing and storing millions of images from Yahoo Webcam Chats. Over a 6 month period an operation known as operation Optic Nerve was instigated where the agency collected huge quantities of images from the accounts of over 1.8 million yahoo users. These people were innocent and not under suspicion of any criminal activity yet were victim to this indiscriminate intrusion into their private lives.
The GCHQ defended their actions by stating
“GCHQ insists all of its activities are necessary, proportionate, and in accordance with UK law” (Ackerman and Ball 2014)
The terrifying reality of this is that the agency is capable of capturing images at anytime from any device equipped with a camera and the fact we have cameras on our phones, Laptops, Tablets and even Television sets then you really could be being watched at anytime.
Businesses have quickly realised that there is a lot of money to be made by maintaining a constant watch on the population. Loyalty cards are common place now and the retail giants keep closely track on the things you buy, however technology is beginning to outstrip these slow systems as the big companies introduce clever tracking technology such as RFID tags (Cellan-Jones 2014) which allow the shop to know who bought what and where they take it and Face recognition, behaviour analysing and biometric cameras which read our expressions, where we look and what we wear in order for them to directly target advertising that will have the greatest impact (Cellan-Jones 2014), (Fitzpatrick 2009).
How does this work, so for example a person could be walking down the street and the end of a working day feeling tired and a little run down, the camera recognises them, it pics up the RFID signal from the clothes they are wearing to identify style, make brand etc and also examines the features and body language to determine the persons well-being and is able to access a wealth of data on the persons buying habits, did they buy alcohol recently, do they eat healthily. As the person continues down the street the adverts are then tailored to suit the clothing choices, recent purchases, interests or even suggest a local bar they might wish to visit for a drink.
Direct advertising is already prevalent on the internet where your surfing activity is closely monitored and adverts are changed to suit the user. Couple this with the already long data trail we leave in our wake and soon the large companies will know us so well they could hold a powerful influence over us, perhaps even start to control us.
The intrusion upon our lives is set to increase with technology continually keeping track of nearly everything we do. It is becoming almost impossible to maintain any privacy. The technology that exists is so sophisticated that it is almost able to read your mind and when working in tandem with our digital footprint then everything will be revealed. So why is there not widespread uproar of this persistent snooping, surely people would not put up with this.
Most people are largely unaware of the government’s ability and willingness to intrude into our lives most people they are simply happy to allow this invasion into their lives in return for continuing to use the technology available to them. It took a nuclear war to bring about George Orwell’s chilling vision of the future yet we have arrived all by ourselves.