Hille Koskela’s new book

pelkoTop Finnish surveillance studies academic, Hille Koskela, has a new book out, Pelkokierre – pelon politiikka, turvamarkkinat ja kamppailu kaupunkitilasta (‘The Spiral of Fear. Politics of Fear, Security Business, and the Struggle over Urban Space’). It looks like a fine addition to the literature on fear, security and surveillance, but unfortunately I can’t read it – as it’s in Suomi. Great cover though!

It should of course be translated into English and made available by an English-language publisher, but I doubt this will happen. Publishers don’t like to take what they consider to be a risk by publishing academic work from foreign countries, so unless the author is very famous or dead (or preferably both) it doesn’t happen. We tried very hard to get Michalis Lianos’s very important French book on control society published by an English-language publisher, with many supporting letters and so on, but there was no real interest.

Anyway, Hille has sent me a translation of the table of contents, which are:

1. The paradoxes of security

2. Birth of the security society
Relevant theories in sociology, social policy, geography, architecture, media studies, law and IR

3. The ontology of fear
The social production of fear, the spatial and temporal patterns, fear  as a commodity, streetwise semiotics

4. Fear in everyday life
Housing, workplaces, SUVs, public transport, tourism, child rearing,  ‘threatening’ teenagers, high school massacres

5. The architecture of fear
The classic ideas of Jacobs and Newman, contemporary architecture in public and private spaces, gating, surveillance

6. The politics of fear
Legislation (the public order act etc.), national and local security strategies, urban security politics, ‘the war’ on graffiti

7. The economy of fear
Security services, technology and other security products, images of place, crime and fear in the media

8. Towards a culture of tolerance


41F2aVrLpyL._SS500_I haven’t looked at BoingBoing in a while, but it so happened that the first post today when I finally did check in was about something wonderful and surveillance-related… this is Andrea Anastasio’s new multilayered artwork / book, Fingerprint, an exploration and extrapolation that resulted from the experience of being fingerprinted on entering the USA a few years ago.

Mega-events, Security and Surveillance

The connection between what are often called ‘mega-events’ (international summits, major sporting competitions etc.), securitization, and he intensification of surveillance is becoming a very interesting area and one which we wrote about in our recent book on urban resilience. I am writing some further stuff on this with Kiyoshi Abe on how mega-events have been managed in Japan.

It seems that in general, such events are either used as ‘test-beds’ for new technologies and procedures which are then either continued afterwards (as with The Olympic Games and CCTV in Greece in 2004 and The FIFA World Cup and video surveillance in Japan/Korea in 2002), or become ‘islands’ of temporary exemption where normal legal human rights protections are reduced or removed and whole areas of public space are often literally, fenced off (as in Rio de Janeiro for the Pan-American Games of 2007, whose model will apparently be extended to include walling off the poor favelas in time for the 2014 FIFA World Cup). There’s going to be a very interesting conference on The Surveillance Games later this year to tie in with the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Now The Guardian newspaper is reporting that the London Olympics 2012 may make use of a proposal originally designed to stop the proliferation of unofficial commercial advertising near games venues in order to prevent protest. The legislation even allows police to enter private houses to seize material.

Of course the government say that they have no plans to use it in this way, but it’s interesting to see the way in which the ‘standards’ being imposed by such travelling cicuses of globalization tend to end up looking more like the authoritarian regime in Beijing (host of the highly securitized 2008 Olympics) than the supposedly liberal west, whilst at the same time promoting a very controlled but highly commercialized environment. Even the original purposes of the 2006 law (necessary for London to host the Games) are an interesting reflection of the massive corporate interests involved in the Olympics, for which they apparently need a captive and docile audience.

Flying Down to Rio

ariasI’m off to Rio de Janeiro on Thursday… as most people will be aware, Rio is far a long way from the romantic Hollywood-generated image of sun-kissed decadence. It is perhaps the most extremely divided city in the world. The richest parts have a higher standard of living than almost anywhere else and the poorest parts barely cling to the hillsides and to any kind of an existence. I have been reading Enrique Desmond Arias’ enlightening Drugs and Democracy in Rio de Janeiro (amongst many other books) in preparation, and right on cue, a major drugs war has apparently broken out between trafficking gangs in the Copacabana area…

I am going to be interviewing state and community representatives, and carrying out mapping exercises to assess the state of surveillance and security in several different neighbourhoods of varying social classes. The drug war is making me a little nervous, but in many ways it is an ideal time to be asking the kinds of questions I need to ask. Of course reading a book like Arias’, you tend to get anthropology-envy, but I just have to remember that my study is a very different kind of research. I am still trying to get a feel for the kinds of indicators that would enable us to make serious comparisons between the intensities and forms of surveillance across cultures and nations – and I am still very much at the beginning of the project. Some of these indicators might seem common sense and obvious but some are not, and some may not even be in any way ‘measurable’…

My fantastic temporary Research Assistant is Paola Barreta Leblanc – she has created a mash-up of my current schedule here (it will get more complex!).

Wish me luck!

A quarter of UK databases break privacy laws

This is massively important because it is based not simply on a financial, political or even an ethical position, but on the database projects’ respect for existing law. They are simply illegal…

A new report for the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust by a very credible largely Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) team that combines engineers, lawyers, software developers, and political scientists, has concluded that a quarter of the UK public-sector databases are illegal under human rights or data protection law. It also looks at UK involvement in some European database projects and finds all of them questionable too.

The report rates the 46 databases on a traffic light system – green, amber, red – and argues that those rated ‘red’, in particular the National Identity Register and the Communications Database, and are simply unreformable and should be scrapped. This is massively important because it is based not simply on a financial, political or even an ethical position, but on the database projects’ respect for existing law. They are simply illegal, and not just massively expensive, morally questionable or politically undesirable. In fact, a quarter of all the databases were found to contravene the law and more than half were ‘problematic’ (i.e. open to challenge in court) . All of those rated ‘amber’ (29 databases) the authors argue, should be subject to independent review.

There are a number of other major recommendations, including the reassertion of the necessity and proportionality tests contained in DP law, citizens should anonymous rights to access data, more open procurement of systems, and better training processes for civil servants. The most important and radical measures proposed, and entirely correctly in my view, are those concerning the location of data and the whole nature of UK IT development. For the former, the report recommends that the default location for sensitive personal data should be local, with national systems kept to a minimum – this appears to be rather like the ‘information clearing house’ system as opposed to central databases, that we proposed in our Report on the Surveillance Society, but better worded and justified! In the latter case, the authors simply note that fewer than 30% of government IT projects succeed at a cost of 16Bn GBP per annum and that there should never be a general and aimless government IT program, rather there should only ever be specific projects for clearly defined and justified (proportional and necessary) aims.

It is an excellent report and probably unanswerable in its logic. Tellingly, The Guardian report contains no response from any government minister…