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Surveillance - Necessary evil...or excuse to invade privacy?

In order to provide an answer to the question posed we must first define what surveillance actually is and means. The word ‘surveillance’ is derived from the french words ‘sur’ (over) and ‘vellier’ (watch) and is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as:

“close observation of a suspected spy or criminal”

In today’s society surveillance is increasingly utilised by our Government, Police and Military to prevent or obtain evidence of a crime or act of terrorism.

The aim being to gather information on a person’s location, to record activities in and around a specific building or location and to gather intelligence for any future action that may be required in a court of law.

In an investigation, surveillance is not always necessary or indeed viable. Surveillance adds to an investigation when visual confirmation of the actions or whereabouts of the subject is necessary to conclude the investigation.

If an investigator needs to catch a thief, witness anti-social behaviour, confirm the location of a missing person or prove that an insurance claim is false, then surveillance is paramount to the case.

This is very much dependant on a few factors. Each case has to be reviewed on its own merit. The experienced investigator will decide, after discussions with the client, which type of surveillance is best suited by understanding the case and the desired outcome of the surveillance. The nature of the case will dictate whether the surveillance is human or technical, whether it will be covert or overt and whether it will be static or mobile.

Technical Surveillance is when an investigator uses devices to conduct the surveillance and is beneficial in that equipment doesn’t get tired, hungry or bored! “Tech kit” can be used at single or multiple locations at the same time and information from equipment can either be accessed remotely or recordings taken away for analysing with no break in coverage. Human Surveillance is when the investigative team is the main source of information and may include following the subject on their daily routine to build a lifestyle pattern.

Overt Surveillance is visible security. This could be a security guard in a shopping centre, CCTV systems in premises or town centres. People know they are under surveillance. Covert Surveillance is undetected surveillance. This may involve following a subject or using a piece of equipment to track the subject’s vehicle.

Mobile Surveillance, as the name suggests, is following a mobile subject to gather the intelligence required by the client. This could be to confirm whether or not the subject is doing something they should or shouldn’t be doing. Static Surveillance is when the investigator remains in one place to observe the subject. This could be anti-social behaviour on a housing estate or damage to property.

Knowing the client’s needs and exactly what they are trying to accomplish through surveillance is crucial to the planning stage of any investigation. Managing client’s expectations has to be considered as surveillance can be more complicated and costly than they may be anticipating.

Surveillance adds to an investigation when a visual confirmation of the actions or whereabouts of the subject is necessary to conclude an investigation. If an investigator needs to catch a thief in the act, find and confirm the whereabouts of a missing person or prove a compensation claim is false, then surveillance is necessary.