Passive Surveillance

What Does Passive Surveillance Mean?

Passive surveillance is a concept based around wiretapping and other kinds of surveillance that constantly gather information, rather than actively pursuing targeted results.


Passive surveillance versus active surveillance is part of a growing conversation about privacy and security in the digital world.

Techopedia Explains Passive Surveillance

Generally, IT professionals and others use the term 'passive surveillance’ to talk about systems and processes that don't proactively go out and gather information, but instead, passively funnel large amounts of neutral information into a system.

In passive surveillance, a lot of what’s gathered, or even all of what’s gathered, may never be used.

In looking at passive surveillance in IT, researchers and others are looking at how a user's privacy may be compromised, even though he or she may not be an active target. One of the best examples is the national security efforts of American agencies in collecting cell phone and Internet information.

For example, studies of smartphone use and passive surveillance systems show that government agencies can collect all sorts of communications information, for example, phone numbers and names of contacts, as well as detailed information about web use and location, all without the users 'doing anything’ with their devices.

This is raising questions about how much information individual users are sending out into the world without any effort at all, or without a real awareness of what kinds of data are 'leaking’ from their smartphones.


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Margaret Rouse

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.