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Roger Clarke's 'While You Were Sleeping'

While You Were Sleeping ... Surveillance Technologies Arrived

Roger Clarke

Principal, Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, Canberra

Visiting Fellow, Department of Computer Science, Australian National University

Revision of 2 February 2001

This paper was prepared for publication in Australian Quarterly 73, 1 (January-February 2001)

© Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, 2000, 2001

Available under an AEShareNet Free for Education licence

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Technologists have already implemented Foucault's 'society as prison'. But nobody noticed.



Unnoticed by the public, and overlooked by social and political commentators, the surveillance society sneaked under our guard, and has been implemented.

Surveillance once meant the Panopticon. In a late 18th century burst of rational economics, Bentham invented the central watch-tower as a more efficient means of coping with exploding prison-populations than sending rabbit-poachers to distant colonies like New South Wales. More recently, Foucault revived the idea as a metaphor for the constricting nature of late twentieth century society.

Well-meaning technologists have been beavering away, unlocking the great promise of technology. Unencumbered by social conscience, they've co-opted devices and processes that we thought were for widgets, pallets and trucks, and applied them to humans. And thereby they've delivered totalitarian levers that megalomaniacal anti-heroes of the last century or so would have craved.

The Technologies

Visual Surveillance

Surveillance once meant watching people, and a great deal has been invested in technologies that automate watching. Cameras have become smaller and cheaper. And the form in which the record is created has moved from chemicals-on-paper to digital. That enables images to be rapidly and cheaply transmitted, reproduced, accessed and analysed.

Opportunities to sell these technologies abound. Promises have been made about public safety at ATMs and railway stations, and in carparks and shopping centres that are rife with drug-dealing. Nomatter that the targeted behaviours simply move elsewhere. Sydney's Olympics offered Australian law enforcement agencies the chance to co-opt the simplistic thinking of the leader in video-surveillance, the United Kingdom. The U.S. Super Bowl in late January 2001 featured video-surveillance augmented by face-matching technology.

The explosion in cameras and remote visual monitoring has been so brisk that some commentators have been moved to declare the death of privacy-through-secrecy, and proclaim privacy-through-openness as the only remaining possibility. But we've yet to see images from inside social control centres being streamed out to the rest of the world. Meanwhile, against the threatening cameras of demonstrators and the media, police adopt the simple countermeasures of wearing identical uniforms, removing their id-tags, and ensuring that protective gear obscures their faces.

On the other hand, exploitation of the vast volumes of moving image has been limited to date. This is because the recognition of events-of-interest, and the identification of individuals based on such images, remain technically very challenging, labour-intensive, expensive, and unreliable.

Electronic Surveillance

The monitoring of sound also has a long history. Sound amplification and directional microphones have been developed to assist in the process. During the twentieth century, transmission of first analogue and then digital representations of speech became important. With that has arisen a collection of privacy-invasive technologies such as caller-id (to disclose the number of the caller to the callee), personalised telephone numbers, infrastructure subverted in order to facilitate eavesdropping, and spin-offs like reverse telephone directories (to use a telephone number to locate and even to identify a caller).

The explosion in Internet usage has resulted in multiple attempts by the Australian government to impose censorship and policing roles on service providers. Meanwhile, employers are actively monitoring email and web-usage in ways that would represent wholesale breaches of the law if they applied the same principles to visual, audio and telephone monitoring. The Privacy Commissioner, far from decrying the invasiveness of these activities, has actually issued a 'guideline' that supports the status quo of absolute employer power and no employee rights.


Watching people is expensive, even when technology is applied to the task. It's far more resource-efficient to monitor people through their data. People leave behind them large numbers of data trails, and these can be used as the basis for identifying individuals worthy of closer attention.

The benefits delivered to government agencies and corporations by computing and communications technologies have been so great that enormous efforts are being expended to flush out many hitherto anonymous transactions, and develop new and more intensive data trails. Cash is rapidly giving way to identified credit-card, debit-card and stored-value-card payments in such areas as taxis, public transport, take-away food and cups of coffee. The blandishments involved in so-called 'loyalty schemes' result in consumers yielding up vast amounts of personal data to a wide array of participating organisations, in return for minimal benefits.

Organisations are not satisfied with access to the data trails that arise from interactions between the individual and themselves. They routinely interchange identified data with one another, to enable agencies and corporations alike to build up much more intensive digital personae, and hence identify individuals of interest, and take steps to deal with them. Credit reference data continues to present serious problems for many people. And the Packer organisation is now competing with the Taxation Office, Centrelink and the Health Insurance Commission for the mantle of the biggest holder of data about Australians, with PBL raiding government sources as well as the holdings of multiple direct marketers in order to consolidate consumer profiles into a US-operated database.

Corporations distribute promotional materials selectively, choosing the time, the medium and the presentation that they judge will maximise the likelihood of achieving their ends. They emphasise the enhanced customer service and reduced marketing expenses that this enables, and dislike the term 'consumer manipulation' being used to describe their techniques.

Government agencies and corporations alike conduct 'front-end verification' to assess applications, and 'data matching' and 'profiling' to detect individuals that they should be paying more attention to. Government agencies are increasingly applying 'cross-system enforcement', by denying entitlements in one context as a result of infringements in another.

The Internet has seen a surge in inventiveness in the dataveillance technology arena. Cookies, single-pixel images, enforced submission of credit-card details as a condition of site-visits, and attempts to impose digital signature mechanisms feature among the ham-fisted attempts by marketers to transpose into cyberspace the mass marketing techniques that worked so well for them in the broadcast era.


Organisations have long sought more reliable ways of associating data with the right individual. This would be greatly simplified if only people would use the same identifier in all contexts, or if a set of cross-indexes were maintained among identifiers.

The Australia Card proposal (1985-87) was one attempt at such a general-purpose identifier. Another was the Tax File Number (TFN), which involved a litany of broken promises about the breadth of its use. Successive attempts have been made to broaden the use of drivers' licence numbers.

After multiple failed attempts, the federal health bureaucracy has finally succeeded in extending the Medicare Number to that most sensitive of health data, prescriptions. For the first time, a centralised database will now store the medical conditions of every Australian, correlated via the Medicare Number with the procedures that are already documented under Medicare proper.

Health bureaucracies are also seeking to introduce a unique patient numbering scheme, using as pretexts that it will be controlled, optional, and used primarily for the benefit of health care consumers. By making the financial costs of exercising the right not to use the patient identifier extremely high, the use of the scheme will be made no more 'optional' than the Australia Card would have been, and the TFN is. And the real purpose of these schemes is not enhancements in patient care, but the control of fraud and waste.

The Government brought forward an anti-privacy Bill in 1999-2000, and the privacy-unsympathetic Opposition allowed it to pass with minimal amendments. That statute actually legitimises large numbers of privacy-invasive private sector practices that have hitherto been regarded by most people as intrusive, inappropriate and unjustified, and which the public expected its elected representatives to ban or to tightly regulate, not to authorise. It can be confidently expected that the array of exceptions built into the regulatory arrangements for sensitive personal health and financial data will be highly permissive.

In the identification area as well, surveillance technologies abound. Chip-cards can offer people convenience, and thereby inveigle them into identifying themselves consistently in a wide range of circumstances. Biometrics have already been imposed on captive populations, like prisoners, prison visitors, and employees in high-tech businesses. The push is on to broaden their usage, despite the enormous dangers that they entail. The Commonwealth Government has embarked on a scheme to cause DNA, one of the most privacy-intrusive of all biometrics, to be routinely collected by all governments, and stored in central databases. Tasmanians are reported to be enthusiastic about the idea.

Person Location and Tracking

Consistent use of human identifiers, the gathering of intensive data trails, the generation of new trails, and the consolidation of the various trails into a comprehensive picture, together establish the means for organisations to retrospectively track a person's movements, and infer their interests, attitudes and behaviours. Such detailed profile data is invaluable for both commercial and social control purposes.

Back in the 1960s, a U.S. think tank concluded that the best tool that Soviet Russia could develop in order to sustain the repression of its population was an EFT/POS scheme. Western business interests foresaw the opportunities for consumer behaviour monitoring and manipulation. But unlike the Soviets, they had the technological capacity to deliver.

Even as seemingly unthreatening a facility as ATMs embodies surveillance capabilities. Consumers changed their behaviour, and now withdraw far less at each visit to an ATM than they did to a teller, and consequently visit them far more often. They thereby generate a trail of transactions with their bank which discloses their movements. The network operates in real-time, and the ATM network was first used as a means of detaining a suspect as long ago as the mid-1980s.

Far more sophisticated means are now available whereby individuals are subject to real-time tracking and location. So-called 'intelligent transportation systems' (ITS) have been designed to identify vehicles, and thereby individuals associated with them. Melbourne City Link recently became the first major public thoroughfare in the world to deny people the ability to travel anonymously. The N.S.W. Safety-Cam system, nominally designed to monitor trucks, in fact monitors the passage of all vehicles, despite assurances from politicians and bureaucrats, and in the absence of any authority from the legislature.

One of the most remarkable locator technologies is MOLI (Mobile Origin Location Indication). This is an 'enhancement' being implemented in all mobile phones, such that the device will provide the service operator, and hence anyone who can gain access to the data, with the device's precise location. MOLI's nominal purpose is to assist emergency services to find people in trouble (e.g. buried in snowdrifts). Technology providers also hope for a bonanza in customised services to consumers (to use their hackneyed example: to direct the person to the Chinese restaurant closest to their present position).

But the real motivation does not derive from those quarters. The drivers are law enforcement agencies, who hope to be able to locate lawbreakers and suspects. A related technique was used by the Russians to acquire a target, launch a guided missile, and kill a Chechnyan leader. Leaders of demonstrations in the future should expect both their locations and their conversations to be transparent to the police (and, as a result of the recent weakening of controls over the use of the armed forces in civil contexts, to the army as well). MOLI will have many uses, some spectacular, but many of them insidious.

Behaviour Manipulation and Repression

Technologists have dramatically enhanced the visual monitoring of people, and electronic surveillance techniques. During the second half of the twentieth century, they have invented dramatically more economic tools of dataveillance, and enabled limited surveillance resources to be deployed against far larger populations. Long-standing data trails have been consolidated. New data trails have been created, and anonymous transactions converted into identified ones. Identification technologies are being deployed in order to ensure that the data trails are able to be consolidated efficiently. Retrospective tracking of movements and behaviour has been joined by real-time tracking and location.

The purpose of these technologies is to affect the behaviour of both targeted individuals, and of populations. In some cases, the intention is to encourage a particular behaviour, such as purchasing, or voter-turnout. In others, it is to repress particular behaviours. This can be achieved by means of direct action, or simply through the deterrent effect of knowing that 'we' are being watched by 'them'. This article attempts to say nothing new about the techniques of behaviour repression, because that's all been said before. Instead it has set out to demonstrate how the technologies of surveillance, which are a vital enabler of behaviour manipulation and repression, have been delivered.


Well-meaning technologists invented the technologies of ubiquitous surveillance. Social and political commentators, equally as well-meaning, overlooked them. Even most humanities students and artists, less bound by scientistic convention, and more dependent on intuition, don't appear to have picked up the trend. Those that did have published in specialised literatures (mainly the cyberpunk category of sci-fi, and a sub-set of the action-movie genre), and hence mainstream readers have missed them.

How could advanced, well-educated, well-informed, free societies have been so myopic??

It seems that, for the last fifty years, most people's image of surveillance has been conditioned by Eric Blair's 1948 masterpiece. In '1984', Eric's George Orwell depicted a world in which governments used technology as a means to control their populations to an extent that even Stalin had not achieved.

The specifics of the technology were less important than the atmosphere that the novel created. Yet the vague concept of 2-way 'telescreens' is what most people even now implicitly assume to be the technological enabler of an authoritarian world. How naive. Occasionally, paranoids express concerns that 'they' have finally succeeded in implanting a minituarised camera in every TV set, which transmits images of the couch-potatoes to monitoring centres. Yet no meaningful evidence of governments prevailing on TV manufacturers to enhance their equipment in such a manner has ever emerged. Instead, the last 50 years of technological development has delivered far superior surveillance tools than Orwell imagined. And we didn't even notice.

Another blind spot in the baby-boomers' appreciation of surveillance was the presumption that the threat to freedom came from governments. Already the power of the nation-state is on the wane, as the scale of corporations outgrows that of countries, as regions balkanise and re-federate, and as globalisation economics and politics make the trans-national space more important that the national place.

Even in the 1980s, cyberpunk novelists took as read the idea that governments were bit-players, competing with alternative mafias and dominated by cybercorps, which create virtually walled sanctuaries within which polite, well-to-do, regulated, economic society flourishes, while the rest of society regresses to high-tech but lawless neo-tribalism.

The few were prescient, realising the directions that surveillance society was taking. While AQ readers slept ...


Agre P.E. & Harbs C.A. (1994) 'Social Choice about Privacy: Intelligent Vehicle-highway Systems in the United States', Information Technology & People 7, 4, (1994) 63-90, at

Bentham J. (1791) 'Panopticon; or, the Inspection House', London, 1791

Brin D. (1998) 'The Transparent Society' Addison-Wesley, 1998

Davies S. (1992) 'Big Brother: Australia's Growing Web of Surveillance' Simon & Schuster, Sydney, 1992

Davies S. (1996) 'Monitor: Extinguishing Privacy on the Information Superhighway' Pan Macmillan, Sydney, 1996

Foucault M. (1977) 'Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison' Peregrine, London, 1975, trans. 1977

Gandy O.H. (1993) 'The Panoptic Sort: Critical Studies in Communication and in the Cultural Industries' Westview, Boulder CO, 1993

Gibson W. (1984) 'Neuromancer' Grafton/Collins, London, 1984

Lappin T. (1995) 'Truckin'' Wired 3.01 (Jan 1995), at

Larsen E. (1992) 'The Naked Consumer: How Our Private Lives Become Public Commodities' Henry Holt, New York, 1992

Norris C. & Armstrong G. (1999) 'The Maximum Surveillance Society: The Rise of CCTV', Berg, 1999

Orwell G. (1948) '1984' Penguin, 1948

Packard V. (1964) 'The Naked Society' McKay, New York, 1964

Sipress A. (2000) 'Big Brother' Could Soon Ride Along in Back Seat', Washington Post, page 1, Sunday, October 8, 2000, at

Sterling B. (Ed.) (1986) 'Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology' Arbor House, New York, 1986, in particular the Introduction

Tomko G. (1998) 'Biometrics as a Privacy-Enhancing Technology: Friend or Foe of Privacy?' Proc. 9th Privacy Commissioners' / Data Protection Authorities Conf., Hotel Reyes Catolicos, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, September 15th, 1998, at

Zamyatin E. (1922) 'We' Penguin, 1922, 1980

Source Materials

Do you have some doubts about the generalisations that I had to make in such a short piece? Fair enough. The following are the source materials, researched over the last quarter-century, that underlie the assertions in the article.

Privacy and Dataveillance

Definitions -

The Underlying Theory -

Person Location and Person Tracking

The Technologies -

Data Matching

The Technology -

The Failure of Cost/Benefit Analysis to Control It -

Consumer Marketing / Profiling

The Technology -

Direct Marketing -

The PBL/Acxiom Conspiracy -

Common Identifiers

The Australia Card Proposal -

The Tax File Number Conspiracy -

The Parallel Data Matching Scheme Manoeuvre -

The Resistible Rise of the National Personal Data System -

Chip-Based ID

The Technology -

Design Requirements -

Internet Tracing

The Digital Persona

The Information Infrastructure is a Super Eye-Way -

Basics of Internet Privacy -

Developments in Internet Privacy -

Intelligent Transportation Systems

Safe-T-Cam -

Melbourne CityLink's e-Tag -

MOLI (Your Mobile Phone as the Spy in Your Own Pocket) -

The Impacts -

Digital Signatures and PKI

Privacy Risks in Digital Signature Technology -

Current Status -


The Technologies -

Current Status -

Anti-Utopian and Cyberpunk Perspectives on Surveillance

Review -

The 'Fair Information Practices' Placebo

The OECD Data Protection Guidelines -

Beyond the OECD Guidelines: Privacy Protection for the 21st Century -

The Individual and the State

IT as a Weapon of Authoritarianism or a Tool of Democracy -

Identification, Anonymity, Pseudonymity

Human Identification -

Anonymity and Pseudonymity -

Privacy-Enhancing Technologies (PETs)

The Technologies -

Resources -

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