Another problem is the exponential rise of the surveillance industry. Components can be divided into CCTV, Tracking, Internet, and Mobile.
Britain has the highest number of CCTV cameras in the world (1 for every 14 people!) This article in the Independent, and these articles (1 & 2) from the Evening Standard’s This is London outline findings of the CCTV watchdog CameraWatch and figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats (who had to use the Freedom of Information Act) on the London Assembly, show some little-considered aspects of the technology.
Even the police are worried by developments, as indicated by Ian Readhead, Deputy Chief Constable of Hampshire, who questioned why CCTV systems were being installed in low-crime areas such as rural villages at huge expense, adding:
“Are we really moving towards an Orwellian situation where cameras are at every street corner? I really don't think that's the kind of country that I want to live in.”
A study commissioned by the Home Office found that CCTV systems do little or nothing to cut crime levels. Researchers examined 14 separate schemes in various settings across the UK but only one, covering a series of car parks, could be credited with cutting crime. Despite that the tax-funded surveillance expansion continues unchecked.
To get a real sense of a possible future indicated by the rapid development of multiple surveillance technologies read A Report on the Surveillance Society compiled by the Surveillance Studies Network on the orders of the Information Commissioner Richard Thomas. The report provides details on the workings and implications of CCTV, Automated Number Plate Recognition, Universal Facial Recognition, Biometrics, ID cards and chips, and Radio Frequency Identification Devices (trackable, transmitting microchips in the products you buy), as well as scenarios based on trends and intentions discovered by the group. Interesting to note is that the authors point that their glimpse of the future is “fairly conservative. The future spelled out in the report is nowhere near as dystopian and authoritarian as it could be.”
The report is reviewed by Neil Mackay in the Sunday Herald of 27.01.2008.
‘It all sounds a bit Nineteen Eighty Four.’
‘Ever read it?’
‘Then I’d recommend another read, especially considering his descriptions of continuous manufactured war, surveillance, statecontrol psychology, and language. Very pertinent. It was a savvy stroke to trivialise that concept like they did. Trivialised, and in doing so totally legitimised twenty four hour, seven days a week CCTV surveillance.’
The above passage is from Chapter 5 of Psyclone. Throughout the novel I have recommended the reading, or rereading, of 1984 by George Orwell. The novel’s value as a warning cry hasn’t diminished at all in the years since it was written, and is more pertinent today than ever before.
I see the British-born Big Brother ‘reality show’ phenomena as a Psychological Operations (PsyOps) manoeuvre that has accomplished what the above quote states. That 1984 was targeted thus suggests that the powers-that-be recognised its threat to their schemes. Three excerpts from 1984 regarding ‘the proles’, the working classes, demonstrate my point:
All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working hours or shorter rations. And even when they became discontented, as they sometimes did, their discontent led nowhere, because, being without general ideas, they could only focus it on petty specific grievances. The larger evils invariably escaped their notice... the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbors, films, football, beer, and, above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult... The Lottery, with its weekly pay-out of enormous prizes, was the one public event to which the proles [proletarians or working class] paid serious attention. It was probable that there were some millions of proles for whom the Lottery was the principal if not the only reason for remaining alive. It was their delight, their folly, their anodyne, their intellectual stimulant. Where the Lottery was concerned, even people who could barely read and write seemed capable of intricate calculations and staggering feats of memory.
Other prophetic concepts within 1984 that have been realised in modern times are covertly and overtly placed microphones and loudspeakers in public places, both combined with CCTV surveillance for the purpose of controlling the population. In fact the incidence of strategies and technology mentiond in the novel that have been realised in modern times moves one to wonder whether Orwell's vision was perceptive and prophetic, or if it's been used as a template?
Another concept which does seem to have been used as a template is the Panopticon. The Panopticon (Greek ‘all-seeing place’) is a design model developed by legal reform theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 1700s. The architectural algorithm was intended to be the basis for the design of a control structure that could be imposed on a variety of environments, with the intention of controlling the people within them. Although Bentham specifically mentioned establishments including prisons, factories, hospitals and schools, the principle can be applied in any environment where the intention is control of the people within it.
Architecturally, a typical panopticon prison as described by Bentham was a building shaped in an octagon. Individual cells were built into the circumference of the building, around a central well. An inspection tower atop the well was constructed, and lighting was used in such a way so that the cells were lit, but the inspection tower dark and not visible to the prisoners. This made it possible for one person in the tower to monitor the activity of many people. The prisoners knew they were under surveillance, but none of them knew exactly when. It was precisely this mental state of being seen without being able to see the watcher that Bentham meant to induce, a mental uncertainty that in itself would prove to be a crucial instrument of discipline.
French philosopher Michel Foucault described the implications of 'Panopticism' in his 1975 work Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison:
"Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers. To achieve this, it is at once too much and too little that the prisoner should be constantly observed by an inspector: too little, for what matters is that he knows himself to be observed; too much, because he has no need in fact of being so. In view of this, Bentham laid down the principle that power should be visible and unverifiable. Visible: the inmate will constantly have before his eyes the tall outline of the central tower from which he is spied upon. Unverifiable: the inmate must never know whether he is being looked at at any one moment; but he must be sure that he may always be so."
From reading the above it should be obvious that the CCTV surveillance machine being constructed around us is a technological version of the Panopticon principle.
The 2002 article The Panopticon Singularity discusses the danger of technological developments giving rise to a singularity that may also permit the construction of a Panopticon society characterised by omniscient surveillance and mechanical law enforcement. Aspects listed in the forward-thinking paper include smart phones, peer to peer (P2P) networks, gait analysis, Celldar radar, Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFIDs), and data mining, all which have been developed and can be seen in operation today. (Those who find ‘mechanical law enforcement’ difficult to visualise should think along the lines of the speeding fine in the post, the only human link in the chain being the postal worker who delivers it.)
But it doesn't stop there. In his speech The Rise of the Participatory Panopticon futurist Jamais Cascio describes how it 'won't simply be a world of a single, governmental Big Brother watching over your shoulder, nor will it be a world of a handful of corporate siblings training their ever-vigilant security cameras and tags on you. Such monitoring…will be overwhelmed by the millions of cameras and recorders in the hands of millions of Little Brothers and Little Sisters. We will carry with us the tools of our own transparency, and many, perhaps most, will do so willingly, even happily…in the world of the participatory panopticon, this constant surveillance is done by the citizens themselves, and is done by choice.' Cascio not only lists developments in the technology being pioneered by the likes of Hewlett Packard, Nokia and Microsoft, but also describes the social mentality that allows and encourages the development of the panopticon structure. Although the speech has a definite techno-progressive tone, the fact remains that the convergence of technology changes and societal changes is always influenced by agencies working toward the control of individuals and populations rather than their liberation.
I find it disturbing that rather than seeing the rise in surveillance for what it is and where it’s going, the majority of the public accept it as not only normal, but also as entertainment. ‘Sightseeing’, using Google Earth's satallite cameras to look for people sunbathing, preferably nude, is the subject of at least one website, and too few people seem to be disturbed by the concept of cars driving around public places recording wholesale footage of unsuspecting people, sorry, streets. Instead the voyeuristic entertainment factor is picked up once again by individuals and websites showing instances of public urination andother actions. The debate about Google Street View seems to centre around whether or not the system can adequately blur out faces and number plates, completely missing out the fact that a company known for its questionable ethics and connections is compiling thousands of hours of footage from our nieghbourhoods. Also not being discussed are Google's obligations to hand over the footage, should they be 'required to by law'. Authorised access isn't the only thing to be concerned about though when unauthorised access is not only possible it's 'pretty easy and comprehensible .. almost as if the Google engineers wanted it hacked' as hackers found out at WhereCamp.
Mobile (cell) Phones
The remarks above by Jamais Cascio regarding the 'tools of our own transparency' only hint at the surveillance power of mobile phones. In Psyclone mention is made of an incident in which the FBI used recordings of conversations made using the surveillance capacity of a mobile phone as evidence in court. The ACLU article With Technology Like This, Who Needs The Law? further details the incidence of mobile phones being used for surveillance by U.S. intelligence agencies.
Because of the GPS feature of mobile phones and the fact that they transmit their location throughout the day (or night), issues of locational privacy are another concern.
Locational privacy is the ability of an individual to move in public space with the expectation that under normal circumstances their location will not be systematically and secretly recorded for later use. The systems discusssed above have the potential to strip away locational privacy from individuals, making it possible for others to ask (and answer) the following sorts of questions by consulting the location databases:
• Did you go to an anti-war rally on Tuesday?
• A small meeting to plan the rally the week before?
• At the house of one "Bob Jackson"?
• Did you walk into an abortion clinic?
• Did you see an AIDS counselor?
• Have you been checking into a motel at lunchtimes?
• Why was your secretary with you?
• Were you the person who anonymously tipped off safety regulators about the rusty machines?
• Which church do you attend? Which mosque? Which gay bars?
• Who is my ex-girlfriend going to dinner with?
Locational privacy is just one kind of privacy that can be compromised using mobile devices. Mobile phone and Wi-Fi communications can also be intercepted using basic equipment. Internet communication generally has several security flaws. An overview of the security weaknesses of mobile phone and Internet communication (browsing, emailing and Instant Messaging), and detailed strategies for dealing with them can be found in the Electronic Frontier Foundation articles linked to through the section, Surveillance Self-Defence.
The Electronic Police State Rankings (2008) is a country-by-country compilation of data pertaining to the extent of electronic surveillance in those countries, drawn up by Cryptohippie, a professional body concerned with individual and corporate electronic privacy. The report begins with this introduction:
Most of us are aware that our governments monitor nearly every form of electronic communication. We are also aware of private companies doing the same. This strikes most of us as slightly troubling, but very few of us say or do much about it. There are two primary reasons for this:
- We really don’t see how it is going to hurt us. Mass surveillance is certainly a new, odd, and perhaps an ominous thing, but we just don’t see a complete picture or a smoking gun.
- We are constantly surrounded with messages that say, “Only crazy people complain about the government.”
However, the biggest obstacle to our understanding is this:
The usual image of a “police state” includes secret police dragging people out of their homes at night, with scenes out of Nazi Germany or Stalin’s USSR. The problem with these images is that they are horribly outdated. That’s how things worked during your grandfather’s war – that is not how things work now. An electronic police state is quiet, even unseen. All of its legal actions are supported by abundant evidence. It looks pristine. An electronic police state is characterized by this:
State use of electronic technologies to record, organize, search and distribute forensic evidence against its citizens.
The two crucial facts about the information gathered under an electronic police state are these:
- It is criminal evidence, ready for use in a trial.
- It is gathered universally and silently, and only later organized for use in prosecutions.
In an Electronic Police State, every surveillance camera recording, every email you send, every Internet site you surf, every post you make, every check you write, every credit card swipe, every cell phone ping… are all criminal evidence, and they are held in searchable databases, for a long, long time. Whoever holds this evidence can make you look very, very bad whenever they care enough to do so. You can be prosecuted whenever they feel like it – the evidence is already in their database.
Perhaps you trust that your ruler will only use his evidence archives to hurt bad people. Will you also trust his successor? Do you also trust all of his subordinates, every government worker and every policeman?
And, if some leader behaves badly, will you really stand up to oppose him or her? Would you still do it if he had all the emails you sent when you were depressed? Or if she has records of every porn site you’ve ever surfed? Or if he knows every phone call you’ve ever made? Or if she knows everyone you’ve ever sent money to? Such a person would have all of this and more – in the form of court-ready evidence – sitting in a database, waiting to be organized at the touch of a button.
This system hasn’t yet reached its full shape, but all of the basics are in place and it is not far from complete in some places. It is too late to prevent this – it is here. Our purpose in producing this report is to let people know that their liberty is in jeopardy and to help them understand how it is being undermined.
Electronic Police State Data for 2009 (.xls) can be downloaded from here
‘Have a cookie.’
What could sound less threatening than a cookie? Even though most people (think they) know what a cookie is when talking about the Internet and computers, still the comfortable, secure association persists. Although many people are also aware of the many of the threats to privacy that exist on the Internet, most though are unaware of the threat to their privacy and security posed by the cookies, which most aren’t even aware are sitting in their hard drives broadcasting information. Most people aren’t even aware of how many cookies are on their computer. Have a look, odds are you’ll be shocked, (odds are most people won’t even know how to find them!) To find them using:
- From the menu select "Tools"
- select "Internet Options"
- on the "General" tab click on Settings, and then View Files
- From the menu, select "Preferences"
- Click on "Privacy"
- Click on “Show Cookies”
- From the menu select "Preferences"
- Click on “Security”
- Click on “Show Cookies”
Surprised? If like too many people out there you’ve not been giving much attention to your browsing security and haven’t changed your browser settings from the usual default of “Always” accepting cookies, you’ll have found possibly hundreds of the little critters sitting there, snug as you like.
So what is a cookie?
Cookies are small chunks of information that websites can put on your computer when you visit them. Among other things, cookies enable websites to link all of your visits and activities at the site. Since cookies are stored on your computer, they can let sites track you even when you are using different Internet connections in different locations.
The first batch of cookies were originally cooked up as simple mechanism to help make it easier for users to access their favorite Web sites without having to go through a lengthy process of identifying themselves every time they visit. For instance, upon your first visit to a given site, you may be asked to reveal your name and perhaps even some personal information or password required to gain access to that site in the future. The site will then place a cookie containing this information on your system and when you return it will request information based on the cookie to determine who you are and whether you have authorisation to access the site.
Other commonly transmitted data are user actions within the site that sent the cookie, called website tracking. This method of seeing how a user moves around a website could be seen as harmless enough. It also allows webmasters or other cookie senders to get an accurate idea of how many people visit a certain page or site by being able to differentiate between 10 individuals and one individual hitting the refresh button 10 times. Cookies can contain a variety of information, including passwords, and even user names and credit card numbers that have been supplied via forms. Cookies were supposedly only retrievable by the site which issued them, and link the information gathered to a unique ID number assigned to the cookie "so that...information is available from one session to another."
Unfortunately, the original intent of the cookie has been subverted by unscrupulous entities who developed a way to use this process to actually track your movements across the Web. They do this by surreptitiously planting their cookies and then retrieving them in such a way that allows them to build detailed profiles of your interests, spending habits, and lifestyle, a practice called “data mining”. On the surface, this practice may seem harmless and hardly worth fretting over since the worst thing most imagine is that corporate concerns will use this information to devise annoying, yet relatively innocuous advertising campaigns, targeted towards specific groups or individuals. However, it is rather scary to contemplate how such an intimate knowledge of our personal preferences and private activities might eventually be used to brand each of us as members of a particular group. Also worrying is the vigorous trade that’s going on in the marketing and advertising industries in covertly collected personal information.
As said, cookies were supposed to be only retrievable by the site that issued them. However, some companies that manage online banner advertising are, in essence, cookie sharing rings. They can track which pages you load, which ads you click on, etc., and share this information with all of their client Web sites (who may number in the hundreds, even thousands.) Some examples of these cookie sharing rings are DoubleClick, AdCast and LinkExchange. For a demonstration of how they work, see: http://privacy.net/track/
There is also the issue of third party cookies. As mentioned there are unscrupulous entities (read: conscienceless, rapacious, predatory companies and individuals with insatiable, parasitic appetites) out there who spend their working lives developing ways and means of finding out information about everybody to use and/or sell that information to other ‘unscrupulous entities’.
The first of the cookies will be from the site you visit and will usually be essential to access that site. The majority of the others will be third party cookies from companies who pay the site you’re visiting to hit on all visitors of that site. Safari’s cookie management feature has a handy Accept Cookies: Only from sites you navigate to, not from advertisers on those sites.
It is possible set to Prompt/Ask every time, and get good at hitting the Decline button rapidly, but the profusion and variety, and the necessity to accept some cookies within the site to be able to navigate it, make smooth surfing impossible.
An added problem is that the aforementioned unscrupulous entities have realised that a growing number of people are getting wise to their moves, and have become even more devious and are utilising new cookie technologies that are harder to see and remove, such as Adobe's Flash cookies which get round individuals’ attempts at maintaining their privacy (which cookie-conscious folk might be shocked to find on their computer in Adobe’s Shared Objects folder). The paper Cleaning Up After Cookies by Katherine McKinley at iSEC Partners Inc presents a very detailed overview of the wide range of cookie technologies confronting us today, and the findings of tests done on the effectiveness of privacy modes offered by several browsers across three major operating systems. McKinley describes five cookie-like tracking methods that go beyond traditional HTTP cookies, and explains how browsers often fail to let users exercise meaningful control over these varieties of tracking. Approaches for solving problems encountered are recommended.
Fortunately there are answers.
As is repeatedly stressed throughout Psyclone and this site. Knowledge is Power. In this context, getting clued up will enable you to resume and retain control of your privacy and security whilst online.
Priceless information on, among other things, how to deal with cookies and other means of maintaining security and privacy on the Net is provided by The Electronic Frontier Foundation.
In particular see:
Top 12 Ways to Protect Your Online Privacy
6 Tips to Protect Your Search Prrivacy How Online Tracking Companies Know Most of What You Do Online (and What Social Networks Are Doing to Help Them)
New Cookie Technologies: Harder to See and Remove, Widely Used to Track You
Google Begins Behavioral Targeting Ad Program
More links can be found in the Surveillance Self-Defence section in Solutions
A dangerous mentality prevails in too many people, reflected in the statement. 'if you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear'. Those entertaining such naive notions should read Jenni Russel's Guardian larticle Even if you've got nothing to hide, there's plenty to fear
Those who think that if you've done nothing wrong, you've got nothing to hide, should read “I’ve Got Nothing to Hide” and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy (pdf) by Daniel J. Solove Associate Professor, George Washington University Law School; J.D., Yale Law School.
Also they (those who believe that if they’ve got nothing to hide they’ve got nothing to fear) should read this Washington Post article which reports that during a 12-month period ending March 2009 the FBI suggested 1,600 names a day to be added to the over a million names already on the national terrorist watchlist.