Monitoring digital presence
Digital behaviour is also monitored. By gathering and analysing server information the behaviour and the actions of online identities can easily be monitored. The only issue that has to be resolved in such a case is how to connect an online identity with a 'real life' identity. This third form of witnessing evolved with the rise of elaborate information and communication systems. "The new era is characterized by systems which link real time as well as stored personal data to monitoring systems, which have an unprecedented appetite for storing and analysing this information „ data „ veillance, which equals surveillance plus elements of artificial intelligence." (Steve Wright 2000, 201). Wright gives the history and a description of ECHELON, one of the most elaborate 'global listening systems' there is. The STOA Report, written for the European Parliament as early as 1998, describes ECHELON as follows: "ECHELON has the ability to intercept almost all global telecommunications. The ECHELON system thus works by indiscriminately intercepting and searching telephone calls, faxes and e-mails on a positively global industrial scale. Computers that can automatically search through traffic for keywords have existed since the 1970's. Now these computers are used in conjunction with the latest electronic technologies to automatically scan all the messages passed through the world's telecommunication satellites. Two million telephone calls, faxes and emails are checked every hour against the 'dictionary' to tag anything that might prove interesting. When a dictionary is triggered, the computers automatically route a copy of the material to the country whose dictionary is in question, where the transmission is printed up verbatim. The contents of the call, the fax or the e-mail are then dumped on the desk of a security operative where it is read, evaluated and, if deemed necessary, summarized or passed up the system." (Ford 2000, 25).
Practices like ECHELON are hardly under democratic control. This description of ECHELON is already rather outdated taking into account how rapidly these technologies develop. Since 9/11, the bombing of the Twin Towers in New York and the announcement of the "War on Terror", we can be sure that these systems have only become more elaborate, and the laws that should control them have only become less and less subject to democratic control. Advocates of systems like these argue that these systems are making the world 'safe'; they protect everyone from everyone. The social and political implications of using systems like this are hardly considered. "The very act of surveillance changes the behaviour of the people being watched and, as we know from the experience of Communist East Germany and the Soviet Union, the first casualty of that surveillance is trust. When we seek to apply human rights laws to cyberspace, it is important that we broaden our enquiry beyond legal technicality and examine the social and political implications of our choices." (Steeves 2000, 191).
One of the scarcely realized side effects of surveillance technologies is the loss of trust between people in a particular environment. When trust is gone, as will be elaborated upon later, the way people live together changes for the worse. Not only governments monitor. Companies, for example, also monitor our online behaviour. "Corporations and governments alike are surreptitiously able to watch every online action we take, but their presence is hidden and the uses they make of our transactional data are completely invisible. Without reciprocity, online openness can detract from the sense of personal control and autonomy, which is essential to healthy human relationships. Ultimately, we must make a judgement call about the kind of society we want." (Steeves 2000, 197). It is particularly the fact that there is no reciprocity possible, no feedback, between a person and these monitoring and surveillance systems that makes them a threat to personal and political freedoms.
CN , Steve Wright , Glyn Ford , Valerie Steeves