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Purpose of Surveillance

On the one hand, surveillance has a crucial role in fighting terrorist activities, drug trafficking and organized crime. It is an important tool for the protection of national interest, in particular national security and the investigation of serious crime. Today's police wouldn't be able to fight against these crimes without such means. On the other hand, democratic control of gathered information is essential.

For military use, more sophisticated systems already exist for a long time. But systems like Echelon are not designed for military targets only. Rather, it can also be used for arbitrary non-military targets: governments, organizations, and businesses in virtually every country ([31]).

In 1992, for example, several British agents told the London Observer that they ``could no longer remain silent regarding that which we regard to be gross malpractice and negligence within the establishment we operate". These agents, employees of the Government Communications Headquarters, the British version of the NSA, said that Amnesty International and a group called Christian Aid were routinely targeted (found in [23]).

The use of intelligent services in such a case has no longer something to do with national security, but rather with keeping tabs on critics. Surveillance systems can be used to track down virtually all activity of citizens, may they be accused of a special crime or not. It is a matter of democratic self-understanding and control whether this is really done.

Although some people may think that nobody has to be worried who doesn't have anything to hide, there is a need to determine to what extent these new technologies are about political and social control, rather than citizen protection.


next up previous contents
Next: Legal issues Up: Modern Surveillance Previous: Modern Surveillance   Contents
Tim Wellhausen
2000-01-20