Menu & Intro - A short guide to Surveillance.

author: Manos - 31.08.2002 22:14

A collection of links and resources, as a reading guide for the workshop on "Privacy, Political Surveillance and Social Movements".

Intro : A short tour of on-line political surveillance

This guide is meant to provide pointers to additional material available on line or published in books on the subject of surveillance, political surveillance and information technology. While the most powerful
players in this area are without doubt governments, they have proved very reluctant to openly discuss or document their activities in this field. Therefore most of the information on surveillance is from
secondary sources and compiled from leaked documents and hard investigative work.

This guide is primarily intended as a supplement with references for the PGA workshop on:

Privacy, Political Surveillance and Social Movements
Monday 2/9/2002 – 10:00 – 11:30
Venue: Vrijplaats Boerhaavelaan (Media Center – Computer Room)

But can also be background material for:

Using Cryptography
Monday 2/9/2002 – 11:45– 13:15
Venue: Vrijplaats Boerhaavelaan (Media Center – Computer Room)

The Disappearing Computer
Monday 2/9/2002 – 14:30 – 16:00
Venue: Volkshuis

Repression in the E.U.
Tuesday 3/9/2002 - 14:30 – 16:00
Venue: Koppenhinksteeg

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 1. The opportunities that information technology provides.

Indymedia, mailing lists, chat, outreach, organizing, ...

The problem of electronic surveillance would not arise if social movements could afford not to
use electronic means of communication. This has proved not to be possible, since work and coordination at a global scale would not be possible. Many initiatives have in the past few years made use of information technology as a tool for influencing change.

Projects are often based on collaboration through the Internet, where information is exchanged between all participants. It is not excessive to say that without access to information technology, or at least effective global telecommunications, a truly global grass root movement would not be possible.

Issues to address:



An Introduction to the Internet: "How it works and what it can do for you."


 2. Potential for surveillance.

Surveillance of information technology does not happen in the void. It is integrated in an overall structure of intelligence gathering by governments organizations and sometimes companies. It is important to have an idea of how this structure works, its goals, and methods. In particular it is worth keeping in mind that electronic surveillance is only one of the methods used, and in the past the most effective one against social movements has been the use oh Human Intelligence,through informers.

How does surveillance and intelligence works:

Availability and openness of information

Activist news, public mailing lists, anonymity, ...

Before any cover surveillance takes place, both government agencies but most importantly private organizations, will try to extract as much information as possible from public information sources. These will usually include, in the context of social movements, any printed material published by a group, posters, leaflets but also websites, archives of mailing lists, on-line activist news sites, on-line calendars, chat rooms etc. This public information will allow them then to perform a more precise selection of whom or what to put under covert, human or other, surveillance.

Reports from Spanish police monitoring public news site:

Interception of communications

domestic and international, Echelon, Carnivore like schemes, UK RIP Act.

States in particular have a large array of technical but also legal tools to intercept or otherwise extract information. Some of them have hit the mainstream media headlines in the past few years. The ones that have been publicized should give us an idea of what is technically and legally possible:

Echelon (USA-UK international telecommunication surveillance)

Carnivore (US domestic Internet traffic interception)

Magic Lantern (FBI hacking tool)

Interception of telecommunications is an expensive activity that requires a lot of personnel but also dedicated technology. In an effort to make interception of communications as cheap as possible, and the equipment used inter operable, the ETSI standards body has defined standards for interception capabilities. Licenses to become a telecommunications operator often come with a compulsion to use equipment that is “surveillance friendly” and to provide the capability to intercept voice or data traffic. The story of “Surveillance by design” is better explained in the references.

Surveillance by design:

But technology is only one tool to enable surveillance, and when it fails an intricate apparatus of legal measure is put in place. In the UK the RIP act gives powers to courts to request the decryption of material, that they could otherwise not access. Along with other anti-terrorism laws and international treaties (Cyber-crime convention) it also enables the access to “traffic data” by a whole series of government departments.

Traffic data retention legislation make is compulsory for Internet Service Providers to keep logs of all the traffic data going through their networks and hand it in to the police/spooks then requested. This opens the door to mass surveillance of every single communication, and further analysis of the data can give a complete social map of civil society.

Decryption powers & Retention of traffic data.

Traffic analysis, friendship networks,...

Social network analysis & traffic analysis

Issues to address


 3. Effects of surveillance.

On the individual

Data protection legislation, Privacy as a human right, private vs public persona, ...

Privacy is recognized as an individual's human right, but it has to be balanced with the needs of law enforcement and national security. Special legislation in the E.U. (and Canada) protects personal information stored or processed in third parties databases. It gives the subject of the data special rights and imposes on the data holder limitations on the collection, time, volume and processing that they can do on the data. Blanket exceptions are provided for national security.

Alternatively privacy is often perceived by libertarians as “the right to be left alone” as an act of secession, not only from the state, but also society. (a review of definitions is available in the references)

What are the results of loss of privacy for the individual:

Data Protection legislation

Privacy as a human rights

On organizations campaigning for social justice etc

potential for disruption, political surveillance, effects of surveillance on activists, ...

While for the individual the loss of privacy has negative effects it is usually done at a micro level (near the individual). Surveillance at a meso or macroscopic level, such as electronic surveillance, still has a devastating effects when used as a political tool against dissent.
According to the official church report the FBI's political surveillance in the '60 and '70 had the following mehods or effects on its subjects or society:

  1. General efforts to discredit (personal)
  2. Media Manipulation (institutional)
  3. Distorting Data to Influence Government Policy and Public Perceptions (ideology)
  4. “Chilling” First Amendment Rights (personal)
  5. Preventing the Free Exchange of Ideas (social)

While some safe guards were put in place to avoid the worse abuses, there are reasons to believe that political surveillance still takes place in a conventional (Human Intelligence and photography) as well as electronic way.

Political Surveillance & Intelligence:

Issues to address

 4. A strategy for efficiently and securely using information Technology.

A risk management response

where to strike the balance between using technology and the risk of surveillance, security as a denial of service attack, ...

As discussed before social movements cannot afford not to use the latest information technology. A strategy that negates the use of effective communications in order to offer absolute protection against surveillance would be missing the point. Therefore it is necessary to evaluate all interactions with technological surrounding that could make organizations vulnerable to surveillance and minimize the exposure to it.
A vital component of such a strategy is to understand how technology works, its social uses but also the potential that different technologies offer for surveillance. Then groups can think again how they organize their meetings, internal communications, out reach, archives and decide if they can change something to minimize the risk of being exposed to surveillance without loosing the advantages that technology provides to them. When technology is viewed as a vital component of the structure of a group, them technical methods could be used to protect it against intrusions and eavesdropping. Finally, in order to assess both the severity of the threats, as well as the effectiveness of the counter measures (organizational or technical) it is important to keep and share records of improper surveillance activity, harassment, distortion, etc, and build effective political responses to such events.
An educational approach about using information technology securely & Organizational approaches to protect against surveillance.


Technical approaches to protect against surveillance.

Tools: PGP, GPG,, SSH, SSL, ...

Information security background:



Organizing for recording and reporting abuses of surveillance.

Issues to address


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