Posts Tagged ‘CCTV Cameras’

Belfield Attacks Facial Recognition Systems as Part of the Emerging Surveillance Society

September 30, 2021

I’ve put up several pieces already this week commenting on and critiquing some of the videos put up by mad internet radio host Alex Belfield. Belfield is very much a man of the right, who rails against ‘namby-pamby pinko liberal Guardian-reading lefty-twirlies’ and entitled ‘whippersnappers’ in just about every one of his videos. I very much do not share his political views, especially when he demands the privatisation of the NHS. But sometimes he says something with which I agree and believe to be absolutely correct.

This is one of them. In his piece below, Belfield expresses his concerns about the police’s announcement that they will be increasing the use of computer facial recognition systems. Belfield’s worried about the privacy issue here. He points out that it will be used to track you on the motorway, and that it is also being used in some of the cashless stores now being trialled. In these stores, you are watched by the CCTV cameras and the machines make note of your purchases. You walk out of the store without handing over cash, but simply use your card to pay. As Belfield points out, the police can use the information from facial recognition systems and CCTV footage to reconstruct your day, including where you went and what you bought. And it’s not just adults being targeted. Critics have attacked plans to introduce CCTV surveillance in schools.

These are real, pressing issues that have been around for a long time. Back in the late 90s at the beginnings of Blair’s reign I read a book I’d taken out of the library which criticised the use of CCTV cameras and the electronic bourse. This was supposed to be the new form of cashless payment. Everyone would have a card which contained their biometric details and money, which would be used to pay for everything from groceries to trips on the bus. Tory Tony Blair was very much interested in forcing a biometric ID card on us all. The book and organisations such as Privacy International argued that this would lead to a surveillance state. A recent edition of Panorama, ‘Are You Worried Yet, Human?’, examined dangerous developments in AI. These included computer systems that could pilot jets remotely so that they performed better than when they were flown by human pilots. But most of the programme concentrated on the threat posed by computer surveillance. The Chinese are building computer systems and centres to gather data so that their citizens are constantly monitored. The programme spoke to Chinese dissidents who had been arrested and detained using such computer-collected footage.

This is exactly the type of totalitarian society depicted in Science Fiction dystopias. The first season titles of the classic BBC SF series, Blake’s 7, started with a CCTV camera followed by a black-suited soldier, faced hidden by helmet visor and gas mask. This was a trooper of the Federation, the totalitarian galactic empire against which Blake and his crew of former criminals fought. Comics legend Alan Moore has expressed his own worries about CCTV surveillance. He has said in interviews that he deliberately put them in the Fascist Britain he depicted in V For Vendetta in order to scare readers. What worries him is that these cameras have now become completely accepted. Moore’s an anarchist, but Tory Niall Ferguson has said the same thing. He recalls coming back from China and being shocked to find CCTV surveillance being used here, but ignored and accepted by everyone.

Belfield says that these systems and cashless electronic payment are being used to track us, and to keep records of what we’ve bought by companies so they can sell us stuff. That’s only part of the story. Another reason the electronic payment is being pushed instead of cash is so that governments can use it to track what we’re purchasing and seeing if we’re doing anything illegal. Privacy International was dedicated to combating such threats to our liberty. But I’m not aware that this is anything more than the viewpoints of a small number of individuals at present. Blair was prevented from introducing biometric ID cards, but the increased use of facial recognition systems and the push towards cashless payment suggests that the people who were calling for its introduction 20 years or so ago really haven’t gone away.

Belfield is absolutely right to point out that this is a threat to our liberty. It’s just a shame that he is one of the small number of people who are doing so.

Vox Political on the Questionable Effectiveness of Privacy Safeguards In the Government’s Snooper’s Charter

March 1, 2016

This is another very interesting and telling piece from Mike over at Vox Political. The government has promised to tighten up the provisions to safeguard privacy in its act giving the intelligence services greater powers to intercept and store personal information from the internet, according to BBC News. It’s been described, rightly, as a ‘snooper’s charter’. It’s been on the table for months, along with cosy reassurances from the government that everything will be fine and this is nothing to worry about. It’s rubbish. Clearly, this is a threat to the liberty and privacy of British subjects. Once upon a time the intelligence services had to take a warrant out from the British government in order to tap phones. This piece of legislation gives them free warrant – or freer warrant – as an increasing amount of legislation over the years has gradually extended their ability to tap just about everyone’s electronic communications. This is dangerous, as it effectively makes everyone automatically suspect, even if they have done nothing wrong.

A week or so ago I posted up a piece I found in William Blum’s Anti-Empire Report, about the way the EU a few years ago condemned Britain and the US for spying on EU citizens. The European authorities were, at least at that time, particularly concerned about the way the US was using intercepted information for corporate, industrial espionage, not to counter any terrorist threat. So there’s a real danger that the British authorities will do the same. A long time ago, in that brief, blissful gap between the Fall of Communism and the War and Terror, the spooks at MI5 and MI6 really didn’t know what to do. The old Soviet Communist threat had evaporated, dissident Republican groups were still around, but Sinn Fein was at the negotiating table and there was a cease fare. And Osama bin Laden had yet to destroy the World Trade Centre and try to kill the president. Prospects looked bleak for Britain’s spies. It looked like there might be cutbacks, job losses. George Smiley, James Bond and the others might be faced with going down the jobcentre. So the intelligence agencies announced that they were going into industrial espionage. Lobster covered this revolting development, with appropriate boastful quote from the agencies concerned. So, if you’re a struggling businessman somewhere in Britain and the EU, with little capital but some cracking ideas, be afraid. Be very afraid. Because this bill will result in the Americans stealing your idea. Blum gave the example of a couple of German and French firms, include a wind-power company, who found their secrets passed on to their American rivals.

Mike also adds an interesting piece comparing the supine attitude of our own legislature to that of South Korea. The opposition there has been engaged in a week-long filibuster to talk their electronic surveillance bill out of parliament, to deny it any votes and any validity whatsoever. Bravo to them! Now if there’s a country that has rather more need of such a bill, it’s South Korea. They are bordered on the north with a totalitarian state that has absolutely no respect for the lives of its people, and which makes terrible threats of military action backed by nuclear warfare. It is run by a bloodthirsty dictator, who has killed members of his own family with extreme overkill. Really. He shot one of his generals to pieces with an anti-aircraft gun.

I got the impression that South Korea is like Japan. It’s an extremely capitalist society with the Asian work ethic. And it is extremely anti-Communist. I can remember being told by an spokesman for the Unification Church, who came into speak to us in the RE course at College, that the anti-Communist parts of Sun Myung Moon’s creed were nothing special, and were part of the general anti-Communist culture of South Korea. I honestly don’t know whether this is true, or whether it was then – this was the 1980s – and isn’t now. But clearly, the South Korean have very good reasons to be suspicious of espionage for their northern neighbours.

But their equivalent of this law is too much for them. And it should also be for us, if we genuinely value our privacy and civil liberties. But I’m starting to ponder whether we truly do. John Kampfner in his book ‘Freedom for Sale’ describes in depth the way Tony Bliar and Broon massively expanded the intelligence gathering powers of the authorities in this country, transforming it into something very like Orwell’s 1984. I kid you not. One local authority affixed loudspeakers to the CCTV cameras on particular estates, so they could order you around as well as keep you under surveillance. Pretty much like the all-pervasive televisions in Orwell’s Oceania. Kampfner also called into question the supposed traditional British love of freedom. He argued that it was actually much less than we really wanted to believe. Blair and Broon made no secret of what they were doing, and the British public in general bought it. Partly spurred on by the hysterics of the populist press, with Paul Dacre, Murdoch and the like demanding greater and more intrusive police powers to fight crime and terrorism.

Even Niall Ferguson, the right-wing historian and columnist, was shocked at how far this process went. In the 1990s he went on a tour of China. When he came back, he was shocked by the ubiquitous presence of the CCTV cameras. Alan Moore, the creator of the classic dystopian comic and graphic novel, V for Vendetta, said in an interview that when he wrote the strip in the British anthology comic, Warrior, back in the 1980s, he put in CCTV cameras on street corners, thinking that it would really frighten people. Now, he observed, they were everywhere.

I’m very much afraid that everywhere we are losing our liberties, our rights to freedom of conscience and assembly. That they’re being stripped from by a corporatist elite in the name of protecting us from terrorism, but which is really a fa├žade for a military-industrial complex determined to control, and control absolutely and minutely. And what makes the blood really run cold is the sheer apathy of the great British public to this process.

I’ve been mocking Alex Jones of the conspiracy internet site and programme, Infowars the past couple of days, putting up pieces of some of his weird and nonsensical ranting. Jones is wrong in so much of what he says. He’s a libertarian, looking in the wrong direction for the threat to freedom. But fundamentally, he has a point. There is a campaign from the corporate elite to strip us of our freedoms. And our leaders – in the parliament, the press and the media, seem quite content to do little about it.

Resign, Tyrant, Said the Type-Type Man

September 23, 2014

Harlan Ellison on being spied on by Big Brother in Reagan’s 1984 America

Okay, so I’ve been away from blogging for a few months now. I’ve been working on a book. It’s my doctoral thesis on the origins and growth of the town of Bridgwater in Somerset from prehistory to 1700. It’s now with the publishers, and hopefully it shouldn’t be too long before it comes out. I’ve also been taken up and somewhat distracted by a few other projects. Nevertheless, I hope to get back to blogging regularly.

Edward Snowden’s revelations of the sheer size and scale of the American intelligence agencies’ surveillance of their citizens, and British complicity with it, has raised questions about the gradual diminution of personal freedom and the transformation of our societies into Orwellian surveillance states. This is just part of process that has been going on for a very long time, since the 1980s. Alan Moore, the veteran comics writer and co-creator of the V for Vendetta comic strip with the artist David Lloyd, stated has stated in interviews how amazed he is by the complete acceptance of CCTV cameras on Britain’s streets. When he included them in the strip as a visible sign of the totalitarian Fascist state in which the strip was set, he was absolutely sure it would terrify everyone to the point where they simply wouldn’t accept them. Now, as he remarked, they’re everywhere. Niall Ferguson, the right-wing historian and columnist, has also made the same point. He remarked in an interview on how he first noticed them after he came back from a visit to China. He too felt that they were a threat to individual liberty, and could not understand why no-one else was alarmed by them or saw them this way.

This concerns have become more acute with the Tory and Lib Dem decision to establish secret courts, functioning as a Kafkaesque travesty of justice. In these courts, people will be able to be tried without knowing the evidence against them, nor who their accuser is. All for reasons of ‘national security’. It’s frighteningly like the corrupt and murderous judicial system of the former Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. It also bears more than a passing resemblance to Saddam Hussein’s legal code. In addition to the laws, which were made known to the Iraqi public, there were also six pieces of legislation which were kept secret. Very secret. They were so secret that even knowledge of these laws was a crime that could land you in prison or worse. For all their claims to be the defenders of personal freedom, with the establishment of these secret courts the Coalition is laying the foundations of the kind of totalitarian state described by Kafka and Moore, only in 21st century Britain. And the surveillance of citizens by the Western intelligence agencies, for merely having political views the authorities considered dangerous or subversive, goes back even further.

Looking through Youtube, I found this interview with Harlan Ellison, the veteran SF author and screenwriter, from 1984. It’s part of a discussion about the relevance of Orwell’s dystopian novel of the same name in contemporary America. When asked about this, Ellison states that he thinks it’s extremely relevant, because he’s lived through it in Reagan’s America. He described how, shortly after Reagan became governor of California, he began to hear clicks and noises on his telephone, suggesting that it was being tapped. He dismissed the idea, until he went out to empty his wastepaper basket in the trash one morning, and discovered an engineer for the telephone company outside, connected to the wire leading into his house. Checking with people he knew, who were in a position to know, he found out that it was indeed true, and his phone was indeed being tapped.

Ellison made sure, however, he had his revenge. Knowing that whatever he said on the phone would be written down and filed, he made sure that his phone conversations included some interesting and highly derogatory comments about the then leader of the free world and star of Bedtime for Bonzo, whose title character was a chimpanzee, and arguably the better actor. For example, the great author would remark that Reagan beat his mother and did not confine his romantic interests to those with the two legs, but also those with four, a wagging tail and wet nose. Here’s the interview:

It’s not hard to see why Reagan and his cohorts should view Ellison as a potential subversive. He’s an outspoken atheist and a card-carrying liberal. This was in sharp contrast to Reagan’s administration, which was strongly based on the American religious Right. Ellison had been a strong supporter of the Civil Rights movement. On one of his own videos on Youtube, he discusses his participation on the Civil Rights March on Selma with Martin Luther King. Under J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI was hostile and deeply suspicious of the Civil Rights Movement, which they suspected was a Communist initiative. So Ellison’s participation in that would have been enough to arouse the authorities’ interest and suspicions in him. In addition to writing some of the most outstanding episodes of the original Star Trek series, such as ‘City on the Edge of Forever’, Ellison was one of the major figures in the SF New Wave, whose other leading writers included Norman Spinrad, Brian Aldiss and Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds in Britain. This was markedly countercultural, and attacked contemporary literary and social conventions. In one of Ellison’s best known short stories, Repent, Harlequin, Said the Tick-Tock Man, for example, the hero is a lone, vigilante prankster. The story is set in a dystopian society in which time is rigidly controlled, the Tick-Tock Men of the title making sure that everyone perform their allotted tasks rigorously according to the time table. The hero, Harlequin, tries to subvert this by performing practical jokes deliberately intended to upset the time table, and the rigid social order that it supports. These include releasing a torrent of jelly beans all over people as they go to work in the morning. Ellison himself declared of the SF writers in the New Wave that ‘these guys is blasphemous!’ In Britain too the movement caused outcry, and questions were raised in the Houses of Parliament about Moorcock’s New Worlds. There was concern about the allegedly obscene nature of Norman Spinrad’s story, ‘Riders of the Purple Wage’, which was then being serialised in the magazine.

Eventually, Ellison says, the clicking noises simply faded away and the authorities presumably lost interest. This was probably when they realised that, no matter how objectionable they found his politics, one of SF’s greatest writers was not actually planning to overthrow the government of the US, invade Guatemala, or even deluge the sidewalk with a tide of jelly beans. They may even have agreed with his comments about Ronald Reagan. It does, however, show that under Reagan, prominent intellectuals that didn’t share the president’s highly reactionary and paranoid views could be spied upon, simply for having those views, regardless of whether they were innocent of any crime. And as Snowden’s revelations showed, the surveillance state has expanded massively since then.

We do need the security and intelligence services. According to today’s I, Isis, the Islamist terrorist organisation Iraq and Syria, has called on its supporters to attack and kill citizens of the US, Britain, France and the other coalition countries. The work of the various intelligence agencies and their surveillance is necessary to stop ISIS and other terrorist organisations from carrying out their threats. But individual freedom – freedom of conscience, speech and publication also needs to be preserved. These are also under threat from the Right, though legislation like the Coalition’s secret courts. They need to be strongly rejected, and proper safeguards against further encroachment on our civil liberties put in place. The answer to the old question ‘Who watches the watchers’ has always been: ‘The price of liberty is eternal vigilance’.