Introduction to Surveillance

Surveillance, monitoring or recording of information, natural phenomena, activities, or conversations from a distance. Surveillance in government investigations or military operations is usually secretive. See also Surveillance, Electronic.” (1)

Covert Surveillance

Covert surveillance refers to surveillance conducted by means of hidden devices and should only be used as an absolute last resort. Prior to deciding to use covert surveillance for a purpose other than a case-specific law enforcement activity, institutions should conduct a comprehensive assessment of the privacy impacts associated with the implementation of such a program. Institutions should submit this assessment, together with the case for implementing covert surveillance, to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner/Ontario. See Section 9 for additional resources.

The purpose of the assessment is to ensure that covert surveillance is the only available option under the circumstances and that the benefits derived from the personal information obtained would far outweigh the violation of privacy of the individuals observed.

A law enforcement agency that uses covert surveillance as a case-specific investigation tool for law enforcement purposes may consider developing, as part of sound privacy protection practices, a protocol that establishes how the decision to use covert surveillance is made on a case-by-case basis. The protocol could also include privacy protection practices for the operation of the system.

Crime Detection Surveillance

One of the oldest ways of detecting criminal activity is through surveillance. This method is used when it is likely that a crime will take place at a specific location or when certain persons are suspected of criminal activity. The first situation usually is handled by fixed police observation known as a stakeout; the second circumstance may require mobile observation as well, perhaps on foot or by automobile. Some situations may call for aerial observation (using helicopters) or electronic procedures (using listening devices that monitor telephone lines).

The observation method must be legal. Surveillance techniques, for example, may include placing personnel in strategic locations and equipping them with optical aids, such as binoculars or scopes with the capacity to detect an object illuminated only by moonlight, or with electronic devices, sensitive to a conversation taking place at a considerable distance. Where a possibility exists of invasion of privacy, a court order is required to make the police action and the information obtained acceptable at a trial.

Allied to surveillance are covert or undercover observations, which usually are confined to activities such as gambling, dealing in narcotics, and other major organized crimes. Informants are the source of much useful information in investigations; they may be citizens motivated by civic duty or sometimes, criminals motivated by self-interest.” (2)

Surveillance and the GATT Policy Negotiations

In relation to the GATT Policy Negotiations, Christopher Mark (1993) provided the following explanation and/or definition of Surveillance: The monitoring of trade practices to help ensure that governments fulfill their obligations under trade agreements. See Surveillance Body and Trade Policy Review Mechanism.

Privacy and Surveillance Law

Contents of Privacy and Surveillance Law

Contents of this subject matter include:

  • Welcome and introduction to the subject. Overview of the privacy and surveillance (legal) landscape. What are the issues?
  • What is privacy? What is surveillance?
  • Theoretical, constitutional, policy and international contexts
  • A common law action for invasion of privacy?
  • A statutory action for invasion of privacy?
  • Personal information privacy
  • Surveillance and private conversations, activities and location
  • Online privacy – an oxymoron?
  • Anonymity and pseudonymity
  • The right to be forgotten
  • Role and powers of the Privacy Commissioners (Federal and NSW)
  • Review and reflection


Notes and References

  1. Information about Surveillance in the Encarta Online Encyclopedia
  2. Information about Surveillance in the Encarta Online Encyclopedia

Guide to Surveillance

In this Section

Crime Detection, Crime Detection History, Surveillance, Interrogation, Crime Detection Records, Scientific Crime Investigation, Firearms Examinations, Serological Investigations, Investigation Toxicology ,Hairs and Fibers Crime Investigation, Crime Mineralogical Investigations, Crime Metallurgical Investigations and Crime Document Examination.

Hierarchical Display of Surveillance

Law > Justice > Judicial proceedings > Criminal procedure


Concept of Surveillance

See the dictionary definition of Surveillance.

Characteristics of Surveillance

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Translation of Surveillance

Thesaurus of Surveillance

Law > Justice > Judicial proceedings > Criminal procedure > Surveillance

See also

  • Accused
  • Defendant


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