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Surveillance abuse is the use of surveillance methods or technology to monitor the activity of an individual or group of individuals in a way which violates the social norms or laws of a society. Mass surveillance by the state may constitute surveillance abuse if not appropriately regulated. Surveillance abuse often falls outside the scope of lawful interception. It is illegal because it violates peoples' right to privacy.

Covert surveillance by police and the use of informants to conduct surveillance was introduced in the 16th century in Europe. In the mid-19th century in the United States, most large cities had police forces which covertly surveiled suspected criminals and others deemed "radical" or otherwise undesirable. Allegations of surveillance abuse increased as this practice became more common (Marx & Fijnaut).

In modern times, surveillance abuse has become more widespread through corporate and industrial use of private security firms which may be used to conduct industrial espionage, monitor competitors, and target trade union leaders.

During the FBI's COINTELPRO operations, there was widespread surveillance abuse which targeted political dissidents, primarily people from the political left and civil rights movement. Many opponents of the Real ID Act of 2005, including the 511 campaign, cite the RFID-embedded Real ID as a mass surveillance tool to be used by the state against dissidents.

See also


  • Davis, James Kirkpatrick. (1997). Assault on the Left: The FBI and the Sixties Antiwar Movement. Westport, CT: Praeger.
  • Donner, Frank J. (1980). The Age of Surveillance: The Aims and Methods of America’s Political Intelligence System. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Donner, Frank J. (1990). Protectors of Privilege: Red Squads and Police Repression in Urban America. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Fijnaut, Cyrille and Gary T. Marx. (1995). Under Cover: Police Surveillance in Comparative Perspective. The Hague: Kluwer Law International.
  • Marx, Gary T. (1988).Under Cover: Police Surveillance in America. Berkeley: Twentieth Century Fund/University of California Press.
  • Ney York Civil Liberties Union. (2006). Who's Watching
  • O'Reilly, Kenneth. (1988). "Racial Matters:" The FBI's Secret File on Black America, 1960—1972. New York: Free Press.
  • Staples, William G. (2000). Everyday Surveillance: Vigilance and Visibility in Postmodern Life. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.


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