Are you being monitored?

Largely since 9/11, anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism regulations have required financial institutions to monitor what we do with our money, notifying the authorities of suspicious activity. From 2009, the same became true of our own movements, with the introduction of the e-Borders system.

My concern is that these government initiatives are drawing on private consumer data in a more intense manner. Therefore, I’m currently researching to what extent the “securitises” aspects of everyday customer data handling impacts on customer relationship management and systems, and affects frontline staff.

At a practical level, there are time and money implications. The travel industry had to warn MPs there would be travel chaos at the start of the holiday season before Ministers agreed to postpone the start of the e-Border checks roll-out from May to October 2009.

There are also complications about who is responsible. If you’re a legacy carrier such as KLM it may be easier: the information is coming straight from the customer. But if you’re a leisure carrier and you service tour operators, you don’t necessarily have data to pass on.

Both sectors are unhappy about picking up the tab for the Government’s surveillance work. In 2006, a survey of the financial services sector by KPMG found overall costs had gone up, largely due to the need to train staff in what to look out for and how to judge and manage risk. Faced with heavy fines for not complying, the regulations have spawned a rash of companies offering special training for staff, which led to an almost 20-fold increase in the number of reports of suspicious activity being filed, from around 5,000 in 1995 to 94,000 in 2004.

Companies feel this is a costly and unfair burden compromising their duty to act in the interests of their customers first. We need to investigate this, and explore how it may be altering customer relationship management. Traditionally CRM has been directed towards defining customer attractiveness and value. But these changing national security arrangements are now affording it wider significance.

This includes the assumption that we are all, potentially, suspects, which cannot help but affect the nature of customer-provider relationships, management and service. How will we be judged and how will relationships with people supposed to serve us be shaped by bias?

Within the travel industry, requesting certain seats on a plane, booking a single fare, even requesting a special meal may all register as risk factors and will be recorded in the tracking files the Border Agency intends to keep for 10 years.

It’s the effects of such monitoring and human judgements that may in the end have a wider-reaching impact on the way we live our lives. And that might – like so much that is happening as a result of our surveillance society – go undetected and reported.

It’s clear we’re all going to feel the effects. In circumstances where being in the wrong category results in the freezing of financial assets, deportation or imprisonment, the accuracy and application of profiles becomes critical. Errors occur when databases are combined, missing information is “filled in”, data quality is poor, and profiles become inaccurate.

At its most dangerous, those factors “concretise” prejudices, potentially affecting our economic opportunity – and even liberty.

For information on Dr Ball’s research project, go to:


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