At a time when governments are increasing covert surveillance of their own populations (in Australia we must thank Potato-head Dutton for this), there is a lot of commercially based covert surveillance going on.
I became aware of the depth of commercially based covert surveillance of internet users when Paul Read (Monash University) proposed that I be a PhD candidate with him.
One of Paul’s many areas of research and work has been in treatment of “victims” of paedophiles, but he has had little to no contact with paedophiles, according to him. None the less, he categorised all paedophiles according to the same criteria, and all adult-child romantic and sexual relationships according to the same stereotypical “monster” category. As near as I can tell, my writings were the first he had read which did not portray paedophilia and paedophiles as monstrous in some way, and he seemed surprised by the proposal, from Michael Seto, that paedophilia may be a genuine sexual orientation, rather than a “perversion” (a mental health problem).(Seto, 2012) He was surprised even by some of what James Cantor(E.g., Cantor & McPhail, 2016) had to say, and Cantor cannot be regarded as radical in any way. Needless to say, some of what Rind, Bauserman and Tromovitch (1998) had to say seemed almost incomprehensible in the suggestion that adult-child sexual contact was not necessarily and always harmful; he had, after all, built a career on the assumption that just this was true. None the less, he proposed that we work together.
The project would be paid for primarily by IBM, and involved the development of a programme designed to conduct covert surveillance of all relevant areas of the internet with the goal of identifying paedophiles so that they could be reported to the police.
Although Paul’s justification for my working on the project was that I would bring some compassion to it, I immediately objected that I was completely against such surveillance, be it government or a commercial enterprise intent on increasing profit. (Whatever other justification they may have, profit always is the underlying motive for such a company.)
There are massive difficulties with such a project, not the least being (a) the person identified as a paedophile may not be a paedophile, (b), if the person identified is a paedophile, they may be non-offending, and quite purposefully keeping their contact with children at a distance and (c), the “child” may be provoking sexual discussion (and more). There was, however, a financial incentive and, after discussing the proposal with Tom O’Carroll, I decided to go ahead with it, should it actually go ahead.
In the past ten months I have heard nothing, except that IBM had decided to prioritise covert surveillance in respect of potential youth suicide. (One wonders just how many other programmes which rely on covert surveillance they are planning.)
I have no doubt that the project will go ahead at some stage, but it will not include me. I will, instead, maintain my stance that covert surveillance of this type is morally repugnant, at its very best.
Cantor, J. M., & McPhail, I. V. (2016). Non-offending pedophiles. Springer Nature. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11930-016-0076-z
Rind, B., Tromovitch, P., & Bauserman, R. (1998). A meta-analytic examination of assumed properties of child sexual abuse using college samples. Psychlogical Bulletin, 124(1), 22–53. https://doi.org/10.1037//0033-2909.124.1.22
Seto, M. C. (2012). Is pedophilia a sexual orientation? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41(1), 231–236. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-011-9882-6