I grew up in Norway until I was about 7, and so it’s hardly surprising that I’ve been thinking a lot about the country and its people following the recent attacks. I’ve spent some time over the last few days reading the manifesto of the self-confessed killer, but I’m not going to spend any time going over that farago of confused reactionary stupidity here.
What I am primarily interested in is how the country reacts, especially as we are now coming up to ten years after the 9/11 attacks -and the world is still living in the aftermath not only of the attacks themselves but of the reaction of the US and its subordinates. Surveillance Studies, along with many other research fields has documented and analyzed the turn to righter security and increased surveillance, and the corresponding weakening of longstanding individual liberties and collective rights.
But, if Norway’s Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, has anything to do with it, Norway will not be going down the same destructive, counter-productive and vengeful path. Even though he himself and many people he knew were the targets of the attack, he has been emphasizing since that Norway should not compromise its openness and democratic values, on the contrary they should strengthen their commitment to those ideals.The New York Times today quotes him as saying:
“It’s absolutely possible to have an open, democratic, inclusive society, and at the same time have security measures and not be naive. […] I think what we have seen is that there is going to be one Norway before and one Norway after July 22 […] But I hope and also believe that the Norway we will see after will be more open, a more tolerant society than what we had before.”
Let’s hope so. My thoughts remain with the families and friends of the victims, and all the people of Norway. I’ll write more about the wider European reaction tomorrow or over the weekend.
Another great audit report from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner here in Canada, investigating the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (Fintrac) has just been released. Fintrac, created in 2001 in the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act and now with even more extended powers, operates a databases which is supposed to contain details of those suspected of supporting terrorism or money laundering (often on behalf of major criminal and terrorist groups).
However, there is a good story in The Globe and Mail today which leads on the most worrying aspect identified by the audit, which is that in many cases, the Fintrac database is massively overreliant on unsubstantiated suspicions from low-level functionaries in banks, insurance firms and credit agencies. Some of these ‘suspicions’ were clearly simple prejudice as they appeared to be based entirely on ethnicity. Part of the problem is that there are no clear guidelines as to what constitutes a reasonable suspicion in the legislation.
But being put on the database can have serious consequences, firstly because of the potential penalties involved (up to $2m CAN fines and 5-years imprisonment) and secondly, because the information in the Fintrac database can be accessed by Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (the RCMP – Canada’s FBI) or shared with overseas police and intelligence services. In the latter case, as we already know, mounting errors can result in innocent people being subject to ever more harsh treatment including being excluded from countries, placed on no-fly lists or even the UN1267 ‘known terrorists and affiliates’ list, as well as, in the worst cases, opening them up to extraordinary rendition, imprisonment and torture.
Jennifer Stoddart, the current Privacy Commissioner, has a well-deserved reputation getting positive changes made, so let’s hope she can persuade Fintrac to get this sorted out pretty soon.
Back in February, I reported from Brazil about the progress of a proposed RFID-based vehicle tracking system, SINIAV. Of course RFID is not at all necessary for tracking. In the UK, the police have used Automatic Numberplate Recognition (ANPR) systems based on roadside cameras since 1993 in London – following the Provisional IRA bombings of the City and Docklands (see the account in my erstwhile collaborator, Jon Coaffee‘s book, Terrorism, Risk and the City – and since 2005, this has been in the process of being expanded into a nationwide network (see also the official Press Release from the Association of Chief Police Officers concerning the launch here).
What is rather less well-known to the outside world is that Japan developed such an automated camera system far earlier, from the early 1980s. The so-called N-system thereafter was gradually expanded to cover almost all major expressways and strategic urban locations in Tokyo and Osaka. Kabukicho, the entertainment district in Shinjuku, which I have spent some time studying over the last few years and will write about more tomorrow, is surrounded by N-system cameras and it is, I estimate, impossible to drive into this area without your license plate being recorded. These cameras are in addition to the 50 CCTV cameras that cover just about every street within the district. N-system is supposed to have played a major role on snaring suspects from the apocaylptic cult, Aum Shinrikyo, which carried out the Sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo underground in 1995, and who also assassinated top policemen and judges. Aum, now renamed ‘Aleph’, has been under official state surveillance ever since.
The Japanese police are not very forthcoming about N-system, let alone the details of how long data is kept and what it is used for. However one particular lawyer’s office in Tokyo did a very good investigation of the constitutional, legal and practical aspects of N-system back in the late 90s, and the updated pages are available here, including a nice little animation explaining how the system works.
We will hopefully be talking to them before we leave Tokyo. We still have time for a few more interviews here including the East Japan Railways security research lab, the Japanese consumers’ association, the organisation for the welfare of foreign workers, and the Suginami ward community safety people. And I will also just about have time to shoot down to Kobe to talk to Professor Kiyoshi Abe, a friend and collaborator, who is also one of the leading surveillance researchers here.