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The Scorpion Stare

I have written over the years about the encroaching surveillance state, the spread of CCTV and the increasing use of drones in our skies. When the North East of England introduced talking CCTV cameras that could bark orders at passing pedes­trians in 2008, I thought that we were fast approaching the reductio ad absurdum point — and indeed this subject has raised a wry laugh from audiences around the world ever since.

FacedealsRecently I have been reading with dismay a slew of articles about the increasing cor­poratisation of the surveillance state.  First I stumbled across a piece describing Facebook’s latest innovation, Facedeal: cameras planted in shops and bars that will use the facial recognition and tagging abilities of FB to recognise you as a valued customer and offer you a discount, simply because you have signed up to this Big Brother app on Facebook.

Add this to the fact that Face book is probably, well, an open book to the entire US security apparatus, and you can see the potential abuse of this system.  We shall effectively be bribed to allow ourselves to be spied on.

Facedeal is being trialed in the US.  Some European countries, most notably Germany, have already stated that data recognition technology used even just for photo “tagging” is or could be deemed illegal. Germany specifically has regulations that allow Internet users control over their data. They are not going to like Facedeal.

Secondly, it was reported today that Google had patented intelligent image recognition technology.  Combine this capability with Googles Earth and Street, and we are poten­tially looking at a truly panopticon society.  The Germans are really not going to like that. (Nor indeed will certain of the French, including the man who earlier this year tried to sue Google after being photographed having a pee in his own front garden).

And finally, the Wikileaks story about Trap Wire. This first emerged as yet another bonkers American scheme, where the footage from CCTV street cameras was being mainlined into the security apparatus. Subsequently, it has emerged via Wikileaks that Trap wire is also being used in other western countries, including the UK.

Not only can the securocrats watch you, they too are installing face recognition software that can identify you. While this may not yet be as accurate as the spies might wish, Trap Wire has also installed predictive software that apparently can assess whether you are acting, loitering or walking in a suspicious manner.  So you could pre-emptively be assessed to be about to commit a crime or an act of terrorism and, no doubt, be appropriately and pre-emptively “dealt with”.

All of which must be so reassuring to protest groups such as Occupy, which have been subject to massive CCTV sur­veillance in NYC and which have been labelled a “terrorist/extremist threat” in the City of London.

At the risk of sounding alarmist, we now all know what “being dealt with” in this era of anti-activist SWAT teams, drone strikes and kill lists can potentially entail.

So where does this leave us as concerned citizens?  It strikes me that we are being catapulted into some sci-fi dystopia beyond even Orwell’s wildest imaginings.  Any fan of modern thrillers and sci-fi will be familiar with the concept of integ­rated super-computers that can watch our every move via CCTV.

The latter is what Trap Wire et al are working towards.  These new technologies remind me of a story line from a wonderful series of books called the The Laundry Files by Charles Stross.  These novels are a perfect of merging of Len Deighton’s laconic spy fiction, à la Harry Palmer, with the geek universe and beyond. And, at the risk of a spoiler, one of the story lines envisages a centralised and weaponised CCTV system, mainlining into the secret services, that can be turned on UK citizens if the balloon goes up. This system is code named the “Scorpion Stare”.

Sounds far-fetched? Well The Laundry Files are a rollicking good read, but do bear in mind not only that our CCTV systems may be centralised courtesy of Trap Wire, but also that various law enforcement agencies in the UK are using micro-drones to spy on protesters, and that they have reportedly enquired if these drones could be weaponised.….

So it all depends on how you define the balloon, I suppose.

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One Response to The Scorpion Stare

  1. etominusipi September 5, 2012 at 10:40 am #

    i noticed an acceleration of CCTV installation in London during the later 1980’s. it struck me as odd that there seemed to have been no significant public debate on the matter, and that there was no publicity given to any enabling acts of parliament.

    more recent legislation of relevance includes the Data Protection Act (1998) and the Freedom of Information Act (2000).

    according to a uk government website:

    You have the right to see CCTV images of you and to ask for a copy of them. The organisation must provide them within 40 calendar days of your request, and you may be asked to pay a fee of up to £10 (this is the maximum charge, set by Parliament). This is called a Subject Access Request. see http://www.ico.gov.uk/for_the_public/topic_specific_guides/cctv.aspx

    according to the same source:

    The CCTV operator must let people know they are using CCTV. Signs are the most usual way of doing this. The signs must be clearly visible and readable, and should include the details of the organisation operating the system if not obvious.

    one thing that puzzled me when i first noticed CCTV cameras in Camden town, mounted on tall lamp post like supports, was that these supports were painted brown up to a height of ten feet or so, above this they were military grey. the line of demarcation was not carefully done, creating an aesthetically sloppy effect. being a mentally unstable person, i concluded that this was so that people unconsciously registered the CCTV ‘lamp posts’ as trees, and that someone somewhere was well aware that most people in urban areas seldom look upwards. in other words i entertained a suspicion that people were not actively encouraged to be aware of the increasing presence of this new line of street furniture.

    in complex, technologically orientated societies there are many reasonable uses of surveillance. equally, in phoney democratic states where governments are the willing tools of a corporatist agenda with zero respect for privacy or traditions of individual liberty there is an endless list of irresistible temptations to abuse.

    the following historical sketch of visual surveillance in the UK may be of interest:
    (from http://www.notbored.org/england-history.html ).

    unfortunately it ends in the year 1998. perhaps the proliferation since then has been so rapid that the task of continuing became too formidable to attempt.

    (the emphases have been added by me)

    1913: surreptious photography of imprisoned suffragettes begins.

    1949: publication of George Orwell’s 1984, which is set in London.

    1960: Metropolitan Police use two temporary cameras in Trafalgar Square to monitor crowds attracted to the arrival of the Thai royal family.

    5 November 1960: Metropolitan Police use two temporary cameras in Trafalgar Square to monitor “Guy Fawkes Day” activity.

    1961: installtion of video surveillance system at a London Transport train station.

    1964: Liverpool police experiment with four covert CCTV cameras in the city’s center.

    1965: British Railways installs cameras to watch tracks near Dagenham that had been vandalized.

    1967: Photoscan (business) markets video surveillance systems to retail outlets as a means of deterring and catching shoplifters.

    October 1968: Metropolitan Police use temporary cameras in Grosvenor Square to monitor anto-Vietnam War demonstrators.

    1969: Metropolitan Police install permanent cameras in Grosvenor Square, Whitehall and Parliament Square. Total number of cameras nationally: 67.

    1974: installation of video surveillance systems to monitor traffic on the major arterial roads in and through London.

    1975: installation of video surveillance system in four London Underground train stations.

    1975: use of video surveillance systems at soccer matches begins.

    1984: installation of surveillance cameras at major rallying points for public protest in central London. Picketers surveilled during miners’ strike.

    August 1985: installation of street-based video surveillance system in Bournemouth, a south coast seaside resort.

    1987: use of video surveillance systems at parking garages owned by local authorities begins.

    1988: installation of video surveillance systems at “council estates” run by local authorities.

    1989: civil rights group Liberty publishes Who’s watching you? video surveillance in public places.

    1992: installation of street-based video surveillance system in Newcastle (a major northern city). The system in Newcastle is closed-circuit television (CCTV) that uses microwaves (an open circuit) to link to the city’s main police station.

    1992: use of speed cameras and red-light enforcement cameras on the national road network begins.

    August 1993: bombing of Bishopsgate in London by the IRA leads to the construction of the “Ring of Steel” around the City (London financial district). Measures include street-based surveillance cameras.

    1994: central government (the Home Office) publishes CCTV: Looking Out for You. Prime Minister John Major states: “I have no doubt we will hear some protest about a threat to civil liberties. Well, I have no sympathy whatsoever for so-called liberties of that kind.” Between 1994 and 1997, the Home Office spends a total of 38 million pounds of CCTV schemes.

    July 1994: use of covert video surveillance systems at automatic teller machines (ATMs) begins.

    1996: government spending on CCTV accounts for more than three-quarters of total crime prevention budget.

    August 1996: all of England’s major cities except Leeds have video surveillance systems in their city centers.

    10 May 1997: public demonstration against surveillance cameras in Brighton, organized by South Downs Earth First!.

    July 1997: London police announce installation of surveillance camera system that automatically reads, recognizes and tracks automobiles by their license plates.

    October 1998: use of face recognition software in the London Borough of Newham begins.

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