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The Different shades of surveillance

by Josef Kafka

At the time of writing, the search was still on for the identity of so-called ‘Jihadi John’, the killer of American journalist, James Foley. The beheading of James Foley which was filmed by ISIS fighters waging war in Syria and Iraq, has caused international outrage since it was first posted online in August. Foley’s executioner, is widely believed to be a British-born man, possible from the London area, and a number of news outlets have already published names of those who they claim security services say are suspects. No doubt the suspects have been under intense surveillance for some time and that numerous background checks are being carried out on a large number of people who have travelled to Syria and Iraq in recent months.

The UK Government has also announced plans for new counter-terrorism measures, with some MPs calling for the passports of returning fighters to be seized and that anyone suspected of being involved in ‘terror acts’ should be prevented from coming back to the UK for a length of time.

There are many ways intelligence will be gathered about these self-proclaimed jihadists including photo evidence, video evidence, surveillance, bugging and any other means deemed necessary to gather information on a given individual and his contacts. All of this seems easy enough to justify to foil any potential threat these fighters may pose to the public, when they return to the UK but it’s right that the matter be properly debated in Parliament and that all interested parties have their say. That’s how democracy’s meant to work, after all.

Less dramatic, is the more routine kind of background checks or surveillance involved in employee tracking, matrimonial investigations, or paternity cases, which private investigation firms carry out. They don’t have the huge resources that national security services have at their disposal, but they do use a range of hi-tech and sophisticated surveillance equipment when they need to, as well as old-fashioned legwork. The results of their investigations may not be relevant to national security, or even be matters of life and death, but they almost certainly have important consequences for the people who sought their help.

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