TOO CLOSE CIRCUIT FOR COMFORT
An American company has developed spy cameras with the technology to strip people of the clothes, and has been dubbed PubeMaster 2000 by privacy campaigners. Report by Gibby Zobel.
Squall 15, Summer 1997, p. 34.
In April the US Federal Aviation Authority provided $26 million to speed up research in the new surveillance technologies, principally for advance body search for airport surveillance. The system doesn't use X-ray, it recreates the human form from digitised analysis of thermal and density data.
Information about the new technology, nicknamed Pubemaster 2000, was released by the US government as part of package designed to show it is cracking down on terrorist threats. BodySearch TM has been in the development stage for four years and is now being used in trials.
Simon Davies is a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and the head of Privacy International, a global campaign group spanning 40 countries. He argues that "as sure as night follows day" this technology will be adapted for a much wider use. "BodySearch is the leading edge," he told Squall. "It will be common technology, general purpose in the urban environment within ten years," he predicts.
The cameras are intruding into our private lives already. Diana Sampson, who monitors CCTV for the London Borough of Sutton says: "I know for a fact that one leisure centre has cameras in its women's changing room, monitored by men and they can do anything with those tapes." CCTV is a honey pot for perverts. One camera operator in Mid Glamorgan has been convicted on more than 200 counts of using cameras to spy on women, and then making obscene phone calls from the control room.
"Through urban design you strip away any hope that people may be able to escape the gaze of the cameras," says Davies, author of Big Brother: Britain's Web of Surveillance. "And through powerful technology you strip away their clothes. So in the end there's nothing left but threadbare civil liberties ... and no clothes."
Even more alarming are the technologies already in place in Britain. These include computerised face recognition (CFR) systems that have the capacity to automatically compare faces captured on CCTV, Forward Looking Infra-red radar (FLIR) systems able to detect activity behind walls and in darkness; and miniature and micro-engineered devices designed for covert surveillance. 125,000 of these devices, small as a matchbox, are sold each year from the UK and can be picked up from as little as £60. The number one business market is keeping tabs on employees. The range of objects in which tiny cameras can be hidden means that they raise "absolutely no suspicion whatsoever".
The March edition of the industry magazine 'CCTV Today' reveals what we can expect next. Not only will we be seen, but heard. Audio in CCTV is an area of "exciting potential" says Julian Sharples, Managing Director of GEB Europe, which produces cameras. A city centre network will be soon be able to pick up the noise of a brawl and automatically track and zoom in on people fleeing from it, he says.
In their Codes of Practice, Sussex Police state that "no sound facility should be provided with any public CCTV system", but these are guidelines only. The camera industry itself is lawless.
The legal status of surveillance in Britain in 1997 is probably about the same level as its legal status in 1797," says Davies. "Anyone can set up a CCTV system, you don't need a licence. There is no government oversight agency. The technology is outside data protection law - its free from any constraint."
This summer Whitehawk estate in Brighton will be the first residential area to have CCTV installed. The first spy cameras in Sussex appeared in November 1994 in Brighton town centre, and the technology has spread rapidly. Hove now has its system in place and other schemes are promised in Bexhill, Hastings, Hayward's Heath, Bognor and Shoreham. Two of those Whitehawk cameras will be outside the gates of Stanley Deason school. But a group of mothers who have come together under the title Families Need Freedom are concerned at the impression this may be giving to children. They state: "The stabbing of one man, a headteacher [Philip Lawrence] and a unique event like Dunblane should not form the basis of national policy feeding the growing insecurity parents feel for their children. We are in danger of caging the next generation for no good reason. Turning schools into prisons is no solution: when are we adults going to calm down and grant our kids the space, time and privacy they need to grow up?"
Brighton & Hove Council claims that 97 per cent of Whitehawk residents polled voted in favour, and equally high figures have been given by police to claim support for the cameras. But are they actually effective in cutting crime? Jason Ditton, Director of the Scottish Centre for Criminology, who after completing an 18-month study, thinks not. "All evaluations and statistics we've seen so far as to the effectiveness of cameras cutting crime are wholly unreliable," he says.
The danger, say campaigners, is the reliability on cameras as the Holy Grail of law and order. In Bingley, West Yorkshire, when a surveillance camera system was introduced the local police force was reduced from 24 to just 3. "The clear evidence is that while a policeman on the beat will increase in efficiency over time, a camera will decrease in effectiveness over time," says Davies. "The local bobby would get to know the criminal, but now the criminal will simply learn how to evade the camera."
Police say the cameras were responsible for 400 arrests in Sussex last year and argue that "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear". That phrase, it should be noted, is a direct translation from the slogan of the Stasi, the old East German secret police. People have been arrested for urinating in public, smoking dope and putting up flyposters. Bus drivers no longer let passengers out at red lights for fear of losing their jobs. In many instances, CCTV system operators routinely exercise their prejudices to discriminate against race, age, class or sexual preference. They openly proclaim this as a necessary part of their duties. One camera operator in Burnley told a Granada documentary: "People mainly with shirts and ties are OK. Most people you can tell just by looking at them." Another said: "I tell by the hair." And a recent report by Hull University highlighted endemic discrimination against blacks, gays, minorities and young people.
But what the cameras see may not be the full story. Crafty car cruisers down the seafront in Brighton sent up this new voyeur mentality with a spoof last month. Parking underneath the gaze of one CCTV camera, they poured from petrol cans as if to set alight to the vehicle. Police raced to the scene to find the jokers had filled the cans with water.
"Eventually the cameras will disappear, become invisible," concludes Davies. "There is a computer in your microwave, in your washing machine and in your watch and you don't notice the technology. The same will happen with cameras. You won't know where they are, they will become part of the fabric of the world around you.
"All the systems are now being marketed for their interconnectability. Once you create a system that has a mass of potential of links to other systems and media, not only the power of the system, but also its uses massively increase. This is very powerful military technology, becoming infinitely more powerful as each year passes. Systems are going to be linked to computers. These are the foundation stones of a surveillance society which will lock us in for all time.
“The legal status of surveillance in Britain in 1997 is probably about the same level as its legal status in 1797.”
The journal New Scientist gave over its April editorial to sound the alarm over CCTV: "Now is the time to act. The right of privacy of individuals needs to be guaranteed before all power passes to those who own the tools of surveillance."
Simon Davies agrees. "It is not irreversible. We have the power and the democratic right to remove them, and we have a responsibility to do so."
* The new Social Security Administration (Fraud) Act has moved the goalposts on rules relating to privacy and data protection. These changes will allow the government to trawl through files held on each of us by every government department to look for inconsistencies between the files. A mismatch, an offence, an unpaid bill, or indeed an error will domino through the system. Tax, driving licence, social security, national insurance. If you fart at one end of the system, you'll be shat on at the other.
One American company, Electronic Data Systems (EDS) has a strategic monopoly on this data in Britain. They control the entire tax records system, the court and justice system, parts of the NHS, social security and the child support agency - vitually the entire population. They are now poised to take the plumb Ministry of Defence contract. At the stroke of a pen, EDS will have the capacity to link all of these centrally-held data bases.
Data matching is the technological equivalent of a general warrant on the entire population. It is no different to the notion of police being empowered to enter your home in your absence, search through your papers and take what they wish. In short, it's a hi-tech parallel to the Police Act.
Silent and invisible, data-matching has been introduced under the cloak of fraud. The faceless bureaucrats can go on arbitrary fishing expeditionsin this pool of liquid info whenever they like. Not that they don't do it anyway - in 1994 there were 655 reported incidents of civil servants using passwords to obtain info on people to pass to outsiders. There are no independent safeguards against abuse. "The freedom of the individual will be gravely at risk. The dossier of private information is the badge of the totalitarian state," says Lord Browne Wilkinson. More than a million people in the UK are employed full time in the business of collecting our personal information. The average British adult is identified on 200 files. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people will be placed under suspicion.