Our actions can today be observed and recorded in many ways, and the data collected is used for a variety of purposes without our knowledge.

Whether we use a card to make payments, phone using mobile telephones or surf the Internet – whenever we use technology in our everyday activities we leave behind a digital data trail. At the same time, the market for security and surveillance technologies is booming in both the public and the private sector. Both developments are increasingly affecting on our fundamental rights.

Surveillance by the state

Historically, the research on surveillance and its effects on our lives focussed on the analysis of the relationships between the state and the citizen. The fiction of the repressive Big Brother monitoring all activities and projects was the dominant idea. As a result of 9/11 in New York and other attacks, an existing tendency towards more surveillance increased dramatically. The fear of terrorism led to the rapid development of a "security society", and many countries tightened their laws in this respect. Huge investments were made in security technologies and related research.

Critics of this development doubt that complete surveillance can truly prevent risks. A glass society in which everybody can be monitored but where the monitors cannot be seen creates fear and makes us feel uncertain and less free. It also threatens the basic democratic consensus and prevents social progress. All this is the background to the current attempts to encourage research on the importance of the fundamental rights and how they can be safeguarded as technology develops.

Surveillance in the private sector

Consumer data has become a valuable commodity and has its own separate markets. This data is used to evaluate consumer behaviour so that advertising material can be targeted more efficiently. Another use is to make the movement of goods in various market segments more efficient. This uses data from Internet activity and communication behaviour, data about where we are that is transmitted by smart phones, and data about our shopping habits obtained from loyalty cards or credit cards.

Business argues that customers also profit since it can take better account of their needs. However, in many cases the consumers are not even aware of all these monitoring activities and have not consented to the communication and use of the data. In fact, in most cases consumers do not benefit from the knowledge collected about them.

The manipulated consumer

Even where discounts or other benefits are offered, we know too little to be able to determine whether the conditions offered are fair. In addition to data protection law problems, sales methods also affect our freedom of choice and long-term social progress. If we are merely offered the obvious products, we will find it difficult to select alternatives. There is no longer an incentive to be different and find alternative products or specific services. This restricts and impoverishes the development of society.

In the light of these current developments, the ITA examines in detail questions of the short and long-term effects of surveillance.

Surveillance back then and now