Hot Air on the Surveillance Industry from the UK

Privacy International has produced a much-needed survey of the state of the surveillance industry, following its other excellent report on the use of development aid to push surveillance technologies on developing countries. The British government’s response, voiced by the Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Arms Export Controls, Sir John Stanley,  has been a typically limp one, largely concerned with the possibility of such systems being sold to ‘authoritarian regimes’ yet blustered and talked of ‘grey areas’ when it came to Britain’s responsibility for this trade.

But this is all way too little too late. I warned of the danger of the increased technological capabilities and decreasing costs of ‘surveillance-in-a-box’ systems as far back as 2008 (see my post here which refers to that). Instead of taking horizon-scanning and pre-emptive action to limit this, Britain, the USA and many other states have encouraged this trade with state aid – as they have with military and security industries more broadly – and, not least, encouraged the use of surveillance on a global scale themselves. Their own extensive breaches of human rights through programs like PRISM and TEMPEST give them no real moral high ground to talk about what authoritarian regimes might do, when they are already pursuing the same actions.

Controlling Robotic Weapons

I’m delighted to be informed by Professor Noel Sharkey that I have been invited to become the first member of the Advisory Board of the International Campaign for Robotic Arms Control (ICRAC). ICRAC aims to help prevent the unfettered spread of automated weapons systems and to produce an international convention or some other kind of binding agreement to control their use. I’ve been tracking the develeopment of robotic surveillance (and killing) systems for quite a while now and I think this campaign is absolutely essential. This piece recently in The Times of London goes into some of the issues quite well. There is a lot of work to do here to persuade governments to control what many militaries think will be ‘essential’ to warfare in this coming century, but I think that the landmines campaign is a good example of what can be done here – but this time before robotic weapons become too common.