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?

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My top 3 posts- May 2011 to August 2011

I’m now 67% through the year and the Postaweek2011 challenge. I have written over 70 posts (compared to 30 posts as at the end of April 2011) and received in excess of 6,500 hits this year alone. I do have concerns going forward about:

  • what to write about
  • how long I can really continue to blog
  • how to get better at pulling more traffic

Any tips welcome!

Note that I didn’t blog in June due to workload commitments. So with that in mind and with my concerns aside, I have narrowed down to 3 posts I think are my best ones in the second third of the year. It is based on number of comments and/or likes and personal favorites. They are:

Post 1: The luxury of being average

Post 2:  Arguably the right side of 30

Post 3: How do I cover my butt in this?

However, the post below received over 50% of all traffic to my blog since I posted it on 09 May:

Likely effects of Osama Bin Laden’s death on world economy (we hope)

The post wasn’t particularly well-researched and was based on my own thoughts at the time. But it seemed a lot of people were wondering what will change post-Bin Laden.

Here’s to the next 33% of the year. Cheers!

Likely Effects of Osama Bin Laden’s Death on World Economy (We hope)

I heard it first on CNN. There’s been a whole lot of rejoicing following the death of Osama Bin Laden, leader of Al-Qaeda. I personally didn’t know how to feel. I was glad – don’t get me wrong – but the sceptic in me asked the ‘now what?’ question. I’m hoping that it isn’t only justice served; I hope it also closes a terrifying era of violence and insecurity. It may even be the beginning of the consumers’ era when the world’s economy is suddenly in our favour.

Cartoon by Universal Press Syndicate 2011

In the mist of media reports and rejoicing, there’s bound to be anticipation that somehow, this man’s death has ended terrorism as we know it. I’ve decided to live in that fantasy world for a few minutes. What if in fact, Osama Bin Laden‘s death ends terrorism or at least the fear and uncertainty that comes with the threat? What will the world’s economy look like? Let me see…
Tourism: This industry saw a huge hit after 9/11. People just didn’t travel as much as they used to. If in fact terrorism is a thing of the past, this industry should benefit from it. Trans-atlantic flights are likely to be more popular and less stressful. The umpteen security checks at airports will reduce considerably and travelling will simply be…more fun. However, it’s naive to ignore the long-term effects of past decline. People may have reorganised their lives and holidays so that air travel, especially long haul flights, are minimal. Reduced travel may have also increased the use of social media and other internet technology for communication in the business world for instance. This is unlikely to revert back to the heavy travel days. As one saying goes, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’. The rapid growth of globalisation is partially due to the need to work around reduced travel. And let’s not forget the cost implications.
Energy prices: The behaviour of the oil price is a peculiar thing. High prices are driven by doubt and risk. The more politically unstable oil-producing countries are, the higher the oil price. And- you guess it- the greater the profits cartels like OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) will make. With Osama’s death, there may indeed be reduced fear of terrorist attacks globally, causing oil prices to drop as has been experienced in the past week. It may also mean that prices at the pump drop too. While this is great news for consumers like us, it ‘s not fantastic news for the oil industry as a whole. If oil and other commodity prices drop, energy prices (utilities) should too. If prices drop, there’s likely to be reduced supply for two reasons:

  1. When prices drop, an industry can become less attractive for many players who may choose to leave or reduce investment in favour of moving to more profitable markets.
  2. OPEC can decide to reduce oil supply of member countries in order to force an increase in the oil price.

According to the Law of supply and demand, reducing supply will drive prices up again if demand surpasses supply. So overall, it’s a vicious cycle. Therefore, decreases in energy and oil prices may be temporal if it happens at all.

A recent article in The Economist titled, ‘Now, kill his dream’ states that Osama’s brand of brutal jihad is losing its appeal in the Arab World. Perhaps this is the case such that the seeming fantasy benefits on world economy could become a reality.

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