Feeds

Privacy chief: we're all in UK.gov's pockets

How many points for Business Class democracy?

SANS - Survey on application security programs

The surveillance state is sorting society into pockets of desirable and undesirable people and treating them accordingly, a major survey by the UK's privacy guardian, the Information Commissioner said today.

The democratic values of equality and freedom are threatened by the creeping advance of surveillance into all walks of life, according to A Report on the Surveillance Society, edited by two of the world's leading thinkers on the social consequences of surveillance, Kirstie Ball and David Murakami Wood.*

The report fends off any potential accusations of paranoia by first declaring that there is no "malign plot hatched by evil powers" to control the world. It then goes onto describe something that might merely be considered insidious.

"Power corrupts or at least skews the vision of those who wield it," it says, before going on to explain how the growing use of surveillance in all walks of life is putting unprecedented power into the hands of state and industry.

It warns how the information describing people's identities - likes and dislikes, status, movements, means and actions - that is being stored in so many public and private sector databases, is being merged to create a fixed record of their cultural capital, their value to the organisations that control the systems.

"This information is then sorted, sifted and categorized, and used as a basis for decisions which effect our life chances," it says.

That might be all very well with someone who the system deems desirably wealthy, healthy, well adjusted, intelligent, talented, ASBO-free -- the Blairite picture of normality. But the other sort of normal people, the human sort, are being sorted into less favourable categories by the system.

These might be crude immigration systems that give people with a pristine life history a fast track through customs, or consumer databases that give high earners preferential treatment in shops and hotels. Amazon, it says for example, charges different customers different prices.

"Call centres now rank order customer accounts according to their relative spend, and alter their service levels accordingly," it says.

The impending reprint of Michael Young's prescient dystopian satire of modern life, The Rise of the Meritocracy, couldn't have been timed better.

"Social sorting is endemic in the surveillance society," says the report, and, " Once classified, it is difficult to break out of the box.

It is the sort of categorization that in conventional human society is called social stereotyping, which can mean someone is treated differently according to their (apparent) identity. So women might be patronized in the workplace, or a man in a suit might get more deferential treatment from a police officer than lad with a hoody.

Yet people who change their identity realise that society is quick to adjust its treatment of them accordingly. Even then, it can be difficult to break out of the box and the consequences run deeper than mere treatment. Diane Halpern, a West Coast academic, proposes that as people's brain physiologies are altered by their life experiences, social stereotyping actually directs, and potentially restricts, people's psychological development. Database stereotyping gives people even less room for manoeuvre.

"Surveillance society poses ethical human rights dilemmas that transcend the realm of privacy," says the report.

But, "Given the power of large organisations with sophisticated surveillance capacities, however, it seems only fair that ordinary people should have a say," and those holding and using the data should be accountable to the people that it spooks.

It also describes how surveillance is changing the rules by which human society is structured, undermining the trust on which our social relationships are based, and fostering suspicion.

And no-one quite knows where it is all headed, because technology is moving faster than ever, faster than civil society has the means to absorb it, understand its implications, and humanize it.

One of the drivers of this trend, it reminds us, is the power of the defence industry, which is putting much of its resources into developing tools for civil surveillance. The latest developments are systems that determine people's behaviours, what they might do and arranges for them to be treated accordingly. Some, like the UK Home Secretary, John Reid, believe that this is vital for the survival of our economy, but dash the consequences for society.

Another driver is the desire of business and government for efficiency. "The intention of surveillance is often simply to manage efficient and swift flows of goods, people and information. However, what spells 'efficiency' for one person spells 'social control' for another," it says.

After an extensive description of the way in which surveillance is being used in all walks of modern life, it proposes, unsurprisingly, that there should be regulation dedicated to bringing these systems under democratic control, before they become the means for computers to control democracy. The current data protection rules, it is becoming clear, have been left behind as well.®

3 Big data security analytics techniques

More from The Register

next story
Putin tells Snowden: Russia conducts no US-style mass surveillance
Gov't is too broke for that, Russian prez says
Lavabit loses contempt of court appeal over protecting Snowden, customers
Judges rule complaints about government power are too little, too late
Don't let no-hire pact suit witnesses call Steve Jobs a bullyboy, plead Apple and Google
'Irrelevant' character evidence should be excluded – lawyers
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Edward Snowden on his Putin TV appearance: 'Why all the criticism?'
Denies Q&A cameo was meant to slam US, big-up Russia
Record labels sue Pandora over vintage song royalties
Companies want payout on recordings made before 1972
Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ
Robert Hannigan to replace Sir Iain Lobban in the autumn
Judge halts spread of zombie Nortel patents to Texas in Google trial
Epic Rockstar patent war to be waged in California
Reprieve for Weev: Court disowns AT&T hacker's conviction
Appeals court strikes down landmark sentence
German space centre endures cyber attack
Chinese code retrieved but NSA hack not ruled out
prev story

Whitepapers

SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.