The Russia Today TV programme, Going Underground, has covered the book “The Private Security State – Surveillance, Consumer Data and the War on Terror”, in some depth. As you may remember, this book is the product of a large research project sponsored by The Leverhulme Trust, and led by Professor Kirstie Ball at the Open University, and which I was very privileged to join given my previous work on customer profiling technologies and practices.
Here are some highlights from the interview:
- Even though surveillance is an increasingly ubiquitous phenomenon, this was the first empirical study to look at what happens inside commercial organisations, when they implement mandatory blanket surveillance programmes, as is the case with financial services, travel industry, telecommunications and even health. The interview focuses on the case of the travel industry;
- In the travel industry, commercial organisations had to spend an absolute fortune to implement very complex technological solutions, and design very complex processes, that enabled them to collect and process the customer data required by the government – namely, passport information for every journey made into and out of the UK;
- The initiative was challenged on legal grounds (e.g., the European Union’s Freedom of Movement principle, and certain countries’ privacy and data protection legislation), forcing travel companies to introduce (and fund) ‘opt out’ options that not only are very expensive, but are also complex and, essentially, undermine how the programme is meant to work;
- Mass surveillance initiatives like this one in the travel industry cement industry imbalances and corporate power. This is because large companies have more capacity and resources than smaller ones to meet the regulatory burden, as well as influence the technical solution adopted and shape what effectively become industry standards;
- The real winners of large surveillance programmes are the companies that get these big contracts to actually build the infrastructure to collect and process the data.
And here is the interview. It starts from minute 20:
As usual, I would love to hear your thoughts.