Creating A Culture of Security:Living Under Surveillance


Surveillance is the art of monitor­ing the activities of persons or groups

without them knowing it. Surveillance has been an intrinsic part of human

history. Sun Tzu's The Art of War, written 2,500 years ago, discusses how spies should be used against a person's enemies. But modern electronic and computer technology have given surveillance a whole new means of operation. No longer must it be practiced by agents; it can be automated using computers.

Counter-surveillance is the practice of avoiding or mak­ing surveillance difficult. Before computer networks, counter-surveillance involved physically avoiding agents and communicating secretly. Now counter-surveillance involves everything from knowing how to keep your purchases private to learning how to prevent the track­ing of your movements by mobile phones and Closed Circuit TV.

Levels of state surveillance have increased, and by using computers, the government is now able to draw together many different information sources to create profiles of persons or groups.

Many large corporations now use various forms of "passive" surveil­lance. This is primarily a means of watching the activities of staff or for marketing, security and advertising purposes. Some large corporations also actively use various forms of surveillance to monitor ac­tivists and campaign groups who may impact their operations.

As the scope of surveillance increases, it is important that activists manage their exposure to different types of sur­veillance. This will limit the damage that the government and opposing groups can do to their work.


Personal Counter-Surveillance

Protecting information is the first stage of counter-­surveillance. As humans, we are creatures of habit. If we exhibit very predictable habits, this makes keeping track of our activities easier.

The best way to begin avoiding surveillance is to think about breaking the regular patterns in your life-making it harder for someone to practice routine surveillance. It also masks the times when you may undertake activities that are out of the ordinary.

Breaking regular patterns does not mean going to bed at different times, or working different hours everyday. Instead it requires that any activities you wish to avoid being the subject of surveillance are integrated into the other events in your life-but not to the extent that they become predictable. If you change the route you take to work or shop on a random basis, you make it more difficult to monitor your movements. If you build irregular appointments into activities that might involve surveillance, it creates a background "noise" in the pattern of your activities that masks any changes in your habits.

While working to keep your personal activities safe from unwanted surveillance, the main issue you will have to deal with is how to network with people when you need to discuss sensitive issues.

Counter-surveillance must be seen as a balancing of opposing objectives. It requires an effort to protect information and activities that are sensitive, while giv­ing less emphasis to those activities that can be open to all. The important rule with counter-surveillance is proportionality.

You should not, for example, seek to avoid surveillance for issues that are not sensitive. This, of course, assumes that sensitive work only constitutes a minor part of your activities. When the sensitive parts of your work comprise a large part of your everyday workload, it is more difficult to hide those activities within the patterns of your everyday life.

If you are very good at restricting all information about yourself and your activities, monitoring you becomes difficult. How­ever, you are also likely to become more isolated, suspicious and secretive in the process, which may isolate you from the public you are trying to engage.

With a little forethought, despite living under surveil­lance, the work-you wish to protect should be able to slip by un-noticed.

This article was excerpted from a briefing written by Paul Mobbs for the Association for Progressive Communications. There are many reasons to develop security-consciousness in the activist community. The information provided here is an at­tempt to begin to satisfy the questions activists ask about computer security and overall security culture. For more infor­mation, visit security.

Implementing Counter-Surveillance as Part of Your Work


• If traveling on sensitive business, try to use public transport. Using private cars will provide a traceable identity.

• If you are traveling to a sensitive meeting, take a different route going there and coming back. If possible, do not use the same bus or station when going to or leaving the location you are traveling to. This lessons the likelihood that your destination will be identified.

• To counter the Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) systems in public places, move with the crowd. Don't rush, don't cut corners and don't look around for CCTV cameras. Alter your physical appearance so you blend in.

• If you can include other events or appointments as part of your journey, that will help provide an alternate motive for traveling to that area of a town or city.

• Facial recognition systems work primarily on the configuration of fa­cial features. To work, they need to get a good view of your face. Looking at a slight angle toward the ground and wearing a hat with a brim helps to fool the system.

• Always assume that public trans­port vehicles have CCTV installed- traveling during peak hours will help to mask your presence.

• Darkness aids anonymity, but it is not a foolproof solution to the latest CCTV cameras, which see in the dark.


Mobile Phones

·  If in doubt, turn it off.

If traveling to a sensitive location in an urban area, do not use a cell phone within two or three miles of the loca­tion. In rural areas, do not use it within 10 or 15 miles of your final destination. This will prevent the creation of a trail that associates you with that location on that day.

• If the location you are going to is nowhere near a route you regularly travel, turn off your phone before you start your journey there.

• If you desperately need to mask your location, let someone else carry your phone around for the day.



• If you are traveling to a sensitive location, don't pay for anything by credit/ debit card or take money from a cash machine.



If you need to make a sensi­tive phone call

that must not be di­rectly associated with you, do so from a public phone booth. Be aware that the person at the other end of the call may have their calls monitored.

• If using public phones, try to use them in random locations rather than those that are closest to you or are on your regular transit routes.

• If you wish to send something sen­sitive through the mail, wear gloves to prevent creating fingerprints when pro­ducing and packing the item. Do not lick the envelope or stamps, and mail it from a different location than where you normally send your letters.

• If you need to send a sensitive fax, use a copy shop that has a self-service desk.

  If you desperately need to keep in communication, use cash to buy a pay-as-you-go mobile phone. Only use it for a day or two while you are en­gaged in sensitive work.



• Maintain a number of alternate personas on the Internet that give you access to web mail and other services.

• If you need to use the Internet, use a cybercafe; try not to use the same one more than once. Make sure that you do not access your own Internet services from the cybercafe-use an alternate persona.



• When organizing a private meeting, try to agree to meet in a different loca­tion nearby. Then direct people to the correct meeting place as they arrive, This lessens the likelihood of the actual location being under surveillance.

• Do not make a phone call from a meeting, or from a public phone nearby, to a number that can be iden­tified with you.

Ask people going to a private meeting to turn off mobile phones before traveling to the meeting place.

     •Alternate meeting spaces as much as possible. If you meet in a public place, pick somewhere with a high level of background noise to pre­vent your conversations from being overheard.

If you must pay for something while in the area, use cash.

• Many public spaces are monitored by CCTV. Bars, cafes and restaurants tend not to have their CCTV systems linked to a central control room and are usually focused on the cash register.

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