Re: Surveillance Technology

Peter C. McCluskey (
Mon, 14 Dec 1998 08:57:52 -0800 ( writes:
>>even if these methods would become available, that doesn't mean that
>>criminals would actually use them; they're usually not the brightest
>>individuals around.
>Uh, you can't use criminals who are caught to prove that criminals are
>stupid, when most of the criminals who are stupid get caught and most of
>the smart criminals don't. The law enforcement folks I've spoken to
>certainly seem to be aware of that.

You only need a crude estimate of how sloppy the current system is at catching stupid criminals to conclude that there are many such criminals who could be deterred by better detection. Unless the improved detection has a side effect of making it noticeably easier for smart criminals to get away with crimes (as far as I can tell, widespread surveillance makes crime trickier for almost any criminal), then the existence of smart criminals is irrelevant to this debate.

>And, of course, in your wonderful future the smart criminals would take
>over the surveillance system and hence would no longer be regarded as
>criminals, just like Clinton and Reno.

Will your strategy of limiting surveillance reduce this problem? I see three alternatives that people might aim for:

  1. All privacy is eliminated, even for entering passwords in the privacy of your home. To the extent that governments remain democratic, this gives more power to the majority of the people to impose their will on minorities.
  2. Privacy is eliminated in public places, but remains possible in some enclosed areas such as homes that are adequately sealed against cameras. This appears to be the safest alternative, although it still has some of the risks of the next alternative.
  3. We try to keep substantial restrictions on surveillance in public places. This appears to be hard to enforce. I see increasing risks under this strategy that the Janet Renos will develop secret surveillance systems while keeping the rest of us from acquiring surveillance data. You probably assume that you can evade governments by using encrypted communications, but I doubt that you will be able to reliably keep the government from observing your communications after the person you sent it to decrypts it (unless you are very carefull about whom you communicate with), and identifying you by analyzing your writing style if needed.

>>Furthermore, you can't fool an integrated surveillance system by
>>"simply" dropping fake DNA or changing your face. You can't
>>possibly find and modify all the relevant surveillance details (in
>Yes I can, because with universal global surveillance I can get any
>information I want. Is this universal surveillance or isn't it? You
>can't have things both ways.

It it's universal, you can find all the information you need, but you have no obvious way to alter the information without someone seeing you perform the alteration.
With imperfect surveillance, the risk of detection appears to correlate fairly well with how widespread the surveillance is.

>>I too dislike
>>oppressive bureaucracies, but it doesn't make me blind to the fact
>>that for society as it is now (with imperfect people), massive improvement
>>cannot be achieved by abolishing the concept of the state.
>If people are imperfect, how can taking a group of imperfect people (and
>politicians are generally much more imperfect than most) and giving them
>a monopoly on power make things better?

den Otter's arguments appear to make sense when applied to the goal of having competing groups of people with surveillance power. I don't understand where this assumption of monopoly came from. ( writes:
>Michael Lorrey [] wrote, with quotes from den Otter:
>>I think that it would be possible for there to be programs which filter video >content
>>in a similar manner to the way the NSA computers filter phone traffic. >Obviously, it
>>would be easy to set cameras to not record data they are viewing when nobody
>>is in viewing range.
>But this totally invalidates his argument; if you're not recording
>everything, then who knows what's going on? And if you're filtering for
>"good stuff", then crooks can find out what you filter for and use that
>to avoid being caught.

As the quality of the filtering software improves, I'd expect that crooks will increasing see that the most cost-effective way to avoid getting caught is to avoid committing a crime. A first approximation to the filtering algorithm would be to only look at scenes which contain a human. I can imagine continually increasing sophistication in realtime image analysis makes it increasingly easy to distinguish normal activities from unusual events, so that the kind of crimes that people fear today will be increasingly hard to get away with.

>>> Of course, *any* system can
>>> be corrupted, but it can be made extremely difficult to do and keeping
>>> the takeover hidden would be harder still.
>Uh, there is no question that the US government has been "taken over"; the

With the majority of the people substantially consenting to the takeover.

>evidence is shown on TV shows every day. Knowing it's happened is not the
>problem. Getting rid of the crooks after they take it over is a problem,
>especially if they have a ubiquitous surveillance system to spy on their

If the surveillance systems also allow the opponents to spy on the crooks, it isn't obvious that getting rid of the crooks would be any harder than it is today.

>>Hardly. Video can easily be spliced and doctored by anyone with a few
>>thousand dollars
>>of computer equipment.
>Exactly. To someone who works in the film/video industry, this whole idea
>of trusting video is laughable. IMAX film will be trustworthy for a few
>more years because of the massively greater resolution; video 'evidence'
>is a joke.

By the standards you are using here, almost all evidence is a joke. Are you arguing against using evidence, or did you have some other point in mind?

Peter McCluskey          | Critmail ( | Accept nothing less to archive your mailing list