“You know they are putting people in prison for nothing now.”
Comment of local Soviet Union official, 1938
The age-old information gathering techniques employed by States is alive-and-well in the U.S., as well as other western nations, today. Whereas in the Soviet Union, surveillance consisted of NKVD agents snooping in line outside a store, listening to workers’ complaints in the factory cafeteria, relaxing in a sauna or bathroom, talking to academics at the university or citizen’s mail to politicians, in the U.S. such methods have been multiplied by the technetronic era to encompass digital resources. (1)
One could argue for an ongoing process of sovietization in America.
Laptops issued to high-schools students in an affluent Philadelphia suburb were equipped with remote-controlled webcams. School administrators, it has recently come to light, activated the webcams in order to spy on students and families while they were at home.
The school was also spying on students’ clickstreams and emails.
Blake J Robbins v Lower Merion School District (PA) involves the Robbins’s child, whom the school attempted to discipline for “improper behavior in his home.” The Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence. The class action suit was brought on behalf of all students issued laptops. (2)
Students at the Philadelphia school are not the only ones illegally spied upon. Google, for example, has admitted for years that it has implemented similar surveillance technologies so as to improve their individual-specific advertising systems. By way of in-built microphones, which record background noise—such as television, music or radio—Google can advertise based on ones preferences. (3)
Many cell-phones, furthermore, record conversations, at random, had by their users; even while the cell-phones are turned off. The only way to disable this feature, is by taking the battery our of the device.
Earlier this month, Wired Magazine reported, that Google would be teaming up with the National Security Agency to investigate hack attacks against its network. The agreement enables Google to share critical information with the NSA about attacks and its network. (4)
Also reported this month by Wired, Police forces in the UK will soon utilize unmanned aircraft from a national fleet. According to Home Office plans, modified military aircraft drones will carry out surveillance on persons from protestors and antisocial motorists to fly-tippers. The system will be in place by the 2012 London Olympics.
In the battlefield, Military drones evolved from surveillance to attack. Should the British police develop their systems in a similar manner, their drones could be armed with the familiar litany of contemporary non-lethal weapons, instead of military missiles.
The unmanned aircraft can, also, be fitted with speakers. The Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) was used in the United States at the G20 in Pittsburg on peaceful protestors and children. It has also been used to in U.S. war theatres to force crowds into strict obedience.
LRAD is a pinpoint directional speaker composed of a flat array of piezoelectric transducers, “producing intense beam of sound in a 30-degree cone. It can be used as a loudhailer, or deafen the target with a jarring, discordant noise.” (5)
Further, Britain recently announced a plan to install 20,000 CCTV cameras inside private homes. The $669 million initiative will go towards installing and monitoring CCTV cameras in the homes of parents to ensure the kids are doing their homework, going to bed early and eating vegetables. (6)
But will the measure be forever used for such “positive” ends?
In Arizona, citizens are acting out against ubiquitous spying. Since the state began enforcing speed limits with roadside cameras, motorists have blocked out lenses with Post-it notes and Silly String. Over Christmas holidays, they covered cameras with boxes in wrapping paper.
So far, Arizona is the only state to implement “photo enforcement.” The cameras photograph vehicles driving 11 mph and more over the speed limit.
In California, speed cameras are illegal. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, nonetheless, proposed a program to add speed enforcement capabilities to 500 red-light cameras to generate $338 million for the 2010-11 budget. The proposal is, thus far, unlikely to be a part of the Legislature’s upcoming budget recommendations.
In Arizona, the mini-revolt runs deeper than Post-It Notes and Silly String. As of September, only 38% of issued violations were reportedly paid.
One such dissenter, John Keegan, is a judge for the Arrowhead Justice Court. He has called the cameras a constitutional violation and rejects every photo radar ticket with which he is confronted. Keegan says he has dismissed more than 7,000 violations; a value of approximately $1 million. (7)
Technology is not the crux of the problem, for technology is inherently inanimate without attitude: so, therefore, can be used to positive or negative ends. It is pertinent, then, that we pay attention to whom is using the technology and for what reasons.
It is reason for concern, that the Department of Homeland Security hired Former Stasi head, Marcus Wolf, in 2004. (8)
In Germany, globally coordinated the technetronic surveillance movement has been dubbed, “Stasi 2.0.” A portmanteau that originated in the blogosphere, the concept combines the name of the Stasi, known as one of the most brutal secret police apparatus’s of the Cold War, with a term from software versioning used in popular phrases, such as Web 2.0. The implication being, that the Stasi 2.0 is a modern version of the Stasi. It highlights the preemptive security strategies, appearing increasingly, and in a coordinated manner, in Germany, Britain, U.S. as well as in many other countries. (9)
1. Sheila Fitzpatrick. 1999. Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930’s. Oxford Press.
2. Cory Doctorow. “School used student laptop webcams to spy on them at school and home.” BoingBoing, 2-17-2010.
Accessible at: http://www.boingboing.net/2010/02/17/school-used-student.html
3. Faultine. “Google developing eavesdropping softwards.” The Reigster, 9-3-2009
Accessible at: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/09/03/google_eavesdropping_software/
4. Kim Zetter. “Google Asks NSA to Help Secure its Network.” Wired, 2-4-2010.
Accessible at: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/02/google-seeks-nsa-help/#ixzz0gI2n65kL
5. David Hambling. “Future police: Meet the UK’s Armed Robot Drones.” Wired, 2-10-2010
Accessible at: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2010-02/10/future-police-meet-the-uk%27s-armed-robot-drones.aspx
6. Charlie Sorrel. “Britain To Put CCTV Cameras Inside Private Homes.” Wired, 8-3-2009
Accessible at: http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2009/08/britain-to-put-cctv-cameras-inside-private-homes/
7. Nicole Santa Cruz. “Arizona speed cameras incite a mini-revolt.” LATimes, 2-19-2010
8. Prison Planet. Ex-Stasi Chief Markus Wolf Hired By Homeland Security?” PrisonPlanet, 12-6-2004.
Accessible at: http://www.prisonplanet.com/articles/december2004/061204wolfhired.htm
8. Wikipedia: Stasi 2.0