A marketing consultancy has estimated that the global border security market, including Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVS), Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs) and perimeter surveillance is due to hit $15.8bn in 2010. Without any sense of irony whatsoever, the company calls the border security market “one of the most exciting emerging markets within the global defence and security marketplace.”
They ask questions like:
“Which regional border security marketplaces offer the most significant growth opportunities? What are the prospects for European and North American defence and security companies seeking business opportunities in the Middle East? How is spending on different types of border security technology likely to be affected as government budgets come under intense pressure? What is the status of the Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet) or ‘virtual fence’ along the US-Mexico border? To what extent is public opinion driving government policy on border security? What effect is the economic downturn having on illegal immigration?”
To know their answers to these questions though, you’ll have to pay £1499.00 (or $2,418.00 US)! Clearly they believe that the market for reports on border security is also pretty ‘exciting’…
The whole body scanners issue has once again brought to the fore the question of the relationship of security and the economy (see here, here and here). This is a more complex question than the political economy which argues that security companies benefit, therefore there are economic interests behind every surveillance surge than occurs. Of course, some companies, scanner makers, Rapiscan and L3 in particular in this case, make a lot of money form their patented systems: each one of the 44 L3 Scanners that Canadian airports are installing costs around $250,000 CAN (125,000 Euro), which adds up to a hefty income to L3. And of course there are connections to the revolving door of US Homeland Security governance at least: Michael Chertoff, the former Head of HOmeland Security from 2005-9 was making the case for scanners immediately after the December 25th thighbomber’s failed attempt, yet he neglected to mention his role as consultant to Rapiscan, which was awarded millions of dollars of contracts under his watch.
However, there are other interests here, notably the aviation industry, airlines and airports, not to mention those of travelers. The Toronto Globe and Mail today reports how airlines in Canada are increasingly concerned that already growing security levies from government (to provide security) will only spiral with every new measure introduced. The airlines expect the government to bear the costs. The government has merely said that it will try to ensure that costs passed on are minimised. However someone has to pay, somewhere along the line. If airlines (or their passengers) are not paying, then tax-payers are and it’s debatable whether ultimately, subsidising the security costs of international travelers is really what taxes should be for when times are hard. Of course no government wants this to come down to a ‘security versus the economy’ argument, but that has to be discussed, alongside the still largely unaddressed issues of privacy and other individual and collective liberties.
£34Bn is probably a small proportion of this wider surveillance economy, and may not even be anywhere near the total ‘cost’ to citizens of the obsession with surveillance.
How much does surveillance cost? It is a key question which is very difficult to answer with any precision. The groups associated with the Convention on Modern Liberty (mainly Liberty, No2ID and Privacy International) have come up an estimate of £34 Billion (about $50Bn US) for the UK. This seems to be mainly costs related to central government databases, and includes £10Bn for the setting up and running of the proposed new communications database. Is it correct? Or even close? Well, it’s a good start as a guess. It doesn’t of course differentiate between costs for aspects of the systems that might be desirable or even necessary (like parts of the NHS Spine system). But then I’ve had this argument with No2ID before – the don’t get the idea that ‘surveillance’ includes things that without which there would be no welfare, education or health services at all. It is worth thinking about it from the other way, from the supply side too – the question of what is the overall size of the surveillance industry. Because of course, it isn’t just government that is spying on us. The biggest databases are run by private corporations (especially retailers, insurance companies and loyalty-card operators)… there are all sorts of private security and surveillance operations. £34Bn is probably a small proportion of this wider surveillance economy, and may not even be anywhere near the total ‘cost’ to citizens of the obsession with surveillance.