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?

Preikestolen, Norway: I have gone and climbed a mountain

The team gathers at the top (I didn't look down, ever)

A team of us at work took a trip up the mountains at Preikestolen, 604 meters above sea level and 7km there and back. Though I knew about the trip a month or so in advance, I had no idea what to expect. I think my strategy was to not think about at all. I’m below average physical fitness and have only began to exercise in the past 3 months. So yes, I have no idea what I was thinking….. ok, I already said I was not thinking. That explains it.

There were a few things to be learned as I ascended (and later had to descend) the monster climb. I was sure of my failure. It’s a shock to me that I didn’t just find a flat rock, sit on it and cry till my team was convinced I was no good. That way, they’d have sent me back before it was too late. But as you’ve probably gathered, I made the climb and I noted the following which may well apply to my everyday life.

The gruelling climb


  1. There’s no point looking down (especially if you’re afraid of heights) or back (especially if you’ve come far enough that going back is just stupid).
  2. Some things are impossible without a supportive team or network cheering all the way.
  3. Getting to know people on the way up is an investment for when you have to come down (and it helps to pass the time).
  4. Follow the trail marked by those who have gone before (it’s not the time to be creative).
  5. There are muscles you’ll never know you have until you face a certain kind of challenge. It will surprise you how well your body persists and overcomes.
  6. People who had made the trip before significantly played down how hard it was.
  7. On returning, it will be unbelievable to the first-timer how high a summit was conquered.


As for hard things that I have done, this is high up there on my list. I felt a strong sense of accomplishment. However, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever do it again.

The most difficult part was the height and you know how I feel about extreme sports and living on the edge.

The biggest deal? I’ve got my mojo back. Funny, I didn’t realise I had all but lost it. Going higher can do amazing things – just don’t look over the edge.

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