Computer Surveillance: Qualitative Attempt to Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Studies suggest that even "more "omniscient" technology is likely to be developed" in the near future (Lyon, 2002). Cookies were perhaps the first form of internet surveillance, developed in 1994 as a means for websites to track visitors logging in so they could provide more optimal service (Lyon, 2002). Now cookies have transformed the shape of communication and have further advanced the ability of criminals to survey individual user functions on the web.

The web is many things, an environment for "learning, conversing, coordinating and trading" but also "a means of trapping the unwary, of constraining the choices of the unsuspecting" (Lyon, 2002). From cookies web bugs developed, and increasingly other surveillance methods pop up daily. According to Lyons (2002) the web might be considered the "World Wide Web of Surveillance" (p. 345).

Lyons (2002) further defines surveillance as "processing personal data for the purposes of management and influence" and suggests that though ambiguous in nature, computer surveillance is constantly changing (p. 345).

Networked Surveillance

Networked surveillance or trading of names, email addresses and renting of lists that contain consumer information gathered from sites has in the past been considered relatively benign (Lyons, 2002). According to one leader at Sun Microsystems, most people "have zero privacy anyway, get over it" (Lyons, 2002, p. 345). But the problem has become more insidious.

Campbell & Carlson (2002) note that surveillance is often used as a "technique and technology of control" in a society best designed as focused on "information capitalism." (p. 586). In their study, Campbell & Carlson point out that surveillance technologies can be employed for such purposes as more effective and directed marketing and advertising online. Further they suggest that privacy has become a commodity that can be sold to anyone for any purpose at the right price (Campbell & Carlson, 2002).

According to Marx (2003), "the increased prominence of surveillance technologies is pulled by concerns over issues such as crime, terrorism, and economic competitiveness, and is pushed by newly perceived opportunities in electronics, computerization and artificial intelligence" (p. 369). Increased expectations of and protections for privacy have furthered interest in surveillance and even greater technological developments (Marx, 2003).

Marx (2003) also points out that there are many cultural beliefs that support "the legitimacy of surveillance" and notes phrases such as "I have nothing to hide" and "It's for my own good" as evidence to support this notion (p. 369). He goes on to conduct a study where he concludes that 11 forms of surveillance neutralization exist and that the majority of these are forms of 'resistance or noncompliance' (Marx, 2003, p. 369).

Electronic Surveillance in the Workplace

Another area where computer surveillance is increasingly a concern is in the workplace, though the implication for criminal activity in this regard is unclear according to the research available. More and more employees have reason to be concerned about surveillance and privacy issues as they find their employers have the ability to monitor their electronic activity more closely than before (Sinrod, 2001). Employers however argue that they have some valid reasons for monitoring.

According to statistics, a recent survey conducted by the American Management Association revealed that almost 80% of companies use some form of computer surveillance to monitor employee activities (Sinrod, 2001). Among the more common surveillance conducted includes surveillance of Internet use and email messages (Sinrod, 2001).

In certain states laws have been enacted that prevent employers from monitoring employee e-mail, as is the case in California (Sinrod, 2001). Employers however continue to rationalize their activity, noting that computer surveillance helps "combat personal use of the Internet during core business hours" (Sinrod, 2001).

Employers are also looking however to limit "defamatory statements" that employees may be making via electronic communications (Sinrod, 2001).

The issues of privacy rights violation however are legitimate. The primary legislative measure targeted toward electronic privacy in the workplace is the electronic communications privacy act, enacted in 1986, which bars the "intentional interception of any wire, oral or electronic communication, or the unauthorized access of stored communications" (Sinrod, 2001). This act is not without limitations however, and does allow monitoring under "appropriate circumstances" including allowing employers to monitor business calls and communications where employee consent has been acquired (Sinrod, 2001).

Other reasons cited for surveillance include an employee productivity issues, quality of work, employee theft, unlawful activity and other factors "potentially affecting productivity" (Johnson, 1995).

According to Bryant, there are some positions more likely to be monitored than others including: "word processors, data entry, telephone operators, customer service representatives, telemarketers, insurance clerks and bank proof clerks" (Bryant, 1995). Professional and technical workers are also monitored, and electronic mail surveillance of employee activities is common (Bryant, 1995). The exact number of employees affected by surveillance has not been recorded, but estimates suggests that as many as 20 million Americans alone are electronically surveyed while on the job, and that number has been estimated at as high as 26 million by others (Bryant, 1995).

Bryant cites Zuboff saying that a shift in computer surveillance in the workplace is occurring, where new computer systems not only monitor processes but also people, and mangers are now using computer surveillance as a method of recording behavioral history (Bryant, 1995). At what point does computer surveillance in the workplace become cause for concern? Can it even be considered a legitimate crime? What is clear is simply that the answer to this question is yet unclear in the minds of law enforcement agents, employers and employees alike.

Deterring Crime

Can computer crime resulting from surveillance actually be deterred? Computer surveillance crimes can be "committed anonymously from anywhere in the world at anytime," and according to some the consequences are "unprecedented" (Wible, 2003). To deter crime Wible (2003) suggests that traditional law enforcement methods must be altered, because computer crime requires "a new approach to thinking about deterrence" (p. 1577). To what extent these methods must be altered however remains a question to be answered.

Wibler (2003) suggests that computer crime may come in many varieties, including: online theft and fraud, vandalism and politically motivated activities, whereas 'hackers' generally want to break codes, seek challenges and gain bragging rights (p. 1577).

One school of thought is that a form of hacking called "look and see" where the hacker only attempts to get in to break a code and look around should be de-criminalized (Wible, 2003). Yet another method suggests that contests can be created to provide incentives for "law-abiding hacking" acknowledging this subculture yet maintaining individual's privacy (Wibler, 2003).

Up until this far most legislative action geared toward eliminating computer crime has proven largely ineffective... despite criminal penalties hackers in particular continue to intrude private networks (Wibler, 2003). Wibler's (2003) study suggests that contests may steer behavior away from unwanted intrusions while encouraging the hacker to remain competitive and work within his/her culture. Though Wibler's suggestions for deterring crime are interesting and cause one to think that crime may be addressed in an alternative way, they do not suggest solutions for more serious criminal activity. Those hackers interested in participating in contests are likely to be the least malignant of criminals and the least likely to impact consumers and businesses severely in the long-term.

Deterrance and Encryption Technology

In response to increased concerns over illicit computer surveillance, there has surfaced a rise in encryption technologies (Shelley, 1998). Is this the answer to deterrence?

Financial services industries are already required to secure any computerized transactions (Shelley, 1998). More sophisticated and more widely available technologies are consistently developed, and a trend is now forming toward "integration of robust digital encryption technologies into commercial desktop applications and networks" (Shelley, 1998).

There are however still many tools that computer criminals can use to seal electronic material or conceal illicit activity, "including anonymous re-mailers, where electronic messages can be forwarded without divulging sources," and a tool called steganography, where secret and innocuous data can be concealed (Shelley, 1998, p. 605). Part of the problem is countermeasures to prevent criminal activity are often very costly and technologically complicated, and thus far encryption technologies are not quite strong enough to prevent crime groups from accessing this technology and abusing it (Shelley, 1998).

Encryption can actually be used by criminals to avoid tracing criminal activities on the web (Shelley, 1998). Organized crime consistently uses computer surveillance to monitor international financial activities, and there is much evidence that suggests that crime groups have used encryption techniques to gain access to law enforcement and other protected information (Shelley, 1998). However there is not at this time enough information to assess accurately the extent to which encryption is growing and masking illicit activity, merely evidence to suggest that it is an area of growth among criminals (Shelley, 1998).

According to the FBI, there are at least 5,000 computer forensics cases each year, up to 10,000 and generally 5% involve encryption (Shelley, 1998). Business personnel suggest that 29% of computer crimes are unsolvable…

Sources Used in Document:

references and deter computer crime." Yale Law Journal, Vol. 112, Issue 6, p. 1577

Computer Surveillance

Cite This Term Paper:

"Computer Surveillance Qualitative Attempt To" (2004, October 05) Retrieved July 13, 2020, from

"Computer Surveillance Qualitative Attempt To" 05 October 2004. Web.13 July. 2020. <>

"Computer Surveillance Qualitative Attempt To", 05 October 2004, Accessed.13 July. 2020,