A global conference will be held in London’s ExCel Centre this June 17th-19th to sell the idea of ‘Safe Cities’ to the security industry.
Many creative figures through modern history have predicted the emergence of a technological prison state. But this year the fiction may become reality as the big, global players in the security industry are meeting up to plan out hi-tech control grids for large global cities that will see the populations all biometrically tagged and electronically tracked and studied.
From George Orwell in ‘1984’ to Serj Tankian in ‘Prison Song’, writers and lyricists have warned us that the walls are closing in, that we are being watched, that the ‘all seeing eye’ is not a benevolent guardian but indeed a malevolent force. For decades people have rung the alarm bells trying to wake a slumbering society to the reality of the high-security fences being built around freedom only to be labelled crazed, tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorists. The positive story is that because various high profile leaks over the last few years have affirmed these suspicions, many more people are now aware that we are being watched and our actions are indeed being recorded and compiled. The sad story is that many people really don’t care too much about this invasion of privacy and will stand aside as their rights get trampled upon. Sad-er still is that the study of how people don’t care about their privacy is becoming a scientific precedent to ease the path for a swathe of Orwellian legislation to create even higher cattle fences.
The world, so the propaganda goes, is far too dangerous for the general public to handle so the State, seeing itself as the god-like protector of the public, must act to secure their environment. Its a very dangerous world and we need a safer place to live they say – so in comes the meme of ‘Safe Cities’.
‘Safe Cities’ is a global mega-trend and an ‘inevitable’ development in the way cities run themselves according to Frost and Sullivan, a global growth consulting firm, who provide ‘technical insights’ to governments and industry throughout the world. They released a white paper in 2011 titled ‘Safer Cities – An Inevitable Trend in Urban Development’ which seemed to create quite a stir in security industry circles. The ‘stir’ of course, was because they could see the enormous potential for huge security infrastructure projects and the profits that would come along with them and so were overly eager to lobby governments. On page four of their white paper Frost and Sullivan state:
“The higher the internal/external threat of terrorist attacks, the more probability there is of a city implementing a safer city project.”
Do you see the real danger here? That the security industrial complex now has a vested interest in creating fear and danger to secure bigger more lucrative contracts? They continue:
“In terms of adoption, the North American market has already seen some rapid progress after the 9/11 attacks. New York City is one of the most ‘surveilled’ cities in the world with video surveillance cameras located at almost every junction, intersection, building, and public area in the city.”
Hmmm, business is booming, and letting the odd FBI handled nut-job occasionally blow something up can only and will only enhance their business model.
What exactly is a ‘Safe City’?
A ‘Safe City’ is really like any other city but with the addition of six hi-tech features – ‘Video Surveillance’, ‘Tagging, Tracking and Locating’, ‘Cellular Surveillance’, ‘Cameras and Sensors’, ‘Audio Surveillance’ and ‘Command and Control’. So the word safe really means controlled. Everything that is said, online or offline, anything that moves and interacts will be filed. A ‘Safe’ city will be a city who’s population are catalogued using biometrics, whose movements are tracked and recorded and analysed, whose communications are recorded and sifted and who really aren’t able to express themselves without those expressions ending up as a computer analysed database entry. They really will experience little or no sense of overall privacy. The citizens would take this routine invasion of their privacy as a pay-off for being able to live their lives without any danger to their physical bodies. However there is a danger that their minds may shrivel and die because anything out of the ordinary would be flagged and investigated, the city would in fact be revolution proof.
The selling of the data collected from the movements and interactions of the citizens of a Safe City will be a lucrative business. Data would be collected by private companies and then sold and distributed to private companies. This would either be the transfer of intelligence about an individuals movements to security enforcement teams, so an arrest could be made, or advertising companies because someone stops often to look at red shoes in a shop window. The sale of analysed geolocation data is already a big money maker as Achim Klabunde, the European Commission’s Data Protection Supervisor, spoke about at a Future Internet conference last week:
“For those earning revenue by processing data, the value of each bit of information is considerably increased when it is connected to a location. And I should say that location in this case means not only the geographical, meaning space parameters, but space and time parameters for who was where at what time doing what – is the information that can be found in many of the records that are collected and communicated”
It will be argued of course that this abuse of peoples data will keep them secure because its a dangerous world out there. The dangers that the residents of ‘Safe Cities’ will be protected from are cited as – Terrorism, Cyber-crime, Unstable Economy and Extreme Weather Events. Now it doesn’t take an analytical genius to spot that these are the four main things that are actually perpetrated by government and secret services as a tool of fear in the first place, so using them as an excuse to create an all-seeing control grid around us does seem like rank hypocrisy and a complete denial of reality. But the question remains – how can we stop these terrible open-prison cities from being built?
The only real answer to any question like this is – raising awareness. We need to talk to ordinary folks about these terrifying ideas. Anyone who cares about the issues surrounding privacy and surveillance needs to get a deep, logical understanding of the core issues and learn to communicate them in a way that doesn’t get peoples backs up. That is not easy as I’m sure you are aware. People tend to get instantly upset and angry and accusatory as soon as you mention anything anti-norm or anti-establishment. The security complex also understands how easy it is to manipulate people into accepting their new data-business model – in a study in Europe called ‘Monetising Privacy’ – 93% of people said privacy is an important issue to them, but then 87% went ahead and gave up that privacy when offered as little as 50cents as a reward.
But all is not lost in Frost and Sullivans they concede that:
“… the general public are a major issue to the implementation of surveillance programs”
So lets continue to be a major issue to surveillance programs and remember the oldest and strongest right every human has – the right to remain silent – that is the right not to be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered.
Samuel William is a videographer, and social commentator that lives and works in London.
Most of his work is in video form and can be found at http://www.youtube.com/swilliamism