Surveillance, profiling and terrorism: a Reblog

Ana Canhoto is a senior lecturer at Oxford Brookes University. Last week on her bog, she discussed the ongoing investigations into the French-Algerian man, Mohammed Merah who killed 7 people in Toulouse this past week. She touches on whether surveillance and profiling actually detect terrorism. This is an excerpt from her post:

As I write this post, details are starting to emerge about the man suspected of killing 7 people in 3 separate attacks in the area of Toulouse, south of France (for instance, see BBC article here).  The details echo a familiar theme. This is someone who had come to the attention of law enforcement and placed under surveillance.  With surveillance and compulsory data collection taking over more and more areas of our life, the question needs to be asked: If profiling can detect when a credit card has been stolen, or a customer is pregnant, why does it fail to stop terrorism?

In this post, I describe what is doable vs. what is acceptable, when it comes to using profiling to stop terrorism.

She asks whether behavioural profiling can indeed detect terrorism and how the stereotype of Islam extremism failed in the 2011 attacks in Norway. You can read the rest of her thought-provoking post here.

She poses this question to her readers:

Does it upset you knowing that governments monitor your movements for security purposes? How is that different from knowing that commercial organisations monitor your purchases to shape their offer?

To which I answered:

Great entry, Ana. And I’ve never really thought about how I feel about being monitored by the government. I suppose if it is for the greater good – to protect society (and I’m passionate about freedom from terrorism), I can live with being monitored.
On the flip side, I think being monitored by organizations is a different matter. I don’t feel strongly about it either way. For instance, stores like Tesco get my money because I like earning points so I don’t mind being monitored on my habits and purchases. I see that this is ultimately for profit. But there is a clear difference between this and monitoring for terrorism.

What would be your answer to Ana’s question?


  1. Thank you for featuring the post, Kemi. I really liked your comment over at my blog, and I am looking forward to reading what this community thinks about commercial vs government surveillance. Regards, Ana


  2. I was initially against the spread of cctv and the constant monitoring by security firms and police forces. However, as a law-abiding citizen I’ve learned to accept that that’s the way it’s going to be. This despite all governmental protestations that terrorism will not change the way we live. Who are they kidding? However, when it comes to monitoring of my buying activity I have the same fondness for this as I do for junk mail. For me, it’s one of the most irritating aspects of our technological lives. Adverts targeted at me because I bought such and such – vouchers off cat litter because I bought a bag once. Good grief. Give me a break. Sadly, the bit that doesn’t appear to be monitored……….is the bit that shows I NEVER use them.


    • Yeah, I hear you. You reminded me of a friend of mine who lost his mum and bought a lot of red carnations as part of the funeral proceedings. He had it delivered to the burial ground on the day and every year since then he gets from the company, tons of discount vouchers for red carnations despite many calls to them to stop sending them. Needless to say, he never bought carnations before or after his mum’s burial. All the vouchers do is remind himself and his family of when they lost someone they loved dearly…x


  3. “He who gives up freedom for safety deserves neither.”—Benjamin Franklin


  4. terrorism is a really stupid thing … – O.K. for anything vs. it…


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