Surveillance Technology

Commercial Use

(PYS) Currently, with proper disclosure the FTC has allowed "research" software to track "nearly all Internet behavior" such as web browsing, filling shopping baskets, and transacting business during secure sessions.  Will insurance companies be able to track an insurees lifestyle habits in order to charge higher premiums?  For example, a person who eats more fast food pays higher medical and life insurance premiums because they are at a higher risk of health problems; people who play dangerous sports pay higher insurance premiums due to the high risk of injury. 

(PYS) Companies such as AdSense, and even Google, have developed programs that use surveillance related measures to compile data for use in “interest based advertising,” also known as “behavioral targeting.” These systems collect extensive personal data based on your internet usage or electronic transactions for marketing purposes, often times without the user understanding that their computer settings allow this to occur. With these massive databases full of information, what measures, if any, should be taken to protect the public from unwanted or deceitful exploitation of this information, from either private or public institutions?

(PYS) Shall private companies that develop increasingly invasive surveillance procedures be allowed to accept government subsidies in exchange for their agreement to allow government agencies to access data accumulated by the product? Will the acceptance of such funds from the government be a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s right of the people to be secure in their persons, homes, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures?


(PYS) If the world becomes more and more transparent, what additional technologies or techniques will people invent to keep certain areas of their lives truly private?

(PYS) Currently a restraining order may be granted not only to prevent physical abuse, but also to prevent verbal abuse, stalking, and other threatening behaviors. Will restraining orders cover small cameras used to track every movement by the victim as a form of stalking and harassment, or will they be allowed because the victim no longer has the expectation of privacy?

(PYS) Would a future significant loss of privacy have a "chilling effect" on speech? Would the anticipation of a "chilling effect on speech" make for a good legal argument to maintain a high standard of privacy?

(PYS): On the basis for national security, how far can the government go in using satellite surveillance technology to secretly track and map the movements of every individual who pose a security threat to the government with potential Fourth and Fifth Amendment issues? (reference "Enemy of the State").

(PYS) The FCC has deemed the use of radar jammers illegal, as they interfere with the doppler shift that occurs from the reflected radar beam that police RADAR guns require to obtain a vehicle’s speed.  If in the future manufacturers make products that act as signal jammers on video surveillance devices or manufacture cell phones and other products with ways to prevent GPS tracking, will the FCC consider such devices as "malicious interference," thus making them illegal?  Additionally, will such devices that merely provided the public with a reasonable attempt of maintaining their privacy be legal? 


(DF) In a transparent society, how does an inventor prove that he has satisfied the "first to invent" requirement of U.S. patent law? What difficulties would arise under the alternative "first to submit" rule of European patent law? Does transparency increase the relative advantage of one system over the other?

(PYS) Will intellectual property rights and general business practices substantially lose their effect as a result of the increased exposure and surveillance of their business practices? What steps can be taken to increase protection of IP rights and practices? For example, confidentiality is precious to companies (like Coca Cola) that implement extensive precautions to make sure their trade secrets are not publicized. Or even Apple, where much the culture of the company places great importance on secrecy and knowledge on a “need to know basis.”


(PYS) What impact will total transparency have on our interaction with our families? Would parents be afraid to punish their children because of the chance that that evidence would be used against them in a child custody dispute sometime down the future? And if so, how much of that evidence would we allow in court in the first place? Will there be a shift in what we currently admit as evidence?

(PYS) It seems that total transparency would make the a jury almost useless since factual issues could easily be verified by video (assuming no fraud of the evidence). What impact will this have on the role of court and on the structure of our Constitution in general.


(DF) What rules of international law would serve to protect privacy online? What rules could be used to prevent online privacy, anonymity, etcetera.

(PYS) Brin suggests a transparent society will lead to less crime, since the violators will immediately be caught. Assuming criminals can figure out a way to protect their identity, will an open society cause MORE crime, since the criminals will know where any person is at any particular time? How will the law change to deal with this situation?

(DF) Suppose there is a publicly run system of video cameras, along the lines suggested by Brin. Someone proposes programming the system to spot stalkers and peeping toms, by looking for patterns in what cameras which person accesses when. Is doing so desirable? Does it raise any legal problems? You might want to consider analogous approaches with current technology, and whether they would raise legal problems.

(PYS): Under common law, defamation requires only that false information, capable of having a defamatory meaning, be "published" to even a single third-party, in a negligent or intentional manner. In a "transparent society" (i.e., one where there is ubiquitous monitoring of actions and words):

• Does the transmission of monitored speech through the distribution network constitute "publication", since such transmission makes the information available to third-parties?

• Does the transmission have to be actually observed (seen or heard) by a third-party to constitute publication?

• Does the third-party have to be human? Consider the purpose of the requirement: in order for there to be any "harm", some third-party must have heard/seen the defamation and changed their position in reliance on it, to the detriment of the defamed party. A computer monitor may indeed "change its position" (i.e., store defamatory information in its database), to the detriment of the defamed party (the database now contains false, defamatory information, available to others).

• Does defamatory information communicated and made available through a global network invariably constitute libel (rather than slander), as virtually all information is available to a wide audience? Does (the less onerous) slander law disappear altogether?

DF: David Friedman
PYS: Previous Year's Student

legal information relevant to video surveillance.

Legal research from Ryan McCarthy


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