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Royal Acadamy of Engineering report: Dilemmas of Privacy and Surveillance - we told you so !

The Royal Academy of Engineering has now published a useful report, which covers many of the areas of concern which Spy Blog has been writing about for several years now.

Dilemmas of Privacy and Surveillance, Challenges of Technological Change (.pdf 60 pages)

Although we agree with most of what is presented in this report, we are not so enthusiastic about the example given in section "8.4.2. Reciprocity and public webcams" of the report: the Shoreditch Digital Bridge project for neighbourhood webcams and CCTV surveillance systems connected as part of a local internet service provider package of entertainment services.

We can see how such a sousveillance system might be tolerable in a happy, peaceful, crime free utopia,

We fail to see how it would not make life worse in, say a council estate plagued by drug addicts and illegal drug dealers, who would certainly take advantage of the extra warning they might get about the approach of police patrols, or use the system to secretly check, from beyond normal visual range, on the movements of nearby householders, to see which properties can be burgled.

There is no practical reciprocity in the Shoreditch Digital Bridge project..

Professor Steve Mann., the wearable computing and camera pioneer, and inventor of "sousveillance" seems to have moved on to the idea of equiveillance, which fits in better with the desirable test of Reciprocity, mentioned in the RAE report's Executive Summary.

The media coverage of this RAE report, such as in The Daily Mail "UK has 1% of world's population but 20% of its CCTV cameras" is also not properly sceptical of the alleged "4.2 million CCTV cameras in the UK" soundbite statistics.

That figure is derived from guesstimates which are already several years out of date - there could actually be many more of these systems in the UK, but nobody knows for sure.

See "monitored on CCTV 300 times a day" etc. soundbites"

Which will have more impact with our politicians and policy makers a 60 page report by respected academics, or an article in the Daily Mail ?

It is interesting that some of the media coverage of this Report has focussed on one sentence in the section on RFID e-Passports:

4.1. Failure Scenarios 4.1.1. e-Passports


With sensitive personal details readable over a distance, it could even become possible, with appropriate antennas and amplification, to construct a bomb that would only detonate in the presence of a particular nationality or even a particular individual.

We have been writing about this sort of obvious risk with "stupid" RFID in passports since 2003


Your link to the Dilemmas of Privacy and Surveillance, Challenges of Technological Change PDF is missing an 'f' from the end.

@ ukliberty - thanks for spotting the error - hopefully now fixed.

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