The Surveillance Society

10 Jun ’06

There have been several streams of news lately touching on surveillance, and I thought I would jot down a few notes of the ones that appear to be currently most visible.

The disclosure two weeks ago by CNET that U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller had privately urged telecommunications officials to record their customers’ Internet activities was discussed on TWiT #56, which included Molly Wood of CNET. Chilling disclosure: in those meetings, which Gonzalez apparently began with a presentation that highlighted the use of the internet by child pornographers and terrorists, Federal officials appear to have also disclosed that the data sought to be retained might also be used not only against child-pornographers and terrorists, but also in future intellectual property infringement prosecutions. I imagine that the public reaction to Government access to such data would be very different if it were promoted as an enforcement tool to aid Hollywood. Which, of course, explains why that angle is being downplayed, and why Gonzalez’s presentation begins on child porn and terror. So far, the industry seems to be resisting.

In the wake of recent terrorism arrests in Toronto, the Tory government is apparently moving to get Lawful Access back on the agenda (it died in the last election). Cynically opportunistic timing and yet another example of Tories imitating the Bush playbook by pushing legislation through a legislature temporarily subdued by shocking events, or responsible management of the legislative calendar leading to legislation now shown to be beneficial? Perhaps we’ll know more when the new bill makes it appearance. I’ll be curious to see whether provisions ultimately dropped from the original proposals make a reappearance in the new legislation.

New Scientist reports that the National Security Agency is “funding research into the mass harvesting of the information that people post about themselves on social networks. And it could harness advances in internet technology – specifically the forthcoming “semantic web” championed by the web standards organisation W3C – to combine data from social networking websites with details such as banking, retail and property records, allowing the NSA to build extensive, all-embracing personal profiles of individuals.” The idea of Government interest in social networks is alarming enough as it is, but the NSA has no charter for domestic surveillance of any kind (the recent controversy over NSA domestic wiretapping arose because of this concern), and oddly enough, so far none of the coverage I’ve read raises this issue. The semantic web will not, as far as I know, stop at the border. Total information awareness, indeed.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has refused to overturn Internet surveillance regulations promulgated by the FCC. AP: “The court ruled 2-1 in favor of the Federal Communications Commission, which says equipment using the new technologies must be able to accommodate police wiretaps under the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act …”

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