Group 5 -- Team Sour Burgers (Group 5) -- Greg, Joe, Sam, Manroop, Ross

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Surveillance and You

Big Brother Poster


Team Information

Group Members

Greg Tapuska
Ross Watson
Sam Hurl
Joseph Van Ellenberg
Manroop Dhariwal


A bundle of surveillance cameras
Have you ever had the suspicion that you are being watched? Maybe someone is listening to the private conversation you are having? Today, this sinking feeling may be more than just a thought; it may be a reality. Surveillance, in French, directly means "watching over". However, surveillance has expanded and evolved beyond the domain of vision and into those of listening, smelling and touching. And just as surveillance techniques have become more and more diverse, the methods through which surveillance happens have grown: [1]
  • Eavesdropping
  • Telephone Tapping
  • Covert Listening Devices (Bugs)
  • GPS Navigation
  • Reconnaisance Satellites
  • Internet and Computer Surveillance
Just as there is everytime a new technology is introduced, there are pros and cons to the use of surveillance technology in private and public places. Surveillance technology can be seen everywhere. The military uses it, the government uses it, your employer uses it, and even your car uses it. So, is surveillance good or bad?

Case Study: George Bush's Telephone Tapping

George W. Bush

In late 2005, the New York Times broke a story regarding phone tapping by the U.S. government without a warrant. The Bush administration's Big Brother Tactics enabled the National Security Agency to watch the internet activity, e-mail, phone calls and text messages of those in the U.S. who they thought were associated with al-Qaida, without a warrant. [2] George Bush stood firmly behind his policy, suggesting that it was "critical to saving American lives"[3] and a "vital tool in our war against the terrorists"(ibid). This policy poses a major problem: to what extent should governments be able to monitor their own people in the name of national security?



Government Surveillance

  • One of the government’s main responsibilities is to protect its citizens. Government surveillance is an effective way to monitor potentially dangerous situations and ensure that there are no serious threats to national security. The government needs to use surveillance to infiltrate all of the avenues of communication that we are exposed to in the world today. The USA Patriot Act was introduced on October 26, 2001 after the 9/11 attacks. The Act allowed law enforcement agencies to search telephone, e-mail communications, medical, financial and other records of all citizens. Despite widespread congressional support, it has been criticized for weakening protection of civil liberties. Although it can be seen as an infringement on people’s freedom, the government felt that it was being threatened by possible insurgents living within the United States. The only way to locate these threats was to allow the government more access to personal information. Many Americans would argue that this was in fact a violation of their privacy but since the USA PATRIOT Act was introduced there have been no major attacks on the United States. Because the US is currently engaged in a war the use of Government surveillance can be useful in intercepting plans of those within the country who maybe trying to sabotage them. Throughout history government surveillance has proven to be effective in the preservation of national security. During the American Revolution General George Washington intercepted mail to gather intelligence on Britain. There are no other effective means of retrieving evidentiary intelligence on a country’s enemies. Government surveillance provides a sense of security to their citizens especially after 9/11. With the rapid advancement of technologies the government can acquire detailed information which could prevent further threats. If enemies of the nation are aware of the use of surveillance, they will be less likely to attack.

[4] [5] [6]

Visual Surveillance

Crime Deterrant

  • Presence of video cameras in public areas causes a decrease in crime due to the risk of being seen. The visual presence of cameras is often enough to persuade a potential criminal from commiting an illegal act. [7]

Provides Evidence for Investigations

  • Video evidence can prove crucial in police investigations and help convict criminals who would otherwise go free(ibid)

Sense of Security

  • Surveillance provides citizens with the knowledge that their security is being protected and any suspiscious activity is being monitored.
  • Cameras in places such as schools can provide students with a sense of security while ensuring parents that their children are safe[8]

Monitor Workers

Monitoring office workers ensures productivity
  • The ability of employers to monitor their workers allows them to know what workers are doing at the offcice[9]
  • This knowledge ensures that workers are being productive and using their time efficiently, as opposed to slacking off and engaging in activities not suitable for work (eg. surfing the net, chatting with friends, etc.)

Monitor Actions of Suspected Criminals

  • Monitoring the actions of suspected criminals (pedophiles, etc) can help to convict them.
  • Monitoring the activites of past offenders can help prevent them from commiting crimes in the future.

Practical Applications of Surveillance

Vehicle GPS

GPS in cars provides quick and easy information to drivers
  • Allows authorities to always be aware of your position in the event of an emergency (On-Star)
  • If a vehicle is stolen, it can be traced via the GPS system
  • GPS allows drivers to navigate roads and get directions to various locations, which reduces the necessity for city maps

Building GPS

  • Used in buildings and roads to detect structural problems[10]
  • Can also be used to detect natural disasters in advance, which will provide potentially crucial time for preparation(ibid)

Tracing GPS

  • Can be used to trace children, dogs, or anything else that is lost(ibid)
  • The location of animals, such as bears, can be tracked and monitored

Military GPS

A soldier using a hand-held GPS system
  • Provides information to soldiers in unfamiliar terrain, which could potentially save lives [11]
  • Satellite Imaging allows the military to locate and photograph suspicious areas or activities (ibid)

Sports GPS

  • Can be used by sports enthusiasts to track how far/fast they have travelled[12]


Maybe not so great


  • Who ends up funding the initial set-up costs, maintenance costs, personnel, as well as the analysis costs of surveillance? Private organizations pay for their own, and are therefore are cost effective. Government installations are funded by tax payers, and are not necessarily responsible in funding use. For example, expensive red light surveillance cameras were placed in Northern Virginia, and the districts implementing them did not recoup the high costs.


  • Surveillance is good for analyzing events, but does not necessarily stop actions from happening. For example: Columbine massacre still happened even though there was surveillance. Also in Vancouver, increase in surveillance throughout the city has had no noticeable effect on crime rate. Surveillance can wrongly identify individuals, mistakes that disregard individual rights and freedoms. For example, the 2001 Tampa Superbowl, where innocent people were accused of being terrorists because of incorrect biometric surveillance systems.There are also beliefs that where surveillance is strong, causes a displacement of nefarious activities where it is weak. For example, if urban centers become very well surveyed this causes residential areas to be vulnerable as crime moves to an easier target.

The effect on society:

  • In Canada, people are not required to carry personal ID on them. People are also protected from police randomly stopping people to identify themselves. Surveillance technology, infringes on this right. It also does not provide background on observed interactions. For example if a known terrorist has a conversation with a random innocent person while he is under surveillance, that person may be wrongly identified as a person of interest. There is a huge probability that individuals will innocently be incriminated while areas of interest are surveyed, it is immoral to judge a person on where they go or what they do without knowing motivation. It also causes distrust among individuals, for example people become more careful about what books they read, avoiding titles that may alarm unseen observers. Surveillance may also cause people to change their values, either appearance or online interaction as individuals feel always that they are being watched or tracked.

Security of Information:

  • When governments or private institutions enter into surveillance technology, they often store the information in huge databases. Depending on the value of the information, the databases may become targets for theft (either electronically, or physically). This has been seen as Banks, Branches of Government, and even email providers have been hacked and sensitive information removed.

Who the Information goes to:

  • The sale of information is now a huge industry, as people contact information, purchase history, email, workplace information; brand preference is all valuable to somebody. Market research is taking advantage of collected information, is this moral, are the collection of peoples actions able to be sold? Who is this information safe with? These issues are making people more and more hesitant, as they realize that they are not as safe or anonymous as they used to be.

Abusing the system:

  • Creating such surveillance systems usually leads to people abusing it for other purposes. Experience has taught us that it is predictable that people will misuse or mistreat this technology for unrelated purposes such as discriminatory targeting, personal use and voyeurism .


Surveillance technology is everywhere. It has its benefits, and it has its drawbacks. The government, like the US's Patriot Act, can help protect its citizens with the strategic use of surveillance, while it can also monitor the actions of students, workers, even suspected criminals. We also use surveillance in the form of GPS in our cars, cell phones and even watches, while military use of surveillance puts them on the cutting edge and at a advantage over enemies. However, costly technologies and insecure data banks are drawbacks of surveillance. Who the information goes to and who uses it for what are also often unregulated, which can lead to an invasion of privacy. So is surveillance a good thing or a bad thing? We leave that question to you, but watch out: You never know who might be watching you make it.