Handbook: Individual measures

As the subjects of surveillance, individuals, their families and informal groups may develop strategies and ad hoc measures to mitigate the negative effects of surveillance at the individual level. One part of these strategies and measures can be regarded as resistance, another part as resilience towards surveillance. The two notions, resistance and resilience, are partly overlapping and sometimes difficult to distinguish; however, resistance is understood as active opposition, protest, “fighting back”, while resilience as a property of the individual or group makes them capable of tolerating stresses and shocks, recovering from these harmful impacts and learning from earlier experience.

The precondition of resistant or resilient measures is that the affected individuals perceive surveillance, or perceive the surveillant elements in their everyday lives. Some forms of surveillance, such as the use of polygraphs or body scanners, are easy to comprehend, while widely used forms of computer communication and Internet use may not reveal their inherent surveillant elements to most users. It is important that the subjects of surveillance, even if they are unable to oversee all possible implications of surveillance practices, be aware of the potential of the surveillance practice concerned.

Radical solutions

On the side of active protest, some people may destroy CCTV cameras, generate black-outs or use microwave jamming to distort communication channels of surveillance equipment. No matter how spectacular these militant actions may be, the perpetrators are committing criminal offences.

Those who prefer to stay within the borders of legality may still choose a radical solution: retreating from modern urban society, living in remote rural areas, hiding from satellite photography, not using the Internet and mobile phones – however, such solutions might result in disproportionate disadvantages to such individuals and other members of society.

People who, for whatever reason, do not want to be subjects of face recognition systems and thus social sorting may use hats and sunglasses to cover their faces; demonstrators sometimes use identical masks in order to make themselves unidentifiable.

Activist-minded people, or NGOs acting on their behalf, may call other people’s attention to CCTV cameras or other surveillance practices, making them visible or even ironic or laughable.

Resilient attitudes

People who do not want to give up the advantages of modern information and communication technologies may still choose not to use tracking services or smartphones, unless it is really necessary for them. Others, who are aware of the profiling capabilities and techniques of service providers, may occasionally give false data about themselves where giving real names and other personal details is not a precondition of using a particular service.

Users of modern services need to consciously distinguish situations when they really need targeted and custom-tailored business offers and when this is not necessary or even disadvantageous to them; they need to distinguish cases when they really need location-based services, such as finding a nearby shop, and when they do not want to be tracked. In the latter case, users should switch off tracking devices and applications, log out from temporarily unnecessary networks or remove the battery from their phones. People who use passports or other ID documents with built-in radio frequency identifiers (RFID chips) should use a protective cover (known as a Faraday shield), which avoids unnecessary identification and tracking, and open it only when it is necessary to use the document.

A simple and customary way of reducing the level of profiling of mobile phone users is to use multiple phones and swap the pre-paid cards between their own phones and the phones of others. Pre-paid cards provide fewer possibilities for profiling than subscription phones.

Privacy enhancing technologies

Users of Internet-based and/or mobile networks and services should be aware of, and use, privacy enhancing technologies (PETs) and services. Some PETs help users to mitigate individual harmful effects, offering, for example, cookie management tools, anonymous browsing options, non-tracking search engines or snoop-proof e-mails. Other PETs offer system-level solutions, such as the TOR network, which provides anonymous communication channels, or the so-called private or attribute-based credentials, which allow individuals to use only the necessary amount of identifying information required for using a service. The third group of PETs, visualization programs and applications – such as the ones which show the real route of e-mails or reveal what others can see about you on the Internet – do not solve any practical problem in relation to surveillance but make them visible, thereby helping the users to make informed decisions.

In general, a conscientious citizen living in an urban environment, and a conscientious user of modern communication services, should not live under the “tyranny of convenience”. In order to mitigate harmful effects of surveillance, she should be able to fade into the mass of users, to be part of a large anonymity inside of which everybody has the same attributes. She should also be careful not to infringe other people’s privacy or dignity simply by using convenient and trendy equipment, for instance, by taking pictures of her neighbours and posting them on social networks.

In sum, individuals must not develop paranoia when using services with surveillance capacities, but should have a realistic sense for judging the benefits and harms of surveillance, as well as their longer-term implications. With this approach, they can actively reduce the negative side effects of surveillance technologies and equipment in their own local or virtual environment.

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