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Surveillance, Law Enforcement and Data Protection January 26, 2011

Posted by crimeandcontrol in övervakning, Integritet.
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The 4th conference on Computer, Data Protection and Privacy is currently taking place in Brussels. During the first day no less then three sessions were devoted to ‘Surveillance, Law Enforcement and Data Protection’. One of the questions that the speakers were to respond to was whether or not Europe is sleepwalking into a surveillance society. Most speakers, both representatives from the Ministry of Justice in Sweden, the EDPS as well as researchers, agreed that Europe is not sleepwalking into a surveillance society since the surveillance society already is here. There was some debate on whether or not it would be more accurate to say that Europe is sleepwalking in a surveillance society. Most people seem unaware of the consequences of the everyday surveillance that they take part in and the phrase Eyes Wide Shut was used. Representatives from law enforcement argued that no one is really sleepwalking because people do know how surveillance is used and approve of it because of the benefits.

From surveillance researchers it was instead argued that people are not aware of how surveillance techniques operate or who has access to the data. The fact that private actors are involved in law enforcement to a high degree and not just criminal justice authorities was brought forward as an example. The financial data collected by SWIFT and and transferred from EU to the US is perhaps the most known case of how private actors like the SWIFT corporation can come to play a crucial role within law enforcement.And as Marieke de Goede pointed out: this also means that private actors are authorised to define what is and what is not suspicious.

Another example of surveillance that is hard to grasp for ‘ordinary people’ is how behaviour on internet is monitored and profiled for advertising purposes. The market for behavioural targeting is huge and the data that individuals leave are sold and resold many times. It was pointed out that more research is needed in order to understand why people voluntarily give away personal data on-line and why they do not protect their data more. If we consider how behavioural advertising use our everyday activities on-line it is perhaps less difficult to understand that people ‘give’ away their data. It is almost impossible to use the internet without doing so unless you are a computer specialist. And even if some researchers therefore put forward technical solutions that automatically protect individuals data, other researchers stressed that those techniques are easy to manipulate and do not really offer any real protection.

Two important points were also made during the evening of phd-presentations. First on the subject of informed consent that is so often brought forward as a solution to the privacy problem. If some one voluntarily and knowingly consent to having her data processed it is not considered to violate her privacy. But as Ana Gross rightly argued, it presupposes a agent that is entirely free and not part of any structures or power relations. Such a person does not exist in a society and it is therefore important to remember that informed consent does not recognise the autonomous individual but produces her. Secondly on the subject of ‘crime prevention’. Franziska Boehm highlighted the lack of definition of the concept on the EU level. Today this means that there are circumstances when any data about anyone can be stored and exchanged because it can be argued that it may be useful for crime prevention in the future (how can anyone say that it is impossible that a situation will occur in the future when data that seams irrelevant today will turn out to be crucial?). That it is not in line with basic ideas about the characteristics of a free, democratic society to collect data about citizens ‘just in case’ is obvious. Still, the concept of ‘crime prevention’ reminds a vague, yet effective concept in today’s crime policy.

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