Final exam: Answer In your
own words, explain Hadjimatheous argument that untargeted surveillance is
often morally preferable to more targeted forms of surveillance (this should
take roughly half of your essay or 750 words).Ethic Theory Moral Prac (2014) 17:187–207
The Relative Moral Risks of Untargeted
and Targeted Surveillance
Accepted: 3 May 2013 / Published online: 8 August 2013
# Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013
Abstract Is surveillance that is targeted towards specific individuals easier to justify than
surveillance that targets broad categories of people? Untargeted surveillance is routinely
accused of treating innocent people as suspects in ways that are unfair and of failing to
pursue security effectively. I argue that in a wide range of cases untargeted surveillance treats
people less like suspects than more targeted alternatives. I also argue that it often deters
unwanted behaviour more effectively than targeted alternatives, including profiling. In
practice, untargeted surveillance is likely to be least costly morally and most efficient when
used as a means of enforcing the rules of a specific activity or institution. Targeted
alternatives are likely to be more appropriate means of law enforcement.
Keywords Surveillance . Privacy . Stigmatisation . Discrimination . Reciprocity
Untargeted surveillance is the surveillance of all individuals in a specific place or engaged in
a specific activity. It is used for a wide range of purposes: to improve productivity in the
workplace by monitoring employee computer or lavatory usage, to ensure fairness in sports
competitions by conducting drug tests, to enforce speeding laws on roads, and to enforce the
rules of gambling in casinos. It is used in schools, where checks of lockers for drugs, alcohol
or weapons sometimes take place, and hospitals, where CCTV1 is often installed.
Untargeted surveillance is routinely used by police and other state security officials.
Examples include the use of metal detectors at airports, fingerprinting and other biometric
Open-street CCTV is a complex form of surveillance that combines aspects of targeted and untargeted
surveillance and so is not included in this list of paradigmatic examples, though it is discussed in detail on p.19
Research for this paper was partly supported by the FP7 programme of the European Commission through the
SURVEILLE project under the Security Call, Grant number 284725.
K. Hadjimatheou (*)
Security Ethics Group, Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick, Social Sciences
Building, Gibbet Hill Road, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK
recordings for identity documents, searches or frisks on entrance into government buildings
or prisons, stops and searches at transport hubs and in city centres, and Criminal Records
Bureau (CRB) checks for those applying to work with children or other vulnerable people.
Less common examples include in-depth investigations by security services into the lives of
people taking up positions with high-level security clearance in the government or intelligence services.
Surveillance can be more or less targeted, and what I have been calling untargeted
surveillance occupies one end of the spectrum. At the opposite end lie measures of
surveillance that act on specific information linking particular individuals to particular
incidents of unwanted behaviour (what in legal circles is called ‘individual’ or
‘individualised suspicion’ [Clancy 1994]). At different points between these two extremes
lie measures such as random screening, ‘fishing expeditions’, and profiling.
Untargeted surveillance is on the rise. This is partly because of technological developments that make it both easier and less costly to implement. Thus software now enables
employers to monitor employee computer use; metal detectors and body scanners allow fast
surveillance of all air passengers; an increasing variety of information can be stored on
databases that are easily searchable; and scanning and testing technology enables fast and
relatively un-invasive collection of biometric data and drug testing. There is also increasing
emphasis by governments, police forces, and other agencies on the effective prevention of
hazardous, wrongful, and criminal behaviour. Untargeted surveillance is primarily a preventive approach to reducing security threats and rule-breaking in general.
This paper considers and rejects two commonly voiced concerns about the fairness and
effectiveness of untargeted surveillance. These are summarised below.
1. Untargeted surveillance is unfair because it treats innocent people like suspects without
any prior evidence of suspiciousness. Suspicion should be triggered by evidence of
wrongdoing, rather than precede it. By suspecting those for whom no evidence of
wrongdoing exists, untargeted surveillance stigmatises them unfairly; undermines the
presumption of innocence (Haggerty and Ericson 1997: 42; Monahan 2010: 99); and
“promotes the view…that everybody is untrustworthy’” (Norris in House of Lords
2009: 27; New Scientist 2006).
2. Untargeted surveillance is inefficient in reducing security threats. Evidence about the
effectiveness of untargeted surveillance strongly suggests that such measures result in
the detection of very few if any genuine security threats of the kind it is intended to
reduce.2 Scrutinising individuals who are obviously not suspicious imposes privacy and
other costs on them without any prospect of increased benefit to security and is thus
“futile and time-wasting” (Lord Bingham, UKHL 12, 2006, 35). Targeted surveillance
focuses scarce resources only on those for whom suspicion exists and is therefore likely
to be more efficient (Bou-Habib 2008; Risse and Zeckhauser 2004).
Each of these criticisms implies that the risks of untargeted surveillance could be reduced
or eliminated by imposing on those doing the surveillance a prior requirement for objective,
evidence-based, targeted suspicion.
I argue that, on the contrary, in a wide range of cases untargeted surveillance either
produces none of the negative outcomes identified in 1 above or carries an equal or lower
“As well as the potential counterproductive effect of stop and search under section 44, it has also not proven
to be an effective tool in countering the terrorist threat. Statistics demonstrate that as little as 0.6 \% of stop and
searches under section 44 in 2008/9 resulted in an arrest.” (Liberty 2010:54). Similar views are expressed in
Human Rights Watch (2010:48–9) and Moeckli (2007: 668).
The Relative Moral Risks of Untargeted and Targeted Surveillance
risk of producing them than targeted alternatives. I also argue that untargeted surveillance
can be more efficient a means of deterring unwanted behaviour than targeted approaches. I
put forward a preliminary model for understanding the relative risks and benefits of targeted
and untargeted surveillance. According to this model, the more targeted the surveillance is,
the more likely it is to stigmatise those it affects, the more intrusive the privacy interference,
the fewer individuals affected and the more efficient it will be as a detector of wrongdoers.
The less targeted the surveillance is, the less likely it is to stigmatise those it affects, the less
intrusive the privacy measure, the greater the number of people affected and the more
efficient it is likely to be as a deterrent or wrongdoing. Partially targeted measures of
surveillance such as profiling present the highest risk of discrimination and stigmatisation.
Untargeted surveillance is often easier to justify than targeted surveillance when it is used to
enforce the rules of a specific activity or institution. It is less easy to justify as an approach to
2 Untargeted Surveillance and Stigmatisation
I begin this section by discussing some difficulties with the idea that untargeted surveillance
treats people like suspects and thereby stigmatises them. Stigmatisation and its costs result
from being singled out. Untargeted surveillance is, other things being equal, less
stigmatising of those individuals it affects than targeted surveillance, precisely because it
treats everybody within its range with equal scrutiny.
One standard understanding of stigmatisation defines it as the process of marking a
person out as having an undesirable characteristic (Courtwright 2011; Arneson 2007). For
the purposes of this paper, the undesirable characteristic associated with people who are
marked out as suspects is failure to meet the justified moral standards of the (relevant)
community. When surveillance marks people out as suspects, it marks them out as potentially having failed to uphold or having violated a rule they are prima facie obliged to follow.
For example, the rules of transport security, of professional codes of ethics, and of the
criminal law are rules people are normally obliged to follow either because they have
explicitly consented to do so or because they enjoy the benefits that accrue from a situation
in which the rules are followed collectively.
The harms of stigmatising people as suspicious can affect both individuals and society as
a whole. On an individual level, being stigmatised as having failed to maintain the moral
standards of the community can be humiliating. People are humiliated when they cannot
prevent appearing to others in ways that are demeaning (Bou-Habib 2011:44). If individuals
who are humiliated as a result of their stigmatisation are in fact innocent of any rulebreaking, they may feel anger or indignation at what they perceive to be an unjust implication of wrongdoing. This may create knock-on social costs, by eroding their trust in the
surveilling authorities, which in turn may reduce their willingness to cooperate with those
authorities and to support the enforcement of other rules (Fundamental Rights Agency of the
EU FRA 2010: 21). Stigmatisation can also make those affected feel alienated from others as
they perceive that others’ estimation of them has fallen. This can affect negatively people’s
self-confidence and their willingness and ability to connect and engage effectively with
others. It can also lead people to become socially isolated if they react by withdrawing from
contact with others (Courtwright 2011:2). At the same time, social isolation of those
stigmatised may be imposed from outside, if other individuals avoid or reject them as a
result of surveillance policy. When particular groups of people who share salient traits -such
as religion or race-are stigmatised as suspicious, as has been seen to occur with semi-targeted
measures of surveillance such as profiling, this may exacerbate existing prejudices against
them (Kennedy 1997; Schauer 1997; Lever 2004), or even create new ones (O’Connor and
When stigmatisation based on ethnic grounds reflects ethnic prejudice it can be experienced as particularly humiliating both by those surveilled and by those who are not
themselves surveilled but who share the traits that trigger the suspicion and for that reason
feel implicated (Parmar 2011: 9). As all this suggests, stigmatisation caused by surveillance
can be harmful to individuals and can distort social relationships in ways that impede the
pursuit of important social goals, including security and equality.
All of these potential costs are likely to increase along with the importance of the moral
standard or rule one is suspected of having broken. Being stigmatised as a suspected cheat at
cards in a casino is neither as humiliating nor as likely to lead to social isolation or
discrimination as being stigmatised by police as a potential paedophile. The costs of
stigmatisation are also likely to intensify the greater the implication of guilt conveyed in
the measure of surveillance: a bag search is less stigmatising than a house search, which in
turn is less stigmatising than being taken to the police station for questioning. The extent to
which people are stigmatised may also be affected by the number and identity of any
witnesses to the surveillance: other things being equal, the greater the number of people
who witness or become aware of the stigmatisation and the more influential or important
those people are, the more severe both the individual and social costs are likely to be.
There are good reasons to think that both the extent to which surveillance treats people
like suspects and the extent to which it stigmatises those it affects increases the more
targeted the measure of surveillance. As has already been established, stigmatisation occurs
when individuals are marked out as suspicious. Being marked out implies being identified in
some way that distinguishes one from other members of the wider community or the relevant
group. Being pulled out of line for further search or questioning at an airport; being stopped
and searched on a busy train platform while other passengers are left alone; having one’s
travel history, credit card, and other records searched before flying because one fits a profile
of a potential terrorist-these are all examples of being singled out and thereby marked out for
suspicion. They are all stigmatising, because they all imply that there is something suspicious about a person that justifies the intrusion.
In contrast, untargeted surveillance such as blanket screening at airports, spot screening
of all school lockers for drugs, and the use of speed cameras neither single people out for
scrutiny nor enact or convey a suspicion that those surveilled are more likely than others to
be breaking the rules. Rather, everybody engaged in the relevant activity is subject to the
same measure of surveillance, indiscriminately and irrespective of any evidence suggesting
particular suspiciousness. Such evidence may well emerge from the application of
untargeted surveillance, and that evidence may then be used to justify singling people out
for further, targeted surveillance. But untargeted surveillance itself affects all people within
its range equally and thus stigmatises none in particular.
It might be objected that the act of choosing a range for any measure of untargeted
surveillance itself involves suspicion and that therefore untargeted surveillance continues to
be stigmatising. This is true in some cases, as is discussed below. But it seems wrong for
many routine examples of untargeted surveillance. There are reasons why people travelling
by aeroplane are subject to searches not imposed on those travelling by car and reasons why
car drivers but not pilots are subject to surveillance by speed camera. In order to accept the
claim that surveilling all car drivers by speed camera stigmatises them as suspected speeders
or that surveilling all airline passengers stigmatises them as potential terrorists, we would
have to accept that these reasons are always or often related to the suspiciousness of either
The Relative Moral Risks of Untargeted and Targeted Surveillance
the activity surveilled or the individuals engaged in it. This seems highly unlikely. Driving
cars is a dangerous activity and thus should be regulated by enforceable rules such as speed
limits. The only people who can break the particular rule of road safety embodied in a speed
limit are car drivers. Surveilling anyone else but them would be perverse. Therefore it seems
wrong to argue that the indiscriminate surveillance of all people engaged in a particular
activity singles them out and thereby stigmatises them, when the surveillance is used in
order to enforce the rules of that particular activity.
In contrast, it would be correct to argue that singling out and stigmatisation occurs when
additional measures of surveillance-over and above blanket speed checks-are targeted at
drivers with existing traffic offenses or points on their licenses. In such cases, evidence of a
potential for rule-breaking is used as a reason to subject some drivers but not others to
preventive intrusion. The same goes for a measure that surveilles all drivers in order to
enforce a rule unrelated to driving, such as the rule against tax evasion. If driving a certain
kind of car were a strong indicator of potential tax evasion, then singling out the relevant car
drivers from all other taxpayers as targets of surveillance would stigmatise them.
However, even if this argument about the nature and causes of stigmatisation is correct, it does
not address the apparent fact that those affected by untargeted surveillance might sometimes feel
stigmatised. For example, the British Athletes Commission has objected to the proposed use of
random or blanket drug testing in the London 2012 Olympic Village on the ground that it would
“make athletes feel like criminals” (BBC, Jan 4, 2010). Making athletes feel like criminals seems
unfair, even if there are potential security benefits to doing so, because participation in competitive
sports events is an innocuous activity and only a tiny minority of athletes actually break the rules.
The same might be argued for many other activities surveilled indiscriminately.
Two things can be said about this. Firstly, if we accept the analysis of stigmatisation
offered above, then the only stigmatisation costs that arise when people feel they are being
stigmatised but are not actually being singled out are costs connected to those feelings.
These would include feelings of humiliation and indignation. They would also extend to the
loss of trust in authorities such feelings might provoke. But they would not include
discrimination or exclusion by others. Authorities can reduce the extent to which
stigmatisation-related feelings result from untargeted surveillance by explaining to those
surveilled that they are not suspected of any wrongdoing or crime, but that the surveillance is
a preventive measure which can be shown to be both necessary and proportionate to the
enforcement of rules protecting important collective interests. If such precautions are taken,
then it is unlikely that genuinely untargeted surveillance will provoke stigmatisation-related
feelings of sufficient vehemence to significantly undermine trust between individuals,
surveilling authorities, and the community as a whole.
However, surveillance often takes place against the background of pre-existing
stigmatisation and suspicion of specific groups in society. As a result, even the most
sensitive communication strategy may be met with cynicism instead of reassurance, at least
by some of those surveilled. This point seems particularly pertinent when the authority doing
the surveillance has itself conducted unfair and suspicion-based surveillance in the past. The
effects of surveillance measures on different groups should be factored into any assessment
of the costs and benefits. But when such feelings are based in something other than a
reasonable belief3 that one is being stigmatised or treated unfairly, this should affect the
‘Reasonable’ here means not contradicted by the available evidence. If authorities provide a public account
of the basis for the surveillance that does not include judgements of suspiciousness, and if this account is
subject to oversight by generally reliable democratic institutions, then it would be unreasonable to continue to
maintain a conviction that one is being singled out as suspicious.
weight they are accorded in any moral assessment of the measure that triggered them (Risse
and Zeckhauser 2004:149; Reiman 2011:15). Other things being equal, the less reasonable
the basis for the emotional reaction, the less moral weight it should receive.
It may never be possible to eliminate entirely the negative feelings triggered by
encounters with surveilling authorities. Measures that intrude on one’s privacy can
provoke feelings of indignation, resentment and humiliation even when the policy that
leads to their imposition is just and even when one both consents to and recognises
the justice of that policy. Having one’s bags rummaged through or one’s intentions
questioned are not pleasant experiences. Authorities should recognise this and should
take action to make surveillance as un-invasive as possible and to ensure that the
encounter with the surveilling authority is civil and does not involve abuse. Any
negative feelings that remain after such efforts have been made may still count among
the negative consequences of surveillance.
Untargeted surveillance should be distinguished from profiling, with which it often has
much in common, but which does treat people like suspects and thereby stigmatise them.
Profiling can be defined as the systematic association of sets of physical, behavioural,
psychological or ethnic characteristics with rule-breaking and their use as a basis for making
security decisions (Hadjimatheou 2011:5–9). It is increasingly proposed as an alternative to
untargeted surveillance, despite the widespread concerns about its moral risks.4 Profiling is
similar to untargeted surveillance to the extent that it affects groups of people, but it differs
in that it singles these groups out for suspicion. For example, the use of metal detectors or
sniffer dogs in some ‘problem’ schools resembles untargeted surveillance because it is used
to enforce the rules of a particular institution and is targeted indiscriminately at all members
of the institution who could break the rules. But the fact that such measures respond to
suspicion that pupils at some schools are more likely to be breaking the rules than others
makes them more like profiling. The same could be said of a measure to install a CCTV
network in a specific area in virtue of the fact that it is inhabited or frequented by a minority
population deemed to be criminally inclined.
Many of the most common objections to profiling centre on its apparent failure to fulfil a
moral requirement of reciprocity. The moral ideal of reciprocity can be understood as
requiring that all who cooperate in an activity or enterprise must benefit, or share in common
burdens, “in some appropriate fashion judged by a suitable benchmark of comparison”
(Rawls 1981:14). The practical requirements of reciprocity differ according to the nature of
the collective pursuit under consideration. But some minimal achievement of this ideal is
considered necessary for fairness and effectiveness of collective pursuits of all kinds, not
only by contractarian and deontological moral theorists, but also by those who recognise it
as having an impact on the overall effectiveness, and thus legitimacy, of counter-terrorism
policy (O’Connor and Rumann 2003: 1738; Briggs et al. 2006:30; Spalek, El-Alwa and
Some reciprocity-based objections to profiling rest on the claim that it fails to distribute
the costs of security equally amongst all who benefit but instead imposes them only on
groups associated with rule-breaking (Lever 2004:18). These objections can be met if it can
be shown that those who bear the greatest burden are also those who benefit the most. Thus,
For instance, the latest EU Security Research call invites proposals for security checks “based on threat
levels and a dynamic evaluation of risks at individual level, instead of the current [100 \% checks] scheme”. 7.
Topic SEC-2013.3.4–3 Security checks versus risk at borders—Capability Project. EC FP7 Security Work
It is worth noting that the ideal of reciprocity is recognised as morally pertinent, though not decisive, even by
consequentialist moral theorists (Hooker 2001:7; Risse and Zeckhauser 2004:157)
The Relative Moral Risks of Untargeted and Targeted Surveillance
for example, it is true that the maintenance of a safe school environment is a good enjoyed
by society as a whole, because it is conducive to better educational attainment, which in turn
produces alumni who have better life chances and are therefore likely to make a more
positive contribution (or at least pose less of a threat) to their communities.
But those who benefit most from the maintenance of a safe school environment are the
pupils themselves, whose personal life chances are directly affected by decisions such as
whether to install metal detectors and introduce spot checks of lockers and bags. And it may
well be that the benefits of such measures are worth much more to them than the costs, even
when these include stigmatisation and possible reputational damage to the school. This may
not always be the case, but when it is the unequal distribution of costs and benefits does not
seem obviously unfair (Risse and Zeckhauser 2004; Lippert-Rasmussen 2006).6
Profiling may be less easy to reconcile with reciprocity when it is used to distinguish
between the suspicious and non-suspicious participants in a particular activity or institution.
This is partly because stigmatisation costs of all kinds can be particularly severe when
people are being singled out for suspicion from among a group of peers. For example,
singling out some pupils for surveillance on the basis that they exhibit traits associated
statistically with higher rates of drug dealing or possession of weapons is likely to be deeply
humiliating, because teenagers are highly sensitive to the judgements of both their teachers
and their peers. Pupils are also highly vulnerable to social exclusion by those peers and to
unfair treatment by school authorities, whose marks and reports affect their life chances
significantly. Pupils who feel that they are stigmatised by the school authorities or their peers
may themselves disengage and withdraw from participation in education. Stigmatising some
pupils as suspicious may thus have serious consequences for both their willingness and
ability to interact well with other students and teachers and to pursue their studies. Indeed,
the education of some pupils may be disrupted more severely by the policy of profiling than
it would be by the presence of drug-dealers or weapons in their school. If the costs for those
singled out but not in fact guilty of rule-breaking (false positives) are significantly higher
than the benefit they receive in the form of increased security then reciprocity has not been
The choice of surveillance policy may also affect the ability of the school as an
institution to fulfil its educational and social duties, especially in respect of those
pupils singled out as false positives. Blanket screening of all pupils may be more
expensive and disruptive of school routine than profiling, and it may provoke rebellion from pupils who view it as excessively intrusive. But as long as the measure can
be shown to be proportionate,7 the risks to the school’s ability to achieve its
educational and social aims effectively are low. Thus there are good reasons, other
things being equal, to prefer blanket screening to profiling in schools, even when the
latter is supported by reliable statistical evidence indicating suspiciousness.
This is not the same as saying that a society in which some privileged pupils attend good schools and enjoy a
safe educational environment while others attend poorly performing schools that subject them to stigmatising
and privacy-intrusive surveillance is fair. It is not. But neither is it obvious that such unfairness justifies
denying pupils whose education is currently being harmed the measures that might reduce such harm, right
here and now.
An example of clearly disproportionate and therefore unjustified blanket surveillance in schools is the case
of a Texas institution compelling students to carry RFID-tagged ID cards at all times. These cards track the
location of individual students in order to verify attendance. https://www.rutherford.org/publications_
Last accessed 13/03/13. Thanks to one anonymous reviewer for this journal for drawing this to my attention.
Concerns about whether profiling fulfils the minimal requirements of reciprocity
may explain in part why it is often shunned by those responsible for enforcing the
rules of particular institutions or activities. For example, all people who apply to work
with children in the UK are subject to equal background checks, despite the fact that
women are very rarely dangerous to children. This may reflect a desire to ensure that
all people who are dangerous to children are deterred from working with them. But it
may also reflect a desire to refrain from stigmatising men who want to work with
children as potential threats and thus discouraging both qualified and well-intentioned
men from applying to work with children. It may also reflect a reluctance to create
general mistrust of men and overconfidence in the intentions of women who want to
work with children. This mistrust may affect the nature of professional relationships
but it may also have the practical effect of making it both harder for men to break the
rules of care without being identified and easier for women, thus leading to distortions in the statistics used to justify the use of a profile in the first place (Harcourt
2004: 1218). It is not difficult to imagine similar kinds of reasoning from reciprocity
being used to justify the random drug testing of athletes, the surveillance of all
employees, and so on.
3 Untargeted Surveillance, the Presumption of Innocence, and Implications
Even if these claims about stigmatisation are conceded, it might be argued that there is still a
sense in which untargeted surveillance treats people like suspects in ways that conflict with
important moral norms. For example, it has been claimed that untargeted surveillance treats
innocent people like suspects in ways that undermine the presumption of innocence.
It is now generally accepted amongst legal theorists that presumption of innocence is a
not only a legal but also a moral norm whose scope extends beyond the courtroom into
security practices more generally (Roberts: 1995). However, there remain disagreements
about the nature and scope of this norm.
Traditional accounts of the presumption of innocence understand it as a purely procedural
norm: one which protects innocent people from criminal conviction by requiring that
judgements of innocence or guilt are made by procedures that ensure a sufficient level of
certainty. It achieves this primarily by placing the burden of proof on the prosecution and
setting the standard of evidence (for most crimes in the EU, beyond reasonable doubt)
required to convict. This is the minimum that the presumption of innocence requires on any
interpretation of that norm. For traditionalists, this is also the sum of what it requires.
In contrast, substantive accounts of the presumption of innocence view it as requiring that
people should be criminalised only if fair procedures have determined them to be guilty of
something that can, according to fundamental principles of the law, be legitimately considered a crime (Tadros and Tierny 2004). For them, the presumption of innocence is violated if
fair procedures are used to convict someone of an action that should not have been made
illegal in the first place.
The presumption of innocence has also been interpreted as the practical application of the
moral principle of civility, which states that all people and institutions “ought to presume,
until sufficient evidence is adduced to show otherwise, that any given person has acted in
accordance with serious social obligations” (Nance 1994:648). This interpretation of the
presumption of innocence is consistent with both procedural and substantive interpretations.
But it extends the presumption of innocence to all areas of social life, including but not
The Relative Moral Risks of Untargeted and Targeted Surveillance
limited to the sphere of criminal justice or security practices. Objections to untargeted
surveillance are put forward from both ‘principle of civility’ and substantive interpretations.
Proponents of a substantive reading of the presumption of innocence have argued that
untargeted surveillance is applied in ways that lead to the criminalisation of individuals on
the basis of actions that should not be made criminal in the first place. For example, some
argue that the security benefits of untargeted mass databases, such as that proposed under the
UK ID card scheme, have not been demonstrated sufficiently (Department of Information
systems, LSE 2005). Yet under some regimes, including that proposed in the UK, failure to
register with these schemes results in a fine or other penalty (UK Identity Cards Act 2006: 10
(7)). Thus people who do not register and maintain correct details on the database can
thereby end up being penalised or criminalised for what in practice amounts to breaking an
unjust rule (Chakrabarti, 2004:13; NO2ID in House of Lords 2009: 27).
It is possible to concede this objection without concluding that untargeted surveillance is
any more likely to undermine the presumption of innocence than other approaches to
enforcing security. If the UK government have failed to take reasonable measures to
demonstrate the probable benefits of ID cards, then the compulsory nature of the scheme
may be difficult to reconcile with the substantive presumption of innocence and the more
general moral commitment to fair treatment it springs from. But this yields a reason to object
to decisions to make participation in schemes of untargeted surveillance compulsory when
their benefits are doubtful. It is not a reason to prefer targeted to untargeted surveillance.
Neither is it a reason to shun untargeted surveillance as a general approach to enforcing rules
and maintaining security.
Sometimes, something like the presumption of innocence appears to be invoked by those
who argue that untargeted surveillance involves or is a manifestation of distrust of those
surveilled. For example, Norris argues that mass surveillance ‘promotes the view…that
everybody is untrustworthy. If we are gathering data on people all the time on the basis that
they may do something wrong, this is promoting the view that as citizens we cannot be
trusted’ (Norris in House of Lords 2009: 27). The criticism deserves close attention,
because it articulates an often vaguely expressed concern, which surfaces repeatedly in
popular expressions of anxiety about mass surveillance as well as the surveillance studies
literature (Lyon 1994:10; Monahan 2010:99).
As mentioned above, some interpret the presumption of innocence as the practical
application of the principle of civility. The principle of civility imposes a duty on all to
presume, until the contrary has been proven, that people are acting in accordance with their
important social obligations. Failure to treat people in ways consistent with this presumption
equates to a failure to accord them “dignity associated with the status of membership in the
community that is governed by the norms whose breach is at issue” (Nance 1994: 653). It
might be argued that when we treat people as presumptively untrustworthy or suspicious we
wrong them, because we cast doubt on their moral status or worth and thus fail to accord
them the respect they are owed as equal members of the moral community.
Yet not all presumptive implications of untrustworthiness violate the principle of
civility. Some implication of untrustworthiness in individuals is an inevitable consequence of any compulsory mechanism imposed by authorities to enforce moral and
legal rules. In a society whose structure is unjust and which is populated by imperfect
individuals, this seems a necessary cost of stability and indeed of justice. This is not
to deny that the principle of civility should inform our interactions with each other,
including interactions involving surveillance. It is merely to point out that the
principle of civility is not the only or the most important norm governing the use
of surveillance in the enforcement of moral rules.
Sometimes some implication of mistrust is necessary if people are to be able to be and
feel secure enough to pursue practices important or even crucial to their wellbeing. Sometimes the risks and fear of harm associated with an activity are high but the evidence
enabling authorities to prevent that harm in a targeted way is lacking. In such cases, some
measure of untargeted surveillance may be a necessary condition of people being and feeling
secure enough to continue to engage in the activity. For example, it is likely that a number of
people would not feel secure enough to continue driving cars or travelling by plane if the
blanket use of speed cameras and of passenger and luggage screening were to cease.
It seems reasonable to conclude that the implication of mistrust involved in surveillance
need not violate the principle of civility unless individuals are singled out for suspicion on
the basis of insufficient evidence and unless they are surveilled more than is necessary and
proportionate to the protection of their (democratically or otherwise legitimately defined)
collective interests. Arguments against unnecessary and disproportionate impositions of
surveillance are arguments in favour of fair and effective security policies. They are not
arguments against untargeted surveillance per se.
None of what has been argued here suggests that untargeted surveillance never conflicts
with or undermines the presumption of innocence. But it does suggest that untargeted
surveillance need not conflict with the presumption of innocence any more than targeted
4 Untargeted Surveillance and Privacy
While critics of untargeted surveillance overstate its suspicion-based risks, they overlook its
privacy risks, broadly understood. In this section I explain how untargeted surveillance can
affect people’s privacy.
Privacy is an important value for individuals and, as is increasingly recognised by ethical
theorists, it also has an important social value. Individuals need privacy to build and
maintain meaningful relationships, to express their feelings and desires freely in artistic
and political ways, and to experiment with and arrive at ideas for themselves about how they
want to live their lives. Thus privacy is a condition of both personal happiness and individual
freedom (Sorell 2011). Privacy is also a condition of a functioning liberal democracy.
Without a private space in which to express and exchange political ideas and opinions,
explore and practice religious beliefs, teach one’s children one’s own values and vote
anonymously, amongst other things, people’s ability to engage in activities of democratic
citizenship with genuine autonomy, that is, free of exploitation or oppression, would be
weakened (Lever 2011; Solove 2008; Allen 2011). This, in turn, would weaken the effectiveness of democracy for society as a whole. For these reasons at least, privacy should be
treated as an important value or freedom and should be limited or interfered with only to the
extent that is proportionate to the protection of other equally or more important values or
There is some disagreement amongst scholars as to which kinds of surveillance interfere
with people’s privacy and which affect other interests. For example, it has been argued that
CCTV installed in public areas neither invades any recognised zone or sphere of privacy, nor
(at least typically) gathers information of a personal or sensitive nature (Ryberg 2007). On
the other hand, it has been argued that information about a person’s location can itself count
as personal (and therefore presumptively private) information (Van der Hilst 2011). It has
also been argued that the question of whether a certain measure affects privacy interests
cannot be answered without consideration of the identity of the agent doing the watching
The Relative Moral Risks of Untargeted and Targeted Surveillance
(Lever 2008). Most measures considered in this paper, and indeed most kinds of surveillance
whose aim is to prevent rule-breaking behaviour in general, do affect people’s privacy
interests, at least on most understandings of those interests. And even those forms of
surveillance which, like some forms of CCTV, scrutinise people in public places, can be
said to interfere with privacy when such scrutiny chills the pursuit of permitted private
activities such as intimate conversations, physical contact, political debate and so on.
Interferences with privacy weigh more heavily in considerations of the risks of surveillance the more fundamental to freedom or well-being the interest they affect, the more
intrusive they are and the greater the number of people they affect. Intrusiveness is itself
determined by a number of factors. These include the extent to which the interference is
reasonably to be expected, can be planned for, and is consented to; the number of people
given access to the private information or zone; the sensitivity of the information or zone
affected; and the period for which any data gathered is retained.
Unlike targeted surveillance, which typically intrudes quite seriously on the privacy of
few, selected targets, untargeted surveillance is often unavoidably intrusive to large numbers
of individuals. In addition, untargeted surveillance almost inevitably intrudes on far greater
numbers of innocent individuals than more targeted alternatives. The contrast is most stark
between untargeted surveillance that affects entire populations on the one hand, and surveillance targeting an individual suspect; profiling and random screening fall somewhere in
The fact that untargeted surveillance often infringes the privacy of large numbers of
people is an inevitable outcome of the indiscriminate nature of the surveillance. However,
the intrusion visited on each individual is in practice often mitigated by the fact that the
surveillance tends to be overt and well-publicised, allowing people to adapt their expectations and plan accordingly. This is the case with airport screening, speed cameras, and the
surveillance of individuals working with sensitive chemicals or children, for example. Some
intrusions, such as the in-depth investigations of high-ranking government officials, or the
drug testing of athletes, are not minor. But most are consented to, albeit sometimes only
tacitly. Exceptions include measures such as the collection of biometric information for
criminal justice databases, which in many cases cannot be avoided or cannot be avoided
without incurring legal penalty.
5 Surveillance and Discrimination
A further risk associated with surveillance that should be taken into account in any
assessment of its potential costs is discrimination. Discrimination in surveillance can occur
when people are singled out for scrutiny on the basis of factors other than what makes them
suspect. Much more commonly, however, it occurs when surveilling authorities deciding
whom to single out place too much weight on factors only weakly or indirectly related to
people’s suspiciousness. To illustrate, singling out everyone travelling to Europe from
Pakistan for extra security checks on the basis that people travelling from Pakistan are more
likely to have attended terrorist training camps would be discriminatory in this way.
Travelling from Pakistan may be correlated with terrorist activity, but the fact that millions
of people travel from Pakistan to Europe every year for entirely innocuous reasons suggests
that any correlation is very weak. Not only is the correlation weak, it is probably no stronger
For a similar argument about the relative privacy costs and legal status of targeted and ‘dragnet’ searches in
the USA see Primus 2011:6.
than other available and known indicators of terrorist activity, such as paying for travel in
cash or booking a one-way flight. Using this correlation alone as the basis for the kind of
extra security checks that would likely deter or reveal terrorist activity—interviews, say, or
background checks—is discriminatory because the same or better security results could be
achieved at an equal or lower cost, by making it one element of a more complex terrorist
profile which assigned evidential weight to other indicators too.
Discrimination is less likely to occur with the most and least targeted forms of surveillance than it is with those falling somewhere in between. This is because both entirely
untargeted and highly targeted surveillance afford surveilling authorities very limited discretion to make generalisations about the kinds of people likely to be involved in unwanted
behaviour. For example, airport security measures that affect all passengers equally do not
rely on generalisations about which kinds of passengers are more suspicious and therefore
do not run a high risk of discriminating against one particular group. At the same time,
measures that target only individuals whom police reasonably suspect of criminality are also
less likely to be discriminatory, given the considerable strength and objectivity of the
evidence needed to meet the threshold of reasonable suspicion. In contrast, profiling by
police is more likely to be discriminatory, given the fact that it often relies on broad
generalisations about which traits are indicative of suspiciousness.
The risk of discrimination also rises the more discretion is given to individual surveillance officers, because all individuals harbour witting and unwitting prejudices, which,
given the opportunity, they may act on. For example, discrimination against Asian and
Muslim people appears to have resulted from a programme of anti-terrorism stop-and-search
in the UK under Section 44 of the 2001 Terrorism Act UK. Section 44 empowered police to
single people out for body and bag searches on the basis of an undefined suspicion, ‘hunch’,
or ‘professional instinct’ that they might be carrying items related to terrorism (Gillian and
Quinton vs the United Kingdom ECtHR). The searches were compulsory, meaning that
those who refused to submit to them could be subject to imprisonment or fine as a result.9
Perhaps unsurprisingly, empirical evidence about the numbers and ethnic background of
those stopped suggests that in practice the hunches of UK metropolitan police often reflected
popular prejudices about the criminal propensities of certain ethnic groups (Moeckli 2007;
Bowling and Phillips 2007; Parmar 2012). It seems reasonable to expect that, had the
standard of reasonable suspicion been maintained, discrimination would have occurred to
a lesser extent, because police would have been obliged to present objective evidence
demonstrating suspiciousness. Had police been instructed to stop everyone passing a certain
point, in something like a blanket search, the ability of police to act on prejudices would
have similarly been limited, thus also reducing the risk of discrimination.
However, it has been argued that adopting blanket or random searches in order to avoid
discrimination just leads to another form of unfairness, that of treating obviously innocent
people like suspects. This claim-often made in relation to airport security measures that subject
elderly people and children to the same anti-terrorist security checks as nervous-looking young
men from Pakistan or the Middle East-is that it is both irrational to subject patently innocent or
benign people to surveillance (Sir John Stevens in News of the World, 2006) and unfair to
subject them to the same measures of surveillance as those whom evidence suggests may be a
security threat (UK House of Lords 12, 2006, UKHL 12, 77&92).
One way of responding to this criticism is by drawing a distinction between intruding on
people’s privacy in ways that resemble intrusions inflicted on people suspected of wrongdoing, and treating them ‘with suspicion’ or ‘as a suspect’. Not all measures that intrude on
Re Section 44 see (Gillian and Quinton vs UK, ECtHR 33.)
The Relative Moral Risks of Untargeted and Targeted Surveillance
privacy or require people to reveal themselves in some way treat people as suspects. Indeed,
not all people who come under surveillance by police in criminal investigations are thereby
treated with suspicion, although their treatment may resemble in many ways the treatment of
those genuinely suspected of crime or wrongdoing. To illustrate, family members of criminal
suspects whose communications are being monitored are often unavoidably also monitored
because of their proximity to the suspect. This occurs even when they are not themselves
suspected of any crime or collusion in crime. Privacy invasions of this sort are harmful to
those they affect and should be avoided. Yet it seems wrong to claim that they treat family
members ‘with suspicion’ or ‘as suspects’. It seems wrong even though those individuals are
subject to some of the same invasions of privacy as those who are genuinely suspected of a
crime. This is because the justification for the imposition of such harms on innocent
individuals is not that those individuals are themselves suspicious. Nor are they thought to
be fair game for surveillance because they are related to the suspect. Rather, the imposition
of such harms is necessary to the prevention of a greater harm, namely serious crime. The
point is that a concern for fairness need not rule out scrutiny of individuals who are not
suspected of any rule-breaking or wrongdoing, even when such invasions appear identical to
those inflicted on genuine suspects.
A reasonable condition of the justifiability of such invasions is that they are necessary and
proportionate, meaning roughly that the aims they serve could not be served without causing
them, and that they cause fewer or less serious harms than those of alternatives. In practice,
this condition appears to be met in many cases of targeted surveillance. The same can be
argued for untargeted surveillance: while the treatment of those surveilled may be similar to
that inflicted on suspects, it does not always itself amount to treating people ‘with suspicion’
or ‘as suspects’. It can therefore be justified on grounds other than the existence of evidence
that the individuals affected are suspicious. And it can be so justified without undermining
the general rule that evidence of rule-breaking should precede suspicion, not result from it,
because not all scrutiny involves suspicion.
These points are not contradicted by the existence of real examples of preventive
surveillance that do threaten to treat people as suspects in ways that are unfair. The rationale
for Section 44 was that the severity of the terrorist threat to the UK provided sound reasons
to relax the standard of evidence from ‘reasonable suspicion’ to something less exacting.
While this rationale is not objectionable in principle, the resulting policy was: hunches or
general intuitions do not qualify as objective grounds for suspicion on any reasonable
account of such grounds.10 Singling people out for searches on the basis that they exhibit
traits that raise suspicion of criminality treats them as suspects. Doing so without any
objective ground for suspicion is unfair.
6 Surveillance and Mission Creep
Before moving on to consider what the relative benefits of untargeted and targeted surveillance are and whether and when these might justify the stigmatisation and privacy intrusions
incurred, it is important to factor in the risk of mission creep. Mission creep occurs when
data collected through surveillance is used for a purpose other than that for which it was
Lerner (2006) argues that, in practice, the requirement of reasonable suspicion fails to prevent prejudice
coming to determine who is subject to a search. Others note that reasonable suspicion is a vague standard
vulnerable to questionable interpretation and manipulation by police, and should therefore always be
supplemented with clear and detailed guidance (Fundamental Rights Agency of the EU FRA 2010:47)
originally approved. Other things being equal, surveillance based on individual suspicion raises the lowest risk of mission creep. Mass surveillance—surveillance that
affects significant proportions of a population or whole populations—poses the highest
risk of mission creep, because it involves the storage of large amounts of data for
future use. Concerns about mission creep in untargeted surveillance have been raised
in relation to the use in the UK of ANPR data to identify individuals attending or
presenting in the vicinity of protests (Guardian Newspaper 2012). They have also
been raised in relation to ID cards, and in relation to the collection of biometric
material in medical and other databases. Privacy, stigmatisation, and discrimination
risks not typically associated with blanket or mass surveillance may nevertheless
result if these kinds of surveillance are used as a precursor to target individuals for
suspicion. Mission creep is unjustified when the new purpose for which the data is
used has not been approved through a legitimate democratic process, or when the
oversight provided by such processes is poor.
7 The Relative Moral Risks of Targeted and Untargeted Surveillance Reassessed
Taken together, the claims made here about the relative risks of untargeted and targeted
surveillance support the following position: the more targeted a measure of surveillance, the
more likely it is to stigmatise those it singles out for scrutiny and the deeper it is likely to
intrude into their privacy. The less targeted a measure of surveillance, the more likely it is to
impose privacy costs on large numbers of people and on large numbers of obviously benign
or innocent individuals.
To illustrate these claims, a graph has been inserted in fig 1 below. This graph is intended
to be a rough indication of the relationship between the most serious risks of surveillance
Fig. 1 Relative moral costs of surveillance
The Relative Moral Risks of Untargeted and Targeted Surveillance
used to reduce unwanted behaviour and the extent to which that surveillance is targeted on
the basis of suspiciousness.
Measures that fall somewhere between individual suspicion and mass surveillance often
pose some of the risks or incur some of the costs of both those extreme measures. For
example, random screening singles people out and so carries greater risks of stigmatisation
than blanket screening. It also carries greater risks of discrimination, as prejudice may come
to influence how decisions about whom to suspect are made. However, random screening
also imposes privacy costs on fewer individuals than blanket screening. It also poses a
smaller risk of stigmatising those it affects than actions that single people out on the basis of
individual suspicion (as long as there is public awareness of the random basis for the
selection). On the other hand, measures like profiling that are targeted at suspicious
categories carry high risks of both stigmatising and discriminating against those they affect.
They also inevitably result in a high proportion of false positives. These are some of the
reasons why measures like profiling have proved highly controversial in practice.
It is important to stress at this point that the different kinds of surveillance discussed here
are not discrete categories. Rather, they exist on a continuum. This reflects the reality of
surveillance practices today. It means that those practices can be more or less alike and can
pose more or less of the same moral risks. As was mentioned above, the decision to surveille
all individuals in a particular place or involved in a particular activity may itself be based on
a judgement about the inclination for wrongdoing, or suspiciousness of those individuals. In
such cases, the distinction between profiling and untargeted surveillance and between the
corresponding moral costs incurred shrinks. As this suggests, sometimes the distinction
between profiling and untargeted surveillance may only become apparent when the basis for
the surveillance is revealed.
In the light of this intersection between profiling and what I have been calling untargeted
surveillance, it may be argued that the distribution of moral costs described here is better
understood as corresponding to different kinds of targeting rather than, as I have represented
it thus far, degrees of targeting.11 Thus we should understand profiling as targeting on the
basis of correlations linking characteristics or behaviours with wrongdoing, and what I call
untargeted surveillance as targeting on the basis of opportunities for wrongdoing or
There are at least two reasons why I think this would be a mistake. First, it would employ
an unintuitive and awkward use of the verb to target. Targeting implies an authority zoning
in on (or singling out) a group or individual to the exclusion of others who are in the vicinity
or are similar in some way. But, as I have indicated, many of the paradigmatic examples I
have in mind when I speak of untargeted surveillance do not involve an authority zoning in
or singling out. Rather, they involve an authority surveilling everyone who falls under the
auspices of that authority.
Second, making the basis for a measure of surveillance the salient distinction here
obscures some aspects of the relationship between different kinds of surveillance and their
tendency to produce certain moral costs. For example, the basis for random screening is
often the same as the basis for blanket screening (i.e. that an activity creates opportunities for
wrongdoing and this wrongdoing should be prevented), but the moral costs are different.
They are different because random screening is more targeted than blanket screening: it
zones in on certain people, and in doing so it risks both stigmatising them as suspicious and
being applied in discriminatory ways. Similarly, both individual suspicion and profiling
target people on the basis of correlations between behaviour or characteristics and
I am grateful to one anonymous reviewer for this journal for raising this point.
wrongdoing (though in the former case the correlation tends to be supported by information
linking specific people to specific incidents). Yet the moral costs are different, in part
because individual suspicion zones in small numbers of individuals for suspicion and thus
stigmatises and visits privacy intrusions on fewer people. If, as this suggests, the extent to
which a measure of surveillance is targeted is a significant indicator of the tendency of
different kinds of surveillance to pose a specific range of moral risks, then it seems worth
drawing attention to.
Some security practices combine targeted and untargeted surveillance in ways that
mean their costs are more varied than those of straightforwardly targeted or untargeted
alternatives. Readers who are very familiar with the surveillance studies literature may
well have noted the conspicuous absence of open street CCTV from my lists of
examples of untargeted surveillance. This is because open street CCTV is often used
in both a targeted and untargeted way and, up until now, my intention in this paper
has been to highlight rather than to play down the distinctions between these two
approaches. There are two stages to the use of open street CCTV, at least as it is
currently used in the UK. The first is untargeted: open street CCTV affects all people
who pass through its range by recording them. The purpose of this stage of CCTV is
to keep a record of events that can be accessed if an incident of rule-breaking occurs.
The second stage of CCTV use is highly targeted: once an incident occurs, state
agents watch only those recordings that independent information suggests may hold
evidence that will help them to establish the facts of a case.
Open street CCTV incurs risks at both ends of the surveillance spectrum. The privacy,
stigmatisation and discrimination risks of open street CCTV are borne primarily by those
who are targeted for scrutiny in relation to an incident of rule-breaking. Having one’s
movements scrutinised by state agents is far more intrusive than having them recorded but
then deleted, unwatched by anybody. No one is stigmatised or discriminated against by
being recorded, because no one is singled out.12 Neither is the interference presented by the
recording itself significant. Indeed the costs of the untargeted use of CCTV consist primarily
in the risk to individuals that their public actions will be scrutinised if the law is broken in a
location in which they also happened to be. The costs to each individual of untargeted CCTV
are therefore very low, but they are costs that must be borne by vast numbers of individuals.
Whenever proposals to establish a new programme of surveillance are made, the moral
risks arising from both targeted and untargeted aspects of its use should be taken into
account. Open street CCTV is not unique in combining aspects of both. Large-scale
databases may similarly incur moral risks at both ends of the spectrum: having one’s details
stored on a database is far less invasive and stigmatising than having them scrutinised and
connected up with other details stored on other databases, although the former is often only
undertaken in order to enable the latter.
The utility of the scale in Fig. 1 above lies in its ability to help us to understand what the
main moral risks of surveillance are, when they are most likely to arise, and how trade-offs
between them might be made. But there remain morally significant aspects of surveillance
policy that this model is too simplistic to reveal. For example, some people with prostheses,
disabilities or other special circumstances may be forced by metal detectors and body
scanners of some kinds to reveal these intimate aspects of themselves, aspects which they
This would not be so if the CCTV were installed for reasons to do with the perceived criminal tendencies
of, for example, a minority living in the area to be surveilled. In that case the use of CCTV would be an
example of profiling, which as just discussed poses higher risks of stigmatisation and discrimination. Most
open-street CCTV is not used to apply criminal or other security profiles in this way.
The Relative Moral Risks of Untargeted and Targeted Surveillance
might reasonably desire to conceal. Thus the scrutiny of untargeted surveillance may be
indiscriminate, but the intrusion into privacy may be greater for some individuals than
8 The Benefits of Surveillance: Distinguishing Between Deterrence and Prosecution
Just as the potential costs of targeted and untargeted forms of surveillance differ, so do the
benefits. This is often overlooked by critics of untargeted surveillance, who tend to assume
that the only measure of success of a security policy is the number of threats detected or
wrongdoers apprehended. In this section I argue that this wrongly excludes deterrence,
which is a both legitimate and valuable aim and most often the principal objective of
It has been argued that untargeted surveillance is less effective in producing benefits to
security than more targeted surveillance, including profiling, because it results in far fewer
arrests or convictions (Risse and Zeckhauser 2004). But this ignores the fact that security is
protected by deterring people from breaking the rules, as well as by identifying those who
have already broken them. It is only the effectiveness of a practice in identifying rulebreakers that can be measured by reference to the number of arrests made. In contrast, its
effectiveness in deterring crime can be measured by comparing the number of incidents of
rule-breaking reported prior to and following its implementation. If the number has fallen
then, other things being equal, the measure has had some positive effect.
Most untargeted surveillance used to enforce the rules of specific institutions or
particular activities aims at deterring rule breakers rather than identifying them. Thus
an absence of positive identifications of rule-breakers is not a sign of failure. This is
true even of measures whose value as a deterrent is their reliability in catching people
out. For example, metal detectors at airports are intended to detect any and all metal
items carried on an individual’s person and thereby to deter individuals from carrying
weapons or other dangerous items onto airplanes. If people continued to carry
weapons onto planes despite the use of metal detectors, this would signal that metal
detectors were failing in their aim of deterring people from hazardous behaviour.
Similarly, the expectation when undertaking surveillance of employees or of people
applying to work with children or of athletes and so on is that knowledge of the
imminent scrutiny will discourage those who intend to break the rules from participating in the activity and thereby prevent their violation. There are exceptions,
including open street CCTV and the use of large databases, both of which often
enable more targeted surveillance whose aim is to identify rule-breakers. In these
cases, the rate of positive identifications is an appropriate measure of effectiveness.
But for most forms of untargeted surveillance, it seems incorrect to insist that the low
rate of positive identification or detection means its security benefits are nonexistent.13
Other things being equal, measures of untargeted surveillance are more effective at
both revealing and deterring rule-breaking than profiling or measures that rely on
individual suspicion, because they are very difficult to evade. However, in practice it
is likely to be most efficient when it is used to enforce the rules of a well-defined,
Bernard Harcourt has argued convincingly that the detection or ‘hit rate’ is also an inaccurate measure of
the effectiveness of profiling, because it fails to track both the ‘overall amount of profiled crime and the costs
to society of searches’. (Harcourt 2004:1281).
circumscribed, and easy-to-monitor activity or institution. Surveillance that aims to
maintain the rules of specific institutions or activities is much less costly to carry out
in an untargeted way than surveillance that aims to enforce the rules of the criminal
law, which can be broken anywhere, at any time, by anyone and in a vast array of
ways.14 In order to be effective, untargeted surveillance that attempted to deter
violations of the criminal law in general would have to be as pervasive as the
network of surveillance described in George Orwell’s 1984, which intruded in all
areas of life including those considered most private. The costs in terms of money
and manpower of installing and maintaining such a system would probably be far
greater than those involved in running the current, more reactive approach to criminal
justice. Thus the most untargeted forms of surveillance, often referred to as mass or
total surveillance, are likely to be an inefficient means of enforcing the criminal law.
Just as mass surveillance is likely to be inefficient at enforcing criminal justice, so
the most targeted forms of surveillance, i.e. those that require individual suspicion to
trigger scrutiny, are often inefficient at enforcing the rules of specific institutions or
activities. In many cases there is a lack of available evidence about who is likely to
break the rules, and who can be ruled out from suspicion. In many cases the costs of
gathering information and following up evidence about specific people in advance of
any incident of rule-breaking may be very high. Yet both doing nothing and relying
on profiles, which are never impossible to evade, may expose vulnerable people to
unacceptable security threats or valuable institutions to being undermined through
rule-breaking or wrongdoing. Searching everyone who comes through an airport
may be more efficient at maintaining security than trying to identify which of those
travellers are likely to be threats and targeting only them.
These arguments can be usefully illustrated by thinking about airport security. The
maintenance of law and order on aeroplanes is potentially more difficult than it is in
most other environments. Planes are cramped places in which people are forced to
share small amounts of space. For this reason, disputes that turn violent are impossible for other passengers to escape or distance themselves from. Because planes take
time to land, any injury caused as a result of disorder caused while airborne could
only be treated with significant delay. Any disturbance involving the stewards could
compromise the security of the rest of the passengers and if this spread to the cockpit
the consequences could be much worse. For all of these reasons, it is permissible for
security agencies to take some intrusive measures to deter or to chill hazardous
Metal detectors and hand-luggage x-rays are minimally intrusive. First, they are
used in airports, which are controlled environments in which reasonable expectations
to privacy are diminished. People using airports are given ample warning of the fact
that they are likely to be screened. This enables them to alter their behaviour
accordingly, to ensure, for example, that items they do not want to be seen by others
are excluded from their hand-luggage. Second, the searches are not compulsory
Some of the health and safety and other rules enforced under the auspices of specific institutions overlap
with rules of criminal justice. Thus dealing drugs breaks both school rules and the law. However, the primary
aim of checks of bags and lockers in schools is to maintain the school rules and thereby ensure a sound
education environment, rather than to enforce the law. It would be neither practicable nor desirable for schools
or other institutions to attempt to maintain a distinction between the practical enforcement of rules that fall
under the criminal law and those that do not, delegating responsibility for the former to police. For most
school security issues, such as drug use and possession of knives, involvement of the police at a preventive
stage would be both inefficient, unnecessary, and disproportionate.
The Relative Moral Risks of Untargeted and Targeted Surveillance
because travel by plane is not compulsory. Though for some people it is a necessary
aspect of their job or family life, for most people traveling by plane is something they
can forego without hindering the free pursuit of their interests.15 Third, travellers are
usually willing to consent to such searches because they receive important benefits in
terms of both security and reassurance that their security is protected. Given that
many people feel afraid of the security risks involved in flying, the latter helps, in
turn, to maintain order while in flight.
If security agencies were required to act only on the basis of evidence about individuals or
the kinds of people likely to be threats to airport security, the intrusions visited on individuals travelling by plane would be likely to be far greater. It is difficult to predict who is
likely to be carrying a weapon, for example, without gathering detailed information about
them. The process of gathering such information is likely to be more intrusive than asking
them to step through a metal detector. It is also likely to be stigmatising, as travellers are
subject to different kinds of intrusion depending on their suspiciousness. Moreover, if people
knew that they would only be searched at airports if police had some evidence or intelligence
suggesting wrongdoing, they would be more likely to engage in hazardous behaviour such
as carrying knives or guns on their person, even if they did not intend to use them. Thus we
can begin to see why untargeted surveillance is used when it is and why in those cases it may
be a more efficient and less morally costly means of achieving important security aims than
The aim of this paper has been neither to put forward an unqualified defence of untargeted
surveillance nor to suggest that it is always or in most cases less risky morally than targeted
alternatives. Rather, the aim has been to point out some shortcomings in current assessments
of the moral risks and the benefits of targeted and untargeted approaches to surveillance, and
to propose a more systematic approach to understanding both.
The claims made here about the effectiveness of different approaches to surveillance, and their tendency to stigmatise and discriminate in particular, are speculative
and subject to revision in the light of empirical study. As a result, they are unavoidably couched in the language of tendencies, risks, and probabilities. While some
general claims can be made about the tendency of different kinds of surveillance to
generate stigmatisation, privacy, and discrimination costs when used for certain kinds
of purposes, it is important to stress that very little can be deduced from what has
been said here about the justice of any individual measure. For that, much more
information is needed about the specific circumstances in which the surveillance will
be implemented, not to mention an account of what justice consists in. Until now,
most moral theorists have adopted either contractarian or consequentialist approaches
to analysing security policy. The scope of this paper does not extend to a defence of
one such theory over any other. Rather, the proposed analysis of the costs of
surveillance aims to be of equal relevance to both.16
Marx points out that sometimes the choice to opt out from untargeted surveillance comes at a high cost to
individuals. He claims that in these cases the extent to which the choice can be said to be voluntary is
questionable (Marx 2007:16). This seems correct, but while genuinely voluntary consent might make
surveillance easier to justify it is not a necessary condition of its being justifiable.
The author would like to thank Tom Sorell, John Guelke, Rose van der Hilst and Mathias Vermeulen as well
as the two anonymous reviewers for ETMP for their helpful comments and advice.
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