Research Shows Mass Surveillance Fails 'Drastically' In Striking Balance Between Costs And Benefits To Society

from the case-not-made dept

One of the many problems with the debate on mass surveillance is that it is largely driven by emotions, on both sides. Facts are few and far between -- much is secret, for obvious reasons -- which makes objective discussion hard. What is needed is some rigorous research into this area. Surprisingly, it turns out the European Union has been funding just such a project, called "Surveille," a name derived from "Surveillance: Ethical Issues, Legal Limitations, and Efficiency." Here are the project's aims:
1. To provide a comprehensive survey of the types of surveillance technology deployed in Europe.

2. To assess the benefits and costs of surveillance technology. 'Benefits' refers to the delivery of improved security; 'costs' to the economic costs, negative public perceptions, negative effects on behaviour and infringement of fundamental rights.

3. To identify, elaborate and assess the whole range of legal and ethical issues raised by the use of surveillance technology in the prevention, investigation and prosecution of terrorism and other crime -- including those related to fundamental rights.

4. To communicate continuously the results of the research to a representative sample of stakeholders: European decision-makers, law enforcement professionals, local authorities, and technology developers, and to receive feedback to inform continuing research.
A post on the Just Security site by Professor Martin Scheinin, the coordinator of the Surveille project, gives a good summary of the latest results of the research, which have been released as a 50-page paper entitled "Assessing Surveillance in the Context of Preventing a Terrorist Act" (pdf). Here's what he writes:
Electronic mass surveillance -- including the mass trawling of both metadata and content by the US National Security Agency -- fails drastically in striking the correct balance between security and privacy that American officials and other proponents of surveillance insist they are maintaining.

We arrived at this conclusion by subjecting a wide-range of surveillance technologies to three separate assessments by three parallel expert teams representing engineers, ethicists, and lawyers. Each team conducted assessments of surveillance technologies, looking at ethical issues they raise; the legal constraints on their use – or those that should exist – on the basis of privacy and other fundamental rights; and, finally, their technical usability and cost-efficiency. This work was fed into and commented upon by two end-user panels, one consisting of law enforcement officials and the other of representatives of cities and municipalities.
The main academic paper is not at all dry; that's because it consists largely of a detailed analysis of real-life surveillance techniques of the kind frequently discussed here on Techdirt. It subjects them to assessments from very different viewpoints -- technical, ethical and legal. Interesting as these are, it's the final conclusions that are most important, because they give the lie to the oft-expressed view that mass surveillance is somehow "justified" by the results it produces:
Various kinds of Internet monitoring techniques are applied side by side with more traditional surveillance techniques. We find most of the Internet monitoring applications both ethically and legally impermissible, assessing them poorly in comparison with traditional, non-technology based surveillance methods. Furthermore, the Internet monitoring techniques compare poorly with the traditional techniques also in terms of usability.

...

Internet monitoring techniques, with the exception of targeted social networking analysis, represent an unacceptable interference with fundamental rights to privacy and data protection, the deepest ethical risks of chill and damage to trust, intrusion and discrimination, while also violating moral norms of proportionality of methods and consent of the policed. Meanwhile these high moral and legal costs reflect a mostly middling to poor usability benefit, performing worse with regard to cost, efficiency and privacy-by-design than lower tech alternatives. The case for a mass Internet monitoring system is found wanting.
A crucial point made there, so often ignored in debates about mass surveillance, is that low-tech approaches are generally better. In other words, there is no need to trade off fundamental rights for safety by spying on the entire Internet: greater security can be provided by adopting traditional, well-regulated, non-technology-based surveillance methods that do not require everyone to give up their privacy online. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2014 @ 8:37am

    Butt Butt think of the job creation

    Butt Butt Luddite

    Butt Butt/s

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2014 @ 9:13am

      Response to: Anonymous Coward on Oct 23rd, 2014 @ 8:37am

      How else are we going to pay off the surveillance equipment manufacturers, private intelligence contractors and the rest of the deep state?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Edward Teach, 23 Oct 2014 @ 11:00am

        Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Oct 23rd, 2014 @ 8:37am

        Aye, shipmate! Thou hast pierced the meat of the matter - paying the Deep State. Once the King's Favorite Boogeyman of "Communism!" started to fall up on deaf ears, money went elsewhere. It took a while for "Terrorism!" to land in the lap of the DoD and like-minded scoundrels, but here it is, being used for what's charitably called "white welfare".

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Quiet Lurcker, 23 Oct 2014 @ 8:45am

    Two Glaring Omissions

    Two things that strike me, even from the synopsis presented here.

    First, the paper is quoted as mentioning 'stake-holders', those being law enforcement and political leaders. What happened to John Q. Public? Are not average citizens stake-holders? In most cases, these programs affect the average citizen. And citizens need to know so they can make informed choices at the polling place.

    Second, there is no mention made of any indication of evidence that the surveillance actually turned up any criminals.

    Sadly, I would not be surprised if this paper 'falls on deaf ears'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2014 @ 9:25am

      Re: Two Glaring Omissions

      First, the paper is quoted as mentioning 'stake-holders', those being law enforcement and political leaders. What happened to John Q. Public? Are not average citizens stake-holders? In most cases, these programs affect the average citizen. And citizens need to know so they can make informed choices at the polling place.
      Yes, citizens are stakeholders, but look at it from another angle. Even with the implicit bias created by shutting out the group most likely to reject bulk surveillance, the study still found bulk surveillance to be a bad idea.

      Second, there is no mention made of any indication of evidence that the surveillance actually turned up any criminals.
      Perhaps in this case, absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 23 Oct 2014 @ 9:36am

      Re: Two Glaring Omissions

      The problem with who is considered a "stakeholder" goes way beyond this issue. It also pops up when talking about other laws and treaties. The public is never considered a stakeholder, which speaks volumes, I think.

      Even worse, when people defend this state of affairs, they utter nonsense such as "the public is represented by (insert group here), so they really are a stakeholder." The group is usually the government.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2014 @ 11:56am

      Re: Two Glaring Omissions

      "the paper is quoted as mentioning 'stake-holders'"

      "Stake-holders"" are the townspeople who chase vampires to drive stakes into their hearts...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Quiet Lurcker, 23 Oct 2014 @ 1:21pm

        Re: Re: Two Glaring Omissions

        : "Stake-holders"" are the townspeople who chase vampires to drive stakes into their hearts...

        I stand ... er ... sit corrected.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Brave, 23 Oct 2014 @ 8:57am

    Wouldn't somebody think of the children?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Peter (profile), 23 Oct 2014 @ 9:04am

    How do you measure 'benefits' of surveillance?

    Absence of terrorist attacks? Number of criminals arrested and convicted? Crime rate down?

    Unless we have all missed some recent breakthroughs in any of these areas, the benefits are very limited. Cost don't need to be high to give a very bad cost:benefit ratio.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2014 @ 9:18am

    'Research Shows Mass Surveillance Fails 'Drastically' In Striking Balance Between Costs And Benefits To Society'

    and that's exactly why it will continue!! there seems to be no government in the so called democratic world that is interested in the slightest in anything other than spying on as many people as possible, in any way that's possible!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    me, 23 Oct 2014 @ 9:18am

    What it is

    Is the Intelligence/Police mechanism trying to use fearmongering to justify its existence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Nim the Invincible, 23 Oct 2014 @ 9:59am

    Balance is a strawman

    "...fails drastically in striking the correct balance between security and privacy..."

    This whole idea that there can or should be some sort of "balance" is ridiculous, there is not balance between the individual and the state. As a proposition it's insane, to frame discussions in this way is to totally distort the reality of things.

    Spying on Nations is one thing Spying on individuals is completely different, on has approximately equal resources and an ability to defend themselves the other does not.

    This crap is unethical, and violent and allowing it to be framed as if there is a need for people to give weight to some fictitious "balance" is a mistake.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2014 @ 12:04pm

      Re: Balance is a strawman

      I'm not a huge fan of John Locke either, but you're sort of missing the point.

      "Security" is not the sole concern of the state; ordinary people are also concerned with not being attacked by terrorists, pedophiles, or the strawman de jour. "Privacy" is not the sole concern of the individual; at least in theory, the whole point of government is to get things done while respecting citizens' rights.

      In other words, the security vs. privacy debate is not an attempt to balance the concerns of the state with the concerns of the citizen. It's an attempt to provide people with a reasonable amount of security at the cost of a reasonable amount of privacy. The definition of "reasonable" shifts depending on the speaker, but it's not like John Everyman is on one side, facing up against the faceless behemoth of Big Government.

      If the government has any side at all in this, institutionally, I'm pretty sure it's driven by inertia. Billions of dollars have been spent on systems that fail to provide either security or privacy. The TSA is a good example, as is the NSA's failure to catch any terrorists at all while spying on everyone. The sane response would be to admit that the programs were hideously expensive failures, dismantle them, and spend the money for something useful. This being politics, their response is to double down: show some evidence that the program might someday work, claim that it needs more money to work correctly, and build the whole thing even bigger.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 23 Oct 2014 @ 1:34pm

        Re: Re: Balance is a strawman

        "Security" is not the sole concern of the state; ordinary people are also concerned with not being attacked by terrorists, pedophiles, or the strawman de jour.

        I'm not, and you know why? Because among the many possible threats I, and others face on a regular, if not daily basis, 'terrorists and pedophiles' are way down on the list.

        Are they a concern? Sure. Are they multi-billion dollar, sacrifice my rights or 'protect' me from them concerns? Not even close.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 24 Oct 2014 @ 6:23am

        Re: Re: Balance is a strawman

        "It's an attempt to provide people with a reasonable amount of security at the cost of a reasonable amount of privacy."

        Even if this is true and desirable (and I'm not sure that it is), I fail to see how anything like actual balance has been achieved. It seems to me that it's been entirely one-sided: the cost is not a reasonable amount of privacy, but an enormous amount of privacy, and the additional security purchased by it seems pitifully small.

        However, this all is a step beyond my first problem: who the hell do these people think they are to decide for me how much privacy and security I'm allowed to have? They are not my lord and I am not their serf.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          GEMont (profile), 31 Oct 2014 @ 9:54pm

          Re: Re: Re: Balance is a strawman

          "They are not my lord and I am not their serf."

          Perhaps this is true in your own mind, but, I think that the members of the Ownership Society might disagree with both of those sentiments.

          And considering that under the laws that they have established over the last thirty years, they can indeed legally remove all of your civil rights, without the need for either explanation or legal precedent, by simply dropping a joint on your carpet after an anonymously triggered Swat Raid on your house, or by having one of the Federal Agencies decide you are a threat to national security, and thereafter incarcerate and torture your ass where-ever they deem proper for as long as they deem proper and when and if they deem it proper, execute you without notice or due process, in any manner they deem suitable....

          Sounds like you are not much more than owned property to me.

          ----

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2014 @ 10:04am

    Still looking at if it's a democratic issue , It is not ,US/World citizens do not at this point have the ability to change it.
    we were/are kept in the dark about most of the policies, our input is not welcome ,accepted nor is it wanted.
    we are not stakeholders, we are considered subservient to laws that we had no power over, ideas that were far removed from the goals of our future as humans.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2014 @ 11:47am

    I think mass spying is mostly about corporate espionage, information control (finding out a journalist's sources), and the executive branch spying on America's judicial and legislative branches. As well as spying on foreign leaders in order to increase negotiating leverage.

    I have yet to see a single example where mass spying as stopped a terrorist attack. Therefore, mass spying most likely has little to do with stopping terrorism.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Oct 2014 @ 12:36pm

    Edward Snowden in his first interview from Hong Kong, articulated the perfect and precise reason that NSA snooping was bad. The term he used was Turnkey Tyranny.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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