Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Poway Skatepark now under Boot of Big Bro?

All around us, technological innovations have digitalized society to such a point that the whereabouts of each of us can be known at all times. From GPS in passports, cell phones and cars, to computer cameras and microphones, privacy today is little more than a fading memory.

The bizarre surveillance grid, easily observable by each of us, represents a grave threat to the harmonious functioning of society, as data collection empowers the collectors. In the suburbs of San Diego, California, where, alongside southern California generally, skateboarding was born to relieve surfers of boredom on days when the surf was flat, skateboarding culture’s clash with overbearing city and county statutes has reached a new level.

The official reason behind biometric identification at a skatepark in Poway, California is to prevent vandalism, bullying, blah blah blah (read: et cetera). But the new requirement for skaters and parents to enter the park through a “biometric” thumb scanner represents one small instance amidst an American landscape increasingly dotted by militarized architecture.

In order to access the park, skaters and others visitors must go through the turnstile after their thumbprint is taken by the device.

Park users were asked to register at the park and will be required to sign a liability waiver, provide a thumbprint and have their photo taken, which will then be uploaded to a computer. Registration and admittance to the park is free--how considerate.

Not surprisingly, considering their near ubiquitous presence on US streets, computerized surveillance cameras were also installed at the park. Thereby, city officials can match video of violators with filed photos. Depending on the severity of actions, park-goers may be denied access to the park for days, weeks or indefinitely.

Poway senior recreation supervisor, Greg Sundberg, claims the skate park has experienced many problems in the recent past, such as vandalism in restrooms, graffiti, fires and visitors bringing bicycles into the park, which is not permitted.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Poway parent Shelly Smart said of the scanner.

Manufactured by NextgenID, the scanner cost the city $5,700, according to Frank Casteleneto, a city engineer. Altogether, the city spent $91,000 on recent security upgrades to the park., despite California’s 28% unemployment rate. City staff believe the scanner will also help prevent minor violations, like skaters not wearing helmets or kneepads, or kids sneaking bicycles into the park.

Identification cards were originally planned to help secure the park, but the idea was scrapped due to the likely prevalence of card-swapping among people. Out-of-town visitors will be required to provide a thumbprint for temporary access to the park. Sundberg said the new system would enable the city to restrict usage to certain age groups on specific days.

“We can program these scanners so that we can have a kids-only day … or an adults-only day,” he said.

Poway residents, Josh Thomas, 17, and Rancho Bernardo resident Matt Valencia, 18, said they see the scanner as violating their rights. The two did, however, plan on submitting their prints so that they could continue to use the park.

“I don’t want (the park) to be trashed, but I don’t think this is the way to go about doing it,” Josh said.

Ramona residents Erika Jacons and Adam Small visit the park several times throughout the week. Although Jacobs said she undesrstands the city’s want to create a safe environment and maintain the park, she believes the security camers would have sufficed as deterrent enough.

There are “so many ways to get around [the thumbscanner],” said Jacobs, 20. “Kids are smart.”

Is the biometric scanner at Poway an isolated incident? Or is it merely a symptom of an increasingly monitored everyday life in the United States?

In the first decade of the 21st century, much of the world has witnessed the unveiling of a total information network, whose stated purpose is to defend against terrorists, namely Al Qaeda. Could it instead be to ensure that people and society are highly predictable? In countries like Britain, all e-mails and telephone conversations, after having been handed over to the proper authorities by Internet Service Providers, are organized and stored by supercomputers. In the United States, electronic wiretapping goes back 150 years. The technology has been a seriously contested issue in the US on and off for 50 years.

Technocract (read: unelected leader)Zbigniew Brzezinski has written extensively on what he terms “a distinct new historical era,” particularly in his book "Between Two Ages." The ages referenced here are the industrial era and technetronic era. Part of this new age entails a move by the US, and most of the west, away from industrial society and into a technetronic society. He wrote:

“The technetronic era involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite, unrestrained by traditional values. Soon it will be possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and maintain up-to-date complete files containing even the most personal information about the citizen. These files will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities.”

ECHELON is a code word for an automated global interception and relay system operated by the intelligence agencies of five nations, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The United States National Security Agency (NSA) is the capstone of the project. The earth-orbiting listening posts of which ECHELON is comprised are, officially, on the front lines in the United States-led war on terrorism. The signal-seeking spacecraft play a crucial role in eavesdropping on nations, as well as within the borders of the US itself. Some reports suggest that cell phone traffic, ground line chats and faxes, telexes and satellite telecommunications links, as well as Internet emails are intercepted across the globe. The information, once electronically recorded, is organized by supercomputers running with state-of-the-art software.

Zbigniew Brzezinski’s nephew, Mathew Brzezinski, penned a book called “Fortress America,” which details what he argues is an emerging siege mentality in the US intended to create a maximum security state, such as those security states the United States has financed all over the world in "periphery" countries; that is, countries on the fringe of the anglo-american empire. Other terms for these lands are the vestigial "Third World" moniker and "developing countries" label.

Mathew writes that the manufacture of such sophisticated surveillance technology is simple, but that getting it into place and solving legal issues is not.

"The technological and legal foundations for blanket surveillance had already been laid in 2003," Brzezinski wrote in his book. "All that was lacking was the political and social will to bring all this technological wizardry to bear in the war on terror. It wouldn't happen overnight or without another catastrophic incident, something that upped the ante and put America in the same survival mode on par with Israel: a nuclear detonation, a biological outbreak, a mass casualty event. But if the stakes were high enough, would we be more willing to accept life in a maximum security surveillance state?"

Brzezinski’s scrupulous book centers on this question: How much disruption will the American people tolerate as its government tries to find “the balance between security and liberty?”

So, as the everyday lives of US citizens are monitored in perpetuity, will the invasive nature of such surveillance technologies remain tolerated? Although the main purpose of such an infrastructure might be to collect revenue through fines, the machinations could be abused further, aiding in a sort of domestic purge as economic and social tensions reach a crescendo.

The thumbscanner at Poway can be seen as a relatively harmless measure taken by city officials concerned about the safety and appearance of the park. But, considering the generally non-threatening nature of young adults, except for the to-be-expected hooliganism, one must ask: will the thumbscanner, alongside the surveillance cameras, pay itself off to the benefit of Poway residents, all the while without sucking young skateboarders and their parents out of cash for minor offenses?

1 comment:

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