Surveillance & Etiquette

Confused about proper responses to difficult situations?

Sylvia Settles It!

Q: Dear Sylvia,
Q: Dear Sylvia,

Thank you for your inspired and thoughtful replies. I am curious to know how I might recognize when I am being "surveilled upon"?

- Curious to Know

Dear Curious,

How to know when you are being "surveilled upon"? It is with great chagrin that I write this list. Dignified living for the individual, free from observation, is disintegrating. Our right to privacy is under attack, and we must understand what that means.

- When you own/use/carry a cell phone it tracks your location and metadata for every call, as well as content for many of them, and stores that data. The phone companies then sell that data as part of their business. The US government is storing this data on everyone.

- When you use Facebook you place your personal data into the hands of people who have a responsibility to their shareholders to profit from it. They do not have a responsibility to you or other users to protect your data. In this arena, the most respectful thing you can do for your friends and family is to not use FB. Cancel your account, tell them why, and write a letter, call them, or drop by for a visit.

- When you go through the airport security checkpoints that take digital images of your body, you give up your privacy. Require a han‌d inspection, and make friends with your awkward TSA compatriot.

In each of these common, everyday cases of surveillance, we are encouraged to give up our privacy for the sake of convenience. S.S.

Q: Dear Sylvia,

What the fuck is this site?

- Seriously

Dear Seriously,

Thank you for your enthusiastic curiousity! This column is a resource for maintaining dignity and social graces, like Ann Landers or Emily Post. The current level of daily surveillance of everyday citizens has become astoundingly invasive and there is much general confusion about how to appropriately respond. Our site seeks to rectify that confusion to the best of our ability, while providing a genteel and calm perspective. When you next experience discomfort at a border crossing, cell phone location disclosure, or under the watchful gaze of a store camera please feel free to write in, and I will do my best to guide you to an acceptable resolution of the issue. These are real occurences that are highly disturbing, so we provide analysis and perspective to keep people from just falling apart.

While personal expression is highly valued by our editors, this column is also a resource for growing children who are learning how to live conscious lives under surveillance, so I would ask you to consider tempering your profanity next time.

Bye for now. S.S.

Q: Dear Sylvia,

How do I hack gibsons for the greater good?

- Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

Hacking gibbons is in itself no easy feat, moreover for a greater good. Thank you for your interest and concern. Your brief question brings up the large discussion topics of both sousveillance - observation from below - and the popular phrase "ethical hacking".

In our current time of increasingly imposing corporate and government resources devoted to gathering information on users and citizens, sousveillance is acceptable, even commendable, modern civic behavior. When visibility into the systems that organize and manage our lives is impaired, power rests with those who know what is actually happening, and who know what is actually possible. Your desire to help understand the world around us is greatly appreciated.

The phrase "ethical hacking" is problematic and demonstrates a deep disrespect and distrust of hackers. With the addition of the adjective "ethical" we are told that the activity of simple plain "hacking" is inherently unethical. Artists don't have to call themselves "ethical artists" in order for their work to be understood as a benefit to society. Engineers don't have to call themselves "ethical engineers" in order for their work to be seen as legitimate. As a society, each action fits into the spectrum of ethics - we have artists who use environmentally unsafe chemicals in their processes, and engineers who design systems for killing other people. As with most activities, hacking is a process that is neither inherently ethical nor unethical.

Now, let us address the first part of your question - as a responsible modern netizen, please, learn some 1337 h4x0rz sk1lz. For example, try to orient your 0day towards the core shields and you will likely be able to take down its main firewall. Once you are in, then you could focus on obtaining the garbage files, as they often contain quite interesting information. Now, for the second part - the concerned netizen, once having obtained access to such information, will leak it securely and anonymously.

Knowledge is power. S.S.

Q: Dear Sylvia,

Is my IP address being recorded right now?

- Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

Your IP address is indeed being recored now, the question is by whom. If the question is if I Sylvia am personally recording your IP address then the question is no, but I am sad to tell you that far scarier people are. When reaching this site your connection is being routed through all of these US based addresses: ( ( ( ( ( ( ( ( ( ( ( ( ( ( ( ( ( (
It is known that curious people are listening at certain strategic places in the US and are monitoring what you are reading and writing. It is perfectly reasonable to protect your privacy on the internet; you should use use tools such as Tor to protect your identity while online. S.S.

Q: Dear Sylvia,

Some nights I am watched through the window of my bedroom. When I am being observed, but incorrectly dressed to receive guests, what is the proper way to fulfill my duties as a hostess in my home?

- Hostess in Distress

Dear Hostess,

Oh my yes! Those covert surveillance teams offer a challenging set of social courtesies for the modern-day hostess. One should usually extend hospitality to persons conducting their business in or near your home, and yet these operations often take place when we are not prepared with refreshments.

The correct course of action in such situations is to assume that these visitors have brought their own snacks. You are under no obligation to provide food or beverages or inquire about their needs if they presume that you have not detected their presence.

If it becomes obvious that you know these persons are on site, it is perfectly correct to deploy your own surveillance equipment and engage them in a polite chat about the ethics of personal privacy.

The modern hostess is not required to invite eavesdroppers into her home. S.S.

Q: Dear Sylvia,

I recently discovered that the government has been illegally wiretapping my phone and the phones of millions of other people. How do I correctly greet the surveillance officers at the beginning of a phone call?

- Party Line

Dear PL,

Widespread illegal wiretapping is so tedious and yet, sadly, so common. It is an affront to common courtesy and the rules of civilized behavior to listen to private conversations uninvited.

If you have reason to believe that this type of unpleasantness is taking place on your phone, it is perfectly correct to acknowledge the surveilling party at the start of the phone call. You might say, for example, "Hello surveillance officer, I think it is quite rude of you to listen in on my conversations. Your actions are in all likelihood illegal and violate all protocols of good taste."

Ta ta! S.S.

Q: Dear Sylvia,

A threatening looking person entered my workplace last week, and my wife says I ought to have reported them. How do I correctly identify and document potentially dangerous people to prevent unpleasantness?

- Concerned By Office Mannerisms

Dear CBOM,

What an excellent question! Bravo to your wife and to you.

Appearances are not always what they seem, and the well-bred host does not make assumptions based merely on habits of dress or mannerisms. Yet, one is compelled to alert others if you have any suspicion of miscreants. Observe from a safe distance and discreetly make records of their appearance and behavior. This information should be quietly and swiftly sent to the appropriate parties with a minimum of fuss. If a co-worker attempts to share confidences with such people, privately warn your colleague.

People who present a danger to a calm, ordered society are indeed alarming. It is important to note that such disruptive people often do not look dangerous. They can appear in the form of security personnel, lawyers, government employees and elected officials.

Stay aware. S.S.

Q: Dear Sylvia,

When in custody, how may one maintain correct table manners when denied proper silverware?

- Hungry And Restrained

Dear HAR,

You're rightly concerned, as performing everyday actions while being recorded by surveillance cameras now occurs so often, declining manners anywhere can be duly noted. It sounds like you are aware that while in custody, the chances of your behavior being closely observed increase significantly.

If you have not been provided the needed silverware to dine with grace, do not attempt to borrow utensils from your fellow inmates. While it may be tempting to wave the substandard utensils at the camera or add an insulting gesture, this too is not polite. You must make do with the items that you have received. Eat with your hands if you must, but always retain your dignity. Use a napkin if provided, or your sleeve if you are permitted clothing. When you have completed the meal, you should quietly inform your hosts that they have failed in their duty to uphold the norms of polite society.

Bon apetite. S.S.

Q: Dear Sylvia,

Recently, my traveling companion was stopped at a security checkpoint, but I made it through and continued. I think I may have made a gaff, as they are now upset with me. Was I in the wrong? How long should I have waited while they were interrogated?

- On The Road Again

Dear OTRA,

Your confusion is understandable. Checkpoints have become such a common part of our daily lives, and yet interrogations and detentions do present awkward moments. When your companion is drawn aside, it is correct to wait patiently for the duration of the security interview, and your friend is appropriately aggrieved by your hasty departure.

Of course, it is considered a breach of courtesy to volunteer personal information about the person being detained. While authorities will often conduct searches without permission, people of good breeding never consent to a search of their person or vehicle. If it is possible to assist in your companion’s departure from the unwanted conversation, offer an appropriate distraction. If your companion is taken into custody, you are free to proceed with your scheduled plans. But good taste requires that you make a courtesy call to one of your companion’s friends, family members or their attorney alerting them that your companion has been detained.

See you on the other side. S.S.

Q: Dear Sylvia,

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- pipe à fumer
Q: Dear Sylvia,

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Q: Dear Sylvia,

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Q: Dear Sylvia,

Dear Sylvia, Why so paranoid and crazy, honey? You need to take a chill pill and live ;)

- the government

All images are in the public domain (US PD-1996) and sourced courtesy of wikimedia commons, staunch upholders of the norms of public decency. Sylvia is also happy to answer questions of netiquette.