Skip to Content

Selling Privacy Short

Technologies that make life easier also make it simpler to track your every move, warned Technology Review in 1985.
December 17, 2013

Excerpted from “The New Surveillance,” by Gary T. Marx, originally published in the May 1985 issue of Technology Review.

Modern surveillance technologies now allow organizations to monitor people’s movements to a degree previously imagined only in fiction. Aircraft that can spot a car or person 30,000 feet below have been used to monitor drug traffickers. Satellites may soon be used for this purpose as well. The CIA has apparently used satellite photographs to monitor antiwar demonstrations and civil disorders. Computer enhanced satellite photography can identify vehicles moving in the dark. One-way video and film surveillance has expanded rapidly, as anyone who ventures into a shopping mall or uses an electronic bank teller should realize.

Other devices now in use include sensitive miniature but powerful radio transmitters; tape recorders the size of a match box; video cameras the size of a deck of cards; instruments for detecting motion, air currents, vibrations, odor, and pressure changes; and voice-stress analyzers.

The National Security Agency can simultaneously monitor 54,000 telephone transmissions to and from the United States. The agency operates beyond the usual judicial and legislative controls, and can apparently disseminate its information to other government agencies at will.

Citizens’ ability to evade all this surveillance is diminishing.

To venture into a shopping mall, bank, or subway, sometimes even into a bathroom, is to perform before an unknown audience.

To avoid such intrusions, people may decline needed services such as mental-health care, and avoid controversial actions such as filing grievances against governments. We may shun risks and experiments as the new technology exerts subtle pressure for conformity at the expense of diversity, innovation, and vitality.

In a society where everyone feels as if he or she is a target for investigation, trust—the most sacred element of the social bond—is damaged. Indeed, today’s surveillance technologies may be creating a climate of suspicion from which there is no escape. 

Keep Reading

Most Popular

still from Embodied Intelligence video
still from Embodied Intelligence video

These weird virtual creatures evolve their bodies to solve problems

They show how intelligence and body plans are closely linked—and could unlock AI for robots.

pig kidney transplant surgery
pig kidney transplant surgery

Surgeons have successfully tested a pig’s kidney in a human patient

The test, in a brain-dead patient, was very short but represents a milestone in the long quest to use animal organs in human transplants.

panpsychism concept
panpsychism concept

Is everything in the world a little bit conscious?

The idea that consciousness is widespread is attractive to many for intellectual and, perhaps, also emotional
reasons. But can it be tested? Surprisingly, perhaps it can.

We reviewed three at-home covid tests. The results were mixed.

Over-the-counter coronavirus tests are finally available in the US. Some are more accurate and easier to use than others.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.