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Archive for the Ch 11: Surveillance Category

Watching them watching you watching them

Posted on Tue, Mar 27, 2007 at 10:56 PM by Andrew Chadwick

A rather bizarre new web service called Atten.tv. It allows you to watch others' web browsing sessions in what looks like a quasi-video format. To quote:

"Watch what others are watching. See who is watching you. Influential individuals. Voyeuristic groups."

This is the tragedy of ubiquitous digital surveillance. It turns us all into voyeurs.

To what extent does China block external sites?

Posted on Sat, Mar 10, 2007 at 2:24 PM by Andrew Chadwick

We're in dire need of some kind of up to date quantitative study of the extent of filtering and blocking by the 'great firewall of China'. Especially when one considers this:

China blocks my Department

It's ironic, given that I've recently heard that Internet Politics is to be translated into Chinese!

Web 2.0 surveillance

Posted on Tue, Dec 05, 2006 at 11:07 PM by Andrew Chadwick

An informative article in the New York Times about the changing shape of US anti-terrorism surveillance.

Update: the state department turns to Google.

Edited on: Tue, Dec 12, 2006 8:13 AM

UK Information Commissioner's surveillance report

Posted on Sat, Nov 04, 2006 at 10:44 AM by Andrew Chadwick

A major new study of the impact of electronic surveillance (pdf), issued by the UK Information Commissioner but authored by a team of surveillance scholars.

Deleted Scenes #05: Contradictions of Internet diffusion in Singapore

Posted on Wed, Sep 06, 2006 at 9:57 PM by Andrew Chadwick

This passage on Singapore didn't make it into Chapter 11 for reasons to do with flow.

If matters appear relatively clear cut in China, they are less so in nearby Singapore, where the contradictions of a state-driven high-tech economic development strategy and authoritarian rule may soon begin to intensify. Given an economic context of declining manufacturing growth rates in the 1980s, Singapore implemented a national information technology plan, aimed at developing a modern communication infrastructure based on fibre optic backbones, and the development of an entrepreneurial culture of innovation in the high-tech sector. Economic development in this area was also spurred by the early and widespread adoption of new ICTs in government as well as a new agenda for the teaching of IT skills in universities. All of these initiatives were designed with economic development in mind, and they have proved successful in these terms (Ho et al, 2002: 127, 143).

Singapore is best described as semi-authoritarian, and is widely regarded as one of the most surveilled societies in the world (Kalathil and Boas, 2003: 74). Since its founding as an independent republic in 1965, the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has dominated most aspects of its political life. Opposition parties are permitted, but a range of restrictions mean that they are effectively excluded from power. Historically, the PAP's success in producing high levels of economic growth and rising living standards for Singaporeans has underpinned its legitimacy. However, the PAP regime continues to censor the media. The government effectively controls all of Singapore's major newspapers and their related websites and portals through its control over the Board of Directors of Singapore Press Holdings (Kalathil and Boas, 203: 77). The counterpart to the state-led knowledge economy in the Singapore model has been a relatively undeveloped civil society, and state restriction of citizen activity aimed at criticising its economic rationale (Ho et al, 2002: 133). Thus, the new economy was officially encouraged for allowing the rapid pace of industrialization to continue, but the potential for the Internet to loosen existing social, cultural, moral and political values was not considered part of the plan.

Much like China, Singapore has an internal 'walled garden' approach to the Internet. The Singapore Broadcasting Authority grants licenes to online content providers and ISPs, but all ISPs must send their traffic through state proxy servers. The state uses these to filter unacceptable content, especially pornography and political criticism, before it appears. In 2001, the PAP announced stricter regulation of political websites, forcing them to register with the authorities. These and other regulations have had a 'chilling effect', and have promoted a culture of self-censorship online. (Kalathil and Boas, 2003: 78).

Yet according to research by K. C. Ho and colleagues, one fascinating aspect of the Singapore case has been the tendency for the economic-developmental aspects of technology to leak into other areas of social, cultural and political life, creating in the process a number of public spheres of communication which were previously impossible to imagine in a state with relatively disciplinary moral traditions. As cyberspace developed in Singapore during the 1990s, relatively unhindered by state restriction apart from a few high profile cases of state blocking of pornography, it has created an alternative public sphere of religious groups, political opposition and sexual minorities. Singapore's cyber civil society contains groups ranging from those making civil and constitutional claims, through to anti-censorship campaigners, unofficial opposition parties, and groups promoting alternative lifestyles and sexual freedoms. Religious movements from other countries have found Singapore a relatively easy place to host their sites. Falun Gong, outlawed in China, has bases in Singapore, and channels much of its Asia-Pacific web activity through sites hosted there (Ho et al, 2002: 141). The flourishing of Singapore's civil society, partly facilitated by the Internet, is only in its early stages. In comparative terms, liberal democratic freedoms are still relatively weak in Singapore and are likely to remain so for some time. The state continues to enforce strict controls on Internet communication. But harnessing the knowledge economy in the national interest has had some unintended consequences.


Ho, K. C., Baber, Z. and Khondker, H. (2002) '"Sites" of Resistance: Alternative Websites and State-Society Relations', British Journal of Sociology 53 (1) pp. 127-148.

Kalathil, S. and Boas, T. C. (2003) Open Networks, Closed Regimes: The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington DC).

AOL accidentally releases data - provided by Google search

Posted on Tue, Aug 08, 2006 at 12:52 PM by Andrew Chadwick

A couple of weeks ago the AOL research department released this dataset:

"500k User Queries Sampled Over 3 Months. This collection consists of ~20M web queries collected from ~500k users over three months. Where the data is sorted by ananomized user id... The goal of this collection is to provide a real query log based on users. It could be used for personalization, query reformulation or other type of search research."

It was made available as a free download for non-commercial use only. It was quickly withdrawn but is widely available as a bittorrent download.

The data are reasonably anonymous. I say 'reasonably' because there are no strict personal identifiers in these data, but personal details like social security numbers, phone numbers, addresses and so on do feature in search requests. And there are plenty of those in here. The data are also uncensored.

This is going to send huge ripples through the regulatory debate, not least because AOL's search technology is provided by Google, the globe's number one search engine. These are a very good guide to the kind of search queries that run through Google. And Google has kept very tight wraps on this kind of thing in the past.

As an academic I'm torn: these data would provide a wonderful snapshot of search activity. But is it ethical to use them if the users have not consented? They were designed for an academic audience, but are these 'public' data? They will undoubtedly be publicly available for many years to come. It's also highly likely that both law enforcement and market research companies will be working with them already. Eszter Hargittai, an expert on the sociology of search, points out some of the problems.

Two weeks and 200 dollars

Posted on Tue, Aug 08, 2006 at 12:09 PM by Andrew Chadwick

To crack the biometric passport RFID chip. For the UK angle, click here.


They Swipe, We Swipe

Posted on Wed, Aug 02, 2006 at 11:03 PM by Andrew Chadwick

A very cool project to highlight the privacy and surveillance issues associated with electronic swiping of drivers' licenses in the United States.

RFID hackers

Posted on Fri, Jun 02, 2006 at 8:25 PM by Andrew Chadwick

Entertaining article by Annalee Newitz about RFID hackers.

New CDT report on privacy and surveillance

Posted on Mon, May 08, 2006 at 10:04 PM by Andrew Chadwick

A thoughtful and detailed new report from the Center for Democracy and Technology on challenges to privacy (pdf). Very US-focused but brings some of the stories in Chapter 11 up to date.

Carnivores and backbones

Posted on Tue, Feb 07, 2006 at 11:25 PM by Andrew Chadwick

Watching the excellent This Week In Tech #39 over the weekend I was intrigued by the comments of the President of the California ISP Association, Dane Jasper, regarding US government surveillance of ISPs. Jasper discussed the government's fabled Carnivore (now DCS1000) Internet 'wiretap' system, but stated that his own ISP, Sonic.net, had never had a request to install a DCS1000 machine. In fact, he added that these days that sort of surveillance would take place at the telecommunication backbones level, which goes against what most of the (admittedly slight) literature would suggest.

BBC Google documentary

Posted on Mon, Jan 23, 2006 at 4:53 PM by Andrew Chadwick

The World According to Google

Last weekend's BBC television documentary about Google has been made available online at the BBC site. Don't expect any major surprises, but it is a useful digest of the company's origins, philosophy and business model. It also deals with the issue of click fraud, a potential threat to Google's dominance.

Update: just when we think Google's surprise-ometer has been turned down, it emerges that they have made a deal with the Chinese state to apply filters to their Chinese search engine. At the same time they are under pressure from the US Department of Justice to provide search logs to assist in investigations.

The NSA's unpalatable cookies

Posted on Mon, Jan 09, 2006 at 11:09 AM by Andrew Chadwick

A story emerged over the New Year period about US government websites' use of tracking cookies. Such "persistent" cookies are in violation of a code of conduct issued during the late Clinton era regulating what information government websites should be permitted to gather about web surfers. This appears to have been updated by the Office of Management and Budget in 2003, but includes mention of permitting persistent cookies where there is a "compelling need".

If you wanted to be conspiratorial, you could argue that the NSA knew about this all along, but it might be pointed out that the NSA and other agencies probably have better ways to gather information.

Also, this is more a product of the way government websites have emerged. They are an ad hoc patchwork of literally tens of thousands of sites. Many of these are developed by outsource firms or departmental hobbyists who are simply not aware of codes of conduct such as those governing cookies.

Nice quote

Posted on Thu, Nov 10, 2005 at 11:07 AM by Andrew Chadwick
"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell the truth"

Oscar Wilde

Email tracing

Posted on Mon, Oct 10, 2005 at 4:03 PM by Andrew Chadwick

A superb post on Kuro5hin outlining how easy it is to find out the locational origins of email. These sorts of things just pile on the evidence for Kevin D. Haggerty and Richard V. Ericson's theory of the surveillant assemblage.

Yahoo, privacy and the state in China

Posted on Thu, Sep 15, 2005 at 9:03 AM by Andrew Chadwick

The New York Times reports on the story of a Chinese dissident whose Yahoo email account was probably surrendered to the authorities by the US-based company as part of an investigation last year. I say 'probably' because Yahoo are refusing to comment. An interesting case because it reveals the conflict between the commercial imperatives faced by the likes of Yahoo, Google and Microsoft (not wanting to damage their prospects in a potentially lucrative market) and those companies' origins in western societies with established liberal traditions regarding individual privacy and freedom of speech. This illustrates a broader point, which is that it may be perfectly possible for China and other countries to operate a 'walled garden' approach to the net. They may be able to control its political side-effects, while benefitting from its economic gains. Indeed, I refereed an interesting paper on this very subject a few weeks back.

See also the excellent book: Kalathil, S. and Boas, T. C. (2003) Open Networks, Closed Regimes: The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, DC).

Update: George Monbiot quotes from an article in the Calgary Herald (which I couldn't track down) about keyword filtering on MSN China:

'If Chinese users of Microsoft’s internet service MSN try to send a message containing the words "democracy", "liberty" or "human rights", they are warned that "This message includes forbidden language. Please delete the prohibited expression."

Edited on: Thu, Sep 15, 2005 9:51 AM

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