The New Transparency project is coming to an end, and we are launching our major final report,Transparent Lives: Surveillance in Canada / Vivre à nu: La surveillance au Canada, in Ottawa on Thursday 8th May (which is also my birthday!). The report is being published as a book by Athabasca University Press, so it is available in all formats including a free-t0-download PDF. We want as many people in Canada (and elsewhere) to read it as possible.
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.
HOSTED BY THE UNIVERSITY OF BARCELONA AND SUPPORTED BY THE SURVEILLANCE STUDIES NETWORK
Thursday 24th – Saturday 26th April 2014
Contemporary surveillance is characterised by ambiguities and asymmetries. Surveillance results from different desires and rationales: control, governance, security, profit, efficiency but also care, empowerment, resistance and play.
Furthermore it can have both positive and negative outcomes for individuals and these may lead to intended or unintended consequences. Surveillance is never neutral. Surveillance is always about power and that power is increasingly asymmetric. Surveillance practices are also changing and as ‘smart’ surveillance systems proliferate utilising and generating ‘Big Data’ new forms of ambiguity and asymmetry arise. In this context the conference wishes to explore the key themes.
I’m very interested in the way in which surveillance and control appear at the intersection of material and virtual worlds, and a topic that has been appearing in marketing articles recently, ‘geofencing’ is causing me some concern. According to Wikipedia (as of 213/11/05), a geo-fence is a virtual perimeter for real-world geographic areas. It seems to be largely connected to mobile commerce and the ongoing desire of marketers to be able to sell to capture customers dynamically, on the move in real-time (see also the piece by myself and Kirstie Ball on ‘Brandscapes of Control’ from earlier this year). There have also been uses of this kind of technology in parole-violation monitoring and child-protection, where alerts can be sent if a device carried by the users strays outside a certain area.
However there is also another aspect of geofencing that works slightly differently: this has been highlighted recently by Russia Today, which reported on discussion at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference into attempts by US police departments, hardware manufacturers and service providers to block users from certain services based on geographical location or particular events. This would essentially make the kinds of actions taken by the Egyptian authorities during the Arab Spring in closing Internet access more dynamic and targeted. So, the example used by RT is protestors trying to organize using Facebook could find that they were unable to access the social media site in particular places etc.
As we use the Internet and Social Media more in more intimate ways to organize all aspects of our lives, the question of not just monitoring but restriction becomes ever more pertinent. If the tracking of objects and people in real-time in order to permit (and speed up) or restrict (or slow down) flows, is one of the key current goals of surveillance, then this interface between virtual and material becomes particularly important and one to which we need to pay a lot more attention.
One of the things that was intriguing me about the recent meteorite strikes in Russia was how come there was so much video footage available from inside cars. And not surprisingly some other surveillance researchers were thinking the same thing, and it was Gemma Galdon Clavell who provided the answer: apparently many Russians have dashboard-mounted cameras largely as a form of protection against corrupt cops and officials as well as scammers pretending to be cops and officials and worse.