Business

CNBC Director Bored of Recording Brian Sullivan, Shows Ugly Side of Electronic Surveillance Trend Extension

Dan Switzen, 44, is likely to be viewed from several perspectives. The CNBC director, whose lawyer called him a “very decent family man” after getting accused of “unlawful surveillance” by police in upscale Westchester County, might have gotten bored filming Suzie Orman during a decade-long run. Or perhaps he tired of filming Tyler Mathisen and Brian Sullivan during segments of “Power Lunch.”  Instead, he turned his attention to the family’s au pair and her friends changing while otherwise engaging digital surveillance to record private behaviors, recent court documents and published reports indicate.

While the overwhelming focus might be on the apparent sexual perversion — and it comes at a time NBC is cracking down on inappropriate sexual conduct — Switzen might be part of a larger societal trend going largely unreported in the mainstream: Increasingly sophisticated digital surveillance techniques being used to capture what was at one point considered private. Edward Snowden was the first point the trend was made public, with increasing use of electronic eavesdropping now extending to the bathroom.

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How far can the concept of privacy erode?

When Edward Snowden revealed that a cell phone could be used in spycraft to capture conversations and private moments, it was almost as shocking as to learn later that employees in the intelligence community were using the technology to stalk former girlfriends and eavesdrop on women.

What wasn’t much discussed then was what would become the start of a trend. The Switzen incident is but the latest in trend extension – albeit in a highly personal fashion.

The most recent chapter started on November 13 when the 18-year-old live-in nanny and her friends noticed a tiny camera had been placed a tissue box in the bathroom. They reported it to Pleasantville authorities. When police obtained a search warrant, they confiscated the camera and discovered incriminating images on the memory card, according to reports.

“He intentionally installed a video recording device in a tissue box located in his family’s bathroom to surreptitiously view a person dressing or undressing...at a place and time when (the victim) had a reasonable expectation of privacy without (her) knowledge or consent,” the reported complaint filed in Pleasantview Village Court reads.

Switzen’s lawyer, Jeffrey Chartier, said he didn’t want “to litigate these allegations in the press,” pointing to a potential settlement that might slither the incident into obscurity. “We will defend him accordingly.”

While those on Switzen’s case might hope the issue goes away, it is but the latest in the critical trend of digital surveillance going mainstream.

In the age of digital surveillance, are human sensibilities regarding privacy increasingly discarded?

We are entering a brave new world of digital surveillance, algorithmic decision making, and computer-based controls, of which the Switzen episode is the latest trend benchmark.

Consider the most recent escapades of Project Veritas, an effort to record what was considered private conversations with the goal of revealing alleged misconduct, albeit it with a political bent. Using advanced surveillance systems, both Switzen and Project Veritas are taking the concept of Google Glass and its video recording of all interactions to a new and troubling level, raising questions of entrapment and privacy concerns -- issues often ignored in a world increasingly accustomed to electronic surveillance.

The trend of advanced electronic surveillance was first public with the Snowden revelations and was quickly adopted by the super elite. Harvey Weinstein, for instance, was reported to have hired a team of surveillance experts to keep track of potential whistleblowers to his escapades while other hedge fund executives have been accused of using old school “shoe-leather” tactics of surveillance.

The concept of digital surveillance on Wall Street is not new. But Switzen, who worked in this environment, might have taken it to a new and devious level.

In entering this world, Switzen violated more than social norms by apparently video recording young women in the bathroom. He also broke what was known as a safe space in electronic surveillance tactics.

The rules for providing confidential information to journalists have radically changed over the years. Oddly enough, public bathrooms are one area where information drops can occur with relative anonymity because of the lack of cameras and multiple points of access.

With the advent of electronic surveillance, not only have capabilities of electronic monitoring and information collection dramatically expanded, but the ease with which private information can be obtained has likewise significantly increased. Unfortunately, Switzen emphasizes this point, using private moments in a bathroom as the latest example of the electronic surveillance perversion trend gone wild.