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

The paranoid bubble of Offender Locator

TechCrunch reports that one of the Top 10 current iPhone apps in the USA is something called ‘Offender Locator’. This is a little mash-up that overlays the location of those on registries of sex offenders onto google maps, so you can check where sex offenders live whilst you are on the move.

This is such a world of wrongness, its hard to know where to start.

Let’s begin with the categorisation. The category of ‘sex offender’ varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. This app is clearly targeted at parents worried about paedophiles, yet depending on the state, offender registers can include people convicted of innocuous things like public nudity, public urination and simple underage sex (and please don’t try to tell me that a 17-year old kid who has consensual sex with a 15 year-old kid is a technically a paedophile, that’s just normal, whatever the laws of some backwards states may say).

The second thing is that even the US Department of Justice says that such registers cannot be guaranteed to be accurate. So now these non-guaranteed lists are available to you mapped out on your iPhone. Does that somehow make them more accurate? No, but all those red arrows on a map do look much very ‘real’ and scary though, don’t they?

Which brings me to the third point. What are you supposed to do with this ‘information’? It’s hardly empowering, in fact it creates a false view of the world based on fear. Will you not let your kids out within several miles of any red marker on the map, will you take a detour to avoid neighbourhoods with high concentrations of offenders when you are driving, or of course, in contrast, will you deliberately go to such places with a baseball bat to show those sex offenders who’s boss?

Finally, of course, this information isn’t ‘live’. It shows you where sex offenders live, but they aren’t chipped yet, so not where they actually are at any one moment in time. It provides at once a false sense of reassurance and the nagging feeling of doubt that they could really be right behind that tree over there, or in the shadows. And what do ‘they’ look like? That man over there with the 5 o’clock shadow at 11 in the morning sure looks like a sex offender… and there’s definitely some in this neighbourhood, your iPhone says so!

Apps like this, policies like this, also increase the pressure for more ‘comprehensive’ solutions – especially this app. Because it isn’t ‘live’, they’ll be people asking ‘why not?’ Why not tag these people for the rest of their lives with GPS cuffs, or implant them with RFID chips?

Finally, the thinking behind this app is just wrong in terms of what we know about sex offenses. Most real sexual violence and sexual abuse of children takes place within the home and within ‘normal’ family relationships (and ‘normal’ schools and nurseries too). That’s what Mr or Mrs iPhone doesn’t want to hear. ‘It couldn’t be my husband, okay he gets angry with the kids sometimes, but he’s under a lot of pressure at work and I know he loves us…’ Far easier to externalize the ‘threat’, to cast it ‘out there’ amongst the red arrow markers on the streets of some other neighbourhood…

Surveillance isn’t necessarily the same thing as paranoia but when surveillance becomes pathological, paranoia is the result. Some paranoia is about surveillance, some is expressed in surveillance. This kind of apparently democratic, freedom of information app, demonstrates the worst and most pathological places that a society of ubiquitous surveillance can start to go. It creates defensive bubbles of individualized, desocialized paranoia, of protecting ‘the kiddies’ against the threats from the ‘Other’, outside. Perhaps you should just stay inside and buy everything from amazon.com and make your kids live in some virtual world where only those nice marketers can prey on them…

(thanks to Aaron Martin for pointing this snippet of news out to me)

Metropolitan Police Encouraging Stupidity and Suspicion

Rather than being a legitmate political response to an illiberal, repressive, undemocratic and unaccountable growth in surveillance, ‘interest’ in CCTV is now regarded as suspicious in itself…

Boing Boing has news of the latest London Metropolitan Police campaign which is supposedly encouraging people to report their suspicions on terrorist activity, but is in fact just another step on the illiberal, socially divisive and stupid road towards a McCarthyite Britain where British people are expected to spy on each other in the name of security.

Why not check your neighbours' waste bins?
Why not check your neighbours' waste bins?

Apart from encouraging people to rifle through their neighbours garbage, the most disturbing thing about this new campaign is the way in which it implies that any interest in CCTV cameras is a potentionally terrorist activity.

See that camera? No, you don't. It's not there.
See that camera? No, you don't. It's not there.

From the late 1980s onwards, the British state in its usual bumbling, piecemeal and disorganised way, gradually created an increasingly comprehensive monitoring program of British city centres. There was never any strong evidence for the need for this technology, it was never approved by parliament, there was never a single CCTV Act that enabled it.

Now, just as it has become pretty clear that CCTV has very little effect on crime rates (its original justification, let us not forget), the state has started to close down criticism and even interest in or discussion of these surveillance measures. Effectively, we are being officially instructed to ignore the cameras and pretend we don’t see them. Rather than being a legitimate political response to an illiberal, repressive, undemocratic and unaccountable growth in surveillance, ‘interest’ in CCTV is now regarded as suspicious in itself.

At the same time, the British state is increasingly regulating the means of production of visual images by ordinary citizens. The state (and many private companies) can watch us while we have to pretend we don’ t notice, but for ordinary people to take picture or make video in public places, and in particular making images of state buildings or employees like the police (you know, the people who supposedly work for us), is being gradually and by stealth turned into a criminal act. In the past, I have been very careful not to shout about all acts of state surveillance being totalitarian (because very few of them actually are), but there is no other word for these trends. The police are attempting to make themselves the arbiters of how we see society and public places; they are telling us what can and cannot be legitimately the subject of interest and of visual representation.

They are also spending more time now ‘securing secturity’ – protecting the architecture of surveillance that has been built. You can see the private sector recognising this. At equipment fairs I have been to over the last few years, one of the big developments in camera technology has been methods of armouring and protecting the cameras themselves. There seems to be an effort, deliberate or unconscious, to forget the supposed original purpose of such surveillance in protecting us, and instead to concentrate on protecting the surveillance equipment.

This is particularly problematic for researchers like me. We’ll see what happens when I am back in London in May and June when I will be taking a lot of pictures of CCTV as part of my project, which is of course, ironically, sponsored by an official British state research council…

Bar talk

Brazil can’t really be called a surveillance society… talk of surveillance is just science fiction. It doesn’t mean anything to the people at the bar.

Back at the bar last night I got talking with the regulars – in the limited way I can manage to in Portuguese – about all sorts of things particularly the upcoming carnival – I’m invited – and the football: Brazil beat Italy yesterday in a friendly match. But it was how these ordinary guys – one is a factory worker, one works in an office, and another runs his own one-man business that seems to do anything and everything to do with IT – talked about fear and danger, security and safety, in the city that really interested me. We got talking about where they lived, and the centre of Sao Paulo and how they felt in each place. I told them what I had been advised about not going out at night here, and despite the fact that we were all out at night, Milton, the IT guy, a chunky black man in his 40s, agreed that this wasn’t bad advice for the centre. The area, he said, was full of thieves and drug-addicts, and whilst anyone would be safe amongst friends (and here he gestured expansively to include me and practically everyone else at the bar), even he wouldn’t want to spend much time alone. Milton is from out east – he’s a Corinthians fan; the centre-west is Palmeiras territory, and the red Metro line goes from one to the other – and in his own neighbourhood he says he doesn’t have much to worry about, although of course he has security. Everyone has security. You have to. Joao, the fat, slightly lugubrious office worker, nods in silent agreement.

I tell them I’d quite like to talk to some women. This prompts laughter and a lot of nudging and punching of arms: of course you do, don’t we all? No, no, I mean I’m interested in what women think about all this – what about her? I ask, gesturing to a handsome black women probably about the same age as Milton. Carla? No, you don’t want to talk to her. Not without paying. Open your eyes! (he makes an eye-opening signal with his right hand). Of course I could see that Carla wasn’t just here for fun. And that’s exactly why I wanted to talk to her. She agreed with the guys about the danger, but added that it was much worse for her, not because she was working nights, but because she was black. Being a black woman in Brazil is not good. Everyone, she said, pinching the skin of her forearm, just sees the colour of your skin. especially if you are on your own. With her white friend, people don’t care. I told her that some people think that Brazil isn’t racist or dangerous for black people. She laughed and not in a happy way. Those people didn’t know her life. I asked her if Lula had changed things – it is something I try to ask everyone at some point – in particular with the Programa Bolsa Familia since Carla had told me she has three kids, one grown up and two still at home. She shook her head. No. Nothing. Nothing has changed. It may be pessimistic or cynical but it’s what everyone seems to be thinking apart from the government and the World Bank.

All this bar talk might be casual and fueled by beer (and it is often difficult to understand exactly what people are saying) but it is a useful corrective to the formal interviews and other research I am doing here. It also tends to add to my growing certainty that Brazil can’t really be called a surveillance society at all in terms of how people experience their lives and relationships with the state. Talk of surveillance is just science fiction. It doesn’t mean anything to the people at the bar. The reality is all about danger (not risk in the bland sociological terminology, but actual danger) and security.

(All the names in this piece have been changed…)

The case of the serial killer and a South Korean surveillance surge

the case of the serial killer, Kang Ho-Soon, looks like it will be the signal for a surveillance surge in South Korea

Martin Innes described how certain ´signal crimes´ can trigger major cultural shifts, changes in policy or in many cases what, a few years ago, I called a ´surveillance surge´. In the UK, the case of James Bulger was one such incident that continues to resonate in all sorts of ways, but in particular has been held to be a major factor in the nationwide expansion of CCTV. 9/11 can be seen as another for the expansion of surveillance in the USA. Now the case of the serial killer, Kang Ho-Soon, looks like it will be the signal for a surveillance surge in South Korea.

Kang, described as a classic psychopath, killed seven women in Gyeonggi province between late 2006 and 2008. He met the women through personal ads and by offering them lifts home as they were waiting at bus stops at night, and then raped and killed them before disposing of the bodies in remote locations. His capture was at least partly down to CCTV images of his car near the sites of the murders.

According to Kim Rahn´s story in the Korean Times, South Korea seems to in the grip of frenzy of fear of strangers, with massive increases in applications to companies offering mobile phone location and tracking services, all schools in Seoul installing CCTV apparently to prevent violence and kidnappings, and in Gyeonggi province, 1,724 surveillance cameras, many with high resolution night vision will be installed. The murders have also sparked new debates about the use of the death penalty in the country.

But, and there is always a ´but´, one interesting fact in the story is that the bus stops where Kang met his victims were unlit. Street lighting is now apparently also to be added. Now it is one of the truisms of studies of CCTV that improved street lighting is a far better deterrent of opportunist crime than cameras – not that you are ever going to deter a true psychopath. Neither street lighting nor all the CCTV cameras in the world will do that.

More broadly however, I wonder whether South Korea is going through a similar breakdown of the feeling of social assurance that Japan is experiencing. At the risk of sounding like George W. Bush, I know Japan is not South Korea and South Korea is not Japan, but both societies traditionally had highly structured, ordered cultures which have been rapidly transformed in the face of industrialisation and globalisation. From my own research in Japan, it seems that the move towards increasing surveillance is strongly connected to this transformation. However at the same time, increasing surveillance is also encouraging the further decline of trust and a move toward a society of strangers. This can be seen as part of what David Lyon is starting to call the ´surveillance spiral´, a self-reinforcing movement in which more surveillance is always the answer to the problems that can at least partly be traced to living in a surveillance society.