The vast majority of computer surveillance involves the monitoring of data and traffic on the Internet. In the United States for example, under the Communications Assistance For Law Enforcement Act, all phone calls and broadband Internet traffic (emails, web traffic, instant messaging, etc) are required to be available for unimpeded real-time monitoring by Federal law enforcement agencies.
There is far too much data on the Internet for human investigators to manually search through all of it. So automated Internet surveillance computers sift through the vast amount of intercepted Internet traffic and identify and report to human investigators traffic considered interesting by using certain "trigger" words or phrases, visiting certain types of web sites, or communicating via email or chat with suspicious individuals or groups. Billions of dollars per year are spent, by agencies such as the Information Awareness Office, NSA, and the FBI, to develop, purchase, implement, and operate systems such as Carnivore, NarusInsight, and ECHELON to intercept and analyze all of this data, and extract only the information which is useful to law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
Computers are also a surveillance target because of the personal data stored on them. If someone is able to install software (either physically or remotely), such as the FBI's "Magic Lantern" and CIPAV, on a computer system, they can easily gain unauthorized access to this data.
Another form of computer surveillance, known as TEMPEST, involves reading electromagnetic emanations from computing devices in order to extract data from them at distances of hundreds of meters.
The NSA also runs a database known as "Pinwale", which stores and indexes large numbers of emails of both American citizens and foreigners.
Telephones and mobile telephones
The official and unofficial tapping of telephone lines is widespread. In the United States for instance, the Communications Assistance For Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) requires that all telephone and VoIP communications be available for real-time wiretapping by Federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Two major telecommunications companies in the U.S. -- AT&T and Verizon—have contracts with the FBI, requiring them to keep their phone call records easily searchable and accessible for Federal agencies, in return for $1.8 million dollars per year. Between 2003 and 2005, the FBI sent out more than 140,000 "National Security Letters" ordering phone companies to hand over information about their customers' calling and Internet histories. About half of these letters requested information on U.S. citizens.
Human agents are not required to monitor most calls. Speech-to-text software creates machine-readable text from intercepted audio, which is then processed by automated call-analysis programs, such as those developed by agencies such as the Information Awareness Office, or companies such as Verint, and Narus, which search for certain words or phrases, to decide whether to dedicate a human agent to the call.
Law enforcement and intelligence services in the U.K. and the United States possess technology to remotely activate the microphones in cell phones, by accessing the phone's diagnostic/maintenance features, in order to listen to conversations that take place nearby the person who holds the phone.
Mobile phones are also commonly used to collect location data. The geographical location of a mobile phone (and thus the person carrying it) can be determined easily (whether it is being used or not), using a technique known multilateration to calculate the differences in time for a signal to travel from the cell phone to each of several cell towers near the owner of the phone.A controversy has emerged in the United States over the legality of such techniques, and particularly whether a court warrant is required.Records for one carrier alone (Sprint), showed that in a given year federal law enforcement agencies requested customer location data 8 million times.
Corporate surveillance is the monitoring of a person or group's behavior by a corporation. The data collected is most often used for marketing purposes or sold to other corporations, but is also regularly shared with government agencies. It can be used as a form of business intelligence, which enables the corporation to better tailor their products and/or services to be desirable by their customers. Or it the data can be sold to other corporations, so that they can use it for the aforementioned purpose. Or it can be used for direct marketing purposes, such as the targeted advertisements on Google and Yahoo, where ads are targeted to the user of the search engine by analyzing their search history and emails(if they use free webmail services), which is kept in a database.
For instance, Google, the world's most popular search engine, stores identifying information for each web search. An IP address and the search phrase used are stored in a database for up to 18 months. Google also scans the content of emails of users of its Gmail webmail service, in order to create targeted advertising based on what people are talking about in their personal email correspondences.Google is, by far, the largest Internet advertising agency—millions of sites place Google's advertising banners and links on their websites, in order to earn money from visitors who click on the ads. Each page containing Google ads adds, reads, and modifies "cookies" on each visitor's computer.These cookies track the user across all of these sites, and gather information about their web surfing habits, keeping track of which sites they visit, and what they do when they are on these sites. This information, along with the information from their email accounts, and search engine histories, is stored by Google to use for build a profile of the user to deliver better-targeted advertising.
The United States government often gains access to these databases, either by producing a warrant for it, or by simply asking. The Department of Homeland Security has openly stated that it uses data collected from consumer credit and direct marketing agencies—such as Google—for augmenting the profiles of individuals that it is monitoring.The FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and other intelligence agencies have formed an "information-sharing" partnership with over 34,000 corporations as part of their Infragard program.
The U.S. Federal government has gathered information from grocery store "discount card" programs, which track customers' shopping patterns and store them in databases, in order to look for "terrorists" by analyzing shoppers' buying patterns
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