Thursday, January 24, 2008

Surveillance Nation

Rick Green featured an excellent commentary in the Courant entitled, "Yes, They're Watching Every Move". Here are some excerpts:
Call me neurotic, but have you seen those devices that look like spy cameras, installed above all the traffic lights at intersections in West Hartford Center?

Perhaps you've been down Park Street in Hartford recently and looked up at the surveillance cameras at every intersection, funded with a $400,000 grant from state taxpayers...

The latest issue of Popular Mechanics confirmed my fears.

"There are an estimated 30 million surveillance cameras now deployed in the United States shooting 4 billion hours of footage a week," James Vlahos writes in a feature story. "Americans are being watched, all of us, almost everywhere."

"We're being captured on camera nearly 200 times a day, and those images are being digitized and archived forever," director Adam Rifkin told Newsweek. "Nobody's stopping to ask questions about its propriety."

A 2006 report by the New York Civil Liberties Union noted the installation of thousands of police cameras in New York since 9/11, creating "a massive video surveillance infrastructure ... with virtually no oversight."
Taxpayer funded surveillance! It's incredible.

Right now the cameras are up and "not being used" in some of our streets to get us all accustomed to this. They will be used; and not just for "monitoring traffic". You probably don't even give it a second thought anymore. Not on the street, and not in the Walmart parking lot, and certainly not in the mall. I could understand cameras being around if you are in a bank or a high security area... but in the center of my town?? And where are the notices posted to tell you that you are being photographed? My hope is that people will not ignore this invasion of our civil liberties, and that they won't get easily desensitized to constantly being watched. Cameras in schools are already getting our kids used to the idea of constant surveillance.

The scanning, tracking and surveillance of people is not a very inviting prospect - especially for a free society. On top of this, the cameras have not done anything to really deter crime, and only occasionally help to find criminals (although most criminals are masked and end up unidentifiable). Yet cameras are being justified based on people's fears of crime and terrorism. Cameras will not prevent subway bombings and other acts of terrorism, nor do they deter muggings.

The one big issue of TV surveillance is about what happens to the data that is being collected. Who can see it, who can use it, where is it stored and for how long? What happens if it is misused or stolen? With this invasion of privacy comes some deep identity theft and security issues. Films and photos can also be altered.

The Report on the Surveillance Society
predicts that by 2016 shoppers could be scanned as they enter stores, schools could bring in cards allowing parents to monitor what their children eat, and jobs may be refused to applicants who are seen as a health risk. There are up to 4.2m CCTV cameras in Britain - about one for every 14 people! Britain has become the most watched country in the world, yet it hasn't deterred crime.

But I particularly liked this quote from the report:
Social relationships depend on trust and permitting ourselves to undermine it in this
way [with surveillance]seems like slow social suicide.
... and this next statement is an interesting observation, as well, with regard to how the need for surveillance is linked to a society that is increasingly socialist in nature. With socialism, there is a great need to manage the population:
Cradle-to-grave health-and-welfare, once the proud promise of socialdemocratic governments, has been whittled down to risk management and – here’s where the surveillance society comes in – such risk management demands full knowledge of the situation. So personal data are sought in order to know where to direct resources.16 And because surveillance networks permit so much joining-up, insurance companies can work with police, or supermarkets can combine forces with other data-gatherers so much more easily. The results, as we shall see, are that all-too-often police hot-spots are predominantly in nonwhite areas, and supermarkets are located in upscale neighbourhoods easily reached by those with cars.
The whole area of population surveillance is quite a hot topic. Here are a few interesting posts.

This happens to be a really good article - The Economist: Civil liberties: surveillance and privacy Learning to live with Big Brother

Surveillance Cameras: A Bad Idea, Coming Soon to a Street Corner Near You?

An article from WIRED

By the way - did you know that RealID exists in Communist China??
In China, even as economic freedom burgeons, millions of city-dwellers are being issued with obligatory high-tech “residency” cards. These hold details of their ethnicity, religion, educational background, police record and even reproductive history—a refinement of the identity papers used by communist regimes.
It's bad enough you'll be monitored all day, but what will you have in YOUR wallet? Better yet, who will ask to see it?