This article is about observing people's actions and communications.For the article about monitoring the spread of diseases, see disease surveillance. or interception of electronically transmitted information (such as Internet traffic or phone calls); and it can include simple, relatively no- or low-technology methods such as human intelligence agents and postal interception.The word surveillance comes from a French phrase for "watching over" ("sur" means "from above" and "veiller" means "to watch"), and is in contrast to more recent developments such as sousveillance.

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It is also used by criminal organizations to plan and commit crimes such as robbery and kidnapping, by businesses to gather intelligence, and by private investigators.

Surveillance is often a violation of privacy, and is opposed by various civil liberties groups and activists.

Liberal democracies have laws which restrict domestic government and private use of surveillance, usually limiting it to circumstances where public safety is at risk.

Authoritarian government seldom have any domestic restrictions; and international espionage is common among all types of countries.

Computers can be a surveillance target because of the personal data stored on them.

If someone is able to install software, such as the FBI's Magic Lantern and CIPAV, on a computer system, they can easily gain unauthorized access to this data.

Such software could be installed physically or remotely.

In the United States for example, under the Communications Assistance For Law Enforcement Act, all phone calls and broadband Internet traffic (emails, web traffic, instant messaging, etc.) are required to be available for unimpeded real-time monitoring by Federal law enforcement agencies.

There is far too much data on the Internet for human investigators to manually search through all of it.

So automated Internet surveillance computers sift through the vast amount of intercepted Internet traffic and identify and report to human investigators traffic considered interesting by using certain "trigger" words or phrases, visiting certain types of web sites, or communicating via email or chat with suspicious individuals or groups.

Billions of dollars per year are spent, by agencies such as the Information Awareness Office, NSA, and the FBI, to develop, purchase, implement, and operate systems such as Carnivore, Narus Insight, and ECHELON to intercept and analyze all of this data, and extract only the information which is useful to law enforcement and intelligence agencies.