THE MAGAZINE

Understanding Surveillance Technologies: Spy Devices, Privacy, History, and Applications; Second Edition

By J.K. Petersen; Reviewed by Jack F. Dowling, CPP, PSP

***** Understanding Surveillance Technologies: Spy Devices, Privacy, History, and Applications; Second Edition. By J. K. Petersen; published by Auerbach Publications; available from ASIS, item# 1790, 703/519-6200 (phone), www.asisonline.org (Web); 1,007 pages; $100 (ASIS members), $110 (nonmembers).

This information-packed textbook thoroughly covers almost every facet of surveillance from eavesdropping during the American Revolution to today’s portable machines that can map a person’s DNA. The great breadth and depth of the subject matter may not, however, be of the greatest use to today’s security professional.

Three of the book’s sections tackle major categories of surveillance technologies: acoustic, electromagnetic (including visual), and chemical/biological. The fourth section considers cryptology and other topics.

Each chapter provides a full explanation of a specific system. The chapter that developed into visual observation technologies was particularly interesting. All the visually related devices—from microscopes to cameras—get a thorough review, including the history and evolution of each.

The pinhole camera’s ancestral origin is traced to China in 500 B.C., then followed forward to modern camera technology that can be hidden in tie tacks and other small items. The chapter also highlights recent developments in digital cameras, improved monitors, and recording methods.

The chapter on audio surveillance addresses the use of sound monitors for intrusion detection, telephone listening, and recording devices. The chapter on infrared detection focuses on military uses of this technology, while the chapter on magnetic surveillance addresses electronic article surveillance and door contacts but in a limited manner.
Each chapter ends with a comprehensive list of resources for further research; these include organizations, journals, conferences, and workshops, as well as a glossary of terms.

Remarkably, however, for a book published in 2007, only one chapter—30 pages of more than 1,000—is devoted to computers and networks as potential surveillance tools and targets.

Photos, diagrams, and charts are used throughout the book to aid the reader. The chapter on cryptology features photographs of encrypted messages and coders/decoders from World War II. There are also precise drawings for the processing, structure, and theories for DNA in the chapter on genetics. While today’s link between genetics and surveillance is remote, Peterson notes the prospect of large DNA databases and use of genetic technology in tracking individuals.

Overall, Understanding Surveillance Technologies is well written with an abundance of resources and references. It includes an incredible amount of information on this subject, referencing agencies and organizations involved, and resources available.

Some of the concepts are technical in nature and a little difficult to understand without some scientific background. This book seems most appropriate as a classroom text for National Security Agency and CIA employees and as a reference source for those in the defense sector or for savvy espionage buffs. The advanced subject matter and minimum of security application scenarios would not make this book a necessity for most security practitioners or security administrators.


Reviewer: Jack F. Dowling, CPP, PSP, is president of JD Security Consultants, LLC, in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. He teaches in the Criminal Justice Administration Program at the University of Phoenix. He is a member of the ASIS Commercial Real Estate Council and the Facilities Physical Security Measures Guideline Committee.

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